15 Jokes From the World's Oldest Jokebook

Images: iStock. Collage: Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss.
Images: iStock. Collage: Lucy Quintanilla, Mental Floss.

The oldest recorded joke—a lowbrow Sumerian quip stating "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap"—dates back to 1900 BCE, eking out a pharaoh wisecrack from Ancient Egypt by a solid three centuries.

But to pilfer one of the oldest jokes in the book means dusting off the Philogelos (meaning "Laughter Lover"), a Greek anthology of more than 200 jokes from the 4th or 5th century. From gags about dunces to jests at the expense of great thinkers, here are 15 jokes from the oldest existing collection of jokes, as translated by now-retired classical languages professor William Berg.

1. A student dunce goes swimming

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A student dunce went swimming and almost drowned. So now he swears he'll never get into water until he's really learned to swim."

2. An intellectual visits a friend

ancient dancers
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"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?'"

3. The miser's will

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A miser writes his will and names himself as the heir."

4. The sharp-witted spectator

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A sharp wit observes a slow runner: 'I know just what that gentleman needs.' 'What's that?' demands the sponsor of the race. 'He needs a horse, otherwise, he can't outrun the competition!'"

5. The hot-headed doctor

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"Consulting a hotheaded doctor, a fellow says, 'Professor, I'm unable to lie down or stand up; I can't even sit down.' The doctor responds: 'I guess the only thing left is to hang yourself.'"

6. The cowardly sailor

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A coward is asked which are safer, warships or merchant-ships. 'Dry-docked ships,' he answers."

7. The jealous landlord

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"An envious landlord sees how happy his tenants are. So he evicts them all."

8. The drunk barkeeper

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A drunk opens a bar, and stations a chained bear outside."

9. The guy with bad breath

ancient comedian
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A guy with bad breath decides to take his own life. So he wraps his head and asphyxiates himself."

10. The wife-hater

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A wife-hater is attending the burial of his wife, who has just died. When someone asks, 'Who is it who rests in peace here?', he answers, 'Me, now that I'm rid of her!'"

11. The luckless eunuch

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Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A luckless eunuch got himself a hernia."

12. The husband with halitosis

Roman woman holding a mask
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A husband with bad breath asks his wife, 'My dear, why do you hate me?' She give him an answer: 'Because you kiss me.'"

13. The gluttonous gifter

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"A glutton is marrying his daughter off to another glutton. Asked what he's giving her as a dowry, he responds, 'She's getting a house with windows that look out onto the bakery.'"

14. Too tired to care

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"Two lazy-bones are fast asleep. A thief comes in, pulls the blanket from the bed, and makes off with it. One of them is aware of what happened and says to the other, 'Get up! Go after the guy who stole our blanket!' The other responds, 'Forget it. When he comes back to take the mattress, let's grab him then.'"

15. The forgetful teacher

ancient roman theater masks
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library // Public Domain

"An incompetent teacher is asked the name of Priam's mother. At a loss, he says, 'Well, we call her Ma'am out of politeness.'"

An earlier version of this story ran in 2014.

11 Boredom-Busting Classes and Activities You Can Do at Home

A good workout is just one way to pass the time while socially isolating.
A good workout is just one way to pass the time while socially isolating.
jacoblund/iStock via Getty Images

Staying home as much as possible is the best way to stop the spread of novel coronavirus, according to health experts. If you’ve already taken this step to protect yourself and your community, you may be faced with a different problem: the crushing boredom that comes with spending all your time indoors. Fortunately, there have never been more ways to keep busy on the internet. In an effort to lift spirits and stimulate minds in isolation, businesses, artists, and institutions have found new ways to keep people connected from afar. From virtual field trips to free workout classes, here are the best boredom-busting activities to check out.

1. Take a free workout class with the YMCA.

Your local gym may be closed, but that doesn’t mean you have to postpone your workout routine for the foreseeable future. The YMCA has launched a new series of free, online fitness classes for people stuck at home. The on-demand videos include barre, bootcamp, yoga, tai chi, and weightlifting. After breaking a sweat for 30 minutes, you may even forget you’re not at the gym.

