On Using Humor in Public Speaking

Cicero, De inventione

“If the matter allows, it is not useless to begin from some different angle or with a joke or something which you think up on the spot, the sort of thing which gets applause and shouts. You might also use something which is prepared for you, an anecdote, fable, or something else which has something funny in it.

If the gravity of the affair prohibits a sense of humor, it is not inappropriate to include something sad, unknown, or pretty dreadful right from the beginning. For, just as weariness for good can be treated with some small bite or lightened by something sweet, a mind tired of listening is reinvigorated by amazement or a laugh.”

Sin res dabit, non inutile est ab aliqua re nova aut ridicula incipere aut ex tempore quae nata sit, quod genus strepitu acclamatione; aut iam parata, quae vel apologum vel fabulam vel aliquam contineat irrisionem; aut si rei dignitas adimet iocandi facultatem, aliquid triste, novum, horribile statim non incommodum est inicere. Nam, ut cibi satietas et fastidium aut subamara aliqua re relevatur aut dulci mitigatur, sic animus defessus audiendo aut admiratione integratur aut risu novatur.

Some Examples of Ciceronian jokes:

Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.1:

“Who is there, that has taken care to read those those books of his jokes which his freedman composed, who does not know how much Cicero excelled in humor?   (Though, some suspect that the freedman was the author.) Who is there, who doesn’t know that he was often called the ‘consular clown’ by his enemies? Vatinius mentioned this in his own speech. I would, if it wouldn’t take too long, recall those cases in which he represented guilty clients, which he won by joking.”

Cicero autem quantum in ea re valuerit quis ignorat qui vel liberti eius libros quos is de iocis patroni conposuit, quos quidam ipsius putant esse, legere curavit? Quis item nescit consularem eum scurram ab inimicis appellari solitum? quod in oratione etiam sua Vatinius posuit. Atque ego, ni longum esset, referrem, in quibus causis, cum nocentissimos reos tueretur, victoriam iocis adeptus sit.

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 12.12

12 The clever response of Marcus Cicero as he defends himself against a claim of obvious lying

“This is a part of rhetorical training too—to admit criminal matters not subject to danger cleverly and with charm so that, if something foul is alleged which cannot be denied, you may defuse it with a humorous response and make the whole matter more dignified with a joke rather than an allegation, just as it is recorded that Cicero did when he tempered what could not be denied with a clever and amusing comment.

For when Cicero wanted to purchase a house on the Palatine hill and he did not have the money at hand, he accepted in private as much as two million sesterces [$100,000?] from Publius Sulla* who was then a defendant in a case. But the whole matter was made public before he bought the house and he was charged with receiving money for buying a house from an accused defendant. So then, troubled by the unanticipated criticism, Cicero denied that he had received the money and denied that he would have bought the house, saying “Indeed, If I buy the house, it is true that I took the money”.

But later, when he had bought the house and was charged with being a liar in the senate by his enemies, he laughed plenty and said while chuckling: “You are senseless men if you don’t know that it is a mark of a wise and cautious head of a family, when he wants to buy something, to deny that he wants to buy it to scare off competitors!”

*He was charged for participating in the conspiracy with Cataline.

XII Faceta responsio M. Ciceronis amolientis a se crimen manifesti mendacii.

[1] Haec quoque disciplina rhetorica est callide et cum astu res criminosas citra periculum confiteri, ut, si obiectum sit turpe aliquid, quod negari non queat, responsione ioculari eludas et rem facias risu magis dignam quam crimine, sicut fecisse Ciceronem scriptum est, cum id, quod infitiari non poterat, urbano facetoque dicto diluit. [2] Nam cum emere uellet in Palatio domum et pecuniam in praesens non haberet, a P. Sulla, qui tum reus erat, mutua sestertium uiciens tacita accepit. [3] Ea res tamen, priusquam emeret, prodita est et in uulgus exiuit, obiectumque ei est, quod pecuniam domus emendae causa a reo accepisset. [4] Tum Cicero inopinata obprobratione permotus accepisse se negauit ac domum quoque se empturum negauit atque ‘adeo’ inquit ‘uerum sit accepisse me pecuniam, si domum emero’. Sed cum postea emisset et hoc mendacium in senatu ei ab inimicis obiceretur, risit satis atque inter ridendum: ‘ἀκοινονόητοι’ inquit ‘homines estis, cum ignoratis prudentis et cauti patrisfamilias esse, quod emere uelit, empturum sese negare propter competitores emptionis.’

