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The Satire of the Trades

The Satire of the Trades

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The literature of ancient Egypt is as rich and varied as any other culture. From the inscriptions of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (c. 2613-2181 BCE) through the Love Poems of the New Kingdom (c. 1570 - c. 1069 BCE) the Egyptian scribes produced a body of work which would influence some of the greatest works of other cultures, most notably the books by Hebrew scribes which would finally be included in the Bible. Literary forms of the short story, novel, ballad, prose-poem, hymn, incantation, biography, and autobiography were all explored through genres such as the ghost story, adventure story, love story, and didactic compositions intended to teach a clear and obvious message.

These didactic tales, also known as Wisdom Literature, reached their height of expression during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (2040-1782 BCE), which is generally considered the pinnacle of Egyptian art and culture. They sometimes take the form of a father (a king) addressing his son as in The Instructions of King Amenhemat I for his son Senruset I. In other works, the plot unfolds from a narrator speaking in the first person to an audience (The Admonitions of Ipuwer) or a carefully constructed tale told in third-person narration (The Eloquent Peasant). These are all quite serious literary works famous for their articulate presentation of the values of Egyptian culture, but there is another among them which combines solemn advice with comical exaggeration to make its point and is, in fact, the first example of literary satire: The Instruction of Dua-Khety - also known as The Satire of the Trades.

Narrative Form & Summary

The Satire of the Trades takes its cue from grand and solemn works such as The Instructions of King Amenhemat I or the earlier works from the Old Kingdom such as The Instruction of Ptahhotep: a father is giving helpful advice to his son. In the case of Dua-Khety, however, the greater part of the manuscript is devoted to impressing upon the boy the rich life which awaits him as a scribe by presenting every other job as unending misery.

The story begins as Dua-Khety is sailing down the Nile with his son, Pepi, on their way to enrol the boy in school. There is no indication in the text that Pepi has complained about becoming a scribe or expressed the desire to do anything else. Since it is obvious that Dua-Khety is a scribe, it would be natural for his son to follow in this occupation. Dua-Khety, however, begins his instruction as though Pepi has objected to it.

For the first 22 chapters of the text, the father details all the horrors his son could expect in any other job while impressing upon him the glorious life of the scribe. He concludes by saying, "But if you understand writings, then it will be better for you than the professions which I have set before you" (Simpson, 435). He then goes on, in the last eight chapters, to give general advice in keeping with the tone and solemnity of earlier Wisdom Literature.

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Satire or Serious Work

These last eight chapters, obviously meant to be taken seriously, influenced early interpretations claiming the piece was to be taken completely seriously throughout in keeping with older Instruction works. Egyptologist Miriam Lichtheim addresses how even the great scholar Wolfgang Helck "has denied its satiric character and has claimed it to be a wholly serious, non-humorous work" (184). Helck's assertion seems an almost incredible claim in light of the fact that the piece is obviously intended to amuse. The descriptions of the trades are so uniformly horrific that, if they were actual representations of these jobs, no one would have wanted to do them. There is no doubt much truth to many aspects of these descriptions but that is precisely how satire works. Lichtheim writes:

What are the stylistic means of satire? Exaggeration and a lightness of tone designed to induce laughter and a mild contempt. Our text achieves its satirical effects by exaggerating the true hardships of the professions described and by suppressing all their positive and rewarding aspects. If it were argued that the exaggerations were meant to be taken seriously, we would have to conclude that the scribal profession practiced deliberate deception out of a contempt for manual labor so profound as to be unrelieved by humor. Such a conclusion, however, is belied by all the literary and pictorial evidence. For tomb reliefs and texts alike breathe joy and pride in the accomplishments of labor. (184)

It is generally accepted today that the work is satire and is meant to amuse but the latter part (Chapters 23-30) returns to the paradigm of non-satirical Wisdom Literature. This section of the text, as well as other Egyptian works such as The Instruction of Amenemope (c. 1570-c. 1069 BCE), would influence the authors of the biblical Book of Proverbs. Egyptologist Jaroslav Cerny (1898-1970 CE) substantiated that The Instruction of Amenemope and so, obviously, The Satire of the Trades, pre-dates the Book of Proverbs as well as the other books included in the Bible.

