To pilfer one of the oldest jokes in the book means dusting off the Philogelos (meaning “Laughter Lover”), a Greek anthology of more than 200 jokes from the fourth or fifth century.
From gags about dunces to jests at the expense of great thinkers, here are some jokes from the oldest existing collection of jokes, as translated by now-retired classical languages professor William Berg.
“Consulting a hotheaded doctor, a fellow says, ‘Professor, I’m unable to lie down or stand up; I can’t even sit down.’ The doctor responds: ‘I guess the only thing left is to hang yourself.'”
“A wife-hater is attending the burial of his wife, who has just died. When someone asks, ‘Who is it who rests in peace here?’, he answers, ‘Me, now that I’m rid of her!'”
“Two lazy-bones are fast asleep. A thief comes in, pulls the blanket from the bed, and makes off with it. One of them is aware of what happened and says to the other, ‘Get up! Go after the guy who stole our blanket!’ The other responds, ‘Forget it. When he comes back to take the mattress, let’s grab him then.'”