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This introduces a new topic of ἀστεῖα, things pointed and lively, in the sense of witticisms, things amusing and laughable, such as jokes παρ᾽ ὑπόνοιαν, or παρὰ προσδοκίαν, repartees, puns, plays upon words, and the like.

‘Though it is true in general that most of these ‘vivacities’ are conveyed by (διά) metaphor, yet they are also derived from (a temporary, momentary) delusion (leading to a pleasing surprise at the unexpected supplement): for it becomes clearer (to the listener) that he has learnt something from (the conclusion of the sentence) being contrary’ to his expectation—or, as Victorius, from his own contrary, i.e. changed, state of mind, which has arisen between the beginning and end of the sentence—‘and the soul seems to say to herself, “Really, so it is; and I missed it (never found it out till now)”’. (This explanation of the pleasure derived from the unexpected surprise,—that the previous deception heightens the pleasure of the acquired knowledge—is due, I think, rather to the theory which had become habitual with Ar., that all intellectual pleasure is due to the natural desire of learning, than to his sober judgment exercised upon this particular application of it.) Schrader has supplied two capital instances of this form of pleasantry: the first is from Cic. de Or. II 281, Quid huic abest—nisi res et virtus? Here the listener is misled by the opening of the sentence to expect a very good character of somebody, when unexpectedly, after a pause, two words are added as exceptions, which convert the expected eulogium into beggary and worthlessness: but is it the learning, the becoming acquainted with that fact, however unexpectedly, that constitutes the pleasure or amusement that the listener derives from his surprise? A still better from Quint. of a dandy advocate, illud Afrihomo in agendis causis optime— vestitus,” for the expected versatus1, Quint. VI 3. 24 and 84. This topic he calls, decipiendi opinionem. He returns to it again in VIII 5. 15 under the name of ex inopinato: and gives two examples. Cic. de Or. II 63. 255; 70. 284, iocus praeter expectationem. I have quoted two or three English ones in the note to Introd. p. 319, note 3.

‘And the apophthegms that have point and vivacity derive this character from the indirect statement of the meaning (from the speaker's not directly expressing the intended meaning), as that of Stesichorus “that their cicalas will have to sing to themselves from the ground”’ all the trees being cut down and the land devastated; which is the real, direct, meaning: and ἑαυτοῖς, that there will be no one else to listen to them. On ἀποφθέγματα, see II 21. 8, where this is also quoted, Stesichorus' apophthegm also appears in Demetr. π. ἑρμ. § 99 where it is attributed to Dionysius (the tyrant; as a threat); and § 243, as an example of βραχυλογία in the chapter on δεινότης. This is a riddle in the shape of an apophthegm: the next topic brings us to aenigmas proper. The pleasure derived from these is traced, as usual, to that of learning: and against that explanation in the present instance I have no objection to make.

‘And for the same reason, riddles well wrapped up give pleasure: for not only is this (viz. the solution of them) a kind of learning, but they are also expressed in metaphor. And what Theodorus calls “novel phrases, expressions.” This is effected (this novelty, this surprise) when (the sequel) is unexpected, and not, to use his own words, “according to previous opinion or expectation”; but, as is the custom of humorous, jocular writers, who alter the letters of words to make jokes’. I have given a free transl. of the last clause; with οἱ ἐν τοῖς γελοίοις understand ὄντες or διατρίβοντες; and with τὰ παραπεποιημένα, ποιοῦσιν, or the like.

παραποιεῖν2 is, as I have pointed out in Introd. p. 320, the general name for all falsification (παρά) or (illicit) changes of the letters of words, for the purpose of a jest, παρονομασία, τὰ παρὰ γράμμα σκώμματα, perversion, misapplication, of a word: all jokes that depend upon verbal or literal changes. Compare παρώνυμος and its congeners, in logic and grammar (Categ. init.), applied to πτώσεις or changes of termination. See further, Introd., u. s., note 1.

On Theodorus of Byzantium, see note on II 23. 28, ult. and the references there given.