The Text

The manuscript of The Satire of the Trades exists only in copies from the 18th and 19th dynasties of the New Kingdom known as P. Sallier II and P. Anastasi VII both now housed in the British Museum. The manuscripts are complete but damaged enough to allow for a number of different interpretations and translations of certain lines. The overall text, however, is recognizable in all of these translations.

The following translation comes from William Kelly Simpson following that of Wolfgang Helck from his 1970 CE work:

1. The beginning of the teaching which the man of Tjel named Dua-Khety made for his son named Pepy, while he sailed southwards to the Residence to place him in the school of writings among the children of the magistrates, the most eminent men of the Residence.

2. Thereupon he spoke to him: Since I have seen those who have been beaten, it is to writings that you must set your mind. See for yourself, it saves one from work. Behold, there is nothing that surpasses writings! They are like a boat upon the water. Read then at the end of the Book of Kemyet and you will find this statement in it saying: As for a scribe in any office in the Residence, he will not suffer want in it.

3. When he fulfils the bidding of another, he does not come forth satisfied. I do not see an office to be compared with it, to which this maxim could relate: I shall make you love books more than your mother and I shall place their excellence before you. It is indeed greater than any office. There is nothing like it on earth. When he began to become sturdy but was still a child, he was greeted respectfully. When he was sent to carry out a task, before he returned he was dressed in adult garments.

4. I do not see a stoneworker on an important errand or a goldsmity in a place to which he has been sent, but I have seen a coppersmith at his work at the mouth of his furnace. His fingers were like the claws of the crocodile and he stank more than fish eggs.

5. Every carpenter who bears the adze is wearier than a laborer. His field is his wood, his hoe is the axe. It is the night that will rescue him, for he must labor excessively in his activity. But at nighttime he still must light his lamp.

6. The jeweler pierces stone in stringing beads in all kinds of hard stone. When he has completed the inlaying of the eye amulets, his strength vanishes and he is tired out. He sits until the arrival of the sun, his knees and his back bent at the place called Aku-Re.

7. The barber shaves until the end of the evening. But hs must be up early, crying out, his bowl upon his arm. He takes himself from street to street to seek out someone to shave. He wears out his arms to fill his belly, like bees who eat only according to their work.

8. The arrowmaker goes north to the Delta to fetch himself arrows. He must work excessively in his activity. When the gnats sting him and the sand fleas bite him as well, then he is judged.

9. The potter is covered with earth, although his lifetime is still among the living. He burrows in the field more than swine to bake his cooking vessels. His clothes being stiff with mud, his headcloth consists only of rags so that the air which comes forth from his burning furnace enters his nose. He operates a pestle with his feet, with which he himself is pounded, penetrating the courtyard of every house and driving earth into every open place.

10. I shall also describe to you the like of the mason-bricklayer. His kidneys are painful [his work pains him]. When he must be outside in the wind, he lays bricks without a loin cloth. His belt is a cord for his back, a string for his buttocks. His strength has vanished through fatigue and stiffness, kneading all his excrement. He eats bread with his fingers, although he washes himself but once a day.

11. It is miserable for the carpenter when he planes the roofbeam. It is the roof of a chamber 10 by 6 cubits. A month goes by in laying the beams and spreading the matting. All the work is accomplished. But as for the food which should be given to his household while he is away, there is no one who provides for his children.

12. The vintner hauls his shoulder-yoke. Each of his shoulders is burdened with age. A swelling is on his neck, and it festers. He spends the morning in watering leeks and the evening with corianders, after he has spent the midday in the palm grove. So it happens that he sinks down at last and dies through his deliveries more than one of any other profession.

