The Function of Humour in Roman Verse Satire: Laughing and Lying

By Maria Plaza | Go to book overview

Introduction

THE FUNCTION OF HUMOUR IN ROMAN SATIRE

The present study is about the function of humour in the verse satires of Horace, Juvenal, and Persius, with a glance at the fragments of Lucilius. Humour is generally acknowledged as a major element of Roman verse satire, yet it has not been seriously examined by most scholars. When the satirists themselves make explicit statements about their art, as in their so called programme satires,1 they describe humour as (1) a means of expressing their main message (moral criticism and teaching), and (2) as a pleasing element, making the moral message more palatable. Trusting the speaker in these satires— the satiric persona—many critics have taken these statements at face value and, as a consequence, seen humour as a separable, ‘entertaining’ ingredient, which the reader would have to see through in order to grasp the serious kernel of the satire.

Yet this is not the whole truth about humour in satire. Humour, in satire as elsewhere, carries with it its own ambivalence. On the understanding adopted here, humour always entails a breach of rules—linguistic, behavioural, aesthetic etc.—and an acknowledgement of the breach. It follows that humour always has at least two possible meanings: on the one hand the joy of breaking the rule, with the suggestion that the rule is oppressive, unacceptable; and on the other hand, the insistence on the rule, with the implication that the breach is ridiculous and unacceptable. At its softest, humour may make a pronouncement less categorical, and give the speaker the excuse of ‘just joking’. At its strongest, it may completely revert the

1 Hor. S. 1.4, 1.10, 2.1; P. 1; J. 1, cf. also J. 10.

-1-

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The Function of Humour in Roman Verse Satire: Laughing and Lying
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • A Note on Editions and Translations x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Object-Oriented Humour 53
  • 2 - Humour Directed at the Persona 167
  • 3 - Non-Aligned Humour 257
  • Epilogue- the Genre Devours Itself 338
  • Bibliography 342
  • Index Locorum 359
  • General Index 367
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