‘Which is the effect also of literal jokes (founded upon the letters and the changes of them); for these also cheat (the expectation, and so far mislead). (This kind of joke is not confined to prose: it appears) also in verses. For (the conclusion) is not as the hearer (the listener to the recitation of a rhapsodist) supposed: “and he trod with his—chilblains under his feet” (statelily stept he along, and under his feet were his— chilblains)—whereas the other thought he was going to say “sandals”’. This παρὰ γραμμὰ σκῶμμα, which must be taken from some burlesque hexameter poem—author unknown—has its counterpart in Arist. Vesp. 1167, κακοδαίμων ἐγώ: ὅστις γ᾽ ἐπὶ γήρᾳ χίμετλον οὐδὲν λήψομαι. The Schol. ad h. l. (in Gaisford's Not. Var.) refers, as another instance, to Alcibiades' τραυλισμός, Arist. Vesp. 45, ὁλᾷς Θέωλος τὴν κεφαλὴν κόλακος ἔχει. παρ᾽ ἓν γράμμα, ἤτοι παρὰ τὸ ρ_ ἐστὶ τὸ σκῶμμα. Hermogenes, περὶ μεθόδου δεινότητος, c. 34 (Rh. Gr. II 453, Spengel) in a chap. περὶ τοῦ κωμικῶς λέγειν, has illustrated this topic, which he calls παρῳδία, by the same verse of Aristoph.; and also this and τὸ παρὰ προσδοκίαν from Dem. de Cor.

‘Pleasantries arising from changes of letters (plays on words) are produced, not by a mere enunciation of a word in its direct meaning, but by something (a change) which gives a different turn to it, (converts or twists it into a different sense); as that of Theodorus (of Byzantium, the rhetorician: supra, II 23. 28), against Nicon the harper, θράττει: he pretends namely to say “it confounds you” (you are confounded), and cheats; for he means something else: and therefore it is amusing only after one has become acquainted with the meaning (or circumstances); for if (the hearer) doesn't know that he is a Thracian, he will see no point in it at all’. Victorius and Schrader have both missed the meaning of this pun. But in order to arrive at it, we must first remove from the text the first σε after θράττει which has been introduced from the second (where it is required) and spoils the pun. Nicon, it appears from the explanation, is, or is supposed to be, of foreign extraction; and not only that, but a Thracian, the most barbarous of all nations. The Thracian women were habitually slaves, in Athenian families: Arist. Thesm. 279, 280, 284, 293, Pac. 1138, Vesp. 828. This person is addressed by Theodorus with the word θράττει, which means apparently, ‘You are confounded”; this appears from the interpretation that follows, (τι) θράττει σε, which is of course convertible in meaning with the passive θράττει (and it follows also that the first σε must be an error of the transcriber, for θράττει σε would be no interpretation of θράττει σε; nor in that form would there be any pun). It really means, however, Θρᾶττ᾽ εἶ, “You are a Thracian maid-servant”, not only an out-and-out barbarian, but effeminate to boot, and a menial. Schrader's explanation is “Θράττη (sic) σε, hoc est, Thracia mulier te, intellige peperit:” at once impossible in respect of the Greek, and pointless. Victorius, to much the same effect.

The amusement derived from a pun is thus explained by Cicero, de Or. II 62. 254, Ambiguum (double-entendre) per se ipsum probatur id quidem, ut ante dixi, vel maxime; ingeniosi enim videtur vim verbi in aliud atque ceteri accipiant posse ducere; sed admirationem magis quam risum movet, nisi si quando incidit in aliud genus ridiculi.

βούλει αὐτὸν πέρσαι] No satisfactory explanation has hitherto been given of this pun. The point of the joke has been always supposed to lie in πέρσαι. Francésco dei Medici, a friend of Vettori, suggested to him a solution which he quotes at length, that the Persae a poem of Timotheus is referred to, and that we should read Πέρσαις. But as Buhle justly remarks, “non video quidnam in hoc sit faceti.” Majoragius' explanation, who supposes that there was a verb Πέρσειν, of the same meaning as Μηδίζειν, Persis favere, is equally out of the question. I have looked (for once) into Spengel's commentary, and find that he has suggested an analogy with Horace's vin tu curtis Iudaeis oppedere, Sat. I 9.70. The same thought once occurred to me, but I abandoned it, in consideration of the form of the word, πέρσαι; which, though a possible aorist, is entirely without authority. πέρδομαι is a dep. and has παρδήσομαι for its future, ἔπαρδον for the aorist. The solution I have finally arrived at is that the alteration of letters which makes the pun, resides in βούλει. This would probably be pronounced nearly, if not quite, like βουλή, and the word could be rendered ‘will you?’ or ‘the Council’: in the latter sense the words would mean ‘may the council destroy him.’ Sed de his nugis iam satis est.

1 What is learnt here is only that the man whom you expected (at the beginning of the sentence) to be an accomplished lawyer, turns out to be an empty coxcomb. It may be doubted again whether the knowledge of that fact would give much pleasure.

2 Δίδυμός φησι τὴν περὶ ὄνου σκιᾶς παροιμίαν παραπεποιῆσθαι ὑπὸ τοῦ ῥήτορος λέγοντος περὶ τῆς ἐν Δέλφοις σκιᾶς...[Harpocration].

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