The world's oldest joke book is still current

Have you seen the story in the news about the ancient Greek book of jokes?

A collection of jokes from 1,600 years ago was recently translated, and it turns out that the old saying is probably correct: the best jokes are indeed the oldest ones.

William Berg, an American professor, carefully translated a collection of jokes as told by Hierocles and Philagrius, a comedy duo from the 4th Century AD. It could be the world's oldest collection of funny dialogue.

Now people are talking about how one of the stories may have been the forerunner to the famous Monty Python comedy sketch about a man returning a dead parrot to the shopkeeer who sold it to him. In the scene, the shopkeeper looks at the stiff, lifeless parrot and asks matter-of-factly what's wrong with it. The unhappy customer says,"I'll tell you what's wrong with it. It's dead, that's what's wrong with it."

The sketch goes on, of course.

The ancient Greek joke book ("Philogelos: The Laugh Addict"), has the same joke, except it's about a man returning a dead slave. "By the gods," answers the slave's seller, "when he was with me, he never did any such thing!"

The book presents a fascinating insight into the classical world. The people we've read about in history books come alive in speech and mannerisms.

If you're interested, comic Jim Bowen is presenting these jokes to a modern audience and is making them available on line. See his collection at the e-publishing site Yudu

This story has many sides to it. If you'd like to read more of the humour, see Ancient Greeks pre-empted Dead Parrot sketch, or Dead Parrot Ancestor Found.

Here's the Monty Python sketch on YouTube. Many viewers voted it as one of the most popular of the television series.

Photo courtesy of Lynne Lancaster.

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