What tickled Sumerians

25 Oct

I think the funnest part of history and archaeology is that even a silly joke told by a people and culture long gone can reveal the character of those people and humanize them, making us understand them better as human beings and cease to look at them as just textbook subjects.

In the case of the world’s oldest joke, which, surprise surprise, happens to be Sumerian, the similarities between what topics made ancient Mesopotamians laugh and what topics make us laugh today is uncanny.

I will warn you, the world’s oldest written joke, which dates back to 1900 BC, is a little on the gross side. It is also obviously written by a man:

“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”

Now, it’s not funny to me, and I doubt it’s funny to you in its form, but if you break it down to topics, it is something not too foreign as a topic of humor. To this day you hear men telling jokes that include passing wind, and the “old ball and chain” jokes run rampant in every male gathering the world over.

Now I have to wonder if Mesopotamian women laughed at the world’s oldest joke.



Posted by on October 25, 2011 in Sumerian


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4 responses to “What tickled Sumerians

  1. Rowland Jones

    October 25, 2011 at 6:57 am

    I know what you mean – -when you realize that in ancient Pompei there is graffiti scrawled by an ‘ancient hand. ‘Futui caponum’ meaning I screwed the barmaid – -you see, you may have ipads, and mobile phones and pot noodles but we’re still essentially the same . . . . .

    • Apollodorosh

      October 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      Writing on other people’s walls… lol 😀

  2. Apollodorosh

    October 25, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    I once read this Sumerian joke elsewhere, in some class long ago… I think that scientists thought the funny part was supposed to be that a young women probably has other things than farting on her mind when she’s sitting on her husbands lap (this is obviously referring to sexual intercourse and not just sitting…)

    But the exact meaning is probably lost in translation and could only be apparent to a fluent speaker (which no one is anymore).

  3. Shunra

    April 1, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    When I was reading through the Proverbs collection, I came across this gem:
    “Two Akkadians lost a donkey. One went after it while the other wasted the day. The one who just sat around — the fault was his.” (citation ) – and my husband correctly noted that this may be the first anti-Semitic slur in written history.


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