‘Tis now the season, so in search of something appropriate to share, I turned to Macrobius’s “Saturnalia. ” This is not as jolly as the name might suggest, being largely a discussion on Roman culture, but there is a section of “witticisms”. Below is the best I could find. Please don’t build your hopes up.Caninius Rebilius was consul (supposedly a year-long post) for a single day. “We have a watchful consult in Caninius,” observed Cicero. “He didn’t see a moment’s sleep during his term.”
Augustus, on noting that one Vettius had ploughed under his father’s memorial stone: “Now that’s what I call cultivating your father’s memory.” (Unusually, this is a pun that works in translation)
By way of excuse, I should point out that Husband owns a book called “Freud on Jokes” and that is not funny either.
You may be relieved to know that Mary Beard is currently working on a book about Roman humour. It doesn’t seem to be out yet but it promises to be a lot more entertaining than Macrobius. There’s a taster here.
(Quotes are based on Robert Kaster's translation for the Loeb edition of Macrobius: tweaks and errors are mine.)