Mary Beard and the Philogelos

Some good coverage of Mary Beard’s recent efforts on the Philogelos give us the opportunity to see what jokes the press is latching on to. The Post Chronicle — somewhat oddly, but conveniently — presents some of them as an image:

from the Post Chronicle

The Telegraph adds:

Another joke has its origins in 248AD when Rome held what was then billed as the “Millennium Games”.

A spectator meets and athlete who is in tears after losing in his event. “Never mind,” says the spectator “You can always try again the next Millennium Games.

Finally, an excerpt from the Guardian (from whom there is much derivative coverage) includes one of my personal favourites:

“Interestingly they are quite understandable to us, whereas reading Punch from the 19th century is completely baffling to me,” said Beard.

But she queried whether we are finding the same things funny as the Romans would have done. Telling a joke to one of her graduate classes, in which an absent-minded professor is asked by a friend to bring back two 15-year-old slave boys from his trip abroad, and replies “fine, and if I can’t find two 15-year-olds I will bring you one 30-year-old,” she found they “chortled no end”.

“They thought it was a sex joke, equivalent to someone being asked for two 30-year-old women, and being told okay, I’ll bring you one 60-year-old. But I suspect it’s a joke about numbers – are numbers real? If so two 15-year-olds should be like one 30-year-old – it’s about the strange unnaturalness of the number system.”

FWIW, I take it as being a sex joke as well. Oddly, though, the Guardian is also giving the impression that Dr. Beard ‘discovered’ the Philogelos:

Celebrated classics professor Mary Beard has brought to light a volume more than 1,600 years old, which she says shows the Romans not to be the “pompous, bridge-building toga wearers” they’re often seen as, but rather a race ready to laugh at themselves.

The Post Chronicle is also giving that impression:

A Cambridge academic has uncovered a book of jokes which casts the Romans in a new and far less serious light. The finding is based on what is now known as the world’s oldest surviving joke book, written in Greek and containing over 250 gags that date from the Third Century.

Of course, the long-known Philogelos was in the news in a slightly different context just a short while ago … and we reported on it diligently, of course. Mary Beard has also recently posted on the subject in her own blog

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One thought on “Mary Beard and the Philogelos

  1. There is an ebook version of Philogelos published recently on ebook website YUDU – it features films of jokes told by British veteran comic Jim Bowen and a new English translation. You can find link to it on the pageturnerprize blog too.

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