Where did satire begin?

I was watching The Review Show last night, just as I usually don’t, but I’d been persuaded by their reviewing Spielberg’s Tintin, having no interest either as a child or an adult in Tintin, and no intention of going to see the film – and continued to watch as they reviewed an exhibition of Private Eye at the V&A (in the basement – “that’s the display department” – in the dark – “the lights were probably out of order” – behind a door with a sign on it saying, “Beware of the leopard!”), when the woman whose name I don’t know and whose appearance was strangely uncredited by the BBC but who was described as “the writer and classicist” (you have to be able to hold down two jobs to appear on The Review Show, as in, for instance, “the poet and banker, T S Eliot”), claimed, a propos of nothing – it’s true, Private Eye is satire, but it was hardly relevant, and she only seemed to be saying it to back up her credentials as a “classicist” – that “satire was invented by the Romans” – was in fact “the only literary form invented by the Romans” – and something about “Juvenal” – and although I’d heard this before, it suddenly struck me as very unlikely, for I remembered that Menippus famously wrote satire, indeed is – if you read your Lucian – inextricably identified with the form; and it didn’t take me long, looking through Wikipedia, to trace a route from Juvenal to Varro and then back into Greece, where anyhow you can be sure anything in the ancient world was invented – if it wasn’t invented somewhere else beforehand – to discover that satire originated in – Syria; our misapprehension being that, as Quintilian claimed, the Romans were the first to use hexameter verse as a vehicle for satire, which, in my opinion, can hardly be considered an invention – and besides, Private Eye isn’t written in hexameter verse that I am aware.


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