Humor Through The Ages And Why It Changes Over Time

Why does our sense of humor change over time? At one point in our lives, armpit farting noises were the pinnacle of hilarity. At age five, nothing else could possibly top it. For some of us, nothing ever will. But for most people, what strikes us as funny changes drastically over time. There are also great spatial variations. What’s funny in one country will silence a room in another. Let’s have a look at what our ancient ancestors found funny:



“How do you entertain a bored pharaoh?”

“You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish.”

Egyptians maintain their political satire to this day with the following quip:

“Nasser was killed by poison, Sadat by a bullet and Mubarak by Facebook,”



One ancient Greek idiot joke reads: “An idiot, wanting to go to sleep but not having a pillow, told his slave to set an earthen jar under his head. The slave said that the jug was hard. The idiot told him to fill it with feathers.”

There are also the comic insults, listed so as to be used in instant one-line put downs – “You don’t have a face, but a fireplace” reads one. But my particular favorites are the ‘doctor’ jokes: “A person went to a doctor and said “doctor, whenever I get up from sleeping, I’m groggy for a half an hour afterwards and only after that am I all right” To which the doctor replied: “Get up half an hour later.”



Another of the jokes – said to be dated to 248AD when Rome held what was billed as the ‘Millennium Games’ – tells the story of a distraught athlete.’

Never mind,’ says a spectator. ‘You can always try again at the next Millennium Games.’

There is also an ancient version of the Monty Python dead parrot sketch.

It reads: ‘A man buys a slave, who dies soon after. When he complains, the slave seller replies, “Well, he didn’t die when I owned him”.’

So humor is a static concept, changing due to circumstance and audience. Or maybe its due to a maturing appreciation for humor. Ultimately, humor is subjective, and is up to the individual to form.

This particular Roman joke was found in a 1,700 year old book during a metal detecting excavation in the UK, along with clay pots and old coins. Amateur metal detecting is said to make up 90% of all archeological finds, as our article about The Law of Finders Keepers described. Metal detectors are relatively easy and cheap to get your hands on, and are made of hardwearing stainless steel so you can continue your hobby for years.

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Sources: Daily Mail, Curiousity Discovery, History Extra, Smithsonian Magazine, Splitsider, BBC

Siobhan R.// SMC Editor

Read more articles by this author here.

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