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What is Satire?

by Olivia Xu

Everyone has seen or read satire at least once in their lifetime. It’s everywhere. From The Onion, a fake news website, to the popular TV show South Park. Satire has been around for centuries and is a big part of our lives, whether we know it or not. But, what really is satire? What are the different types of satire? And where did it come from?

What is Satire?

According to Britannica, “satire, [is an] artistic form, chiefly literary and dramatic, in which human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque, irony, parody, caricature, or other methods, sometimes with an intent to inspire social reform”.

Types of Satire

There are three types of satire: Horatian, Juvenalian, and Menippean satire. Horatian satire is light-hearted and comedic. The intention is to poke fun at someone or an event in an entertaining manner. Some examples of Horatian satire include The Onion and The Colbert Report. Juvenalian satire is darker and is meant to be serious. One famous example of Juvenalian satire is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Menippean satire casts moral judgments on beliefs and opinions like homophobia or racism. It can be light and comedic or dark and harsh depending on the intention. Thomas More’s Utopia and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland are some famous pieces of Menippean writing.

The History of Satire

The word satire traces back to the Latin word “satur,” which means “well-fed”. Satur was used in the phrase “lanx satura,” meaning “a dish full of many kinds of fruit”. These words might seem like they have nothing to do with satire, but they were used in ancient Rome by critics and writers to refer to what is known today as satire. The word “satire” itself was added into the English language in the 1500s. 

The oldest known example of satire is The Satire of the Trades or The Instruction of Dua-Kheti, an Egyptian writing from the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC. The writing exaggerates the cons of other occupations to praise the wonders of being a scribe. Another old piece of satire is Greek poet Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, written in 411 BC. Lysistrata is about a woman’s mission to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges to force the men to negotiate a peace treaty.

Satire is an art form that uses humor and exaggeration to show the foolishness or wickedness of people’s behaviors and ideals. The three types of satire are Horatian, Juvenalian, and Menippean satire. Satire has a long history that dates back centuries. Satire has provided us with many thought-inducing and comedic literary and dramatic pieces. Satire is everywhere and has an enormous impact on our society. 

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