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Dead Parrot Sketch Is 1,600 Years Old 276

Posted by samzenpus
from the he-prefers-kipping-on-his-back dept.
laejoh writes "Monty Python's 'Dead Parrot sketch' — which featured John Cleese — is some 1,600 years old. A classic scholar has proved the point, by unearthing a Greek version of the world-famous piece. A comedy duo called Hierocles and Philagrius told the original version, only rather than a parrot they used a slave. It concerns a man who complains to his friend that he was sold a slave who dies in his service. His companion replies: 'When he was with me, he never did any such thing!' The joke was discovered in a collection of 265 jokes called Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which dates from the fourth century AD. Hierocles had gone to meet his maker, and Philagrius had certainly ceased to be, long before John Cleese and Michael Palin reinvented the yarn in 1969."

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Dead Parrot Sketch Is 1,600 Years Old

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  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:34PM (#25764921)

    Old age.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Z00L00K (682162)

      And what does John Cleese have to say about this?

      • by cayenne8 (626475) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:48PM (#25765151) Homepage Journal
        You think that story is funny, you should hear the one that Biggus Dickus told just before last weeks crucifiction! It was to die for...
        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14, 2008 @06:30PM (#25766315)

          The punchline of the original joke was that the slave had never done that sort of thing before...likening the death of the slave to simple disobedience or other unpleasant but recurring behavior a slave might have.

          In the monty python sketch....there was no punchline (as they had a distaste for punchlines). And further, the premise is that the bird was dead when it was sold, which should have been obvious at the time...though you also have the shopkeeper insisting that the parrot is still alive even though it is obviously dead.

          These two sketches are not related at all, IMO, let alone "the same joke." They are just a bit similar in that one person owns something that is dead, and wants his money back.

          • by DiegoBravo (324012) on Friday November 14, 2008 @07:27PM (#25766769) Journal

            >>They are just a bit similar in that one person owns something that is dead, and wants his money back.

            I just have my new laptop, Vista is now dead. I want my money back. Where is the joke?

          • by Xtifr (1323) on Friday November 14, 2008 @09:39PM (#25767723) Homepage

            These two sketches are not related at all, IMO, let alone "the same joke."

            To be fair, the BBC made the same mistake [bbc.co.uk], and my reaction when I saw it on the Beeb's site was the same as yours. The big difference is that on slashdot, you can post a correction. It'll get buried in hundreds of weak attempts at humor, and nobody will ever see it, but at least it's there. The Beeb doesn't really have a place for this sort of bad-analogy-correction. Mistaken facts, they'll correct (which is one way they're superior to Slashdot--the fact that they actually have functioning editors is another), but I wouldn't expect to see any corrections for a more abstract error of this type.

      • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Friday November 14, 2008 @06:23PM (#25766253)

        And what does John Cleese have to say about this?

        He'll probably laugh his ass off, and then sit down and write a mini-series about two hard up comedians, who resort to stealing common gags from the Classics, and make a fortune . . . and nobody knows that jokes are millenniums old.

        Imagine Manual trying to read his ancient Greek script . . .

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Don't know what John Cleese has to say about it, but Jorge of Burgos sure seems pissed.

      • by Petrushka (815171) on Friday November 14, 2008 @07:47PM (#25766907)

        Since neither this article nor any other report I can find actually gives the reference for the joke, those wanting to look at critical editions can find it under Philogelos 18. Here's my literal translation:

        Someone met an academic and said, "The slave you sold me died." "By the gods!" he said. "When he was at my place he didn't do anything like that."

        I can't reproduce here the text for those who can read ancient Greek, as Slashdot won't allow non-Roman alphabets. Here's a transliterated form, though (minus the diacritics):

        scholastikôi tis apantêsas eipen: ho doulos, hon epôlêas moi, apethane. ma tous theous, ephê, par' emoi hote ên, toiouton ouden epoiêsen.

        I don't understand why the article talks as though the joke has just been discovered. There have been at least three critical editions in the last 50 years, and a few translations.

    • If you RTFA (yeah yeah), you'd see how fracking OLD Cleese is! I was shocked.

  • by VinylRecords (1292374) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:35PM (#25764931)
    Wow those plagiarists...what next are you going to tell me that the Holy Grail movie was based on ancient stories as well? Or Life of Brian? Are you telling me that Jesus wasn't an original character?
  • As a Classics major as an undergrad, I'm always happy to see these kind of stories. There was some wicked humour in the ancient world that is still hilarious today, from the political jibes in the plays of Aristophanes to the obscenities of Petronius' Satyricon. It's a pity that most people would never think about reading them, because one tends to assume that old literary works are dry and serious.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'll have to check them out when I have time.

