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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

A current joke 2,000 years old

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Few days ago, in a coffe talk or beer talk, about an informal conversation about the physical resemblance between some people, a good friend, who has lived many years in Latin America, told a joke located in Venezuela:

A wealthy landowner visited his huge horse farm. He found a humble worker, with downcast eyes. He raised his head and they, employer and worker  were both, surprised by the extraordinary resemblance between them. He asked curious the pattern:
- Has your mother been ever in Caracas?
Replied the worker:
- My mom never, but my dad has been many times.

The worker answered in all simplicity and playfulness, giving to the pattern a suitable dose of his own medicine because he sought to question the honor of his mother.

Well, this is a joke today, at least 2100 years old. This is one of the jokes, facetiae, quips, witticisms older apophtegmatha which had have  most successful and have lasted until today.

s. http://en.antiquitatem.com/dicta-aurea-apophthegma-aphorism-axiom

Macrobius tells us this “facetia” referred to Augustus in his book Saturnalia, II 4 19-20

Normally, in the case of Augustus, I admire more the jokes he endured than those he made, because greater ring of glory is  patience than  eloquence, especially whenever  he put up  with serenity sarcasm that went beyond simple joke.  A sharp spike by a provincial gained some notoriety.  When the man came to Rome,  the eyes of whole world were turned to him because he was the image of Caesar. Augustus ordered that he is brought to him and after seeing him asked: "Tell me, young man, was ever your mother in Rome?". The young Said no, and without restraint, he added: "But my father many times."

Soleo in Augusto magis mirari quos pertulit iocos quam ipse quos protulit, qui maior est patientiae quam facundiae laus, maxime cum aequanimiter aliqua etiam iocis mordaciora pertulerit. Cuiusdam provincialis iocus asper innotuit. Intraverat Romam simillimus Caesari et in se omnium ora converterat. Augustus perduci ad se hominem iussit, visumque hoc modo interrogavit: Dic mihi, adolescens, fuit aliquando mater tua Romae? Negavit ille, nec contentus adiecit: Sed pater meus saepe.

But this joke already told it before the historian s. I B.C. Valerius Maximus in his Memorable Deeds and Sayings,  IX 14.3:

The man, however, everyone in Sicily was agreed that he was very similar to the governor of the province, was cheeky and insolent. Indeed, as the governor said  he was amazed that this man could resemble him so closely, because his father had never been in Sicily, he replied, "But my father  went to Rome." With this joke he avenged outraged chastity of his mother throwing in turn suspicion on the governor’s mother  instead  with more audacity  than was suitable for  someone who is  subject to the rods and axes.

 Ille uero, quem in Sicilia prouinciae <rect>oris admodum similem fuisse constat, petulantis animi: pro consule enim dicente mirari se quapropter sui tam similis esset, cum pater suus in eam prouinciam numquam accessisset, "at meus" inquit "Romam accessit:" ioco namque lacessitam matris suae pudicitiam inuicem suspicione in matrem eius reiecta audacius quam uirgis et securibus subiecto conueniebat ultus est.

So we have to assume that the story ran in antiquity, perhaps from the Orient. It was repeated again and again in the Middle Ages and  in the Renaissance following the release of Macrobius, and even after, coming to us and without any difficulty crossing the Atlantic, as we have seen.

John of Salisbury picks the story from Macrobius in the twelfth century in his PolicraticusPetrarch also includes the two versions (one of the Valerius Maximus and another one of Macrobius) in his Rerum memorandarum libri III ( Books of  things  to be remembered), Lib. III, 3, 2

About the sharpness or witticisms. (Examples) from outside (of Rome)
A certain young
A certain foreigner young  came to Rome  and he was  so similar in body shape to Augustus than  everyone was surprised; when Augustus heard about it, watching the young man whom he had called and recognizing his image in their  face, made him the following question:
"Young man, your mother has not ever been in Rome?
The young man realized what was intended and said: "My mother never, but my father many times. He rejected the sent suspicion with his wit and motivated a new one. This story is told in the "Saturnalia". But  Valerius Maximus tells it not about Augustus but about  an anonymous praetor and not about the mother, but about the two parents, and further  says he was asked and answered not in Rome but in Sicily, where a Roman magistrate asked  a person of that province, very similar in body shape, telling him he was amazed, from where it came much resemblance when his father had never been in  Sicily. But the young man answered, my father went to Rome many times. What is the truest and most faithful version? What faith, as they say, is in the hands of each author!

