Forgot your password?  

Resources for students & teachers

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 248 pages of information about History of English Humour, Vol. 1 (of 2).

  “It is not mortal or immortal either
   But as it were compounded of the two,
   So that it neither lives the life of man
   Nor yet of god, but is incessantly
   New born again, and then again
   Of this its present life invisible,
   Yet it is known and recognised by all.”

From Hermippus:—­

  “There are two sisters, one of whom brings forth,
   The other and in turn becomes her daughter.”

Diphilus, in his Theseus, says, there were once three Samian damsels, who on the day of the festival of Adonis delighted themselves with riddles.  One of them proposed, “What is the strongest of all things?” Another answered, “Iron, because it is that with which men dig and cut.”  The third said, “The blacksmith, for he bends and fashions the iron.”  But the first replied, “Love, for it can subdue the blacksmith himself.”

The following is from Theadectes, a pupil of Isocrates, who lived about 300 B.C., and wrote fifty tragedies—­none of which survive.

  “Nothing which earth or sea produces,
   Nought among mortals hath so great increase. 
   In its first birth the largest it appears,
   Small in its prime, and in old age again,
   In form and size it far surpasses all."[17]

To make a riddle, that is a real test of ingenuity for all, and which but one answer satisfies, shows an advanced stage of the art.  The ancient riddles were almost invariably symbolical, and either too vague or too learned.  They seem to us not to have sufficient point to be humorous, but no doubt they were thought so in their day.

It may not be out of place here to advert to those light compositions called Silli, about which we have no clear information, even with regard to the meaning of the name.  From the fragments of them extant, we find that they were written in verse, and contained a considerable amount of poetical sentiment; indeed, all that has come down to us of Xenophanes, the first sillographer, is of this character.  We are told that he used parody, but his pleasantry, probably, consisted much of after-dinner jests and stories, for we find that although he praises wisdom, and despises the fashionable athletic games, he rejoiced in sumptuous banquets, and said that the water should first be poured into the cup, then the wine.  But the most celebrated sillographer was Timon the Phliasian—­intimate with Antigonus and Ptolemy Philadelphus—­who wrote three books of Silli, two in dialogues, and one in continuous narrative.  He was a philosopher, and the principal object of his work was to bring other sects into ridicule and discredit.  A few reflections of general application are scattered through it, but they are in general quite subsidiary and suggested by the subject matter.

PART III.

ROMAN HUMOUR.

Roman Comedy—­Plautus—­Acerbity&mdash
;­Terence—­Satire—­Lucilius—­Horace—­Humour
  of the Caesar Family—­Cicero—­Augustus—­Persius—­Petronius—­Juvenal
  —­Martial—­Epigrammatist—­Lucian—­Apuleius—­Julian the Apostate—­The
  Misopogon—­Symposius’ Enigmas—­Macrobius—­Hierocles and Philagrius.

Follow Us on Facebook