Joseph Addison – the 17th Century English writer – said “man is distinguished from all other creatures by the faculty of laughter.” Sigmund Freud in his The Joke and its Relation to the Unconscious states that “jokes” release us from traditional inhibitions which make up the veneer of our personalities.
Historically, the earliest known “smile” is etched on the lips of a statue of Ebbeh – a Mesopotamian factotum who lived in 2400 B.C. (Ebbeh now resides in the Louvre). Four centuries later, we enter Biblical times. There were no Old Testament comedians, but the word “laugh” (or “laughter”) makes its debut in the Book of Genesis. When Abraham and Sarah are told they will have a son, both fall on their faces – laughing. Perhaps that is why their son was named “Isaac” which in Hebrew is “He [or God] laughs.” The word “laugh” or its derivations appear 43 times in the Bible (6 of those in the New Testament). The Koran chronicles 16 uses of the word but most relate to the faithful laughing at the inglorious fate of unbelievers.
The Veda in Hindu text records the word “laugh” 8 times. In Buddhist tradition, he “Laughing Buddha” was supposedly a real person – a wandering happy Zen monk named Pu-Tai who lived around 1000 A.D. The world’s first stand-up comedian was Aristophanes (see post of 8/28/11). He would lurch out on stage smeared with wine playing the Emperor – Cleon. It didn’t go over well with Cleon. . . . . The first joke book was The Philogelos (“Laughter Lover“) “published” in the 4th Century A.D. It was a collection of 264 jokes. One depicts a chatty barber. “How shall I cut your hair” he says to his customer. “In silence” the man responds.
On March 14, 2005, I delivered a paper to The Chicago Literary Club entitled “The Best Medicine” http://www.chilit.org/Petersen4.htm The paper delved into this history of humor. But it also discussed the healing power of humor. It works. And can help. A great deal. . . . .