De dicacitate sive  facetiis, Externi
Quidam iuvenis
Iuvenis alienígena Romam venit, forma corporis tam similis Augusto, ut omnem populum spectaculi admiratione suspenderet: Augustus re audita, ad se iuvenem evocatum cernens, effigiemque suam in illius facie recognoscens, in hanc sententiam interrogavit: Fuit ne unquam o adoescens mater tua Romae?. Sensit ille quo pergeret. Et minime (inquit) mater, at pater meus saepe. Facete et illatam suspitionem repulit, et novam peperit: et haec quidem historia sic in Saturnalibus tradita est. Valerius autem Maximus: non Augusti, sed innominati praetoris,neque matris, sed duorum patrum mentionem facit, praeterea non Romae, sed in Sicilia interrogatum, responsumve commemorat. Percunctante enim magistratu  Romano quendam eius provinciae, sibi forma corporis simillimum, et mirari se dicente, unde haec tanta similitudo cum pater suus numquam in Sicilia fuisset. At ille respondit: Pater meus saepe Romam venit, quaenam sane verior, fideliorque narratio , fides (ut aiunt) apud autores maneat.

In the fifteenth century the Mensa Philosophica collects it. Mensa Philosophica is an anonymous work first published in 1470, which was a bestseller. The fourth book is an anthology of 241 short facetiae offered as a conversation piece for the banquet. It is a mixture of old jokes and exempla (examples). The same compiler recognizes the debt to  Macrobius  and states that the joke is necessary for relaxation of mind and that good jokes  are needed for the table as well as good wine. In section 5, about  the emperors, it is contained the story that we are considering:

A certain man, very like Augustus Caesar in appearance, came to Rome. When Augustus saw the young man, he  asked him:”Was your mother ever in Rome?”. “No,” replied the young man, “but my father was, frequently.”

Intravit quídam Romam simillimus Cesari quem cum vidisset quaesivit a iuvene. Fuit ne mater tua quandoque Romae. Cui adolescens ille.Non sed pater frequenter.

Johannes Pauli also collects it from Macrobius in his collection of anecdotes called in German "Schimpf (Scherz) und Ernst" (Jokes and seriousness) in the early sixteenth.

Of course Erasmus of Rotterdam includes it, without acknowledging any source, in its Apophthegmata (IV Augusto, 33):

As Augustus enjoyed joking with friendly banter at the expense of other, equally he endured with great patience that they were launched against him or they were  returned, and sometimes they were very heavy. A young man from province had come to Rome , with as such wonderfully face as similar to Augustus, than he attracted to itself the eyes of all the people. Hearing this, Caesar ordered bring to his presence, and after contemplating him, he asked so:  “Tell me, young man, was  your mother ever in Rome"; he replied no, and realizing the joke, he returned the joke  adding, "But my father many times." Augustus joking projected  some suspicion to  the boy's mother, suggesting  she  had been dishonored by him; but the young diverted swiftly the suspicion to  Caesar's mother, or to her sister. Well the similarity tasted that  he was the son of Caesar, as it was his brother or nephew.

Quemadmodum Augustus gaudebat iocis liberalibus in alios ludere, ita in se iactos aut retortos  interdum liberius, patientissime tulit.  Adolescens quídam provincialis Romam venerat,oris similitudine tam mirifice referens Augustum,  ut in se populi totius oculos converteret. Caesar hoc audito iussit ad se perduci, eumque contemplatus, hunc in modum percontatus est;  Dic mihi, adolescens, fuit ne aliquando mater tua Romae? Negavit ille, ac sentiens iocum retorsit, adiiciens; sed patermeus saepe. Augustus ludens suspicionem intendebat in matrem adolescentis, velut ab ipso stupratam: at adolescens protinus eam suspicionem retorsit in matrem Caesaris, aut in sororem. Nam oris similitude non magis arguebat, illum esse Caesaris filium quam fratrem aut nepotem

In Spanish there are several authors of the time they collect it, such as humanistic and chronicler of Carlos V,  Pedro Mexia (1497-15519) in your “Silva de varia lección” (A Miscellany of Several Lessons(1540), Part 1, Chapter XLI:

It also happened to Octavian Caesar another funny thing with a young man who came to Rome in the time that he reigned in it. It was this: that he came to Rome a young man who looked so much the same Octavian in the gesture, than he was regarded with wonder by all; and being advised of this Octavian, then he had him brought before it, and it  was noted and certified more big similarity between them. The emperor, as he was of sweet conversation and prided by to say sometimes sharp and funny things, seeing that everyone said he looked much, told the young man, "Tell me, brother, your mother came ever  to Rome"; the  boy understood the malice and answered, "My mother, sir, never came to Rome; but my father came many times," applying to him it by what he had been touched.

