Menippus of Gadara Analysis

Life

Menippus (meh-NIHP-uhs) of Gadara was born a slave in Sinope, a city on the southern shore of the Black Sea associated with the Cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope and the comic poet Diphilus. Diogenes Laertius reports that Menippus bought his freedom, acquired huge riches through money lending, became a citizen of Thebes, lost his fortune, and finally committed suicide in grief at the loss.

Menippus was known for his serious-comic writing, in which he mingled humor with philosophical reflections. Though none of his writings remain, his work was imitated through the 150 books of Saturae Menippeae (probably 81-67 b.c.e.; Menippean Satires, 1985) adapted by the Roman Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 b.c.e.), of which some surviving fragments give an idea of the original. The satires of the Sophist Lucian perhaps also give an idea of the kind of writing Menippus produced, in which he alternated poetry and prose. Menippus’s works, like iambic poetry generally, included criticisms of people, places, and things.

Influence

Menippus’s innovation of mingling prose and poetry in the same work has been imitated ever since, famously in Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae (n.d.; Consolation of Philosophy, 1973) and, in the English Renaissance, in Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia (1590). The term “Menippean” has come to refer to this technique.

Additional Resources

Hall, Jennifer: Lucian’s Satire. New York: Arno Press, 1981.

Matton, Sylvain. “Menippus in Antiquity and the Renaissance.” In The Cynics, edited by R. Bracht Branham and Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.