13. The field hand cries out forever. His voice is louder than the raven's. His fingers have become ulcerous with an excess of stench. He is tired out in Delta labor, he is in tatters. He is well among lions but his experience is painful. The forced labor then is tripled. If he comes back from the marshes there, he reaches his house worn out, for the forced labor has ruined him.

14. The weaver inside the weaving house is more wretched than a woman. His knees are drawn up against his belly. He cannot breathe the air. If he wastes a single day without weaving, he is beaten with fifty whip lashes. He has to give food to the doorkeeper to allow him to come out to the daylight.

15. The weapon maker, completely worn out, goes into the desert. Greater than his own pay is what he has to spend for his she-ass for its work afterwards. Great is also what he has to give to the fieldhand to set him on the right road to the flint source. When he reaches his house in the evening, the journey has ruined him.

16. The courier goes abroad after handing over his property to his children, being fearful of the lions and the Asiatics. He only knows himself again when he is back in Egypt. He reaches his household by evening, but the journey has ruined him. But his house by then is only a garment and a paved road. There is no happy homecoming.

17. The furnace-tender, his fingers are foul, the smell thereof is as corpses. His eyes are inflamed because of the heaviness of the smoke. He cannot get rid of his dirt, although he spends the day cutting reeds. Clothes are an abomination to him.

18. The sandalmaker is utterly wretched carrying his tubs forever. His stores are provided with carcasses and what he bites is hides.

19. The washerman launders at the riverbank in the vicinity of the crocodile. `I shall go away, father, from the flowing water,' said his son and daughter, `to a more satisfactory profession, one more distinguised than any other profession.' His food is mixed with filth, and there is no part of him which is clean. He cleans the clothes of a woman in menstruation. He weeps when he spends all day with a beating stick and a stone there. One says to him, "Dirty laundry, come to me", the brim overflows.

20. The fowler is utterly afflicted while searching out for the denizens of the sky. If the flock passes by above him, then he says, `Would that I might have nets'. But God will not let this come to pass for him for He is opposed to his activity.

21. I mention to you also the fisherman. He is more miserable than one of any other profession, one who is at his work in the river infested with crocodiles. When the totaling of his account is subtracted for him, then he will lament. One did not tell him that a crocodile was standing there and fear has now blinded him. When he comes to the flowing water, so he falls as through the might of God. See, there is no office free from supervisors except the scribe's. He is the supervisor!

22. But if you understand writings, then it will be better for you than the professions which I have set before you. Behold the official and the dependent pertaining to him. The tenant farmer of a man cannot say to him, `Do not keep watching me.' What I have done in journeying southward to the Residence is what I have done through love of you. A day at school is advantageous to you. Its work of mountains is forever, while the workmen I have caused you to know hurry and I cause the recalcitrant to hasten.

23. I will also tell you another matter to teach you what you should know at the station of your debating. Do not come close to where there is a dispute. If a man reproves you, and you do not know how to oppose his anger, make your reply cautiously in the presence of listeners.

24. If you walk to the rear of officials, approach from a distance behind the last. If you enter while the master of the house is at home, and his hands are extended to another in front of you, sit with your hand to your mouth. Do not ask for anything in his presence. But do as he says to you. Beware of approaching the table.

25. Be serious, and great as to your worth. Do not speak secret matters. For he who hides his innermost thoughts is one who makes a shield for himself. Do not utter thoughtless words when you sit down with an angry man.

26. When you come forth from school after midday recess has been announced to you, go into the courtyard and discuss the last part of your lesson book.

27. When an official sends you on a mission, then say what he said. Neither take away nor add to it. The impatient man falls into oblivion, his name will not endure. He who is wise in all his ways, nothing will be hidden from him, and he will not be rebuffed from any station of his.

28. Do not say anything false about your mother. This is an abomination to the officials. The offsprting who does useful things, his condition is equal to the one of yesterday. Do not indulge with an undisciplined man, for it is bad after it is heard about you. When you have eaten three loaves of bread and swallowed two jugs of beer, and the body has not yet had enough, fight against it. But if another is satiated, do not stand around, take care not to approach the table.

