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Caligula, the first modern joker
Caligula may have been the first to make pointless practical jokes. According to Suetonius 55.3, he once sent a messenger "to king Ptolemy in Mauretania; and its purport was this: "Do neither good nor ill to the man whom I have sent you".

This type of absurd joke has been enjoying some popularity in the internet culture. One of the best known modern examples is "this sign has sharp edges."

The common characteristic for these jokes is that they are self-referential: the ambassador and the sign carry a message which entirely refers to themselves. The justification for the existence of the embassy resp. sign lies in itself. If you would take away the bearer of the message (ambassador, sign), undo them, nothing would be lost as with their disappearance also their raison d'etre is removed.

Does anyone know what the technical term for these jokes is and if there are more examples of 'modern' joking in antiquity?
Stefan (Literary references to the discussed topics are always appreciated.)
There was a Roman bowl recently found in Croatia that had a concealed siphon in it. When the bowl was filled past a certain level, the liquid would flow into the siphon and out onto the user's lap. A similar device called a Pythagorean Cup was invented even earlier.

Fart jokes were popular; Greeks and Romans both used "whoopee cushions".

Here are some ancient Greek jokes.

"The slave you sold me died."
"He never did anything like that when I had him."

"Lend me a knife as far as Smyrna"
"I don't have one that reaches that far."

Talkative barber: "How should I cut your hair?"
Annoyed customer: "Silently."

A Kymean is shopping for windows for his new house and asks the vendor if he has any that face south.

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

A man's despised wife recently died. At the funeral a passerby asks him, "who rests in peace here? He replies, "me, now that I'm rid of her."

A bald man swore at Diogenes. The great philosopher replied, "I won’t respond to your abuse, but I would like to say 'congratulations' to your hair for freeing themselves from such a mean head!"

A father asked Aristippos to teach his son. The philosopher said he would for a fee of 500 drachmas. The outraged father replied, "I could buy an animal with so much money!" Aristippos said, "go ahead, then you'll have two!"

The Philogelos is the oldest extant collection of Greek jokes.

Here is a Muslim one that dates to the Crusades:
"Why are there no trees in Palestine?"
"Because every Frank has a piece of the True Cross."
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books
These are surprisingly witty jokes. The ones I have been reading before were more of a simple nature.

The practical cup joke makes use of the principle of communicating vessels, pretty imaginative.
Stefan (Literary references to the discussed topics are always appreciated.)
I'm not so sure about Caligula's action being a joke. He tends to be ridiculed and/or reviled by the sources but some of his acts were not so idiotic as described. Making a horse senator was of course intended to show his contempt for the senate, making his troops collect 'booty'in the form of shells was to punish them for their unwillingness to invade Britain. Maybe this 'joke' was to see whether Ptolemy would act on this 'order' or not?
Robert Vermaat
FECTIO Late Romans
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
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