Humanities › History & Culture The Origin of Roman Satire Share Flipboard Email Print Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Ancient Languages Figures & Events Greece Egypt Asia Rome Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated November 18, 2019 Roman literature began as an imitation of the Greek literary forms, from the epic stories of Greek heroes and tragedy to the poem known as an epigram. It was only in a satire that the Romans could claim originality since the Greeks never split satire off into its own genre. Satire, as invented by the Romans, had a tendency from the beginning towards social criticism which we still associate with satire. But the defining characteristic of Roman satire was that it was a medley, as a modern revue. Menippean Satire The Romans produced two types of satire. Menippean satire was frequently a parody, blending prose and verse. The first use of this was the Syrian Cynic philosopher Menippus of Gadara (fl. 290 B.C.). Varro (116-27 B.C.) brought it into Latin. The Apocolocyntosis (Pumpkinification of Claudius), attributed to Seneca, a parody of the deification of the drooling emperor, is the only extant Menippean satire. We also have large segments of the Epicurean satire/novel, Satyricon, by Petronius. Verse Satire The other and more important type of satire was the verse satire. Satire unqualified by "Menippean" usually refers to the verse satire. It was written in dactylic hexameter meter, like epics. Its stately meter partly accounts for its relatively high place in the hierarchy of poetry quoted at the beginning. Founder of the Genre of Satire Although there were earlier Latin writers instrumental in developing the genre of satire, the official founder of this Roman genre is Lucilius, of whom we have only fragments. Horace, Persius, and Juvenal followed, leaving us many complete satires about the life, vice, and moral decay they saw around them. Antecedents of Satire Attacking the foolish, a component of ancient or modern satire, is found in Athenian Old Comedy whose sole extant representative is Aristophanes. The Romans borrowed from him and other than extant Greek writers of comedy, Cratinus, and Eupolus, according to Horace. The Latin satirists also borrowed attention-grabbing techniques from Cynic and Skeptic preachers whose extemporaneous sermons, called diatribes, could be embellished with anecdotes, character sketches, fables, obscene jokes, parodies of serious poetry, and other elements also found in Roman satire.