The following description of Menippean satire is derived from M.M. Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevski's Poetics, trans. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 112-21.

Menippean satire derives from the philosopher Menippus (3rd century B.C.), but it was identified as a specific genre by the Roman satirist Varro, an older contemporary of Horace whose works exist only in fragmentary form. Its fullest examples are the works of Lucian, who sometimes uses Menippus as a character. "Menippean satire became one of the main carriers and channels for the carnival sense of the world, and remains so to the present day" (113). Bakhtin lists the following characteristics.

1 It is usually more comic than Socratic dialogue.

2 It is unusually free (from history, realism, and legend) and hence fantastic.

3 Its fantasies create extraordinary situations for the purpose of testing philosophical truth, especially through the manipulation of perspective.

4 It mixes the fantastic, symbolic, and even quasi-religious with a "crude slum naturalism."

5 It is "a genre of 'ultimate questions,'" combining bold invention with broad philosophical reflection.

6 It uses the spheres of heaven, earth, and hell to look at these ultimate questions.

7 It uses "experimental fantasticality," that is, "observation from some unusual point of view" (116).

8 It often represents unusual states of insanity, split personality, dreams, excessive passion, creating a "dialogic relationship to one's own self."

9 Scandal, eccentricities, inappropriate speech, violations of politeness and social expectations are very characteristic.

10 It is full of contradictory behavior and characters.

11 It combines elements of social utopia with other satiric elements.

12 It inserts a variety of other genres, often to parody them.

13 Hence it is "multi-styled" and "multi-toned."

14 It is concerned with current topics. "The satires of Lucian, taken as a group, are an entire encyclopedia of his times" (118).

These diverse characteristics are united to produce "the deep internal integrity of the genre," but at the same time, Menippean satire "possesses great external plasticity and a remarkable capacity to absorb into itself kindred small genres, and to penetrate as a component element into other large ones" (119)-including diatribe, soliloquy, symposium, and romance. Menippean satire, in short, is philosophical fantasy working through extreme manipulation of point-of-view and extremes of satiric material.


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