The history of joking around: Joking is sometimes said to have been invented by Palamedes, the hero of Greek legend who outwitted Odysseus on the eve of the Trojan War. But since this ingenious fellow is also credited with inventing numbers, the alphabet, lighthouses, dice, and the practice of eating meals at regular intervals, the claim should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt.
In the Athens of Demosthenes, there was a comedians’ club called the Group of Sixty, which met in the temple of Heracles to trade wisecracks, and it is said that Philip of Macedon paid handsomely to have their jokes written down; but the volume, if it ever existed, has been lost.
On the Roman side, Plautus refers to jestbooks in a couple of his plays, while Suetonius tells us that Melissus, a favorite professor of the Emperor Augustus, compiled no fewer than a hundred and fifty joke anthologies.
Despite this, only a single jokebook survives from ancient times: the Philogelos, or “Laughter-Lover,” a collection in Greek that was probably put together in the fourth or fifth century A.D. It contains two hundred and sixty-four items, several of which appear twice, in slightly different form. This suggests that the volume is not one jokebook but two combined, a hunch borne out by the fact that it is attributed to two authors, Hierocles and Philagrius, although joint authorship was rare at the time. Virtually nothing is known about either man; there is some scholarly speculation that the Hierocles in question was a fifth-century Alexandrian philosopher of that name who was once publicly flogged in Constantinople for paganism, which, as one classicist has observed, “might have given him a taste for mordant wit.”
The difference between a joke and a riddle: Whereas jokes have a humorous punch line usually revealed by the teller (the teller doesn’t ask the listener a question), riddles are meant to be solved by the listener. The teller asks the listener a tricky question.
Both jokes and riddles help people to think analytically (think deeper than the words they are hearing) and to problem solve a whacky situation or question. Therefore, jokes and riddles can be a good learning tool.
Can you show the difference by giving an example of a joke and a riddle?
What do these jokes mean?
Talk your answer onto a tape.