The laughter lover

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This week’s Friday funny, brought to you by author and journalist Eugene Byrne, concerns a joke that stems from ancient Greece in around the 4th or 5th centuries that was originally published in a book called Philogelos, meaning addict or laughter lover

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The joke

So this guy comes back from a long trip abroad, and goes to see a holy man and asks him how his family are doing. “All are healthy, including your father,” the prophet tells him.
“But my father died ten years ago!” says the man.
“Yeah, but I’m talking about your real father,” says the prophet.
OK, OK, here’s another one. There’s this guy who’s really sick. He might die. He’s lying there and his wife says to him, “if anything happens to you, I’ll hang myself.”
The guy opens his eyes and says to her: “Do it now, while I’m still alive. There’s a good girl.”
Boy, those folks from Kyme, are they stupid or what? Did you hear about the guy from Kyme who went to market to sell some honey. This punter comes up to him and has a taste of the honey and says it’s really good. “Yes it is,” says the Kymean. “I definitely wouldn’t be selling it if I hadn’t found a dead mouse in it.”
And did you hear about the official who died. He was having this big, flashy funeral. These two Kymeans are watching it and one says to the other, “So who’s the dead guy?”
The other one says: “The one over there, lying on the bier.”

The story

OK, that’s us trying to make jokes from Greece in the fourth (maybe fifth) century AD sound slightly more accessible. They all come from a book called Philogelos which translates as the laughter lover or addict. It was compiled by two men named Hierocles and Philagrios, of whom little is known, and it’s the western world’s oldest surviving collection of jokes.

Only a few of the 260-ish jokes in the collection strike the modern reader as especially funny, but most are on themes which any age would recognise – dim-witted individuals, stupid ethnic minorities (Kyme was an Aeolian Greek city in Asia Minor; Strabo, writing a long time before Philogelos was compiled, noted the Kymeans’ reputation for stupidity), sex, marital discord and bodily functions. Then again, there are also lots of gags about gluttons and even more about dumb students which don’t quite fit any modern stereotypes.

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You can read more of Eugene’s historical jokes at www.historyextra.com