29. See, it is good if you write frequently. Obey the words of the officials. Then you may assume the characteristics of the children of men and you may walk in their footsteps. One values a scribe for his understanding, for understanding transforms an eager person. Beware of words against it. Your feet shall not hurry when you walk. Do not approach only a trusted man, but associate with one more distinguised than you. But let your friend be a man of your generation.

30. See, I have placed you on the path of God. The fate of a man is on his shoulders on the day he is born. He comes to the judgment hall and the court of magistrates made for the people. See, there is no scribe lacking sustenance, the provisions of the royal house l.p.h. [Life, Prosperity, Health]. It is Meskhenet [goddess of childbirth who provides the soul] who is turned toward the scribe who presents himself before the court of magistrates. Honor your father and mother who have placed you on the path of the living. Mark this, which I have placed before your eyes, and the children of your children.

It has come to an end in peace.


The narrator begins by identifying himself as a man of Tjel which, according to Simpson, is the city of "Sile in the northeast Delta on the borders of Egypt" (432). This could mean, as Simpson suggests, that "the man and his son are characterized as citizens of an outlying district far from the cultural and political center of Memphis" and are thus unsophisticated (432). It could also mean, however, that the man and his son, distanced from polite urban society, are more used to honest, blunt speech and this would go toward highlighting the humorous aspects of the piece: one is hearing from a narrator who sees nothing wrong in what he is saying because he knows he is only speaking the truth.

In Chapter 3 the narrator sets the tone and message firmly by asserting that a scribe, though still a child, deserves respect and only garners greater admiration as he becomes older. Chapter 3 then launches into the narration of the different trades in which each is as bad or worse than the last mentioned until the narrator has reached the end.

This section of the piece would have been understood in the same light as a modern-day 'roast' at which the guest of honor is repeatedly insulted by friends and colleagues. The comical nature of the descriptions is epitomized by Chapter 20 in which the fowler who has gone out to catch birds has no nets because God hates him or in Chapter 16 when the courier (merchant) returns home to find nothing but a shirt and the driveway because he has been away so long.

These maxims would later be translated by the Hebrew scribes who wrote the Old Testament as well as the Greek writers who produced the New Testament.

Beginning with Chapter 23 the narrator shifts to his serious advice on how his son should comport himself. He tells Pepi not to become involved with angry people, to remain humble when in the presence of his superiors, to refrain from telling secrets, and to honor his mother and father, among other pieces of advice. These maxims would later be translated, as much of Egyptian literature was, by the Hebrew scribes who wrote the books of the biblical Old Testament as well as the Greek writers who produced the New Testament. Proverbs 22:24 corresponds to Chapter 23; Proverbs 25:7 and Luke 14: 7-10 to Chapter 24; Proverbs 21:23 and James 3:1 to Chapter 25, and so on.

The brilliance of the piece is its use of the old Instruction form of Wisdom Literature to surprise and delight an audience while still providing, toward the end, what that audience would have expected from such a work. Any humor operates from the principle of surprise and The Satire of the Trades relies on this. When Dua-Khety first begins to speak, the audience would have expected a serious representation of the professions; not an exaggerated condemnation of them. There would have been many people who held these jobs in the audience where the satire would have been read, and those who could laugh at themselves must have laughed hard.

Tulip mania

Tulip mania (Dutch: tulpenmanie) was a period during the Dutch Golden Age when contract prices for some bulbs of the recently introduced and fashionable tulip reached extraordinarily high levels, and then dramatically collapsed in February 1637. [2] It is generally considered to have been the first recorded speculative bubble or asset bubble in history. [3] In many ways, the tulip mania was more of a hitherto unknown socio-economic phenomenon than a significant economic crisis. It had no critical influence on the prosperity of the Dutch Republic, which was one of the world's leading economic and financial powers in the 17th century, with the highest per capita income in the world from about 1600 to about 1720. [4] [5] [6] The term "tulip mania" is now often used metaphorically to refer to any large economic bubble when asset prices deviate from intrinsic values. [7] [8]

