12

Many Ancient Greek jokes are preserved in the Philogelos, ranging from wordplay to stereotypical foreigners to utter nonsense. And certain epigrams from Lucillius and Argentarius contain excellent/horrible puns (depending who you ask), such as an especially painful one-liner on Μῆδος "Median" ~ μὴ δός "don't give!".

I know puns existed in Latin; the "Vesu-vinum" graffiti from Pompeii has been called the earliest known advertising pun, and Plautus has a reputation for clever wordplay. But do we have records of actual puns or jokes in Latin? I'm looking specifically for short snippets of text which are humorous on their own, like the ones in the Philogelos; one-liners from Plautus would certainly qualify, but only if they don't require a full scene of context to be funny.

  • Do you want one canonical answer, or list-style examples? (Perhaps the mods have an opinion on what works best for this site) – brianpck Nov 18 '16 at 19:50
  • 1
    Also: your title and first paragraph speak about stupid puns, but your actual question in the second seems to ask for humorous one-liners, whether or not they are cringe-inducing. Perhaps you could clarify? – brianpck Nov 18 '16 at 19:51
  • @brianpck Edited, thanks. And I'm not sure, but I'm leaning toward list-style, since I haven't heard of any actual collections/anthologies of jokes like the Philogelos existing in Latin. – Draconis Nov 18 '16 at 19:54
  • Interesting question! I was planning to ask this myself soon. I imagine there is little information available on ancient jokes, so there is no need to specify the question further. I see no reason to restrict those who might have something to share. (Other triumviri might disagree, of course.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Nov 18 '16 at 20:32
  • Why only one-liners without context? Does Truc. 262–264 not count, punning eiram (=*iram* in Classical) and eram? – C. M. Weimer Nov 20 '16 at 21:59
9

The second book of the Saturnalia of Macrobius (5th century AD) is a kind of anthology of Roman jokes, attributed to various famous people. Here are some selections from it, with a short summary below each.

  1. Hannibal and the King of Antioch

Ostendebat [rex] Antiochus in campo copias ingentes quas bellum populo Romano facturus conparaverat, convertebatque exercitum insignibus argenteis et aureis florentem: inducebat etiam currus cum falcibus et elephantos cum turribus equitatumque frenis et ephippiis, monilibus ac faleris praefulgentem.

Atque ibi rex contemplatione tanti et tam ornati exercitus gloriabundus Hannibalem aspicit et: Putasne, inquit, satis esse Romanis haec omnia?

Tunc Poenus [i.e. Hannibal] eludens ignaviam inbelliamque militum eius pretiose armatorum: Plane, inquit, satis esse credo Romanis haec, etsi avarissimi sunt.

Summary: The king of Antioch shows Hannibal a richly arrayed army and asks if this is "enough for the Romans." Hannibal responds, "Of course, this [plunder] should be enough even for the most greedy among them."

  1. "The Sacrifice"

Sacrificium apud veteres fuit quod vocabatur propter viam. In eo mos erat ut, si quid ex epulis superfuisset, igne consumeretur. Hinc Catonis iocus est. Namque Albidium quendam, qui bona sua comedisset et novissime domum quae ei reliqua erat incendio perdidisset, propter viam fecisse dicebat: quod comesse non potuerit, id combussisse.

The joke is about a sacrifice "for the road" by which whatever food that was not eaten is burned. Cato joked that a certain Albidius, who wasted all his money and then lost his home in a fire, did so "for the road," because he burned what he could not eat.

  1. The Artist's Children

Apud L. Mallium, qui optimus pictor Romae habebatur, Servilius Geminus forte coenabat: cumque filios eius deformes vidisset: Non similiter, inquit, Malli, fingis et pingis. Et Mallius: In tenebris enim fingo, inquit, luce pingo.

Hopefully no explanation necessary :)

  1. Old Wine

M. Cicero, cum apud Damasippum coenaret et ille mediocri vino posito diceret: Bibite Falernum hoc, annorum quadraginta est: Bene, inquit, aetatem fert.

When Cicero is served a bad wine that is said to be aged "40 years," he quips: "It doesn't show its age."

The above link contains many more of the same kind.

3

For a detailed account of that subject you can see the first two chapter of the book A Cultural History of Humour. From Antiquity to the Present Day, ed. by Jan Bremmer and Hermann Roodenburg, (Wiley: London, 1997), that are:

  1. Jokes, Jokers and Jokebooks in Ancient Greek Culture, by Jan Bremmer;

  2. Cicero, Plautus and Roman Laughter, by Fritz Graf.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.