Macrobius, Saturnalia (II.2.3.1-4) 

“I am surprised that you all have been quiet about Cicero’s jokes which prove him as eloquent as in everything else he said. If it seems right, I am prepared—like the guardian of a temple about to announce the oracles of a god—to repeat the Ciceronian jests I remember.

When everyone appeared ready to listen to him, he began: “When Marcus Cicero dined with Damasippus and his host offered him a rather middling wine and said “Drink this forty-year old Falernian,” Cicero replied “It carries its age well.” At another time when he saw his own son-in-law Lentulus, a man of short stature, girded up with a long sword, he asked “Who has attached my son-in-law to a sword?” Nor did he keep a similar bite from his brother Quintus Cicero. For, when visiting the province Quintus that was administering, he saw his brother’s portrait armed with a circular shield sculpted with much greater size near the chest in the manner of pictures (his brother was also a bit on the shorter side), he said “Half of my brother is bigger than the whole!”

Sed miror omnes vos ioca tacuisse Ciceronis, in quibus facundissimus, ut in omnibus, fuit: et, si videtur, ut aedituus responsa numinis sui praedicat ita ego quae memoria suggesserit refero dicta Ciceronis. Tum omnibus ad audiendum erectis ille sic incipit: 2 M. Cicero, cum apud Damasippum coenaret et ille mediocri vino posito diceret: Bibite Falernum hoc, annorum quadraginta est: Bene, inquit, aetatem fert. 3 Idem cum Lentulum generum suum, exiguae naturae hominem, longo gladio adcinctum vidisset: Quis, inquit, generum meum ad gladium alligavit? 4 Nec Q. Ciceroni fratri circa similem mordacitatem pepercit. Nam cum in ea provincia quam ille rexerat vidisset clypeatam imaginem eius ingentibus lineamentis usque ad pectus ex more pictam (erat autem Quintus ipse staturae parvae), ait: Frater meus dimidius maior est quam totus.

Image result for Cicero

Drinking Games, Ugly Wives, and Funny Monkeys: The Observational Wit of Anacharsis the Skythian

I posted the sayings of Anacharsis the Scythian last year

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 10.50

“Anacharsis the Skythian, when a they had a drinking contest at Periander’s house, asked for the first prize because he was the first of the drinkers to get drunk, believing that the  goal of a drinking contest was the same as running: being first.”

᾿Ανάχαρσις δ’ ὁ Σκύθης παρὰ Περιάνδρῳ τεθέντος ἄθλου περὶ τοῦ πίνειν ᾔτησε τὸ νικητήριον πρῶτος μεθυσθεὶς τῶν συμπαρόντων, ὡς ὄντος τέλους τούτου καὶ τῆς ἐν τῷ πότῳ νίκης ὥσπερ καὶ τῆς ἐν τῷ τρέχειν.

10.64

“Anacharsis has shown that getting drunk keeps our eyes from seeing clearly—that opinions of the drunk tend to be wrong. For when a fellow drinker saw his wife at a party, he said “Anacharsis, you have married an ugly woman.” And he responded, “That’s quite clear to me. But pour me a stronger drink, child, and I’ll make her pretty!”

ὅτι δὲ τὸ μεθύειν καὶ τὰς ὄψεις ἡμῶν πλανᾷ σαφῶς ἔδειξεν ᾿Ανάχαρσις δι’ ὧνεἴρηκε, δηλώσας ὅτι ψευδεῖς δόξαι τοῖς μεθύουσι γίγνονται. συμπότης γάρ τις ἰδὼν αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα ἐν τῷ συμποσίῳ ἔφη· ‘ὦ ᾿Ανάχαρσι, γυναῖκα γεγάμηκας αἰσχράν.’ καὶ ὃς ἔφη· ‘πάνυ γε κἀμοὶ δοκεῖ· ἀλλά μοι ἔγχεον, ὦ παῖ, ποτήριον ἀκρατέστερον, ὅπως αὐτὴν καλὴν ποιήσω.’

14.2

“I also know that Anacharsis the Skythian, when comedians were performing at a dinner party, sat there without laughing. But when a monkey came in, he laughed and said “This is funny by nature; but the man has to practice.”

καίτοι γε οἶδα καὶ ᾿Ανάχαρσιν τὸν Σκύθην ἐν συμποσίῳ γελωτοποιῶν εἰσαχθέντων ἀγέλαστον διαμείναντα, πιθήκου δ’ ἐπεισαχθέντος γελάσαντα φάναι, ὡς οὗτος μὲν φύσει γελοῖός ἐστιν, ὁ δ’ ἄνθρωπος ἐπιτηδεύσει.