In Europe, formal futures markets appeared in the Dutch Republic during the 17th century. Among the most notable centered on the tulip market, at the height of tulip mania. [9] [10] At the peak of tulip mania, in February 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled artisan. Research is difficult because of the limited economic data from the 1630s, much of which come from biased and speculative sources. [11] [12] Some modern economists have proposed rational explanations, rather than a speculative mania, for the rise and fall in prices. For example, other flowers, such as the hyacinth, also had high initial prices at the time of their introduction, which then fell as the plants were propagated. The high asset prices may also have been driven by expectations of a parliamentary decree that contracts could be voided for a small cost, thus lowering the risk to buyers.

The 1637 event gained popular attention in 1841 with the publication of the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, written by Scottish journalist Charles Mackay, who wrote that at one point 5 hectares (12 acres) of land were offered for a Semper Augustus bulb. [13] Mackay claimed that many investors were ruined by the fall in prices, and Dutch commerce suffered a severe shock. Although Mackay's book is a classic, his account is contested. Many modern scholars feel that the mania was not as extraordinary as Mackay described and argue that not enough price data is available to prove that a tulip bulb bubble actually occurred. [14] [15] [16] [17]

More Comments:

Lambert Lamont Vandergrift - 5/3/2010

All that history was nice but that was the beginning of a holicost that still exisist's to this day you people always try to justify & reason why your past lazy acestors to death so what africans played a part is that suppose to justifie 600years of slavery 1400's to 1900's what about the race roits of 1921in tulsa or the first coup in wilmington N.C. and all 31 one sided race routs in this country and the government drug influence in our nieghborhoods hoover, oliver north freed from slavery into poverty the same thing is happening today look at all the hate of a black pres every one's joining the klan yes turn the criminal into the victim you cowards african americans have the biggest case of crimes agianst humanities on th U.S. but as long as black entertainment,and lack of our history in this country from 1400 to 1900 is revealed we will stay blind

Rod Jones - 8/20/2008

As an educator, I tried to fine The African Trade video with no success. (I called the History Channel and e-mailed the BBC to request access to the video). I find it compelling that it was shown only once and that no organization, either here or in Britain wanted to acknowledge it or present it again. The agenda driven presentation of the slavery issue should be an embarrassment to any scholar or educational institution with integrity and, yet, so few seem to want to deal with it honestly. I am delighted to find your analysis which fills in the holes left by a hopelessly politically correct portrayal by our schools and the media. Please inform me how I can get a video or dvd of The African Trade.

Wojtek (Voytec) Z. Wacowski - 8/16/2007

I am the webmaster of Amistad America website referenced in your article. I wold like to contact Mr. Stern directly via email. Please contact with me:
[email protected]

Tim Matthewson - 8/16/2007

Following the abolition of the international slave trade, African state persisted in their desire to sell slaves to the slave trade. Trying to understand this phase is a key to understanding the earlier phase because it shows that West African states were trying to rid themselves of an unwanted part of the populations -- people who had been defeated in war, people who had fallen into debt bondage, criminals and the dregs of society, who could find no place in African societies. Europeans shipped such classes of persons off to Australia, New Zealand, Georgia and other distant spots far away from the homeland of England where they might produce (as indentured servants) products salable on the home market, rather than building prisons for them and housing them in penal institutions. From this perspective, the African slave trade seem a logical response to the troublesome question, face by most societies at some time, of what to do with troublesome and unproductive classes of masterless persons.

Sheldon M. Stern - 8/14/2007

The full article, cited in the footnotes, addresses all these issues (esp. the trans-Saharan slave trade).

Sudha Shenoy - 8/14/2007

1. The article, written by an American for fellow-Americans, naturally assumes that the Atlantic slave trade is the beginning & the end of it all. Therefore the trans-Saharan slave trade is, quite properly, not mentioned at all. The latter, however,began in Roman times, & contd long after the Atlantic slave trade ended. The Saharan trade was extended & amplified into the Atlantic trade, & then returned to its long-term level, after 1810 or so. The Anti-Slavery Society in London has much material on this.

