(Roughly) Daily

The uses of parchment…

The good folks at Diotima (part of the Stoa Consortium) have published John Quinn’s translation of Philogelos (The Laughter Lover), a collection of 265 jokes, likely made in the fourth or fifth century CE. Some manuscripts give the names of the compilers as the otherwise-unknown Hierocles and Philagrios; others drop the name of one or other or both.

Although The Laugher Lover is the oldest surviving example, joke-books already had a long pedigree. For example, according to Athenaeus, Philip the Great of Macedon had paid handsomely for a social club in Athens to write down its members’ witticisms. And at the dawn of the second century BCE, Plautus twice has a character refer to joke-books.

Still this set of zingers is historically interesting, and contains such rib-ticklers as:

#70. An intellectual came to check in on a friend who was seriously ill. When the man’s wife said that he had ‘departed’, the intellectual replied: “When he arrives back, will you tell him that I stopped by?”

#115. An Abderite saw a eunuch talking with a woman and asked him if she was his wife. When he replied that eunuchs can’t have wives, the Abderite asked: “So is she your daughter?” (Abdera was a city in Thrace, whose inhabitants bore the brunt of dumb-ethnic jokes dating back at least to the days of Cicero in the first century BCE.)

#187. A rude astrologer cast a sick boy’s horoscope. After promising the mother that the child had many years ahead of him, he demanded payment. When she said, “Come tomorrow and I’ll pay you,” he objected: “But what if the boy dies during the night and I lose my fee?”

More here.

As we mourn what’s lost in translation, we might toss some hard-boiled birthday greetings in the direction of Raymond Chandler, novelist (The Big Sleep, Farewell, My Lovely, et al.) and screenwriter (Double Indemnity, with Billy Wilder, e.g.), whose Philip Marlowe was (with Hammett’s Sam Spade) synonymous with “private detective,” whose style (with Hammett’s) defined a genre, and who was (unlike Hammett) born on this date in 1888.

Love interest nearly always weakens a mystery because it introduces a type of suspense that is antagonistic to the detective’s struggle to solve the problem. It stacks the cards, and in nine cases out of ten, it eliminates at least two useful suspects. The only effective love interest is that which creates a personal hazard for the detective – but which, at the same time, you instinctively feel to be a mere episode. A really good detective never gets married.

– Raymond Chandler, “Casual Notes on the Mystery Novel” (essay, 1949)

Raymond Chandler

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