The Roman Sense of Humor

You can tell a lot about people by their sense of humor. George Bush the Younger thinks a condemned woman pleading for her life is funny. HAW HAW HAW

Ronald Reagan thought nuclear war was funny — “We start bombing in five minutes.” HAW HAW HAW

The Romans thought it was funny to lock a metal helmet with no eye holes onto a guy’s head which was connected to a chain attached to a helmet on another guy’s head.

Both guys got swords, but no shields or armor and one of them got to live. That would be kind of funny to watch if you had no empathy for fellow human beings, or if it was Bush and Cheney. Now that would be funny.

We have an account from the poet Martial of one of the spectacles put on at the Colosseum during the reign of Titus around 80 A.D.

To get the joke, you have to know that Nero, years before, had tried to get the Roman public to give up bloody spectacles and listen to poetry readings and singing recitals and theatrical presentations.

So the Master of the Games announces that instead of a bloody spectacle, they’re going to hear the famous Greek singer Mezentius perform “The Death of Orpheus.” Orpheus was the guy who played the harp and sang so beautifully that it soothed the savage beasts. The crowd starts to boo. Screw that stupid cultural crap.

So Mezentius is on this island in the Colosseum, which has been flooded, and there are barges with beautiful naked women waving at him and throwing rose petals and he’s singing the famous epic and playing the harp for all he’s worth.

Then a bunch of bears, leopards and wolves come out of trapdoors on the island and the music doesn’t soothe them at all and they attack Mezentius and they’re tearing him apart and tearing each other apart and the crowd is laughing and all the beautiful naked women are laughing. HAW HAW HAW

Then the barges slowly start to sink and the water is full of… hungry crocodiles! And the beautiful naked women get chewed up by the crocodiles! HAW HAW HAW