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

By Maria Plaza | Go to book overview

1
Object-Oriented Humour

THE PRINCIPLE OF MOCKERY FROM BELOW

In the field of mocking humour there is a widespread pattern of someone without power suddenly daring to deride a very powerful target. This is a model which in later literary history emerges as typical of the satiric mode,1 but it germinates in antiquity. We meet it in the Greek diatribe, where it is a particular favourite with the Cynics. The Cynic, as a type, assumes a low role in society, and will deliberately refuse wealth and political position. Yet his free speech, parrhēsia, allows him to laugh at the rich and mighty. He may do this directly, as in the story where Diogenes, with a cheeky jocular formulation, answers Alexander that his best help will consist in stepping aside and clear Diogenes’ view.2 The Cynics may also make use of the model in a transferred sense, as in their master metaphor of the dog, a low creature which nevertheless has the freedom to bark at, and occasionally bite, anyone it sees fit. The model of someone powerless deriding the powerful may thus be translated into imagery such as low against high, small against big, physically weak against physically strong. Mostly these transferred terms remain formal, almost physical (as in the case of the dog) and do not include mental qualities such as stupidity/cleverness, the lack/ presence of talent, or moral depravity/goodness. The positive mental qualities stay firmly on the side of the aggressor, no matter how

1 See the discussion in N. Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), 226–9.

2 D.L. 6.38; cf. the discussion of parrhēsia in this exchange in Branham and Goulet-Cazé, Cynics, 88.

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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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