A Companion to Satire: Ancient and Modern

A Companion to Satire: Ancient and Modern

A Companion to Satire: Ancient and Modern

A Companion to Satire: Ancient and Modern


This collection of twenty-nine original essays, surveys satire from its emergence in Western literature to the present.

  • Tracks satire from its first appearances in the prophetic books of the Old Testament through the Renaissance and the English tradition in satire to Michael Moore's satirical movie Fahrenheit 9/11.
  • Highlights the important influence of the Bible in the literary and cultural development of Western satire.
  • Focused mainly on major classical and European influences on and works of English satire, but also explores the complex and fertile cultural cross-semination within the tradition of literary satire.


But still, despite our cleverness and love,
Regardless of the past, regardless of
The future on which all our hopes are pinned,
We’ll reap the whirlwind, who have sown the wind.

(Timothy Steele, “April 27, 1937”)

The Satirist

If, at the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story “Young Goodman Brown” (1835), the “darkly meditative,” aging, and “distrustful” protagonist, believing he once saw his Salem neighbors and newlywed wife (“Faith”) cavorting in a witches’ Sabbath one wild night in the forest, had chosen to take up the quill instead of bitterly retreating from life, he would have written satire. For satirists do not wither in despair but, on the contrary, feel compelled to express their dissent. Juvenal is as typical a satirist as he is a great one for being so singularly dissatisfied and wanting to tell others about it. Living in an imperial Rome that has thoroughly surrendered its former republican glory, he tells his readers from the outset that it is difficult for him not to write satire (difficile est saturant non scribere; Satires 1.30). Indignant, he must speak out against the decadence and corruption he sees all about him. Thus satirists write in winters of discontent.

And they write not merely out of personal indignation, but with a sense of moral vocation and with a concern for the public interest. In his second “Epilogue to the Satires” (1738), Alexander Pope’s poetic speaker is called “strangely proud” by his adversarial friend, who would have him stop writing satire altogether. The poet agrees that he is “odd” – for “my Country’s Ruin makes me grave” – and that he is “proud” – “proud to see / Men not afraid of God, afraid of me: / Safe from the Bar, the Pulpit, and the Throne, / Yet touch’d and sham’d by Ridicule alone.” The poet’s satire is a . . .

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