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Dead Parrot sketch ancestor found

Monty Python
Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch has topped comedy polls

An ancestor of Monty Python's famous Dead Parrot comedy sketch has been found in a joke book dating back to Greece in the 4th Century.

Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which has been translated from Greek manuscripts, contains a joke where a man complains that a slave he was sold had died.

"When he was with me, he never did any such thing!" is the reply.

In the Python sketch, written 1,600 years later, the shopkeeper claims the dead parrot is "pining for the fjords".

The 265 jokes in Philogelos are attributed to a pair of jokers called Hierocles and Philagrius, about whom very little is known.

Similar themes

Their manuscripts have been published into a multimedia online e-book, which features video of veteran comic Jim Bowen bringing the old jokes back to life in front of a 21st Century audience.

Some of the jokes are strikingly similar to modern ones, with subjects including farts, sex, ugly wives and a dimwit referred to as "a student dunce".

"One or two of them are jokes I've seen in people's acts nowadays, slightly updated," said Bowen.

"They put in a motor car instead of a chariot - some of them are Tommy Cooper-esque," he added.

Jim Bowen
Jim Bowen performed the old jokes in front of a 21st Century audience.

Some jokes are likely to baffle modern audiences, however - especially the ones about lettuce, which only make sense if you share the ancient superstition that the vegetable is an aphrodisiac.

The book has been translated by William Berg, an American professor of Classics.

"The text of Philogelos comes to us from several manuscripts ranging from the 11th to the 15th Centuries," Berg said.

"All of them trace back to an earlier original, probably - judging from the content and language - from the 4th Century."

Other jokes in the book include:

Someone needled a well-known wit: "I had your wife, without paying a penny". He replied: "It's my duty as a husband to couple with such a monstrosity. What made you do it?"

An Abderite sees a eunuch talking with a woman and asks him if she's his wife. The guy responds that a eunuch is unable to have a wife. "Ah, so she's your daughter? "

A misogynist is attending to 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!"

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