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Day Two- Satire and the Satyricon Activity Guide

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    Day Two: Satire and the Satyricon

    Before Class:
    1. Read Satyricon, chs. 1-26 and chs. 57-112.
    2. Use the functions of to annotate the text for traits of satire described below (exaggeration, caricature, irony, double-speak, allegory, social criticism).
    Put at least two new notes in areas of the text which have not yet been commented on.
    Feel free to suggest similar examples of satire from other works you are familiar with (cartoons, television shows, films, novels, plays, poetry, advertising, artwork).
    3. Be prepared to answer the following questions below in class discussion. Some of the material we are covering is disturbing, so if you need to leave class, please feel free to do so.

    Questions for Class Discussion:

    1. What assumptions about a proper education does Petronius lampoon (mock)? Why?

    2. What picture emerges of the life of everyday people in Rome? Is satire a useful way to understand the values of the less fortunate or do we only see them through the lens of the educated? Be prepared to point to specific chapters.

    3. What allusions to and jokes about the Odyssey emerge throughout this satire? (this would be a good annotation to do in

    4. What views of sexuality does Petronius satirize? What can we infer from the Satyricon about Roman attitudes towards:

    • same-sex relationships
    • heterosexual relationships within and outside of marriage
    • sexual relationships with very young individuals
    • concepts of consent
    • prostitution (sex work)
    • the law
    • the story of Cupid and Psyche (Quartilla’s maid is ironically named Psyche)
    • the rights of citizens vs. other non-citizens

    5. What is Petronius’ attitude towards art and poetry? What are they good for? Why have the liberal arts declined? Do we hear similar laments today? Why/why not? (ch. 81ff)

    6. What does the scene aboard the ship tell us of Roman attitudes towards and stereotypes of certain ethnic groups? (ch. 102ff)

    7. What attitudes towards slavery emerge on Lichas’ ship? How do these compare to or contrast with those expressed at Trimalchio’s dinner party?

    8. Starting with the end of ch. 110, we have the famous tale of the woman from Ephesus (modern-day Turkey), which circulated throughout the Mediterranean. What attitudes about women and gender-relations does this story reveal?

    9. What is the travellers’ stint at Croton meant to criticize?

    10. Horace was a famous satirist. Eumolpus’s poem satirizes what excesses of the Roman empire? (chs 118-24)

    11. We’ve just come off reading Ovid’s Ars Amatoria and Remedia Amoris. How would Ovid assess Circe and her maid?

    12. Oenothea is described as living in a hovel. Is the hymn in praise of poverty meant to be satire? Why/why not? What would have made the episode with the geese funny for Roman readers?

    13. Why was the episode with Philomena copied when other parts of the Satyricon were not? How does the Philomena here ironically contrast with the Philomena of the Metamorphoses of Ovid?

    14. Why does the Satyricon end with an episode of cannibalism?

    Elements of Satire (for use with the annotation task)

    Satire is the use of irony, sarcasm, mockery, or similar tactics to expose, denounce, or deride vice or folly. Satire also refers to a literary work in which human foibles and shortcomings are lampooned and/or decried. Some satire may seek to use ridicule to harm or damage individuals, social structures, or values, but the most elevated satire seeks to create a “shock of recognition,” which makes the vice unveiled repulsive, with the intent that vice will be expunged from the person or social group(s) under attack or from individuals and groups who are meant to benefit from an attack on others. Normally, this “shock of recognition” is accomplished through laughter or wit. Some argue that, from being simply destructive, satire is implicitly constructive. Others, such as Malcom Gladwell, argue that ultimately, satire becomes complicit when it intends to profit from those who may take the satire at face value (Stephen Colbert’s persona on The Colbert Report), or who use satire and/or humor as a social “safety valve” to avoid real change.

    The Five Basic Elements of Satire

    1. Attack/Aggression: Satire is an attack, but is usually accomplished indirectly through irony rather than direct attack through ridicule and sarcasm. Satire’s aggression may lead to its being misunderstood and/or rejected by readers.