2. Meditate with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s jellyfish.

Taking care of your mental health is as important as maintaining your physical health while social distancing. If you want to start your day in a good head space, tune into the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s morning “MeditOceans” on YouTube. After closing to the public, the California aquarium started uploading 10- to 15-minute guided meditations set to soothing footage of marine life or scenes from nature. We recommend starting with their video of undulating jellyfish.

3. Take a virtual field trip to a National Park.

Combat claustrophobia by taking a virtual tour of some of the country’s most majestic national parks. The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks project from Google Arts & Culture offers virtual, 360-degree tours of five National Park System sites, all guided by real park rangers. The diverse destinations include the Kenai Fjords in Alaska; Hawai’i Volcanoes in Hawai’i; Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico; Bryce Canyon in Utah; and Dry Tortugas in Florida. You can view all the properties from your phone or computer, and if you have a virtual reality headset, you can transport yourself out of your home with an immersive experience.

4. Take an Improv Class from Second City.

Improv comedy is difficult to do alone. With Second City, you can take a class with other students and master instructors from the comfort of your home. Second City has helped launch the careers of such comedy heavyweights as Steve Carell, Bill Murray, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey. Even though its physical theaters in Chicago, Toronto, and Los Angeles are closed during the coronavirus crisis, comedy classes will continue online. In addition to improv, students can take virtual lessons in comedic songwriting, pitching TV shows, stand-up, sketch comedy, and more from Second City’s pro teachers. If you’re not willing to pay $195 to $295 for a four- to eight-week online course, you can take a one-time drop-in improv or stand-up class for $25.

5. Learn about Women’s History with The New-York Historical Society.

Whether you’re teaching someone home from school or looking to educate yourself in your spare time, there are plenty of remote resources online. The New-York Historical Society is sharing its expertise in the form of a free digital curriculum on women’s history in America. The online course materials cover the period from 1920 to 1948, starting with the flappers of the Jazz Age and ending with women in the postwar era. You can view the entire unit, which includes archival photos and documents, on the NYHS’s website.

6. Join the D.C. Library’s quarantine book club.

If you already plan on reading a ton of books in isolation, you can turn the solitary activity into a social one by joining a quarantine book club. The D.C. Public Library recently announced its book club D.C. Reads is going digital, and now anyone can participate from home. This month’s pick is With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. If you have a Washington, D.C. library card, you can use it to download the e-book for free. Book club discussions will take place on March 28 and April 4 at 2 p.m. through the library’s Twitter account.

7. Draw with Wendy Macnaughton.


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Whether you consider yourself a novice or a Picasso, you can benefit from making art with others. Every weekday at 10 a.m. PST, Wendy Macnaughton (illustrator of the cookbook Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat) hosts drawing classes in her Instagram Stories. All participants need is paper and a pencil. Artists of all ages can draw along, though Macnaughton states classes are just long enough to keep kids occupied for parents “to get a little work done or take a shower and take a couple deep breathes.”

8. Tour the American Museum of Natural History.

As long as you have an internet connection, the impressive halls of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City are just a few clicks away. Every day at 2 p.m. EST, the institution is sharing tours of its exhibits and collections as Facebook Lives. Some special sneak peeks published to the AMNH Facebook page so far include a tour of the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians and a look at its trilobite collection led by curator and trilobite paleontologist Melanie Hopkins.

9. Take a cooking class with Milk Street.

Not sure what to do with your quarantine food supply? Taking a cooking class is a great place to start. Through the end of April, Milk Street (from America’s Test Kitchen co-founder Christopher Kimball) is making its online culinary lessons free to everyone. Topics include baking, cooking without a recipe, and using certain kitchen tools. After a few weeks of classes, you’ll know your way around everything from a chef’s knife to an Instant Pot.

10. Get Creative with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

While it’s closed, the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver is using its social media to keep followers engaged with their creative sides. Every Tuesday on Instagram, the institution will post a new challenge to its Stories. This week’s challenge is finding something to read and posting about it to Instagram to help the museum compile the ultimate reading list. Past challenges have included setting aside 30 minutes to make art and sharing photos of pets wearing wigs.

