5 of the world’s oldest jokes: have they stood the test of time?

26 October 2023


Researchers at the University of Wolverhampton have revealed some of the oldest recorded jokes in history.

An ancient joke about the barbers, 300-400 AD 

This joke comes from the world’s oldest surviving joke book, called Philogelos, meaning Laughter-Lover. 

Asked by the court barber how he wanted his hair cut, the king replied: “In silence”.

A donkey joke, Ancient Greece, 300- 400 AD

Another joke from the Philogelos.

Wishing to teach his donkey not to eat, a pedant did not offer him any food,’ it reads.

‘When the donkey died of hunger, he said: “I’ve had a great loss! Just when he had learned not to eat, he died”.

A classic brain teaser, Ancient Greece 429 BC 

This joke comes from the play Oedipus Tyrannus by the Greek playwright Sophocles.  During the ancient tragedy, one character gives the following line:

Question: What animal walks on four feet in the morning, two at noon and three at evening? 

Answer: Man. He goes on all fours as a baby, on two feet as a man and uses a cane in old age.’

An eye-watering pun, Ancient Greece, 800 BC  

This pun comes from Homer’s The Odyssey, the classic tale of how Odysseus travelled home after the end of the Trojan War. During his travels, Odysseus and his crew are captured by a cyclops who threatens to eat them all. Homer uses this as the set up for a  pun. 

Odysseus tells the Cyclops that his real name is “Nobody”. When Odysseus instructs his men to attack the Cyclops, the Cyclops shouts: “Help, Nobody is attacking me!” No one comes to help.

The world’s oldest joke, Sumeria, 1900 BC 

The world’s oldest joke was revealed to be a Sumerian proverb, written over 4,000 years ago.

‘Something which has never occurred since time immemorial. A young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.’ 

Listen to Bec and Asa’s chat below.