“También le pasó a Octaviano César otra graciosa cosa con un mancebo que vino a Roma en el tiempo en que él imperaba en ella. Fue ésta: que vino a Roma un mancebo que parecía tanto al mismo Octaviano en el gesto, que a maravilla era mirado por todos; y siendo avisado de esto Octaviano, luego lo hizo traer ante sí, donde se notó y certificó más la grande similitud que había entre ellos. El emperador, como era de dulce conversación y se preciaba de decir algunas veces cosas agudas y graciosas, viendo que todos decían que le parecía mucho, le dijo al mancebo: “Dime, hermano, ¿vino tu madre alguna vez a Roma?” El mozo entendió la malicia y respondióle: “Mi madre, señor, nunca vino a Roma; pero mi padre vino muchas veces”, motejándole a él de lo que él había sido tocado”.

Timoneda also collects it with some slight variation in Sobremesa (After dinner), Part 2, tale XLII:

A king was who advised about that a young man of same  stature and age seemed greatly to him. Wishing the King to see if it was so, ordered to call him , and knowing  to be true, he asked, "Tell me, young man: do you remember  if  your mother for some time was in this my home?" He replied, "Sir, my mother never; but my father was.

Fue avisado un rey que un mancebo  de su mesma estatura y edad le parescía en grandíssima manera. Deseoso el Rey de ver si era así, mandóle llamar, y conociendo ser verdad, preguntóle: “Dime, mancebo: ¿acuérdaste si por dicha tu madre por algún tiempo estuvo en esta mi casa?” Respondió: “Señor, mi madre no; pero mi padre sí”.

The story, anecdote or joke is, of course in the collections of classic tales and jokes of any other country. So in Nouvelles récréations et joyeux devis Récréations de  Bonaventure des Périers (circa 1510-circa 1544); in Dreihundert gemeyner Sprichwörter (sayings) of Johan Agricola. Ludovico Domenichi in his Universal History, applies it to Pope Boniface VIII and a pilgrim.

So the joke has been repeated throughout the centuries from the first twenty, as does, for example Freud, who remembers him in his Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, who  in the English version of James Strachev, New York, 1963 , p. 68-69 says:

The joke can be found in every century from the fourteenth to the twentieth an is in Freud’s  Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious (ch.2). The wittiest rendition are the tersest, like this one which leaves the reader to work out the point.
“Serenissimus” is touring the provinces. Seeing in the crowd a man who bears a close resemblance to himself, he inquires, “Was your mother at one time in service at the palace?” “No, your Highness”, was the reply, “but my father was”.

Note: "serenissimus" is a conventional name for the actual characters in the stories in Germany.

Even the story was also known in Arabic or Persian Oriental literature; we can ask by it if the origin is not precisely in the East. The reference is in the very similar story that Jonathan Scott gives us p. 300 of his "Tales, anecdotes and letters translated from the Arabis and Persian", published in 1800 in London.

THE FOLLOWING ANECDOTES ARE TRANSLATED FROM A MANUSCRIPT INTITLED  UZZULLEAUT UBBEED ZAKKAUNEE, MENTIONED IN THE ADVERTISEMENT
A CERTAIN sultaun hearing that a man of wit was reckoned in person very like himself, was curious to see him, and sent for him to court. Upon his introduction, he said, “I remernber your mother well. She  was a handsome woman, and used to  attend the harams of the sultaun and
nobility with rich goods and jewellery, as a dullalla,  reaping much profit from her honourable calling." The wit, understanding the sultaun's allusion, replied, " Not so; my mother was a secluded woman, who never left her house,   and knew nothing of trade; but my father was an eminent designer,  who was frequently called to  the gardens of the royal and noble  harams, to lay out, sow flowers, and plant trees." The sultaun admired his wit, and made him one of his intimate courtiers.

Nota: dullalla  =  a brokerefs

In short, it is a joke with remarkable temporal and geographical success. What my friend, whose account has resulted in this article,  did not say to me is if  the Venezuelan landowner response the worker with the same sportsmanship that Emperor Augustus was taken.
 

   
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