Peter Jones

How to crack election jokes like a Greek


As the party of the lost and the party of the losers square up to each other, the next few weeks bid fair to raise tedium to an excruciating new level. Still, one can always rely on the c. 4,000 epigrams of the Greek Anthology (7th century bc – 6th century ad) to provide some light relief.

‘We arrived at Apelles’ for supper./ He’d stripped his garden bare./ It looked as if he was feeding his sheep,/ Instead of his friends gathered there,/ With radish and lettuce and chicory too,/ And leeks, mint and onions, and basil and rue./ And fearing we’d soon be presented/ with a nourishing helping of hay,/ I ate some half-soaked lupins/ and made my swift getaway.’ (Ammianus)

‘When Moeris said goodnight, she seemed to hold me/ And kiss my lips –and yet, for all I know,/ I dreamed it. I remember all she told me/ And all I said to her, but I can show/ It was a dream: for, if the kiss was given,/ Why am I now on earth, and not in Heaven?’ (Strato, tr. by Peter Hadley)

‘Lais, I whose beauty mocked all Greece,/ And brought young lovers crowding to my doors,/ To Venus pledge my looking glass, because/ I have no wish to see me as I am,/ And cannot see myself as once I was.’ (Plato, but not that one – my apologies to Aphrodite)

‘Eutychus the painter fathered sons a-plenty/ But never got a likeness from any of the 20.’ (Lucillius)

‘If hating and loving both leave me sore/ I’ll choose of the two the sore I like more.’ (Euenus)

‘Is Zeus in Ethiopia, feasting away/ Or, golden, in the bed of Danae?/ But he’s not picked up pretty boy Gregg Pasty!/ Or has he given up on pederasty?’ (Julius Leonidas)

‘Mix limb-relaxing Shagging with limb-relaxing Stout,/ There’s no doubt who the daughter is – limb-relaxing Gout.’ (Hedylus)

‘Hair, honey, rouge, teeth, wax you bought, your features to replace./ For what you spent, you might have bought a face.’ (Lucillius)

‘When first of all you said me nay/ Your fruit was green upon the vine;/ Again, upon your vintage day,/ The ripened grape would not be mine./ Do you prejudge me still – or may/ I take a sip of raisin wine?’ (Anon., tr. by Peter Hadley)