BMCR 2001.04.05


, , Philogelos. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. München/Leipzig: K.G. Saur, 2000. 1 online resource (xvi, 115 pages).. ISBN 9783110947687 DM 78.

It is welcome to see the Bibliotheca Teubneriana embracing a black sheep: anyone interested in the “sub-literary” underbelly of Greece and Rome eventually makes the acquaintance of Philogelos, “The Laughter-lover”, a collection of 265 facetiae by the unknown “Hierocles and Philagrios”. Since the publication of William Hansen’s Anthology of Ancient Greek Popular Literature (Bloomington and Indiana: Indiana University Press; see BMCR 99.05.11), fifty-six of these jokes are available in Hansen’s translation with a contextualizing introduction (pp.272-282). Otherwise, one turns to Barry Baldwin’s 1983 The Philogelos or Laughter-Lover (London Studies in Classical Philology 10. Amsterdam: J.C. Gieben) and A.Thierfelder’s 1968 Philogelos der Lachfreund von Hierokles und Philagrios (München: Heimeran). Thierfelder’s edition, with German translation and extensive linguistic commentary, is primarily for those interested in the text and its difficulties. Baldwin translates the jokes into English (“I have not hesitated to change the word order, expand the Greek, or employ terms that are strictly speaking anachronistic”—this causes obvious problems), with an introduction and notes to contextualize the stereotypes presented therein, a bibliographical note and “an Appendix dealing in a technical way with words that provoke difficulty or interest or both.” This Appendix offers a range of linguistic criteria (often supplementing LSJ) from which the reader can draw her own conclusions about the compilation date of this text (note latinisms and words familiar from patristic sources).1 These two works are essential tools for the scholar of ancient Realien (Baldwin) and late antique ‘popular’ anthologies.

Dawe’s Philogelos is a new edition of the 265 jokes. As he writes, “Post editiones quas confecerunt Boissonade [1848], Eberhard (Berolini 1869) et Thierfelder…editoris labor multo levio fit.” Why, then, produce another edition of a less than mainstream text and one which has received adequate editorial treatment in the past? The superficial merits of an edition by an editor of Dawe’s experience, which would incorporate the past thirty years’ work on this text, ought to be obvious. Thierfelder’s 1968 edition is available to few (there is no copy in an Australian library); prior to this one must access Boissonade and Eberhard;2 neither of these draws on the manuscript Cryptoferratensis A 33 (Pierpont Morgan Library) or B.E. Perry’s work in collating the manuscript tradition of the Philogelos.3 Cryptoferratensis A 33 offers seven jokes from Philogelos (Dawe’s apparatus on joke 34 (p.13) gives this MS’s variant readings), the earliest version of the Life of Aesop, 226 fables of the Augustana recension, Physiologus, fragments of Kalilah and Dimnah, and 31 fables of Babrius: a veritable ‘anthology of popular literature’. As a scholar in Australia I might be reliant solely on Dawe’s edition. Unfortunately, as one familiar with Thierfelder’s edition, I cannot conclude that this is an adequate replacement or supplement; essentially, Dawe offers nothing new and incorporates little work post-dating 1970.

An editorial approach to “sub-literary” texts, which has little to recommend it, is the desire to (re)establish “good Greek”. It is the flaws in such texts which can provide the greatest cultural insights. The Greek of the Life of Aesop (which offers many parallels with Philogelos) is not“good Greek” (generally, Attic Greek); yet its most recent editor offers ” bon grec” as a main criterion for correction.4 Dawe’s edition is not so obviously unsubtle (but see joke 39: ” ἄδελφε correctior esset apud Atticos…”), but one notes such emendations as that in joke 8 (p.4): Dawe transposes the order of MS V ( σχολαστικὸς μῦν θ) and MSS AM ( σχολαστικὸς θέλων πιάσαι μῦν) to read σχολαστικὸς θ. This minor change mirrors the word order of the 9 and 11; yet the non-canonical nature of these jokes is illustrated by minor variations of word order in 4 (MSS AM against επ or in M’s addition of αὐτοῦ to 92, or in 9 where AM reads σχολαστικὸς θέλων αὐτοῦ τὸν ὄνον διδάξαι μὴ τρώγειν οὐ παρέβαλεν αὐτῶι τροφάς against EPV’s σχολαστικὸς θέλων τὸν ἵππον αὐτοῦ διδάξαι μὴ τρώγειν πολλὰ οὐ παρέβαλλεν αὐτῶι τροφάς. Dawe rightly prints both versions, a profitable decision, since AM reminds us of the ὄνος / νόος joke in 166, also found in Aristophanes Clouds 1273, Plato Laws 701c, etc.; the joke plays on the similar sounding τοῦ ὄνου and τοῦ νοῦ (“I’ve lost my ass” or“I’ve lost my mind”): see Baldwin, pp.92-93.

