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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. Other features found in Menippean satire are different forms of parody and mythological burlesque, a critique of the myths inherited from traditional culture, a rhapsodic nature, a fragmented narrative, the combination of many different targets, and the rapid moving between styles and points of view.
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. The term Menippean satire distinguishes it from the earlier satire pioneered by Aristophanes, which was based on personal attacks.
Paul Salzman, taking Menippean satire as a genre as "rather ill-defined", describes it as a mixture of allegory, picaresque narrative and satirical commentary.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.
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. 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. Elements of the Menippean satire have also been pointed out in the Gospels.
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."
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." Modern authors of "Menippea" in Bakhtin's sense include Voltaire, Diderot, and E.T.A. Hoffmann. For Bakhtin, the novels of Dostoevsky represent the highest point in the development of the genre.
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.
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 [...]
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.
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
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. ISBN9782745314840
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. ISBN978-3-8260-5899-8
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.