Please visit the new home of Majikthise at

« MediaWire healthcare roundup | Main | Dan Savage vs. Tony Perkins on Prop 8 »

November 13, 2008

Ancient Greek joke book foreshadows Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch

A mimetic ancestor of Monty Python's famous Dead Parrot sketch has been found in a 4th Century Greek joke book:

An ancestor of Monty Python's famous Dead Parrot comedy sketch has been found in a joke book dating back to Greece in the 4th Century.

Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which has been translated from Greek manuscripts, contains a joke where a man complains that a slave he was sold had died.

"When he was with me, he never did any such thing!" is the reply.

In the Python sketch, written 1,600 years later, the shopkeeper claims the dead parrot is "pining for the fjords".

The 265 jokes in Philogelos are attributed to a pair of jokers called Hierocles and Philagrius, about whom very little is known. [BBC]

The members of Monty Python had excellent classical educations, but there's no indication that they were aware of Laugh Addict when they wrote the parrot sketch.   

"Laugh Addicts" Hierocles and Philagrius are apparently the forefathers of drivetime radio.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Ancient Greek joke book foreshadows Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch:


Greek joke: A man wishes his former slave had died sooner.

British joke: A man who bought a parrot complains that the parrot is dead.

Different concepts.

It's all part of the cosmic grab-bag.

Well, given that I have a 5 and a 3 year old, and presuming that the Greeks must have had similar, I am quite surprised at the apparent absence of booger jokes in the surviving artifacts.

Actually, it reminds me of a cop story that I know has been around for at least 20 years. I first read it in an oral history entitled something like "Cops: In Their Own Words" where it was presented as fact, but I've since seen it in enough other places and contexts that I'm fairly sure it must be apocryphal. In brief:

Cop: "Mrs. Johnson, your husband has died from his wounds. You're under arrest for murder."

Mrs Johnson: "That sonovabitch! I stabbed him plenty of times before and he never died!"

Good jokes will not ever die. They'll just keep getting stolen, again, and again, and...
Hat's off, in all seriousness, with sincerity. Doing this research must have been a gas. Whoa, you had mentioned that flatulence jokes have floated around longer than sexy lettuce had. How might I have resisted? I shall not ever know, for I did not.
Is there a trace of "Who's on first?" by any chance? Maybe the Romans credit that to the Greek, as well, for they were first with everything else.

Text of the joke:

A man goes up to a student dunce and says, 'The slave you sold me died.' 'By the Gods,' counters the dunce, 'when he was with me, he never did any such thing!'

The joke above seems to be that the dunce is so stupid that he doesn't realize that someone can only die once.

In the Monty Python sketch, the seller insists that a dead parrot is alive, probably to avoid giving a refund:

Monty Python Dead Parrot sketch:

So I don't interpret the Greek joke to be about a man wishing his slave had died sooner anymore, but to be about how stupid the seller of the slave is.

i wonder if john cleese studied ancient greek. He would prbabl say "Ni" or "Ask Woger".

That only makes sense if you are pyton fan

The comments to this entry are closed.