Menippean satire

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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 instead of specific individuals.[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.[citation needed]

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][3] The term Menippean satire distinguishes it from the earlier satire pioneered by Aristophanes, which was based on personal attacks.[4]

Terminology[edit]

The form is named after the Greek cynic parodist and polemicist Menippus (third century BC).[5] 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.[6]

Paul Salzman, taking Menippean satire as a genre as "rather ill-defined", describes it as a mixture of allegory, picaresque narrative and satirical commentary.[7] 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.[8]

Classical tradition[edit]

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.[5] 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.[9]

Later examples[edit]

In the 20th century, after having been mostly overlooked for centuries, Menippean satire has significantly influenced postmodern literature.[2] Contemporary scholars including Frye classify the following works as Menippean satires:[citation needed]

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.[10]


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.”[13]

Bakhtin's theory[edit]

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 "opposed to that one-sided and gloomy official seriousness which is dogmatic and hostile to evolution and change".[citation needed] Authors of "Menippea" in Bakhtin's sense include Voltaire, Diderot, and E.T.A. Hoffmann.[14]

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."[15]

Frye's definition[edit]

Critic Northrop Frye said that Menippean satire moves rapidly between styles and points of view.[citation needed] 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. Critic Frye observed,

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[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Frye, Fourth essay, section Specific Continuous Forms (Prose Fiction)
  2. ^ a b c Branham (1997) pp. 18–9
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Mastromarco, Giuseppe (1994) Introduzione a Aristofane (Sesta edizione: Roma-Bari 2004). ISBN 88-420-4448-2 pp. 21–22
  5. ^ a b Branham (1997) p.17
  6. ^ a b c d e f M. H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms (1985 edition), article on satire, pp. 166–8.
  7. ^ a b c Paul Salzman, Narrative Contexts for Bacon's New Atlantis, p. 39, in Bronwen Price (editor), Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (2002)
  8. ^ a b c d e Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (1974 edition) pp. 309–12.
  9. ^ "Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics, pg. 113–20. Translated by C. Emerson. Minnesota UP 1984.
  10. ^ Sitney, P. Adams (1974, reprint 2002). Visionary Film (3rd ed.). Oxford. p. 410. ISBN 978-0-19-514885-5. 
  11. ^ "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" as published by the The William Blake Archive
  12. ^ Atwood, Margaret. "When Privacy Is Theft". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  13. ^ McLuhan, Marshall. Letters of Marshall McLuhan. Molinaro, C. McLuhan, and W. Toye (Eds.), Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987. p. 517
  14. ^ Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World Tr. Helene Iswolsky. The M. I. T. Press (1968)
  15. ^ Wilson(2002) p.308 n.25

References[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • Relihan, Joel. 1993. Ancient Menippean Satire. Baltimore.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Kharpertian, Theodore D. "Of Models, Muddles, and Middles: Menippean Satire and Pynchon's V." Pynchon Notes 17.Fall (1985): 3–14.
  • Courtney, E. "Parody and Literary Allusion in Menippean Satire." Philologus 106 (1962): 86–100.
  • "Tristram Shandy, Digressions, and the Menippean Tradition." Scholia Satyrica 1.4 (1975): 3–16.
  • Payne, F. Anne. Chaucer and the Menippean Satire. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1981.
  • 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.