Anacharsis.png

Suda

s.v. Angkura: Note that Anakharsis, a Skythian philosopher, invented the anchor and the potter’s wheel. He lived around the time of Kroisos.

Ἄγκυραν: ὅτι Ἀνάχαρσις Σκύθης φιλόσοφος εὗρεν ἄγκυραν καὶ τὸν κεραμεικὸν τροχόν. ἦν δὲ ἐπὶ Κροίσου.

“s.v. Anacharsis, the son of Gnuros, and a Greek woman. A Skythian, philosopher, and brother of the king of the Skythians, Kadouias. He wrote Laws of the Scythians in epic verse, On the Simplicity of the Affairs of Human Life, adding up to around eight hundred lines. He invented the anchor and the potter’s wheel. He died while performing Greek rites because his brother was conspiring against him. According to others, he died in deep old age, nearly 100 years old.”

᾿Ανάχαρσις, Γνύρου, μητρὸς δὲ ῾Ελληνίδος, Σκύθης, φιλόσοφος, ἀδελφὸς Καδουΐα τοῦ Σκυθῶν βασιλέως. ἔγραψε Νόμιμα Σκυθικὰ δι’ ἐπῶν, Περὶ εὐτελείας τῶν εἰς τὸν ἀνθρώπινον βίον ἔπη πάντα ω′. εὗρε δὲ οὗτος ἄγκυραν καὶ τὸν κεραμεικὸν τροχόν. ἦν δὲ ἐπὶ Κροίσου. καὶ τετελεύτηκεν ῾Ελληνικὰς τελετὰς ἐπιτελῶν ἐν Σκύθαις, ἐπιβουλεύσαντος αὐτῷ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ· κατὰ δέ τινας ἐν γήρᾳ βαθεῖκαὶ μέχρις ἐτῶν ρ′.

“Everything is Laughter in The End”: An Epitaph

Anonymous epitaph for Democritus, Greek Anthology 7.56

“This was the source of Democritus’ laughter, as he would say immediately:
‘Did I not say, while laughing, that everything is laughter in the end?
For I too, after my boundless wisdom and ranks of
So many books, lie beneath a tomb as a joke.’ ”

῏Ην ἄρα Δημοκρίτοιο γέλως τόδε, καὶ τάχα λέξει·
„Οὐκ ἔλεγον γελόων· ‚Πάντα πέλουσι γέλως’;
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ σοφίην μετ’ ἀπείρονα καὶ στίχα βίβλων
τοσσατίων κεῖμαι νέρθε τάφοιο γέλως.”

Image result for Ancient Greek Democritus

No Poem Without a Penis: Martial 1.35

“Cornelius, you complain that I write poems which are not serious enough, and which a teacher would not read in school: but my poems, just like a husband with his wife, cannot please without a penis. Would you have me write a wedding song without mentioning a wedding? Who would require clothes at the Floralia, or would put a long dress on a whore? This is the rule with funny poems: they are no good unless they have something a bit licentious. So put away your serious glare and please, cut my games and jokes a little slack, and don’t cut the balls off my books. There is nothing uglier than a castrated Priapus.”

Versus scribere me parum seueros
nec quos praelegat in schola magister,
Corneli, quereris: sed hi libelli,
tamquam coniugibus suis mariti,
non possunt sine mentula placere.              5
Quid si me iubeas thalassionem
uerbis dicere non thalassionis?
quis Floralia uestit et stolatum
permittit meretricibus pudorem?
Lex haec carminibus data est iocosis,              10
ne possint, nisi pruriant, iuuare.
Quare deposita seueritate
parcas lusibus et iocis rogamus,
nec castrare uelis meos libellos
Gallo turpis est nihil Priapo.

Metagenes Messing With Homer, An April First Tradition

In an earlier post I mentioned Metagenes’ playing with a line from the Iliad:

 

Metagenes (fr. 19, Athenaeaus 270e)

“One Bird Omen is best: defend your dinner!”

εἵς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ δείπνου

This is the comic poet’s adaptations of Hector’s famous dismissal of a bad omen in the Iliad:

Homer, Iliad 12.243:

“One bird-omen is best: defend your fatherland”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης.