2. As for the silly passage in the textbook: there _are_ no such things as 'Africans' there _are_ only 'Songhai', 'Krio', & all the various other groups found throughout the African continent. To end wars, an ideology which promoted peace was needed. This emerged to some extent in the late 19th century.

Similarly, with the refs to wars amongst the Spanish, Italians, French, English, etc. Lumping everyone together -- regardless of language, culture, etc. -- as 'Europeans', is how _Americans_ struggle to make sense of these non-Americans. Wars ended when an ideology of peace took over, after 1945.

Jason Blake Keuter - 8/13/2007

the above site is an article on mauritania's recent law criminalizing slaveholding. I can hear the comments now about there being a big difference between the more personalized slavery that was the historic norm and the uniquely barbaric, capitalist plantation slavery, but such criticism is ahistorical - even as regards American slavery, which is thought of almost exclusively in its antebellum phase. This phase (arguably the most socially disruptive phase, characterized by territorial expansion)is actually atypical of American slavery. The slave trade itself shares much in common with this phase, in terms of its impact on slaves (breaking up of families mainly) and the post- cotton gin phase of American SLavery in many ways is like a revival of the slave trade, only limited to within the continental U.S. Many of the distinctions made between the "upper South" which sold slaves and the "lower south" which bought slaves might better be thought of as old south and frontier south. slaves were being bought for new cotton plantations and sold from upper south societies that had recently given serious contemplation to manumission.

I appreciate this article and recommend Peter Kolchin's American Slavery for a more nuanced and detailed look at the institution of slavery in AMerica.

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The word satire comes from the Latin word satur and the subsequent phrase lanx satura. Satur meant "full" but the juxtaposition with lanx shifted the meaning to "miscellany or medley": the expression lanx satura literally means "a full dish of various kinds of fruits". [4]

The word satura as used by Quintilian, however, was used to denote only Roman verse satire, a strict genre that imposed hexameter form, a narrower genre than what would be later intended as satire. [4] [5] Quintilian famously said that satura, that is a satire in hexameter verses, was a literary genre of wholly Roman origin (satura tota nostra est). He was aware of and commented on Greek satire, but at the time did not label it as such, although today the origin of satire is considered to be Aristophanes' Old Comedy. The first critic to use the term "satire" in the modern broader sense was Apuleius. [4]

To Quintilian, the satire was a strict literary form, but the term soon escaped from the original narrow definition. Robert Elliott writes:

As soon as a noun enters the domain of metaphor, as one modern scholar has pointed out, it clamours for extension and satura (which had had no verbal, adverbial, or adjectival forms) was immediately broadened by appropriation from the Greek word for “satyr” (satyros) and its derivatives. The odd result is that the English “satire” comes from the Latin satura but "satirize", "satiric", etc., are of Greek origin. By about the 4th century AD the writer of satires came to be known as satyricus St. Jerome, for example, was called by one of his enemies 'a satirist in prose' ('satyricus scriptor in prosa'). Subsequent orthographic modifications obscured the Latin origin of the word satire: satura becomes satyra, and in England, by the 16th century, it was written 'satyre.' [1]

The word satire derives from satura, and its origin was not influenced by the Greek mythological figure of the satyr. [6] In the 17th century, philologist Isaac Casaubon was the first to dispute the etymology of satire from satyr, contrary to the belief up to that time. [7]

The rules of satire are such that it must do more than make you laugh. No matter how amusing it is, it doesn't count unless you find yourself wincing a little even as you chuckle. [8]

Laughter is not an essential component of satire [9] in fact there are types of satire that are not meant to be "funny" at all. Conversely, not all humour, even on such topics as politics, religion or art is necessarily "satirical", even when it uses the satirical tools of irony, parody, and burlesque.

