Inquire into (ROMAN) Satire

by Tonya Kim and Lynna Sutherland

(about the authors)


Introduction to Roman Satire

Roman Satirists



Introduction to Roman Satire

What is Satire?

Encyclopedia Britannica says that satire is

the expression in adequate terms of the sense of amusement or disgust, excited by the ridiculous or unseemly, provided that humor is a distinctly recognizable element, and that the utterance is invested with literary form.  Without humor, satire is invective; without literary form, it is mere clownish jeering.

Satire, in other words, is the combination of humor and criticism to point out human follies.  But where did it originate?


Where did Satire Begin?

Many forms of literature find their origin in ancient Greek genres.  However, Satire may be the only genre that was purely Roman.  Quintilian, professor of rhetoric and grammar in the first century A.D. (C.E.) wrote a book entitled Institutio Oratoria in which he compared Greek and Roman literary genres.  However, the book included no Greek equivalent of Roman Satire.  He claims that Lucilius, a writer of the second century B.C. (B.C.E.), was the inventor of Satire.  He also briefly mentions Ennius, a later author, as a satirist.

What Characterizes Roman Satire?

According to Michael Coffey (Roman Satire, 1989) in order for writings to be classified as a literary genre, two qualifications must be satisfied:

  1. There must be an archetype - one that claims to be the first of its kind

  2. It must follow the lex operis - "rules" of the genre must be followed and applied consistently

Roman Satire does qualify.  Ennius was the first author to use the term satura.  He compiled all of his works into a book which he entitled Saturae (literally meaning sausage, something stuffed with different ingredients) because it was a collection of all different kinds of works in different meters.  Lucilius, however, was the writer who set the standard for satire.  His successors followed these standards which were generally (as mentioned above in the definition of satire) to combine humor and criticism in the ridicule of human flaws.


About the Authors of this Site

Tonya Kim and Lynna Sutherland are both Latin majors at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia.  Tonya is double majoring in Mathematics, and Lynna is minoring in Elementary Education.  Both plan to graduate in May, 2001.  This site was created in May 2000 as a part of a course on Roman Satire.