Dawe makes a number of good suggestions: in joke 36 (p.13) Dawe suggests ὑπὸ ἔννου for ἀνθρώπου in the codices (M gives the contraction ἄνου [with horizontal over-striking]), producing “Father, he said, you’ve been persuaded by slander, καὶ I)/SWS οὐδ) ὑπὸ ἔννου.” The emendation is persuasive, given that the butt of the joke is a σχολαστικός (it could even play paronomastically with ἑννύω, given that the joke concerns τὰ ἱμάτια). However, a contemptuous ἀνθρώπου (compare Herodes’ fifth Mime for the ironic tone that may colour and contextualize ἄνθρωπος) remains coherent when we read καὶοὐδ) with adversative force; Thierfelder notes Eberhard’s ἄλλου, but gives ἀνθρώπου a pronominal function. Moreover, Dawe’s emendation is the sole appearance of ἔννους in the text (but ἄνθρωπος is surprisingly infrequent). Acceptance of this reading lies with the reader. In 71 Dawe emends A’s ἀκρόπτυχα (a hapax. for which LSJ supplies “perh. cloth, napkin” to ἁβρόπτυχα. This emendation is neat and appropriate: it supplements our understanding of the item (the joke concerns samples of cloth). However, one must question the creation of a another hapax. In 123 Dawe offers ὀδυνᾶσθαι for A’s δύνασαι (accepted by Thierfelder)—an emendation with much to recommend it (see LSJ s.v. ὀδυνάω). The addition of the interrogation mark in 115 similarly aids our reading, as does the minor alteration in 150: εὐτράπελος [δύο] ξύστρων παρ

Other suggestions are less successful: Dawe offers ἐφ in 108, based on comparison with Aristophanes Wasps 955, where ἐφεστάναι is used, as here, of sheep. The emendation of Thierfelder’s τὸ δὲ ἵσταται adds little to the joke; furthermore, the verb has a different sense in the Aristophanes passage, and is echoed through further quasi-reduplications (956: κατεσθίει; cf. 959: κιθαρίζειν γὰρ οὐκ ἐπίσταται). Given this tenuous association through sheep, why does Dawe evoke this particular parallel? Consider Dawe’s suggestion for the crux ἀπουσίαν in 40; Eberhard offered ἐξουσίαν (followed by Thierfelder), Boissonade περιουσίαν, but Dawe suggests πλουσίαν …>. To replace a crux with a lacuna does not assist. Baldwin favoured ἐξουσίαν : “a well chosen word in context [of a burial] since the prefix ex suggests carrying out the body at a funeral, and because the word can stand for Latin patria potestas…. (p.64). See now also LSJ Supplement s.v. ἐξουσία R I 1. The reason for the large attendance at the funeral of the small boy is almost secondary to the functioning of the joke (as the attenuated version in MSS EPV demonstrates), but Dawe’s suggestion could supply a further pun on the πολλ forms. In 96 Dawe suggests that σχολαστικοὶ δύο δειλοί be supplemented by ἐδιώκοντα ὑπὸ πολεμίων καὶ. This augments the sense, but is unnecessary. Likewise for 162 Dawe supplies a lacuna postulating why the inhabitants of Kyme were jealous of Lollianus for building sections of the city wall at his own expense. Consider also 49 where Dawe retains ἐν τῆι πόλει ὢν καὶ, ” secludebat Thierfelder” (the restoration adds nothing to the joke). Addition to 137 destroys its pithy wittiness; this joke (repeated in 99) is perfectly understandable; likewise, 212(a) and 251 (one of the few obscene jokes5) are comprehensible without Dawe’s addition of a lacuna to each.