11. Learn guitar with Fender.

At the risk of driving your quarantine-mates crazy, you can use isolation as an opportunity to get in touch with your inner rockstar. Fender is giving the first 100,000 users who create a new account on Fender Play three months of free online lessons. The instructional videos led by talented musicians are high-quality, and you can access them from your phone, tablet, or computer. And if you don't have a guitar at home, the program also includes lessons for bass guitars and ukuleles.

9 Classic Board Games You Can Play Online

This man may have just sunk his opponent's biggest ship on the Battleship app.

This man may have just sunk his opponent's biggest ship on the Battleship app.

Ryan Herron/iStock via Getty Images

An energetic round of Monopoly, Catan, or another classic board game is a great way to bond with friends and family. Crowding around a coffee table, on the other hand, isn’t a great way to practice social distancing. Luckily, many of the best board games have been adapted for smartphones and other devices, so you can still indulge in all the thrills of a family game night during isolation—read on to find out about nine of our favorites.

1. Catan Universe

Catan (The Settlers of was dropped in 2015) has been giving serious board gamers a chance to show off their strategy skills for 25 years, and the Catan Universe app has the same appeal. You and two friends can play the basic version of the board game for free, but there are also several other versions—including the “Cities & Knights” and “Seafarers” expansions and a stand-alone challenge called “Rise of the Inkas”—that you can purchase within the app if you’re looking for new adventures.

Download: iOS, Android

2. Boggle With Friends

With the virtual version of Boggle, you can hone your word search skills in single-player mode until you’re sure you’ll come out on top against your friends and family. Not only will you not have to rearrange all those cubes each round, you won’t have to keep score, either—the program does it all for you.

Download: iOS, Android

3. Clue

If anybody knows how it feels to be sequestered in a house with increasingly tense and anxious housemates, it’s Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, and the rest of Clue’s classic cast of characters. Wander the ominous rooms of Tudor Mansion to find the truth about Mr. Boddy’s untimely demise with the beautifully animated $4 Clue app. 

Download: iOS, Android

4. Battleship

For just $4 or $5, depending on your device, you can play the classic version of Battleship and a “Commander’s Mode,” where each commander comes with special abilities that shake up the tactical options for sinking your opponent’s ships. The app also features animated effects and nautical backdrops that really help bring your heroic maritime fantasies to life.

Download: iOS, Android

5. Monopoly

Embrace your entrepreneurial spirit and become the business mogul you were always meant to be—with absolutely no real-world stress or consequences—by investing in the $4 Monopoly app. It’s almost exactly the same as the game you know and (maybe) love, but there are a few additional features that might make your virtual game night even better, including customizable house rules and a “quick mode,” which promises a round that lasts no longer than an hour.

Download: iOS, Android

6. Scattergories

If you can text faster than you can write, you might actually prefer this free online edition of Scattergories to the original one. Fill the virtual room with friends or family and earn points for typing a city that starts with G, an element that starts with C, or any number of other category-letter match-ups. The app has autocorrect capabilities, so you don’t have to worry about losing the round over a spelling error, and you can also dispute the app if it rejects a response that your group considers acceptable.

Download: iOS, Android

7. Risk: Global Domination

The free Risk: Global Domination app offers the thrill of the original game without the necessity of sitting huddled around a tiny world map for hours (or days) at a time. Recommended for anyone whose favorite film scenes are those where generals in tight pants and three-cornered hats are plotting out ambushes with wooden figurines on a giant table.

Download: iOS, Android

8. Scrabble GO

Few things are as uniquely satisfying as landing a triple word score with quiz, quartzy, or another high-scoring Scrabble word—even if it’s no longer than two letters. The free Scrabble GO app gives you the chance to get that feeling from the comfort of your own secluded couch, no calculator necessary.

Download: iOS, Android

9. The Game of Life

It’s never too late in Life to earn an advanced degree or become a brain surgeon, and it’ll only cost you $3. The layout of the board is pretty similar to the one in the real-life game, and the app even includes animated versions of those beloved sphere-topped blue and pink player pieces.

Download: iOS, Android

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