Menippean Satire
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Menippean Satire

The genre of Menippean satire is a form of satire, usually in prose, which has a length and structure similar to a novel and is characterized by attacking mental attitudes rather than specific individuals or entities.[1] Other features found in Menippean satire are different forms of parody and mythological burlesque,[2] a critique of the myths inherited from traditional culture,[2] a rhapsodic nature, a fragmented narrative, the combination of many different targets, and the rapid moving between styles and points of view.[3]

The term is used by classical grammarians and by philologists mostly to refer to satires in prose (cf. the verse Satires of Juvenal and his imitators). Typical mental attitudes attacked and ridiculed by Menippean satires are "pedants, bigots, cranks, parvenus, virtuosi, enthusiasts, rapacious and incompetent professional men of all kinds," which are treated as diseases of the intellect.[1][4] The term Menippean satire distinguishes it from the earlier satire pioneered by Aristophanes, which was based on personal attacks.[5]


The form is named after the Greek cynic parodist and polemicist Menippus (third century BC).[6] His works, now lost, influenced the works of Lucian and Marcus Terentius Varro; such satires are sometimes also termed Varronian satire. M. H. Abrams classifies Menippean satire as one form of indirect satire, the category opposed to the formal satire of direct criticism in the first person.[7]

Paul Salzman, taking Menippean satire as a genre as "rather ill-defined", describes it as a mixture of allegory, picaresque narrative and satirical commentary.[8]Northrop Frye found the term "cumbersome and in modern terms rather misleading", and proposed as replacement the term 'anatomy' (taken from Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy). In his theory of prose fiction it occupies the fourth place with the novel, romance and confession.[9]

Classical tradition

Varro's own 150 books of Menippean satires survive only through quotations. The genre continued with Seneca the Younger, whose Apocolocyntosis, or "Pumpkinification", is the only near-complete classical Menippean satire to survive. It consisted in an irreverent parody of the deification of Emperor Claudius.[6] The Menippean tradition is also evident in Petronius' Satyricon, especially in the banquet scene "Cena Trimalchionis", which combines epic form, tragedy, and philosophy with verse and prose; and in Apuleius' Golden Ass, the form is combined with the comic novel.[10] Elements of the Menippean satire have also been pointed out in the Gospels.[11]

Later examples include The Consolation of Philosophy of Boethius[12] and The Caesars of Julian the apostate.[13]

Later examples

The form was revived during the Renaissance by Erasmus, Burton, and Laurence Sterne,[14] while 19th-century examples include the John Buncle of Thomas Amory and The Doctor of Robert Southey.[14] The 20th century saw renewed critical interest in the form, with Menippean satire significantly influencing postmodern literature.[2] Contemporary scholars including Frye classify the following works as Menippean satires:[]

According to P. Adams Sitney in "Visionary Film," Mennipea became the dominant new genre in avant-garde cinema at the turn of the century. Filmmakers he cited include Yvonne Rainer, Sidney Peterson, Michael Snow, and Hollis Frampton.[19]

Marshall McLuhan also made extensive use of Menippean satire, as he himself suggested: "Most of my writing is Menippean satire, presenting the actual surface of the world we live in as a ludicrous image."[20]

Bakhtin's theory

Menippean satire plays a special role in Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of the novel. In Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, Bakhtin treats Menippean satire as one of the classical "serio-comic" genres, alongside Socratic dialogue and other forms that Bakhtin claims are united by a "carnival sense of the world", wherein "carnival is the past millennia's way of sensing the world as one great communal performance" and is "permeated with the pathos of change and the joyful relativity of all things". The folk-carnival sense of the world, in which forms like the Socratic dialogue and Menippean satire are based, "did not permit thought to stop and congeal in one-sided seriousness or in a stupid fetish for definition or singleness of meaning."[21] Modern authors of "Menippea" in Bakhtin's sense include Voltaire, Diderot, and E.T.A. Hoffmann.[22] For Bakhtin, the novels of Dostoevsky represent the highest point in the development of the genre.[23]

In a series of articles, Edward Milowicki and Robert Rawdon Wilson, building upon Bakhtin's theory, have argued that Menippean is not a period-specific term, as many Classicists have claimed, but a term for discursive analysis that instructively applies to many kinds of writing from many historical periods including the modern. As a type of discourse, "Menippean" signifies a mixed, often discontinuous way of writing that draws upon distinct, multiple traditions. It is normally highly intellectual and typically embodies an idea, an ideology or a mind-set in the figure of a grotesque, even disgusting, comic character.

The power of very physical images to satirize, or otherwise comment upon, ideas lies at the heart of Menippean satire.[24]

Frye's definition

Critic Northrop Frye said that Menippean satire moves rapidly between styles and points of view.[] Such satires deal less with human characters than with the single-minded mental attitudes, or "humours", that they represent: the pedant, the braggart, the bigot, the miser, the quack, the seducer, etc. Frye observed,

The novelist sees evil and folly as social diseases, but the Menippean satirist sees them as diseases of the intellect [...][9]

He illustrated this distinction by positing Squire Western (from Tom Jones) as a character rooted in novelistic realism, but the tutors Thwackum and Square as figures of Menippean satire.