 

Here are additional adaptations I have made for other characters from myth (I welcome any other attempts to play along!):

 

For Polyphemos, the goat-herding Cyclops:

“One bird-omen is best: protect your cheese”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ τύρης

 

For Telemachus:

“One bird-omen is best: defend your daddy”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάππου

 

For Odysseus

“One bird-omen is best: save your homecoming.”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ νόστου

 

For Paris

“One bird-omen is best: defend your ‘booty’ “

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πύγης

 

For Oedipus

“One bird-omen is best: defend your mommy”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ ματρὸς

 

For any old Satyr

“One bird-omen is best: defend your wine”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ οἴνου

 

For The Big Lebowski

“One bird-omen is best: protect your beverage, [man]”

εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πὀτου

 

If that seems mysterious, watch this:

 

Cicero Was a Cut-Up: Tully’s Jokes

Macrobius, Saturnalia (II.2.3.1-4) 

“I am surprised that you all have been quiet about Cicero’s jokes which prove him as eloquent as in everything else he said. If it seems right, I am prepared—like the guardian of a temple about to announce the oracles of a god—to repeat the Ciceronian jests I remember.

When everyone appeared ready to listen to him, he began: “When Marcus Cicero dined with Damasippus and his host offered him a rather middling wine and said “Drink this forty-year old Falernian,” Cicero replied “It carries its age well.” At another time when he saw his own son-in-law Lentulus, a man of short stature, girded up with a long sword, he asked “Who has attached my son-in-law to a sword?” Nor did he keep a similar bite from his brother Quintus Cicero. For, when visiting the province Quintus that was administering, he saw his brother’s portrait armed with a circular shield sculpted with much greater size near the chest in the manner of pictures (his brother was also a bit on the shorter side), he said “Half of my brother is bigger than the whole!”

Sed miror omnes vos ioca tacuisse Ciceronis, in quibus facundissimus, ut in omnibus, fuit: et, si videtur, ut aedituus responsa numinis sui praedicat ita ego quae memoria suggesserit refero dicta Ciceronis. Tum omnibus ad audiendum erectis ille sic incipit: 2 M. Cicero, cum apud Damasippum coenaret et ille mediocri vino posito diceret: Bibite Falernum hoc, annorum quadraginta est: Bene, inquit, aetatem fert. 3 Idem cum Lentulum generum suum, exiguae naturae hominem, longo gladio adcinctum vidisset: Quis, inquit, generum meum ad gladium alligavit? 4 Nec Q. Ciceroni fratri circa similem mordacitatem pepercit. Nam cum in ea provincia quam ille rexerat vidisset clypeatam imaginem eius ingentibus lineamentis usque ad pectus ex more pictam (erat autem Quintus ipse staturae parvae), ait: Frater meus dimidius maior est quam totus.

Tawdry Tuesday: What Did the Greeks Eat and Screw for 10 Years at Troy?

Students often complain about the lack of verisimilitude in the heroic diet–even though the Odyssey  mentions that Odysseus’ companions fish and hunt birds before they kill the cattle in Thrinacia, students find something odd about a diet of meat, bread and wine.

Apparently ancient comic poets did too–and they were concerned about the reality of heroic sexual habits as well. Obviously, as the beginning of book 1 of the Iliad makes clear, eligible ladies were not in excess supply.

[Warning: this next passage is a little, well, explicit]
Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 1.46

“Sarpedon makes it clear that they ate fish when he says that being captured is similar to hunting with a fishing net. In the comic charm, Eubolos also says jokingly:

Where dies Homer say that any of the Achaeans
Ate fish? They only ever roast meat—he never has
Anyone of them boil it at all!
And not a one of them sees a single prostitute—
They were stroking themselves for ten years!
They knew a bitter expedition, those men who
After taking a single city went back home
With assholes much wider than the city they captured.

The heroes also didn’t allow freedom to the birds in the air, but they set snares and nets for thrushes and doves. They practices for bird hunting when they tied the dove to the mast of the ship and shot arrows at it, as is clear from the Funeral Games. But Homer leaves out their consumption of vegetables, fish and birds because of gluttony and because cooking is inappropriate, he judged it inferior to heroic and godly deeds.”

prostitute
The Achaeans did not have this option…

ὅτι δὲ καὶ ἰχθῦς ἤσθιον Σαρπηδὼν δῆλον ποιεῖ (Ε 487), ὁμοιῶν τὴν ἅλωσιν πανάγρου δικτύου θήρᾳ. καίτοι Εὔβουλος κατὰ τὴν κωμικὴν χάριν φησὶ παίζων (II 207 K)·
ἰχθὺν δ’ ῞Ομηρος ἐσθίοντ’ εἴρηκε ποῦ
τίνα τῶν ᾿Αχαιῶν; κρέα δὲ μόνον ὤπτων, ἐπεὶ
ἕψοντά γ’ οὐ πεποίηκεν αὐτῶν οὐδένα.
ἀλλ’ οὐδὲ μίαν ἀλλ’ ἑταίραν εἶδέ τις
αὐτῶν, ἑαυτοὺς δ’ ἔδεφον ἐνιαυτοὺς δέκα.
πικρὰν στρατείαν δ’ εἶδον, οἵτινες πόλιν
μίαν λαβόντες εὐρυπρωκτότεροι πολὺ
τῆς πόλεος ἀπεχώρησαν ἧς εἷλον τότε.