Even light-hearted satire has a serious "after-taste": the organizers of the Ig Nobel Prize describe this as "first make people laugh, and then make them think". [10]

Satire and irony in some cases have been regarded as the most effective source to understand a society, the oldest form of social study. [11] They provide the keenest insights into a group's collective psyche, reveal its deepest values and tastes, and the society's structures of power. [12] [13] Some authors have regarded satire as superior to non-comic and non-artistic disciplines like history or anthropology. [11] [14] [15] [16] In a prominent example from ancient Greece, philosopher Plato, when asked by a friend for a book to understand Athenian society, referred him to the plays of Aristophanes. [17] [18]

Historically, satire has satisfied the popular need to debunk and ridicule the leading figures in politics, economy, religion and other prominent realms of power. [19] Satire confronts public discourse and the collective imaginary, playing as a public opinion counterweight to power (be it political, economic, religious, symbolic, or otherwise), by challenging leaders and authorities. For instance, it forces administrations to clarify, amend or establish their policies. Satire's job is to expose problems and contradictions, and it's not obligated to solve them. [20] Karl Kraus set in the history of satire a prominent example of a satirist role as confronting public discourse. [21]

For its nature and social role, satire has enjoyed in many societies a special freedom license to mock prominent individuals and institutions. [22] The satiric impulse, and its ritualized expressions, carry out the function of resolving social tension. [23] Institutions like the ritual clowns, by giving expression to the antisocial tendencies, represent a safety valve which re-establishes equilibrium and health in the collective imaginary, which are jeopardized by the repressive aspects of society. [24] [25]

The state of political satire in a given society reflects the tolerance or intolerance that characterizes it, [19] and the state of civil liberties and human rights. Under totalitarian regimes any criticism of a political system, and especially satire, is suppressed. A typical example is the Soviet Union where the dissidents, such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov were under strong pressure from the government. While satire of everyday life in the USSR was allowed, the most prominent satirist being Arkady Raikin, political satire existed in the form of anecdotes [26] that made fun of Soviet political leaders, especially Brezhnev, famous for his narrow-mindedness and love for awards and decorations.

Satire is a diverse genre which is complex to classify and define, with a wide range of satiric "modes". [27] [28]

Horatian, Juvenalian, Menippean Edit

Satirical literature can commonly be categorized as either Horatian, Juvenalian, or Menippean. [29]

Horatian Edit

Horatian satire, named for the Roman satirist Horace (65–8 BCE), playfully criticizes some social vice through gentle, mild, and light-hearted humour. Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) wrote Satires to gently ridicule the dominant opinions and "philosophical beliefs of ancient Rome and Greece" (Rankin). [30] Rather than writing in harsh or accusing tones, he addressed issues with humor and clever mockery. Horatian satire follows this same pattern of "gently [ridiculing] the absurdities and follies of human beings" (Drury). [31]

It directs wit, exaggeration, and self-deprecating humour toward what it identifies as folly, rather than evil. Horatian satire's sympathetic tone is common in modern society. [32]

A Horatian satirist's goal is to heal the situation with smiles, rather than by anger. Horatian satire is a gentle reminder to take life less seriously and evokes a wry smile. [31] A Horatian satirist makes fun of general human folly rather than engaging in specific or personal attacks. Shamekia Thomas suggests, "In a work using Horatian satire, readers often laugh at the characters in the story who are the subject of mockery as well as themselves and society for behaving in those ways." Alexander Pope has been established as an author whose satire "heals with morals what it hurts with wit" (Green). [33] Alexander Pope—and Horatian satire—attempt to teach.

Examples of Horatian satire:

  • The Ig Nobel Prizes.
  • Bierce, Ambrose, The Devil's Dictionary .
  • Defoe, Daniel, The True-Born Englishman .
  • The Savoy Operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.
  • Trollope, Anthony, The Way We Live Now .
  • Gogol, Nikolai, Dead Souls .
  • Groening, Matthew "Matt", The Simpsons .
  • Lewis, Clive Staples, The Screwtape Letters .
  • Mercer, Richard ‘Rick’, The Rick Mercer Report . , Utopia
  • Pope, Alexander, The Rape of the Lock .
  • Reiner, Rob, This Is Spinal Tap .
  • Twain, Mark, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn .
  • Ralston Saul, John, The Doubter's Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense .

