Who Knew?

Dead Parrot’s Classical Roots

As if we needed more evidence of the ancient Greeks’ genius: a fourth century joke book features a joke that preempts Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch, which was recently ranked by Nerve magazine as the best comedy skit of all time. In the Monty Python skit, a man tries to return a dead parrot that has been sold to him by a pet shop owner (“It’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it.”) In the Greek joke, a man tries to return a slave who has just died. "By the gods," says the slave's seller, "when he was with me, he never did any such thing!" The book is attributed to a pair of ancient comedians named Hierocles and Philagrius, who are believed to have compiled the jokes, not written them.