οὐδὲ τὸν ἀέρα δ’ <οἱ> ἥρωες τοῖς ὄρνισιν εἴων ἐλεύθερον, παγίδας καὶ νεφέλας ἐπὶ ταῖς κίχλαις καὶ πελειάσιν ἱστάντες. ἐγυμνάζοντο δὲ πρὸς ὀρνεοθηρευτικὴν [καὶ] τὴν πελειάδα τῇ μηρίνθῳ κρεμάντες ἀπὸ νηὸς ἱστοῦ καὶ τοξεύοντες ἑκηβόλως εἰς αὐτήν, ὡς ἐν τῷ ἐπιταφίῳ δηλοῦται (Ψ 852). παρέλιπε δὲ τὴν χρῆσιν τῶν λαχάνων καὶ ἰχθύων καὶ τῶν ὀρνίθων διά τε τὴν λιχνείαν καὶ προσέτι τὴν ἐν ταῖς σκευασίαι ἀπρέπειαν, ἐλάττω κεκρικὼς ἡρωικῶν καὶ θείων ἔργων.

Note: My small LSJ defines δέφω as “to soften by working by the hand, to make supple, to tan hides.” The 1902 LSJ uses Latin to explain: “sensu obscoeno, v. Lat. Masturbari.”

The Suda cuts to the chase on this one with “dephein: touching the genitals. So, “rubbing” (Dephomenos) instead of “flogging your genitals.”

Δέφειν: τὸ τοῦ αἰδοίου τινὰ ἅπτεσθαι. καὶ Δεφόμενος, ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀποδέρων τὸ αἰδοῖον.

And, apart from Euboulos, the other major proof of this comes from Aristophanes:

Aristophanes, Knights 23-24

ΟΙ. Β′                                               Πάνυ καλῶς.
῞Ωσπερ δεφόμενός νυν ἀτρέμα πρῶτον λέγε
τὸ μολωμεν, εἶτα δ’ αὐτο, κᾆτ’ ἐπάγων πυκνόν.

“Excellent.
Just as if you were masturbating, say it first now gently
“let us hurry” and then again pushing on, quickly.”

[Here’s a link to the whole play. Soon, one of the interlocutors stops “because the skin is irritated by masturbation.” (῾Οτιὴ τὸ δέρμα δεφομένων ἀπέρχεται, 29)]

The verb is not common, to say the least, so later commentators found it necessary to gloss it and explain Aristophanes’ joke. I realize that I might be crossing many boundaries of propriety here, but I am a bit intrigued by the explanations of the joke, how the joke immediately becomes less funny, and the language used in the commentaries. So, here it goes:

Scholia in Knights:

[1] “ ‘Just like dephomenos’: instead of “flogging your genitals” (apodérôn to aidoion). For, when men touch their genitals they don’t complete as they began, but they move more eagerly towards the secretion of semen. This plays on that, he means start small at first but then go continuously.

[2]dephomenos’: “having intercourse’. Flogging genitals.

[3]dephomenos’: They mean handling the penis. For, when men take hold of their penises they don’t move towards ejaculation the way they began, but more eagerly over time, as they are inflamed by the continuity of movement.”

vet ὥσπερ δεφόμενος: ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀποδέρων τὸ αἰδοῖον. οἱ γὰρ ἁπτόμενοι τῶν αἰδοίων οὐχ ὡς ἤρξαντο, ἀλλὰ σπουδαιότερον κινοῦσι πρὸς τῇ τῆς γονῆς ἐκκρίσει. τοῦτο οὖν λέγει, ὅτι πρῶτον κατὰ μικρόν, εἶτα συνεχῶς λέγε. RVEΓ2M

vet δεφόμενος] ξυνουσιάζων, ἀποδέρων τὸ αἰδοῖον. M

Tr δεφόμενος] ἤγουν τοῦ μορίου ἁπτόμενος. οἱ γὰρ ἁπτόμενοι τοῦ μορίου
πρὸς ἔκκρισιν τῆς γονῆς οὐχ ὡς ἤρξαντο κινοῦσιν ἀλλὰ σπουδαιότερον, ἐκπυρούμενοι τῇ συνεχείᾳ τῆς κινήσεως. VatLh