Often Dawe improves the Greek needlessly: in 99 Dawe emends because, elegantius foret : the punch-line μέχρι δὲ ἀγροῦ οὐκ ἔχω becomes μέχρι δὲ ἀγροῦ οὔ. To expect syntactical elegantia from this text is to misjudge its nature; such pedantic manipulations and additions as ἔφη in 96 or οἱ in 107 (cf. 169 and the transposed καὶ in 251) add little. Why replace A’s ὁρᾶι with βλέπει in 74? ὁράω predominates in the text. The order of 136 (A’s σιδόνιος γραμματικὸς ἠρώτα τὸν διδάσκαλον against Dawe’s σιδόνιον γραμματικὸν ἠρώτα ὁ διδασκόμενος) could be irrelevant to the overall effect of paraprosdokia, as Baldwin points out, commenting on Thierfelder’s preference of μαθητήν for διδάσκαλον.

Dawe appears unaware of Baldwin’s work on this text: Baldwin’s reference (p.85) to a patristic example of προσαπέμεινω in 132 undermines Eberhard and Thierfelder’s suspicions and makes unnecessary Dawe’s emendation to πρόσω ἀπέμεινεν. There is no necessity to emend ἑτέρου (AM) to ἑταίρου in the same joke: cross-reference with the Index verborum reveals that the former reading predominates over the latter; we need only refer to the prevalence of τις as the typical interlocutor in these jokes. In 145 Baldwin’s explanation would have simplified the editor’s task ( verba mercedem exigentis esse videntur, Dawe writes, cryptically). Baldwin, Thierfelder and Eberhard suspected a gloss in 160: Dawe retains the suspect words, noting that Eberhard deleted them—some editorial comment would be welcome (cf. 201). In 193 Hörandner’s suggestion might have been adopted (see Baldwin p.124).

As we might expect of a fluid tradition of oral humour, similar themes occur in other texts. Dawe provides cross-references in the apparatus to, for example, jokes 60, 61, 76, 78, 103, 142, 148, 149, 150, 193, 206, 234, 263, 254. But why not 166 (discussed above)? This edition makes no claims to be a commentary; nevertheless, it strikes this reviewer as a mark of uneven editorial style. Stronger criticism may be leveled at a significant omission: Dawe’s brief praefatio gives a full citation of Boissonade’s edition but Eberhard and Thierfelder occasion no such courtesy, nor is there a list of other editions, translations and linguistic comments in other publications, especially, in recent publications. Where, for instance, is a reference to Q. Cataudella (1970) “Note critiche al testo di PhilogelosRivista di cultura classica e medioevale 12: 249-256 (who offers a further suggestion for the crux in 76), or to G. Morgan (1981) ” Philogelos 216″ JHS 101: 140 (who supplies an explanation that makes Dawe’s suggested lacuna at 216 unnecessary)? Where does the reader look to chase up emendations offered in the apparatus by Needham (11, 124), de Rhoer (152, 263), Hertlein (156), Bursian and Haupt (167, 204, 205), Kurtz (176, 199), Sarrau (213), etc.? Yet, we are given references to van Thiel’s 1970 Hermes note (237), that of Hörandner in Gnomon (p.v and joke 76) and to Cribiore (61; see also Baldwin, pp.70 & 120). Where is G. Loewe’s edition of 1981?6 What of Thierfelder’s entry in RE Suppl. Band XI (1968) 1062-1068?

A brief Appendix discusses the relationship and divergent readings of zA (relying on Perry 1943—like Thierfelder, Dawe repeats the error in dating Perry’s article to 1945/6); there is also a comparative table of the jokes found in MSS AMC, EV, P and G, and a workmanlike Index verborum (why, however, does Dawe’s emendation ἔννου in 36 receive an entry, but neither of his two emendations in 96? Under μαθητής (p.103) read 199 not 190). From this Index one can discover that σχολαστικοί exist in abundance as the butt of jokes (viz, 1-7, 8-83, 85-103, 131, 175bis, 227(b) and 253-259), along with, but less popularly, doctors and seers; the εὐτράπελος, appropriately, often delivers the punch-line (55, 140-153, 239, 262-264); Abderites are the nationality of choice for idiots (112-127); dying occupies about 10% of the subject matter; γραμματοδιδάσκαλος is certainly the longest noun (140; Epicurus is so described at Diogenes Laertius 10.2.10); and, in common with “Aesop’s” fables, τις is the subject and/or interlocutor of choice, φημί the verb of choice—reinforcing the oral, performative nature of these mini-dramas. The joke “book”, like the fable “book” is more than a little oxymoronic.

