The ancient Greeks had a statement, “The gods on high Olympus laughed.” Humor has been underrated in today’s society because some people are quick to point out that the seriousness in virtually every phase of our existence leaves no time for humor.
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.’
Aristippus of Cyrene (435-356 BC) was credited with some of the following anecdotes.
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.”
When someone spoke ill of Aristippus he said, “To speak ill of me is in your power, but not to hear what you say is in my power.”
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 his 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.”
When a young man who entered the school of Antisthenes (444-371 B.C.) asked what he should bring with him when he attended class for the first time. Antisthenes answered, “You should have a new book, a new pen, a new writing tablet, and a good wit.”
A friend once told Aristotle that a certain Athenian was condemning him behind his back. The philosopher smiled observing, “While I am absent, let him also thrash me.”
When Aristotle was asked for a definition of friendship her replied, “It is as one soul abiding in two bodies.”
“Socrates was a very powerful man physically, but not especially good looking. A young man from a distant city went to Athens to study under the great man. After walking around for a time he asked an Athenian how he could recognize Socrates in case he chanced to meet him. He was told that when he saw a man so dis-proportioned in all his parts, that on sight of him dogs ran away with their tails between their legs, that man would be the Master.”
When Democritus (460-370 B.C.) was told that the Athenians had pulled down statues of him, he remarked, “They have not overturned the virtue for which the images of me were set up.”
On one occasion a bald headed man reviled Diogenes (Died 320 B.C.), who called himself the Dog of Athens, with very bitter words. Diogenes replied, “I will not return your reproaches yet I cannot but commend your hair for leaving so bad a head.”
“One day while Socrates was discoursing with several of his disciples in his home, his wife Xantippe descended upon the group which such a tirade of abuse that all made a hasty exit. In order to finish their discussion they assembled and sat down on the front steps. Xantippe then went up to the second story and poured a bucket of water on them, drenching the entire group. Socrates, unruffled, continued his discussion with the words, ‘Have I not told you that after much thunder we should expect rain!’”
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.
Those same teachers believed that people without humor were lacking in some essential element of their 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.
See if you can incorporate some LEFL today. Laughter, excitement, fun and love.
To inspire and empower with love, in love and through love to you.