I recently have been looking into medieval jokes, as someone who loves comedy I wondered what our medieval ancestors would have laughed at and these are a few that I have found.
The father of a friend of ours had an intimacy with the wife of a downright fool, who, besides, had the advantage of stuttering. One night he went to her house, believing the husband to be away, knocked on the door, and claimed admittance, imitating the cuckold’s voice. The blockhead, who was at home, had no sooner heard him, than he called to his wife, “Giovanna, open the door, Giovanna, let him in; for it does seems to be me.”
A man who had given his wife a valuable dress, complained that he never exercised his marital rights without it costing him more than a golden ducat each time. “It is your fault,” answered the wife, “why do you not, by frequent repetition, bring down the cost to one farthing?”
A Florentine I was acquainted with was under the necessity of buying a horse in Rome, and bargained with the dealer, who asked him twenty-five gold ducats, too high a price; he offered to pay fifteen ducats cash, and to owe the rest; to which the dealer agreed. On the following day, when asked for the balance, the buyer refused, saying, “We must keep our agreement: it was settled between us that I was to be your debtor; I should be so no longer if I were to pay you.”
In Florence, a young woman, somewhat of a simpleton, was on the point of delivering a baby. She had long been enduring acute pain, and the midwife, candle in hand, inspected her secret area, in order to ascertain if the child was coming. “Look also on the other side,” said the poor creature, “my husband has sometimes taken that road.”
Several persons were conversing in Florence, and each was wishing for something that would make him happy; such is always the case. One would have liked to be the Pope, another a king, a third something else, when a talkative child, who happened to be there, said, “I wish I were a melon.” “And for what reason?” they asked. “Because everyone would smell my bottom.” It was usual for those who want to buy a melon to apply their noses underneath.
An inhabitant of Gobbio, named Giovanni, an exceedingly jealous man, racked his brains for a way of ascertaining, without a shadow of a doubt, whether his wife had an intimacy with any other man. By a deeply matured contrivance, well worthy of a jealous mind, he emasculated himself with his own hands. “Now,” he thought, “if my wife becomes pregnant, she will not be able to deny her adultery.”
Francesco Quartnense, a Florentine merchant, resided in Genoa with his wife and family. His children were thin and lanky, while those of the Genoese are generally healthy and hardy. He was asked one day why his children were so spare and of such a weak constitution, it being the reverse with the young Genoese. “The reason is easily given, ” he said. “I work alone at manufacturing my children, but you have quite a number of assistants in the making of yours.” It is fact that, soon after their wedding, the Genoese take again to the sea, and leave their wives, for many years in succession, to the care of other men, as they say.
A young Florentine was going down to River Arno with one of those nets in which they wash wool, and met a frolicsome boy, who, out of fun, asked him what birds he was going to catch with that net of his? “I am going to the Brothel’s outlet,” replied the youth, “to spread my net there, and catch your mother.” “Mind you search the place carefully,” retorted the boy, “for you will be sure to find yours there also.”
These are just a small number of jokes taken from one of the most popular joke books of the MIddle ages the Facetiae by Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459). Poggio was an Italian scholar who spent most of his career working for the Papacy, but he also wrote about a wide number of topics and was seen as one of the brightest minds of his time. He explains that he wrote the Facetiae because “it is proper, and almost a matter of necessity commended by philosophers, that our mind, weighed down by a variety of cares and anxieties, should now and then enjoy relaxation from its constant labour, and be incited to cheerfulness and mirth by some humorous recreation.”