11 February 2012

Never Underestimate the Efficacy of What You Learn in Freshman Year of College

From 1977-1981, I attended Xavier University and was enrolled in the Honors Program, a classical liberal arts program that required four years of Latin, three-and-a-half years of ancient Greek, 21 hours of philosophy, 12 hours of theology, plus other specific courses.

In Elementary Greek (a two-semester, five-day-a-week boot camp of declensions, conjugations, and other grammatical necessities), Fr. Burke, S.J., a remarkable linguist who was known to throw out examples from a wide variety of languages (Indo-European and not...Lakota Indian comes to mind, in at least one instance!), shared with us one day a series of ancient Greek jokes.

These particular jokes all began with skolastikos tis...(i.e., "Did you hear the one about the moron who...?"), and I've never forgotten some of them.  (Of course, my doing a joke-a-day in my classes certainly has encouraged retaining such things!) 

Did you hear about the moron who was trying to sell his house, and so he carried around a brick as a sample?

Did you hear about the moron who rode his horse onto the ferry in order to cross the river faster?


Did you hear about the moron who, in trying to save money, decided to teach his horse not to eat?  So he stopped feeding him, and a few weeks later the horse died.  About which the moron complained, "Great!  It just got to the point when he learned not to eat, and now it goes and dies on me!"

This stroll down comedy lane has been spurred by an email I received this week from a staff person of Dr. Mary Beard, a fine Cambridge classicist who writes the swell "A Don's Life" Blog for TLS.  In March 2009, she published an entry about ancient humor that mentioned the skolastikos tis genre, to which I couldn't help but post a comment referring to my favorite one:

There were identical twin brothers, absolutely identical, you couldn't tell 'em apart. One day, one of them dies. Did you hear about the moron who saw the surviving brother and asked him, "Who died, you or your brother?"

"So what?," you say.  Well, the professor's staffer had emailed to ask if they could reprint my comment, the joke learned from the grand old Jesuit way back in 1977-78, in her second book-length collection of posts (with select comments) from the Don's blog.

The moral of the story: all knowledge is useful! 

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