    2. Judgment: Once an author decides that something or someone is an irritant or ridiculous, the author has judged that person or thing to be less than ideal and therefore worthy of satire. The satirist’s judgments are often based on their ideology (belief system), ethics (how ideally to treat fellow humans), and morality (definition of good/evil, right/wrong).

    3. Play: Satirists creatively play with words (multiple meanings) and images (all is not what it seems) in a humorous but often barbed way. This combination of play and aggression is common to both animals and humans and underlie why humans like to play games (football or Scrabble or video games = aggression plus play).

    4. Laughter (Humor): Because it is driven often by a serious underlying agenda, satire may not generate laughter as frequently as other forms of humorous entertainment (farce, slapstick, comedy). Sometimes satire’s agenda or use of troubling images may shock or cause disjuncture in the viewer.

    5. Desire to Instigate Reform (Intent): What distinguishes sarcasm from satire is authorial intent. A sarcastic quip might produce laughter, but does not attempt to change social ills. In contrast, the satirist harnesses sarcasm, irony, and word-play to address a particular issue to bring about a desired goal or reform (sometimes portrayed as the opposite point of view of the speaker).

    Other Important Satire Terms:

    Horatian satire (light satire)—Named after the Roman satirical poet, Horace, who created a voice which is tolerant, bemused, and witty. Gentle ridicule targets the absurdities and follies of human beings; the reader is meant to smile rather than feel irate.

    Juvenalian satire (dark or invective satire)—Named after the Roman satirist Juvenal. In this form of satire, the speaker attacks individual vice and social problems with anger and contempt and harsh realism.

    Parody--A composition that imitates the serious manner and characteristic features of a particular work, or the distinctive style of its maker, and applies the imitation to a completely different or comically inappropriate subject. Often a parody is more powerful in its influence on affairs of current importance--politics for instance--than its original composition. Example: parodic songs on Tik-Tok.

    Exaggeration--To enlarge, increase, or represent something beyond normal bounds so that it becomes ridiculous and its faults can be seen.

    Irony--Saying one thing and meaning another. A worker complains that they are scheduled for the Christmas shift and their coworker replies: “How nice for you!”

    Hyperbole--To over exaggerate the situation beyond its normal bounds, so it becomes ridiculous. Example: “I have a million things to do today.”

    Incongruity—To present things that are out of place or absurd. A ballet dancer making a pass on a football field or Miss Piggy as the “swan” in Swan Lake.

    Reversal--To present the opposite of the normal order and/or the order of events, hierarchical order. For example, in a series of dystopic novels, Malorie Blackman creates an alternative history; white people are enslaved by Africans, rather than vice versa.

    Sarcasm-- is stating the opposite of an intended meaning especially in order to sneeringly, slyly, jest or mock a person, situation or thing. Example: “That’s cool” (when you actually hate it) or talking about how much you think a candidate is doing a good job in a mocking tone.

    Juxtaposition-- an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, esp. for comparison or contrast. Example: The Odd Couple.

    Double Entendre (pun)--A play on words; a word or expression capable of two interpretations with one usually risqué. Example: Master Bates (from Oliver Twist).

    Understatement—Similar to hyperbole, a type of exaggeration. It can be used to make a situation or idea seem less important than it really is.

    Invective – harsh, an abusive language directed against a person or a cause.

    Target --Who (a person or group) or what (an institution or ideology) the satirist is targeting.

    Antithesis – a figure of speech which relies on strongly contrasting words or ideas.

    Caricature – a person’s features or behaviors may be caricatured. Caricature is an exaggerated representation or overstatement of a character in a visual text (cartoon) or verbal text (dialogue).

    Vice – an immoral or evil habit or practice or conduct; depraved or degrading behavior.

    Potential Problems with Satire

    1. Misunderstanding: The audience may take the satire at face value and miss the “message.”

    2. Misuse: The excuse that something is “satire” is invoked to convey cruel or intolerant messages

    3. Missing the Point: Satire can distract the audience from the “real” message or act as a safety valve without sparking change.

    Day Two- Satire and the Satyricon Activity Guide is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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