The attitude of the classical Greeks was that if God did not have a sense of humor the Creator would never have fashioned man. Although known for their philosophical viewpoints, many of the ancient philosophers had great wit and humor.
One early writer, Diogenes Laertius (3rd Century CE), included in his writings some of the humorous anecdotes of the ancient philosophers. Another good source for anecdotes of some of the ancient philosophers can be found in Thomas Stanley’s work, ‘The History of Philosophy.’
When a man boasted to Aristippus that he could drink a great amount of liquor and never be drunk, Aristippus replied, “That is no more than any mule could do.”
Aristippus was out on a boat when a sudden storm arose and the crew of the boat all feared for their lives. In the midst of the strongest part of the storm the captain asked the philosopher, “How far is it from this world to the next?” Aristippus replied, “How thick is the wall of this ship?” The captain replied, “six inches.” Aristippus smiled and said, “That answers your question.”
Aristippus on one occasion approached Dionysius, the monarch, to spare the life of a close friend who was condemned to death. Although Aristippus made a strong appeal, he was completely unsuccessful. As a last resort, Aristippus threw himself at the feet of Dionysius and plead tearfully. This so moved Dionysius that he granted an immediate release of the prisoner. The disciples of Aristippus felt that it was not fitting that a philosopher of the status of Aristippus humble himself before a leader. Aristippus replied, “It is not my fault that his ears are in his feet.”
Once Aristippus was traveling on a boat to visit a distant city. In order to have enough money for his trip, Aristippus carried his money in a long box that he hid in his cabin. One evening, Aristippus overheard the captain of the ship planning to cast him into the sea and steal Aristippus’s possessions. The next morning Aristippus was sitting on the far end of the boat casting coins one by one into the sea. The startled captain asked for an explanation. Aristippus replied, “It is better that the gold perish for Aristippus than that Aristippus should perish for the gold.”
Today many people believe that they are only giving proper reverence to their religion or philosophy when they have a solemn look or are making some type of sacrifice. Many ancient teachers believed, “that one of the great spiritual duties in life is to enjoy the beauties and wonders of the Divine Plan and make certain these wonders and beauties are preserved for the unborn future.”
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines one aspect of humor as, “Humor is the sense within us which sets up a kindly contemplation of the incongruities of life.” Humor was considered an important aspect within an individual’s character and a tool to handle certain seemingly overwhelming situations. Some ancient classical teachers made much of those people who were deficient in their reactions to humorous situations and remarks and believed those same people were lacking in some essential element of the mental process.
“We hear people say, ‘I cannot waste my time on ridiculous and trivial things.’ Yet, these same people waste an equal or greater amount of time in rapt attention to the morbid, the tragic or the neurotic.”
The balanced middle path or middle way is always a wonderful philosophy to follow. There are those situations where only with humor can we handle what might appear to be an overwhelming or unexplained situation. Sometimes the easiest solution is the most profound.
To inspire and empower.
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