I cannot criticize this edition for omissions which lie beyond the scope of the editorial ‘genre’, but it is a great pity that such a beautifully produced book is so flawed. The advantage of this edition is that it fills a niche created by the absence of two more desirable alternatives: a facsimile of Thierfelder’s edition or, best of all, a new edition with commentary by an editor interested in sub-literary products within their cultural milieu. I hesitate in seriously recommending the latter: the time is well overdue for scholars to stop editing this text and, rather, to examine its contents—to think about, for instance, joke 159 to which Dawe appends the comment ” quo spectet hic iocus nemo dum intellexit” (surely this is a stereotypical husband-wife interchange akin to the “misogynist” jokes 246-249?).

Baldwin commented that, “A good wine needs no bush, and a good joke needs no explanation. I have no interest in the so-called psychology of humour” (p.i). This is a pity, as Baldwin has done a great service to those interested in this text (why is he not cited in this edition?). One does not have to read Freud on jokes or Mary Douglas’ classic essay to comprehend that jokes, like fables, are forms of rebellion (having a “subversive effect on the dominant structure of ideas”) as well as sources of pleasure, part of “social process”.7 The jokes in the Philogelos deserve the attention their ‘modern’ counterparts have received;8 their stereotypes offer views of the ancient world which inform a holistic reading of other texts (for example, Theophrastus’ Characters); note, for instance, Jean Rougé’s article “Le Philogélôs et la navigation” Journal des Savants (1987) 3-12. We should conclude that joking is indeed a serious matter: the jokes found in the Philogelos deserve closer attention than they receive in this edition.


1. Third to sixth century AD? Joke 62 offers a date after 248 for this joke, mentioning Rome’s millennial celebrations.

2. A. Eberhard (1869) Philogelos: Hieroclis et Philagrii facetiae Berlin: H. Ebeling & C. Plahn. J.Fr. Boissonade (1848) Hierokles kai Philagrios. G. Pachymeris declamationes XIII quarum XII ineditae, Hieroclis et Philagrii grammaticorum φιλόγελως longe maximam partem ineditus Paris [Facsimile edition, Amsterdam: A.M. Hakkert, 1966].

3. B.E. Perry (1943) “On the manuscripts of the Philogelos” 157-166 in Classical Studies in Honor of William Abbott Oldfather Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

4. See F.R. Adrados (1993) [review of M.Papathomopoulos (1989) Aesopus Revisitatus. Recherches sur le texte des vies ésopiques. Volume I. La critique textuelle Athens: Ioannina; M.Papathomopoulos (1990) ὁ βίος τοῦ Αἰσώπου. ἡ παραλλαγή γ. κριτικὴ ἔκδοση μὲ εἰσαγωγὴ καὶ μετάφραση Athens: Ioannina] Gnomon 65: 660-664. For the bon grec comment see Papathomopoulos (1989) 113. Similarly, the principle of correction of one recension from another, when the other is considerably variant, is frequently encountered in these editions: see Adrados, p.663.

5. The Philogelos is notable for its paucity of “dirty” jokes: see rare examples at 45, 244, 245 and 251. Compare E.G. Orso (1979) Modern Greek Humor: a collection of jokes and ribald tales Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press. This should be read with G. Legman (1968-1975) The Rationale of the Dirty Joke: an analysis of sexual humour New York: Grove Press (2 volumes).

6. G. Loewe & W. Wuerfel (1981) Philogelos oder der Lach-Fan, von Hierokles und Philagrius Leipzig: Köhler und Amelang. I have been unable to obtain a copy of this edition, nor of the modern Greek translation and commentary by E.S. Stamatis φιλόγελως ἐκ τῶν ἱεροκλέους καὶ φιλαγρίου γραμματικοῦ (Athens, 1970), cited by Baldwin (p.115).

7. S. Freud (1905) Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious Translated by J. Strachey. Volume VIII in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute for Psycho-analysis [1960]. See, in particular, pp.90-152. M. Douglas “Jokes” 146-164 in Implicit Meanings: selected essays in anthropology London and New York: Routledge (Second edition, 1999).

8. See the bibliography pp.244-245 in J. Bremmer & H. Roodenburg (eds.) A Cultural History of Humour from Antiquity to the Present Day Cambridge: Polity Press. My thanks to Polly Low (Trinity Hall, Cambridge) for chasing unobtainable items for this review.