Momus or Momos (Greek: Μῶμος) was in Greek mythology the personification of satire, mockery, censure; a god of writers and poets; a spirit of evil-spirited blame and unfair criticism. His name is related to μομφή, meaning 'blame' or 'censure'. He is depicted in classical art as lifting a mask from his face.
In classical literature
Hesiod said that Momus was a son of Night (Nyx). He mocked Hephaestus, Lucian of Samosata recalled, for having made mankind without doors in their breast, through which their thoughts could be seen. He mocked Aphrodite, though all he could find was that she was talkative and had creaky sandals. He even found fit to mock Zeus, saying he is a violent god and lusts for woman, giving birth to two villainous sons equal to him in disgust[who?] (works of Apollonius Molon). Because of his constant criticism, he was exiled from Mt. Olympus.
Momus is featured in one of Aesop's fables, where he is to judge the handiwork of three gods (the gods vary depending on the version). However, he is jealous of what they have done and derides all of their creations. He is then banished from Olympus by Zeus for his jealousy.
In Lucian's satiric dialogue Assembly of the Gods (ca 165 CE) it is Momus who is the secretary when the gods stage a city meeting as if at Athens, to decide what to do about newly arrived outsiders and metics, the target of the satire being the recent development of complete enfranchisement of unworthy outsiders (Lucian himself being of Syrian origin).
Renaissance and later writers
Leon Battista Alberti wrote a savage and pessimistic Latin satiric dialogue, Momus, (ca. 1450) which drew upon Lucian's example; as with his model — though some readers, with Eugenio Garin, detect in it some of Alberti's own streak of bitterness — the end use of the cynicism in the satire is to amuse.
When Sir Francis Bacon wrote an essay "Of Building," (XLV) he said that "He that builds a fair house upon an ill seat, committeth himself to prison. .. Neither is it ill air only that maketh an ill seat, but ill ways, ill markets, and, if you consult with Momus, ill neighbours."
In Giordano Bruno's philosophical treatise "The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast", Momus plays an integral part in the series of dialogues conducted by the Olympian Deities and Bruno's narrators. Momus was brought back from his expulsion deep in the cosmos in order to assist Jove in reconstructing the heavens by purging them of vice and heralding in an age of virtue.
In one scene of Jonathan Swift's The Battle of the Books, Momus, while rushing to defend the Moderns, gets some aid from the goddess Criticism. Interestingly, Swift, a renowned satirist, sides with the Ancients while the goddess of satire sides with the Moderns
Antonin Artaud is referencing him in his brief Artaud Le Momo (1947), written shortly after nine years of incarceration.
Henry David Thoreau references him in Walden. In his first chapter, "Economy", Thoreau notes what he considers the valid objection of Momus/Momos against the house which Minerva/Athena made, that she "had not made it moveable, by which means a bad neighborhood might be avoided".
Inspired by the god, the "Knights of Momus" ("KOM") was the name of a Mardi Gras society in Galveston, Texas, founded in 1871. The original Knights of Momus went defunct around the time of World War II. A new group was founded in the mid-1980s, and seeking to rekindle the spirit of the original group, adopted the Momus name.
"The Knights of Momus" is also the name of the third-oldest New Orleans Mardi Gras krewe, founded in 1872. Unlike the Galveston Momus organization, the New Orleans iteration of the Knights of Momus has operated continuously since its founding, and remains true to its roots as a secret society.
For over 100 years, the Momus parade was a fixture of the New Orleans Mardi Gras parade schedule, parading annually on the Thursday before Fat Tuesday. Since Momus was the Greek god of mockery, the themes of Momus parades typically paid homage to the organization's namesake with irreverent humor and biting satire. The 1877 parade theme, "Hades, A Dream of Momus," caused an uproar when it took aim at the Reconstruction government established in New Orleans after the Civil War. Attempts at retribution by local authorities were largely unsuccessful due to the secrecy of the membership.
In 1991, the New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance that required social organizations, including Mardi Gras Krewes, to certify publicly that they did not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, in order to obtain parade permits and other public licensure. In effect, the ordinance required these, and other, private social groups to abandon their traditional code of secrecy and identify their members for the city's Human Relations Commission. Momus was one of three historic krewes (with Comus of 1857 and Proteus of 1882) that withdrew from parading rather than identify their membership.
Two federal courts later declared that the ordinance was an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights of free association, and an unwarranted intrusion on the privacy of the groups subject to the ordinance. The Supreme Court refused to hear the city's appeal from this decision. Nevertheless, the Momus parade never returned to the streets of New Orleans, although the group still conducts an annual bal masqué on the Thursday before Mardi Gras.
- The Puccini opera "La Bohème", where the Café Momus is the setting for Act II, in the Latin Quarter, Paris (although the actual Café Momus described in the original stories by Henri Murger on which the opera is based was located on the Right Bank near the church of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois).
- Kafka's novel The Castle, where Momus appears in chapter nine
- Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The White Guard, where a bust of Momus appears in the house of the Turbins.
- Boris Akunin's The Jack of Spades (an Erast Fandorin story), where Momus is the pseudonym assumed by a character
- Lev Grossman's novel Codex, where MOMUS is an addictive and mysterious computer game
- Sean Stewart's novel Galveston, where Momus is a mysterious but powerful ruler of a realm in a world where magic has returned.
- Rei Momo ("King Momus") is one of the figures of the Brazilian Carnival.
- In John Dryden's poem The Secular Masque, Momus mocks the gods Diana, Mars, and Venus for the vanity of what they represent among human beings.
- Scottish artist and musician Nick Currie, who performs under the stage name Momus
- Hesiod, Theogony, 214.
- In the extended dialogue Hermotimus, 20.
- Philostratus, Epistles.
- Alberti, Momus (The I Tatti Renaissance Library), Sarah Knight and Virginia Brown, editors; Sarah Knight's is the first translation in English.
- The decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals appears at volume 42, page 1483 of the Federal Reporter (3rd Series), or 42 F.3d 1483 (5th Cir. 1995).
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Momus.|
- Harry Thurston Peck, Harper's Dictionary of classical antiquity, 1898: Momus
- Lawrence Sterne, Tristram Shandy: ruminations on Momus' windows of glass, in Volume 1, chapter 23 (text)
- Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 'Momus, God of Laughter': Poem at www.americanpoems.com