3 Types of Satire from Historical Fiction to the Modern Day

Exploring the three types of satire will help you use this literary device in your own writing when appropriate.

Satire is an interesting way to write to draw attention to something without directly implying your meaning. Satirical writing is humorous and attention-grabbing, and it often draws attention to problems within government or society. 

Through satire and its use of humor, writers can talk about serious topics while still entertaining the reader. Sometimes, by seeing behavior in this type of fictional context, readers or viewers can see the ridiculous nature of what is happening in real life.

If you are interested in writing satire or learning more about it, then you should know there are three specific types of satire that show up in literature, television, and movies. Exploring these and the examples of them will help you embrace satirical writing, and identify it when you come across it in your own reading.

Types of Satire Found in Modern Literature

Satire comes in many different forms. It uses verbal irony, exaggeration, incongruity, and reversal to poke fun at everything from politics to the basics of human nature.

While there are many literary terms that can mean satire, most literary scholars believe there are three main types. These are:

  • Horatian Satire
  • Juvenalian Satire
  • Menippean Satire

Some satirical works can fit into more than one of these different types of satire, but understanding these three will help you understand satire more fully.

What Is the Definition of Satire?

Before exploring the three types of satire, first, you must understand what satire is. The dictionary defines satire as “a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn” or “wit, irony or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly.”

The word satire comes from the phrase lanx satura. This phrase means “a full dish of various kinds of fruit,” but over time the phrase shortened to satura and became equivalent with a certain type of satirical Roman poetry. In Greek culture, the literary genre earned the name satire, and that name continued into modern times.

Today, satire is a literary device that pokes fun at people, politics, and religion through spoof and exaggeration. It often makes social commentary or draws attention to political problems but in a lighthearted way.

Common Satirical Devices

Writers use three main literary devices to write satire. Writers who want to explore satire need to understand these. They are:

  • Irony: This creates a situation that is supposed to have one effect, but actually has the opposite effect, such as someone who brags about their intelligence while showing a lack of education at the same time.
  • Paradox: This literary device shows two opposing aspects that are in contradiction to each other. Juxtaposition is another term for this.
  • Caricature: This type of satire makes a person look ridiculous by highlighting a particular character trait or physical feature.

A Closer Look at the Three Main Types of Satire

Now that you have a basic understanding of the definition of satire and how to write satire, take a closer look at the three main types and some examples of them from modern and classic literature.

1. Horatian Satire

Horatian satire carries the name of the Roman satirist Horace who used this form of satire in his poetry in around 35 BC. This style of satire seeks to entertain and make people laugh. In general, the joke in this type of satire is human behavior. 

This type of satirical writing does not seek to draw attention to any societal problem or show a social commentary. It simply wants to entertain the audience with funny, light-hearted stories. It makes light of human folly and amuses the audience by satirizing features of humanity most can easily recognize and even see in themselves.

Examples of Horatian Satire

Examples of Horatian Satire

Some stories, television shows and books that are an example of Horatian satire include:

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: In this famous book, the follies of romance, marriage and relationships are central to the story.
  • The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde: The social engagements in this story are shown as a farce, making it an example of this type of satire.
  • The Onion: The Onion is a satirical website that puts forth fake news stories with a Horatian satire slant.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: The wild adventures of the unruly Huckleberry Finn poke fun at racism, religion and Southern society while keeping the store lighthearted.
  • The Colbert Report: This TV show is an example of satire in that Colbert uses his platform to poke fun at American politics without striving to make too much of a political statement. 

2. Juvenalian Satire

Juvenalian satire is the type used to attack political leaders. This form of political satire can also take on religious leaders. It gets its name from Roman satirist Juvenal who wrote in the first century BC. 

Most political cartoons use this type of satire. These cartoons poke fun at the political leaders and institutions, without actually trying to make people laugh. Juxtaposition, or showing two contrasting ideas or themes, is common in this type of satire. 

Examples of Juvenalian Satire

Some books and other media that show examples of the Juvenalian satire form include these:

  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift: This book tackles the hypocrisy found in both politics and religion. 
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell: This allegorical novel shows the dangers of communist rule and the reality of what happens when people revolt, only to end up under a tyrant.
  • South Park: The television show South Park juxtaposes satire with crude humor as it tackles current political topics.
  • “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift: This essay is considered one of the greatest examples of sustained satire, exaggerating the prejudice the English people have against the Irish people.

3. Menippean Satire

Menippean satire focuses on philosophy and people’s character flaws. It is similar to Horatian satire where it pokes fun at humans and their beliefs, but it is more negative and judgmental and less about making people laugh.

This form of satire gets its name from the Greek philosopher Menippus who wrote in the 3rd century BCE. Though his works have been lost, his ideas have found their way into modern fiction. Many Menippean satire works focus on fantasy or science fiction as a way to showcase satirical ideas.

Examples of Menippean Satire

Examples of Menippean Satire

Some examples of Menippean satire include these books and stories:

  • Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll: Alice’s curiosity is her ultimate downfall in this book that pokes fun at the poor girl.
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: This science fiction novel is humorous, and as satire aims at poking fun at the human purpose and our role in the universe.
  • Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut: This satire is an apocalyptic tale that shows the folly of modern human beings and the less-than-optimistic future they have.
  • Saturday Night Live: This popular TV show has sketches that poke fun at many famous people, including politicians and celebrities.

A Final Word on Types of Satire

Whether you are studying literature and want to be able to identify satire or you are looking to write some satire of your own, knowing the three types will help. This literary device helps you poke a little bit of fun at the world around you while making a point about something important. 

When done well, satire is an effective literary tool to draw just enough attention to an issue at hand, without being incredibly obvious about it. Learn to identify satire, then work it into your own writing to make powerful statements in a subtle and entertaining way. For more, check out our list of authors like Upton Sinclair.


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FAQs on Types of Satire

What is satirical humor?

This type of humor uses satire in an attempt to make people laugh. While it may be poking fun at specific political stances or individual character traits, the main focus is on entertaining an audience.

What are the different types of satire?

Satire falls into three basic categories named after the ancient writers who used them extensively. They are:
1. Horatian Satire: The primary goal of this type of satire is to entertain by making fun of basic human traits.
2. Juvenalian Satire: This type of satire brings light to political and religious situations within society. 
3. Menippean Satire: This type of satire makes fun of specific things in people, such as individual character traits, and has a meaner tone than Horatian Satire.