      What I find really interesting is the graffiti from those times. Stuff about elections, dirty jokes (which you'd still find funny today), and so on.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 4D6963 (933028)
      What? They had humour prior to the 1960s? Seriously, deep inside me I believe that people hardly made or said anything funny back then. I'm sure lots of people feel the same way.
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by elrous0 (869638) *
        That's because the only people you have known from that earlier time were all older and humorless by the time you met them. Comedy has been around since the the dawn of civilization, when Ugg the caveman first discovered comedy after eliciting laughs with an accidental fart joke.
      • by fermion (181285)
        I know this a joke, but the 60's are typically considered the time when the current style of let's say impure humor began. Though I have never heard any of the albums, I hear Redd Foxx was quite the controversial figure. I often look back to the style of the time and think how could people tolerate that bubble gum pop, or was everyone on psychedelic drugs back them, but then I think of miles davis or Duke Ellington and realize that there were some people who wanted to push the envelope, not just make the
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by colmore (56499)

          Also: 60s pop music was a lot more than the 50 or so songs that have been endlessly repeated on your local classic rock station and in movie soundtracks.

          We think we have a memory of decades from before we were born, but we just have some editor's sleezy commercial take on the time. Really getting something approximating a feel for another time takes actual work and research.

          • 60s pop is a lot better than 70s, 80s, 90s, or 00s pop.

            • And yet, is is still pop... another word for "the crap that the common retard likes". ;)
              Maybe the 60s are the only time, when "pop" could be called "underground" music. Unfortunately, it did not stay that way.

              Oh, and in my personal taste, the music of the 60s was just horrible. But that's my POV. ;)

    • by vlad_petric (94134) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:42PM (#25765067) Homepage
      That's what I thought too, until I read Suetonius' Twelve Caesars... The amount of trash in it makes it particularly entertaining.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:46PM (#25765123)

      When I was much younger I was turned on to the classics after reading Lysistrata. Quick synopsis from Wikipedia:

      Led by the title character, Lysistrata, the story's female characters barricade the public funds building and withhold sex from their husbands to end the Peloponnesian War and secure peace.

      The euphemisms and innuendo are killer, especially to a young teen :)

    • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:48PM (#25765141)

      As a Classics major as an undergrad, I'm always happy to see these kind of stories. There was some wicked humour in the ancient world that is still hilarious today, from the political jibes in the plays of Aristophanes to the obscenities of Petronius' Satyricon. It's a pity that most people would never think about reading them, because one tends to assume that old literary works are dry and serious.

      Nah. If this story has taught me anything, it's that if there's anything worth reading in those old sheepskins/tablets/papyrii, some modern comedian will steal it and repeat it, saving me the trouble of figuring out all the obscure cultural references from 3000 years ago.

      I'm kidding. I think.

      • by poot_rootbeer (188613) on Friday November 14, 2008 @06:40PM (#25766405)

        If this story has taught me anything, it's that if there's anything worth reading in those old sheepskins/tablets/papyrii, some modern comedian will steal it and repeat it, saving me the trouble of figuring out all the obscure cultural references from 3000 years ago.

        You'll be sorry when you hear Dane Cook's new routine on how the dudes at the BK Lounge always put too much garum in his meal of emmer loaves and saltpetered kale, brah. You'll be sorry!!!

    • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:56PM (#25765245) Homepage
      Yes, Euripides' Electra is one of the funniest plays in all existence simply for the recognition scene. Everyone should read the Oresteia and then read Euripides. Heck, that scene is hilarious even if you haven't read the Oresteia. Euripides mercilessly parodies a variety of literary conceits which are still used today. It is almost like Euripides had access to TVTropes.com
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by camperdave (969942)
        Everyone should read the Oresteia and then read Euripides.

        How about a few links then? Learning ancient Greek so I can digging through historical liturature ain't on my bucket list.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by jbeaupre (752124)
      One of the more interesting sermons I ever heard in church was around humor in the bible. Our preacher had a PhD in archeology, knew several dead languages, etc. So he was able to provide context for jokes that people people treat as dry and serious today. Apparently Jesus had a better sense of humor than people give him credit for.
      • Any examples? Was Jesus a pervert?

        • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14, 2008 @05:22PM (#25765587)

          HUGE masochist.

          The whole whipping, forced labour(carrying his cross), crown of thorns, getting stabbed with a spear, nailed to the cross and then being heaped with public ridicule was planned.

          y'know the whole religious ecstasy thing? Self flagellants in ye olden times? Yes. You can come closer to Christ when you're whipping yourself. *cough*

          Of course, they were supposed to come and take him down again after a while, not leave him there on the cross. Stupid careless tops =\ You don't leave your bottom unattended when they're in bondage. Just asking for trouble.

      • I had a professor like that in college, he was a Lutheran Minister and an archeology PhD. He made the Bible hysterical.

  • by MindlessAutomata (1282944) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:36PM (#25764955)

    What's worse is that only only did they blatantly copy the Greeks parrot sketch, but they even copied (with some minor alterations) a humorous tale about a wandering preacher in The Life of Brian. Really, the Monty Python crew knew no shame.

  • dead? (Score:5, Funny)

    by nblender (741424) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:37PM (#25764967)
    That joke's not dead... It's pining for the fjords...
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:37PM (#25764977)

    You can read more of their jokes [google.com] at Google Books.

    Seriously, I saw these guys in their prime on the "Ranting from Rome to Apulia" tour. Fucking hilarious stuff. They really took a turn for the worse when that pussy Constanine brought in Christianity, though. It was just never the same for comedians in the Empire with those holier-than-thou types in charge.

  • Manditory Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zymergy (803632) * on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:39PM (#25765003)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vuW6tQ0218 [youtube.com]
    THIS.... is an Ex-Parrot!!
  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:41PM (#25765039) Homepage Journal

    joke predates you!

  • Not the same joke (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KeithIrwin (243301) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:42PM (#25765049)

    Umm, those aren't the same joke at all. Just because they both involve selling and dying doesn't mean that they're the same joke. The premise of the older joke is that the man who sold the slave is saying something in a surprised manner which is obviously true. The contrast is between his surprise and the understanding of the audience for the joke that he shouldn't be surprised (since obviously the slave hadn't died before he sold it).

    The joke in the Monty Python sketch is that the parrot was dead when it was sold. The humor comes from the absurdness of the idea that someone could be sold a dead parrot without realizing it. The joke is furthered by the sales clerk's obviously futile attempts to claim that the parrot isn't dead and the colorful language used to attempt to convince the clerk that the parrot is dead. This is not at all the same joke. The premise is completely different, as is the type of humor involved. The Greek one is ironic humor. The Monty Python one is absurdist humor.

    • by fm6 (162816) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:46PM (#25765115) Homepage Journal

      Just for that:

      Venn ist das nurnstuck git und slotermeyer? Ya! Beigerhund das oder die flipperwaldt gersput!

    • by MaxwellEdison (1368785) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:49PM (#25765159)
      Ah yes, now that the joke is properly explained it may now be classified as extra humorous.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by avandesande (143899)

      The part that ties them together:

      "And now time for something completely different!"

    • by forkazoo (138186)

      Umm, those aren't the same joke at all. Just because they both involve selling and dying doesn't mean that they're the same joke. The premise of the older joke is that the man who sold the slave is saying something in a surprised manner which is obviously true. The contrast is between his surprise and the understanding of the audience for the joke that he shouldn't be surprised (since obviously the slave hadn't died before he sold it).

      The joke in the Monty Python sketch is that the parrot was dead when it w

    • by brkello (642429)
      And is true with all jokes, if you explain them in that way they cease to be funny.
    • Yes it is!
    • Re:Not the same joke (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Friday November 14, 2008 @06:33PM (#25766339) Homepage

      Monty Python is treated as more absurdist than they really were by American audiences. A lot of the objects of their humor were aspects of British life, politics and culture that would be recognizable to viewers in the UK, particularly at the time. Which is why British comedy moved on decades ago (The League of Gentlemen, Little Britain, The Catherine Tate Show, and the brilliant That Mitchell and Webb Look.)

      When an American geeks constantly recycle the same handful of Monty Python routines, it's depressing. It's humor-by-algorithm: if it was funny once, the memory of the experience of that humor displaces the actual spontaneity and discovery of new sources of humor in a kind of compulsive repetition, which I think is meant more to reassure geeks than to amuse them.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Lost Race (681080)

        You're probably right that as social commentary and topical political satire, Monty Python is pretty generic and disposable, outdated and long since superceded by more relevant acts. But their unique genius in juxtaposing the silly and ridiculous with the serious, dignified and refined is ageless and universal. I re-watch the Flying Circus episodes every five years or so and they continue to be hilarious. Perhaps foreign stereotypes of English personalities help to accentuate the absurdity.

