PHILAGELOS, THE WORLD’S OLDEST JOKE BOOK


Don't Worry Be Happy
Sculpture by KSR

Laughter is good for the soul, and it sometimes keeps you out of a lot of trouble. People have been laughing at one thing or another for centuries. Robert Frost wrote “If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.”

Philagelos, a composite collection of 260 or so gags in Greek probably put together in the 4th century, is the oldest existing collection of jokes, but not the oldest collection ever heard of. In the 2nd century Athenaeus wrote that Philip II of Macedon paid for a social club in Athens to write down its members’ jokes. Apparently the early jokes were similar to the jokes of today, which throws out any thought that we may have evolved to a higher standard.

Do we all laugh at the same jokes? I think not. Things that I find hilarious, frequently bring a shake of the head from Dr. Advice. Contrarily, his idea of funny usually leaves me a bit chilly and wondering if he needs his head examined. The fact that we all find something to laugh at is the more important.

Laughter was always a favorite device of ancient monarchs and tyrants, as well as being a weapon used against them. A good king, of course, knew how to take a joke. One of the most famous one-liners of the ancient world was a joking insinuation about the paternity of the Emperor Augustus. The story goes that spotting a man from the provinces who looked much like the himself, the emperor asked if the man’s mother had ever worked in the palace. ‘No’, came the reply, ‘but my father did’. Augustus found that quite humorous.

There were many well-known philagelos ‘laughter-lovers’ in the first century, some of whom enjoyed seating dinner guests on ancient ‘whoopi cushions’ and then laughing as the air was gradually let out, proving that schoolboy pranks existed even then

democritus
Democritus, 5th century philosopher and atomist

Democritus, renowned as antiquity’s most inveterate laugher, was a stumpy little thumb of a man, who not only loved laughing but making others laugh as well. From Democritus to Whoopi Goldberg, the laugh instigators who grace our world keep the serious stuff at bay, and enable the sick, the lazy and the lame to face the perils of daily living.

GOODBYE UNCLE LENNIE


LENNIE_0004 He wasn’t our uncle; he wasn’t even related except by choice. For over 65 years he was our “big brother”, wise advisor, lawyer and well-loved friend. The only photos I could find among the many taken during the years of our friendship, had someone’s arm around him, so I’m including this one. He was “Uncle” Lennie to many people for his wisdom and good humor, especially to us and our family.

He loved kids, and as his grandchildren began arriving, he took them all for a day of fun every Saturday. When our own grandchildren arrived, my husband’s first remark was to say he wanted to be the same kind of grandfather as Lennie. I think he has been.

For thirty years he gave his own all-male birthday party at Scott’s, a prominent Oakland restaurant, to which over 100 guests came, entertained and were entertained with jokes and hi-jinks. He was fond of saying that women were also invited as long as they would jump out of the birthday cake naked! To my knowledge that never happened. He always arrived at the party in a limo wearing a tophat and his red clown nose and a big bow tie.

Lennie was a joke-teller supreme. He told jokes to his grandkids, to the postman, the waiters, and to anyone who would listen. The coming of the internet with its joke-sharing gave him constant new material. His penchant for crazy hats and a red clown nose added to the fun. At one memorable party he brought the mascot mule for the Oakland A’s and at another, the cast of the musical “Chicago” came to liven things up. Red clown noses were passed out at his funeral which he would have approved.

He was a CPA, and at the age of 44 he went to Law School and became an attorney as well. Besides that, he became Probate Referee for the County of Alameda for many years. His loyalty to the University of California was legendary, and he loved the Cal football team, win or lose.

He was a good athlete, including tennis and raquetball, and loved golfing, was a member and also the president of the prestigious Sequoya Country Club. Upon his death, the flag was lowered to half-mast in respect to a man loved not only by fellow members, but by the bar and wait staff as well.

Most of all, he was our dear friend, and we will miss him. He always used to say, “Just because they don’t call you, you call them. The phone works both ways. Remember, you’re a long time dead.” Lennie Gross, your 94 years went all too soon.