Elucidating One Greek Jest

“Aristotle explains why it is that we are so much fonder of those whom we benefit than of those by whom we are benefited, and I have asked myself whether the better sort of Greek teachers do not in their hearts feel that the Greeks ought to be very much obliged to them. Greek jests are very limited in quantity and quality. The phonetic purity of the language is fatal to the growth of puns. It often takes two words to make one pun in Greek, like the fabled trousers that took two gentlemen to show the pattern, and puns of this kind are paraded over and over again by rhetorician after rhetorician. The citizens of Hamburg made little clubs of four to understand one joke of Rivarol, and so a whole company of professors is some-times needed to elucidate one Greek jest; and your American teacher of Greek literature sometimes groans at the necessity of laboriously expounding Greek facetiousness instead of tossing off his own admirable witticisms to his own greater glory and the greater delectation of his audience. And I know whereof I affirm, because I have spent much oil and toil on the Wit and Humor of Aristophanes. But I am not going to dwell on Aristophanes’ obligations to me.”

-Basil L. Gildersleeve, Greek Language and Literature

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