        As in all comedy

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mattwarden (699984)

        Ok, but did you see the Monty Python sketch where the elitist Brit trashes American cult humor in a way that smacks of "I knew the band before they made the big time and sold out"?

  • Patented humor (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It's the same sketch, only there is no parrot but a slave, the slave is not dead in the shop and consequently not nailed to the perch. But otherwise, really the same thing.

  • So.....

    what does this mean for copyright of the Parrot Sketch?

  • by LoRdTAW (99712) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:45PM (#25765111)

    Are they implying Monty Python stole the joke or that it has just been done before? It seems like a pretty strait forward joke and I can see it being reinvented. Either way it was a damn funny sketch.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      most jokes have been repeated for 1000's of years.
      People observe the same human behavior and make jest of it.

      The specifics may change(slave -> Parrot) but the humor is the same.

    • Palin didn't steal the joke. He based the sketch off of a mechanic at a local garage. To paraphrase an interview (I believe from the Aspen Comedy Festival), you could go into the garage with your door missing and relate the story of how it fell off. And the mechanic would reply, "Those cars'll do that, they're new." Tantamount to today's meme: It's a feature.
  • by fermion (181285) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:55PM (#25765227) Homepage Journal
    That is disappointing. It means the sketch where Eric brings Kenny back to the friend store to complain that he is dead is not even a original tribute. It is just a more direct rip off of the original work that the Pythons inadvertently ripped off from. Will the inhumanity never end!
  • by penguin_dance (536599) on Friday November 14, 2008 @04:58PM (#25765265)

    He read the World's Funniest Joke [youtube.com] of course!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14, 2008 @05:09PM (#25765431)
    Oh wait, wrong sketch.
  • I could have sworn it was November...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14, 2008 @05:40PM (#25765787)

    In related news, the RIAA is suing John Cleese for copyright infringement on behalf of the estates of Hierocles and Philagrius.

  • I read the title in the feed and thought we were talking about a drawing instead of a skit. (yes, I know there are multiple meanings for sketch... but in context it can be confusing.)

  • New sketch (Score:5, Funny)

    by Yetihehe (971185) on Friday November 14, 2008 @05:42PM (#25765805)

    Customer: I want my money back, this joke is old!
    Salesman: Well, it wasn't when I have told you it.
    Customer: It was, greeks were telling it 1600 years ago!
    Salesman: I won't give your money back then, warranty has expired long ago!

  • old joke (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Dr. Tom (23206)
    I think the old joke should have been, "Hey, that slave you sold me is dead!" (not died in service; that's different, and less of a joke).
  • by Millennium (2451) on Friday November 14, 2008 @05:59PM (#25766011) Homepage

    Ovid had a humorous poem about a dead parrot long before this play was ever written, complete with the long-winded and repetitive description of exactly how dead the parrot is which characterizes Monty Python's sketch.

    This was itself a parody of a poem by Catullus, lamenting the death of his lover's "sparrow." The quotes are there for a reason; it's the term he used, but modern poets would probably have used a more, err, feline term to catch the nuance, if you know what I mean (wink and a nudge, say no more, say no more).

    Monty Python was made up of some extremely erudite people; even Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film actually corresponds to someone from Arthurian legend (and bonus points if you can tell me who). No doubt they drew inspiration from the Ovid poem too, among others, and is there really any problem with that? It's friggin funny.

  • by ethicalBob (1023525) on Friday November 14, 2008 @06:17PM (#25766193)
    Wow.. arguing over a python sketch...

    If there was EVER any doubt about slashdots denizens, this pretty much clarified the situation.

    Picard or Kirk, anyone?
  • by kisak (524062) on Friday November 14, 2008 @07:06PM (#25766631) Homepage Journal

    Of course part of the absurd humour in the Monty Python sketch is that there are no parrots in Scandinavia. But Monty Python probably should have expected this story: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1958285/Monty-Python's-dead-parrot-did-exist.html [telegraph.co.uk]. Basicly, Norwegian parrots did exist 55 million years ago, even though it is not known if they were blue...

    From the link: Michael Palin was amused when told about the discovery, saying: "All I can say is that it just shows that nothing is original."

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