Satire is a witty form of communication aimed at conveying a message to societies or drawing its attention towards its inherent loopholes. With irony and sarcasm as some of its integral features, its traces can be found in literature dating back as early as ancient Egypt and Greece. Satire is not only a form of literature but also a very effective form of passing on lessons significant to shaping a society at some point. The world has had its share of great satirists. Here is a look at some of the best among them.
Aristophanes was the son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, and lived from 446 BC to 386 BC. He was an Ancient Greek comic playwright who had written about 40 plays out of which 11 survive to this day in original. His works comprise the genre of Old Comedy and thus he is also known as the ‘Father of Comedy’ and the ‘Prince of Ancient Comedy’. His plays targeted politicians like the demagogue Cleon, new thinkers and fellow dramatists. In fact a lot of his plays parodied Cleon severely.
9. Gaius Lucilius:
Gaius Lucilius was among the very first Roman satirists who lived from 148 BC to either 103 BC or 102 BC. He lived at a time when the Greek civilization and literature was a lure. However, he found his calling and inspiration within the Roman people and is known today as a man who excelled in trademark, tongue-in-cheek illustrations which were primarily the celebration of Scipio. However, very little of his work is available to marvel at.
A philosopher in Classical Greece, Plato was also a mathematician and student of Socrates. He is known for his Socratic dialogues; 36 dialogues and 13 letters. What is evident in the dialogue is the knack of drama, mimicry and satire. In his dialogues, which are typically a conversation between Socrates and another person, the former is shown to be virtuous while the latter parodied. Plato was a master of mixing philosophy with satire.
7. Desiderius Erasmus:
He is known as Erasmus of Rotterdam and was a Dutch Renaissance social critic who was also a humanist, Catholic priest, teacher, and theologian. He lived in a time when European religious reformation was at a pivotal stage. His works were critical of the abuses within the church, however always careful of not denigrating the authority of the Pope. He was probably one of those who paved the way to the idea of Religious toleration. The Praise of Folly was his biting satire of church custom and misconception.
Juvenal – as he is known to the English world – was a Roman Poet whose real name was Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis. He authored the Satires which is one of the earliest references to learn about ancient Rome. With Rome being as much politically charged as Greece, it wasn’t surprising that satire flourished at the heart of the Roman Empire. Juvenal is credited with 16 known poems which are divided between five books all comprising discussion of society and social mores in dactylic hexameter.
5. Ubayd Zakani:
Ubayd Zakani was a Persian poet and satirist of the 14th Century from the city of Qazvin. He studied almost everything that was available in Shiraz (in Iran) and later moved back to Qazvin. His work is politically satirical. He is the author of Resaleh-ye Delgosha, as well as Akhlaq al-Ashraf (“Ethics of the Aristocracy”) and the well-known fable Masnavi Mush-O-Gorbeh (Mouse and Cat), a political satire. He was undoubtedly one of the greatest satirists the world has ever seen.
4. Geoffrey Chaucer:
Geoffrey Chaucer, who is also known as the Father of English Literature, is considered the greatest English poet of all times. He is best known today for ‘The Canterbury Tales’. But he was a skilful satirist who influenced the society with a humorous under tone first noticed in his work ‘The Reeve’s Tale’.
3. Jane Austen:
Jane Austen is probably one of the best known and loved female authors in English Literature. ‘Love and Friendship’, published around 1789, was among her first satirical work. ‘The History of England’, which was out in 1791, was her wonderful attempt at a parody of popular textbooks of her time. The works caricature the romantic comedies of her time, favoring in its place an austere yet humor-laced and witty realism.
2. Jonathan Swift:
Jonathan Swift, whom we must have all read atleast once in school, is the master of two styles of satire – Horatian and Juvenalian styles. He is the most well-known prose satirist of all time in the English language. He most celebrated works are ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, ‘A Modest Proposal’, ‘A Journal to Stella’, ‘Drapier’s Letters’, ‘The Battle of the Books’, ‘An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity’, and ‘A Tale of a Tub’.
We cannot have a list of the world’s most popular and best satirists without this man. François-Marie Arouet known with his nom de plume Voltaire was one of the wittiest men to have ever walked this planet. His satirical writings reflect the same panache. ‘Candide, ou l’Optimisme’ is his best known satirical work today.