See also


  1. ^ a b Frye, Fourth essay, section Specific Continuous Forms (Prose Fiction)
  2. ^ a b c Branham (1997) pp. 18-9
  3. ^ Bakhtin, Mikhail (1984). Problems in Dostoevsky's Poetics. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 108, 114-119.
  4. ^ Theodore D. Kharpertian, Thomas Pynchon and Postmodern American Satire pp. 29-30, in Kharpertian A hand to turn the time: the Menippean satires of Thomas Pynchon
  5. ^ Mastromarco, Giuseppe (1994) Introduzione a Aristofane (Sesta edizione: Roma-Bari 2004). ISBN 88-420-4448-2 pp. 21-22
  6. ^ a b Branham (1997) p.17
  7. ^ a b c d e f M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms (1985 edition), article on satire, pp. 166-8.
  8. ^ a b c Paul Salzman, Narrative Contexts for Bacon's New Atlantis, p. 39, in Bronwen Price (editor), Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (2002)
  9. ^ a b c d e Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (1974 edition) pp. 309-12.
  10. ^ "Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, pg. 113-20. Translated by C. Emerson. Minnesota UP 1984.
  11. ^ George W. Young, Subversive Symmetry: Exploring the Fantastic in Mark 6:45-56
  12. ^ J. P. Sullivan ed., Petronius, The Satyricon (Penguin 1986) p. 21
  13. ^ H. Nettleship ed., A Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (London 1894) p. 558
  14. ^ a b N. Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton 1971) p. 310-12
  15. ^ "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" as published by The William Blake Archive
  16. ^ Donohue, Denis (1998). "Introduction". In O'Brien, Flann (ed.). The Third Policeman. Dalkey Archive Press. p. ix. ISBN 9781564782144.
  17. ^ Freudenburg, Kirk. Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-521-00621-X.
  18. ^ Atwood, Margaret. "When Privacy Is Theft". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved .
  19. ^ Sitney, P. Adams (2002) [1974]. Visionary Film (3rd ed.). Oxford. p. 410. ISBN 978-0-19-514885-5.
  20. ^ McLuhan, Marshall. Letters of Marshall McLuhan. Molinaro, C. McLuhan, and W. Toye (Eds.), Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987. p. 517
  21. ^ Bakhtin, Mikhail (1984). Problems in Dostoevsky's Poetics. University of Minnesota Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-8166-1227-7.
  22. ^ Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World Tr. Helene Iswolsky. The M. I. T. Press (1968)
  23. ^ Bakhtin (1984). p121
  24. ^ Wilson(2002) p.308 n.25


  • Bakhtin, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, translated by Caryl Emerson. Minnesota U P 1984
  • Branham, R Bracht and Kinney, Daniel (1997) Introduction to Petronius' Satyrica pp.xiii-xxvi
  • Kharpertian, Theodore D. A Hand to Turn the Time: The Menippean Satires of Thomas Pynchon. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson U P, 1990.
  • Milowicki, Edward J. and Robert Rawdon Wilson (2002) "A Measure for Menippean Discourse: The Example of Shakespeare." Poetics Today 23: 2 (Summer 2002). 291-326.
  • Wilson, Robert Rawdon and Edward Milowicki (1996) "Troilus and Cressida: Voices in The Darkness of Troy." Jonathan Hart, ed. Reading The Renaissance: Culture, Poetics, and Drama. New York: Garland, 1996. 129-144, 234-240.
  • Wilson, Robert Rawdon (2002) The Hydra's Tale: Imagining Disgust, U Alberta Press, 2002.
  • Wilson, Robert Rawdon (2007) On Disgust: A Menippean Interview. Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 34: 2 (June, 2007). pp. 203-213. Disgust: A Menippean Interview

Further reading

  • Boudou, B., M. Driol, and P. Lambercy. "Carnaval et monde renverse." Etudes sur la Satyre Menippee. Ed. Frank Lestringant and Daniel Menager. Geneva: Droz, 1986. 105-118.
  • Courtney, E. "Parody and Literary Allusion in Menippean Satire." Philologus 106 (1962): 86-100.
  • Kharpertian, Theodore D. "Of Models, Muddles, and Middles: Menippean Satire and Pynchon's V." Pynchon Notes 17.Fall (1985): 3-14.
  • Kirk, Eugene P. Menippean Satire: An Annotated Catalogue of Texts and Criticism. New York: Garland, 1980.
  • Martin, Martial, "Préface" in Satyre Menippee de la Vertu du Catholicon d'Espagne et de la tenue des Estats de Paris, MARTIN Martial (édition critique de), Paris, H. Champion, 2007, "Textes de la Renaissance", n° 117, 944 p. ISBN 9782745314840
  • Pawlik, Katja. Von Atlantis bis Zamonien, von Menippos bis Moers: Die Zamonien-Romane Walter Moers' im Kontext der menippeischen Satire. Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 2016. 35-103. ISBN 978-3-8260-5899-8
  • Payne, F. Anne. Chaucer and the Menippean Satire. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1981.
  • Relihan, Joel. 1993. Ancient Menippean Satire. Baltimore.
  • Tristram Shandy, "Digressions, and the Menippean Tradition." Scholia Satyrica 1.4 (1975): 3-16.
  • Sherbert, Garry. Menippean Satire and The Poetics of Wit: Ideologies of Self-Consciousness in Dunton, D'Urfey, and Sterne. Peter Lang, 1996.
  • Weinbrot, Howard D. Menippean Satire Reconsidered. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2005.
  • Vignes, Jean. "Culture et histoire dans la Satyre Menippee." Etudes sur la Satyre Mennippee. Ed. Frank Lestringant and Daniel Menager. Geneva: Droz, 1985. 151-99.

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