Theodosius Macrobius was an early fifth century African-born Roman
author and philosopher, remembered (by those few scholars who have heard
of him) for his dialogues entitled Saturnaliorum Conviviorum Libri
Septem, among other works.
One 20th century
scholar who is aware of him is Frank Muir (of Take It from Here
and My Word fame), who credits him with what may be the oldest
recorded joke in a European language — and a subtle one at that. Muir
includes it in his Oxford Book of Humorous Prose (1990), along
with over 200 other funny extracts spanning 500 years and several
continents from such varied humorists as Robert Benchley, Jerome K.
Jerome, Lennie Lower, Spike Milligan, Tom Sharpe, Jonathan Swift, Mark
Twain and P.G. Wodehouse.
mihi, adulescens, fuit aliquando mater tua Romae?”
ille nec contentus adjecit: “Sed pater meus saepe.”
Muir quotes it in
English from The Schoolemaster or Teacher of Table Philosophie of
came unto Rome a certain gentleman very like Augustus. The emperor
noticed him and demanded of him if his mother had sometimes been to
said the gentleman. “But my father hath often been.”