Aristophanes

In my prior post on “The Best Medicine,” I mentioned a favorite jokester — Aristophanes.  A few years ago, I was asked (for a biographical sketch) what famous figure I would most like to have dinner with.  My answer?  Aristophanes.   Nicknamed by his contemporaries “Old Baggy Pants.”  He was my kinda guy. . . . .

This Athenian satirist, was probably the world’s first stand-up comedian (I would love to be a stand-up comic but I don’t have the legs for it).  He was well-educated and began writing satire in his teens.  He wrote more than 40 plays of which only 11 have survived.  The first play penned under his own name was The Knights (424 B.C.).  It was a scathing satire about the Athenian politician and military leader Cleon – the arrogant demagogue who succeeded Pericles.  Cleon is aptly depicted in the play as a bloated and intoxicated lout – whose face and toga are always smeared with wine.  As mentioned in my prior post, Aristophanes sometimes played the part of Cleon – lurching onto stage, staggering around and mumbling – because he wanted to make sure the part was played “properly.” The spoof was wonderfully popular with everyone in Athens — except for Cleon who sent messengers to Aristophanes suggesting that he “cool it.” 

In the world of literature, the satiric works of Ben Jonson and Henry Fielding were influenced by Aristophanes.  Examine the comedies of Shakespeare and you will find the tongue-in-cheek humor of Aristophanes swimming beneath the surface. If we sat down to dinner, I’d order some Greek crab cakes, moussaka, spanakopita and pastitsio — with a bottle or two of agiorgitiko.    Then we’d start telling jokes . . . . .  

Joe Miller’s Joke Book

I always wanted to be a stand up comedian — but I don’t have the legs for it.  Comedians actually run in my family.  They have to if they want to survive. . . . .

I like jokes.  Humor.  Comedy.  The Three Stooges (“are you kidding Petersen?”).  The HoneymoonersSeinfeld.  I like to laugh.   A favorite funny movie?  “Planes Trains and Automobiles.”  Or maybe it’s “Airplane.”  Or “Young Frankenstein.”  Or “The Pink Panther.”  Humor is a great medicine (see post of July 28, 2011).  One of the best.   

The person I’d like most to have dinner with?  Aristophanes (see post of August 28, 2011).  Aristophanes was the first stand up comedian in about 400 B.C.  He got in big trouble with the Emperor – Cleon – for pretending on stage that he was Cleon.  Smeared with wine.  And drunk . . . .

The first book of jokes wasn’t published until 1739.  It was Joe Miller’s Joke Book, then known as Joe Miller’s Jests or The Wit’s Vade-Mecum.  Joe Miller (1684-1738) was an English actor who played a large number of humorous/comedic parts.  When Miller died, a chap named John M0tley (1692-1750) published Joe Miller’s “jests” in 1739.  It was a collection of contemporary and ancient witticisms.  The first edition had 247 numbered jokes. 

A famous teacher of Arithmetick who had long been married without being able to get his Wife with Child.  One said to her ‘Madam, your Husband is an excellent Arithmetician.’  ‘Yes, replies she, only he can’t multiply.'”   (That’s number 234) 

Joe Miller was referred to by Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) (“Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending [the turkey] to Bob’s. . . .”). 

After I croak, perhaps someone will write “The Renaissance Hombre’s Joke Book.”  I have a card file full of them . . . .

The Best Medicine

On March 14, 2005, I delivered a paper to The Chicago Literary Club titled “The Best Medicine.”  The paper is a mildly academic study of the history, styles and benefits (even healing power) of humor. See http://www.chilit.org/Papers%20by%20author/Petersen4.htm   

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.  Ol’ Sig’s book also contains a host of jokes, puns and one-liners. His book ain’t Planes, Trains and Automobiles but it’s worth a look. . . .  

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.  While there were no Old Testament comedians, 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 (with only 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 first stand-up comedian was Aristophanes (see post of 8/28/11) who was known for his political jabs.  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.  Some things don’t change. . . . .    

Joe Miller’s Joke Book

I always wanted to be a stand up comedian — but I just don’t have the legs for it. . . .

I love good jokes.  Comedy.  The Three Stooges (“are you kidding Petersen?”).  The Honeymooners.  Seinfeld.  I love to laugh.   Belly laugh.  The person I’d like most to have dinner with?  Aristophanes (see post of August 28, 2011).  My favorite funny movie?  “Planes Trains and Automobiles.”  Rent it.  Please!  Or maybe it’s “Airplane.”  Or “Young Frankenstein.”  Or “The Pink Panther.”  Humor is a great medicine (see post of July 28, 2011). 

While Aristophanes was the first stand up comedian in about 400 B.C., the first book of jokes wasn’t published until 1739.  It was Joe Miller’s Joke Book, then known as Joe Miller’s Jests or The Wit’s Vade-Mecum.  Joe Miller (1684-1738) was an English actor who played a large number of humorous/comedic parts.  When Miller died, a chap named John M0tley (1692-1750) published Joe Miller’s Jests in 1739.  It was a collection of contemporary and ancient witticisms.  The first edition had 247 numbered jokes. 

A famous teacher of Arithmetick who had long been married without being able to get his Wife with Child.  One said to her ‘Madam, your Husband is an excellent Arithmetician.’  ‘Yes, replies she, only he can’t multiply.'”   (That’s number 234) 

Joe Miller was referred to by Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) (“Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending [the turkey] to Bob’s. . . .”). 

Maybe after I croak, someone will write a book “The Renaissance Hombre’s Joke Book.”  I have a card file full of them!  Yeah. . . . .   

Aristophanes

A few years ago, I was asked in a biographical sketch who I would most like to have dinner with.  My answer?  Aristophanes.   Called by his contemporaries “Old Baggy Pants.”  See  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristophanes

Aristophanes (448 B.C. – 385 B.C.), the Athenian satirist, was probably the world’s first stand-up comedian (“I’d love to be a stand-up comic but I don’t have the legs for it“).  He was well-educated and began writing satires in his teens.  He wrote more than 40 plays of which only 11 have survived. 

The first play penned under his own name was The Knights (424 B.C.).  It was a scathing satire about the Athenian politician and military leader Cleon – the arrogant demagogue who succeeded Pericles.  Cleon is aptly depicted in the play as a bloated and intoxicated lout – whose face and tunic are always smeared with wine.  It is said that Aristophanes sometimes played the part of Cleon – lurching onto stage, staggering around – because he wanted to make sure the part was played “properly.”  The spoof was wonderfully popular with everyone in Athens — except for Cleon who sent messengers to Aristophanes to suggest strongly that he “cool it.” 

In the world of literature, the satiric works of Ben Jonson and Henry Fielding were especially influenced by Aristophanes.  Examine the comedies of Shakespeare and you will find the tongue-in-cheek humor of Aristophanes swimming beneath the surface.

If we sat down to dinner, I’d order the spaghetti carbonara for both of us  — with a nice Barolo (see post of July 27th).   Then we’d start telling jokes. . . . .