Oh, how I love satire when it’s done well.
Satire is corrective ridicule. It promotes the idea the it is okay to laugh at yourself, while pushing the reader to answer, “why do you follow this idea, or way of life?”
Or, “Serio Ludere” – “Seriously to play” – “To play seriously.”
Serious topics are talked about in a silly way. It’s to teach and delight.
Menippean Satire is a sub-genre of satire. Its name is derived from Menippus, a 3rd century cynic. Menippean specifically pokes fun at stereotypes. (Juvenal Satire pokes fun at actual people.)
Here are some elements of the sub-genre:
Inversion of social order (commoner to king, etc)
Freedom of plot
Free from philosophical convention
Crude, slum naturalism
Traversing the thresholds (heaven, hell, the supernatural)
Other genres implemented
Questions elements of everyday life
The kicker – Menippean Satire does not require all of these elements, they’re simply things to look for.
Examples of Menippean Satire:
The Satyricon by Petronius
Personally, I’ve only read Trimalchio’s Dinner. Trimalchio is a freedman of great wealth, and at this dinner party he entertains his guests with vulgar and ridiculous extravagance.
A True Story by Lucian
This is a novel of outlandish tales. It’s a commentary on historians at the time, who would write crazy things and expect to be believed.
It has “occupatio,” meaning “the inexpressibility,” but actually means when a character does something like, “I can’t describe…” but then goes on the describe it anyway.
Dialogues of The Dead by Lucian
This work centers on the cynic philosophers Diogenes, who was known for using a lantern during the day to make a philosophical point (looking for an honest man), and his pupil Menippus. In the work these two, who lived modestly while they were alive, are now living comfortably in the Underworld, while those who had lived lives of luxury are in torment when faced by the same conditions. Basically, ya can’t take anything with you.
Canide by Voltaire
I’ve mentioned this one a few times now.
The main character, Candide, lives a sheltered life in an Edenic paradise. After being indoctrinated with Leibnizian optimism, the story switches gears and Candide is slowly disillusioned.
A favorite of mine.
Skipping ahead quite a few years:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Now, I know what you’re thinking, this is Menippean?! And for the most part it’s a divided stance. Some say yes, some say no. I think it’s more of a yes.
If you haven’t read the novel, you might not understand why. The novel pokes fun many times at the way adults treat Alice. Almost like it’s making fun of the way adults brush off what children have to say. And of course many outlandish things happen, so there’s that.
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Taking the description from Goodreads: The American poet John Shade is dead. His last poem, ‘Pale Fire’, is put into a book, together with a preface, a lengthy commentary and notes by Shade’s editor, Charles Kinbote. Known on campus as the ‘Great Beaver’, Kinbote is haughty, inquisitive, intolerant, but is he also mad, bad – and even dangerous? As his wildly eccentric annotations slide into the personal and the fantastical, Kinbote reveals perhaps more than he should be.
What I loved about this novel was that it cause me, for the first time, to truly see the possibilities a novel had.
The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker A majority of this work takes place on an escalator. The mundane, everyday life if commented on.
Just remember – don’t take yourself too seriously, and with that thought, you won’t even have to read any Menippean Satire.