Juvenalian Edit

Juvenalian satire, named for the writings of the Roman satirist Juvenal (late first century – early second century AD), is more contemptuous and abrasive than the Horatian. Juvenal disagreed with the opinions of the public figures and institutions of the Republic and actively attacked them through his literature. "He utilized the satirical tools of exaggeration and parody to make his targets appear monstrous and incompetent" (Podzemny). [34] Juvenal's satire follows this same pattern of abrasively ridiculing societal structures. Juvenal also, unlike Horace, attacked public officials and governmental organizations through his satires, regarding their opinions as not just wrong, but evil.

Following in this tradition, Juvenalian satire addresses perceived social evil through scorn, outrage, and savage ridicule. This form is often pessimistic, characterized by the use of irony, sarcasm, moral indignation and personal invective, with less emphasis on humor. Strongly polarized political satire can often be classified as Juvenalian.

A Juvenal satirist's goal is generally to provoke some sort of political or societal change because he sees his opponent or object as evil or harmful. [35] A Juvenal satirist mocks "societal structure, power, and civilization" (Thomas) [36] by exaggerating the words or position of his opponent in order to jeopardize their opponent's reputation and/or power. Jonathan Swift has been established as an author who "borrowed heavily from Juvenal's techniques in [his critique] of contemporary English society" (Podzemny). [34]

Examples of Juvenalian satire:

  • Barnes, Julian, England, England .
  • Beatty, Paul, The Sellout .
  • Bradbury, Ray, Fahrenheit 451 .
  • Brooker, Charlie, Black Mirror .
  • Bulgakov, Mikhail, Heart of a Dog .
  • Burgess, Anthony, A Clockwork Orange .
  • Burroughs, William, Naked Lunch .
  • Byron, George Gordon, Lord, Don Juan .
  • Barth, John, The Sot-Weed Factor or, A Voyage to Maryland,—a satire, in which is described the laws, government, courts, and constitutions of the country, and also the buildings, feasts, frolics, entertainments, and drunken humors of the inhabitants in that part of America .
  • Ellis, Bret Easton, American Psycho .
  • Golding, William, Lord of the Flies .
  • Hall, Joseph, Virgidemiarum .
  • Heller, Joseph, Catch-22 .
  • Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World .
  • Johnson, Samuel, London , an adaptation of
  • Juvenal, Third Satire .
  • Junius, Letters .
  • Kubrick, Stanley, Dr. Strangelove .
  • Mencken, HL, Libido for the Ugly .
  • Morris, Chris, Brass Eye .
  • Orwell, George, Nineteen Eighty-Four .
  • Orwell, George, Animal Farm .
  • Palahniuk, Chuck, Fight Club .
  • Swift, Jonathan, A Modest Proposal .
  • Voltaire, Candide .
  • Zamyatin, Yevgeny, We .

Menippean Edit

Satire versus teasing Edit

In the history of theatre there has always been a conflict between engagement and disengagement on politics and relevant issue, between satire and grotesque on one side, and jest with teasing on the other. [37] Max Eastman defined the spectrum of satire in terms of "degrees of biting", as ranging from satire proper at the hot-end, and "kidding" at the violet-end Eastman adopted the term kidding to denote what is just satirical in form, but is not really firing at the target. [38] Nobel laureate satirical playwright Dario Fo pointed out the difference between satire and teasing (sfottò). [39] Teasing is the reactionary side of the comic it limits itself to a shallow parody of physical appearance. The side-effect of teasing is that it humanizes and draws sympathy for the powerful individual towards which it is directed. Satire instead uses the comic to go against power and its oppressions, has a subversive character, and a moral dimension which draws judgement against its targets. [40] [41] [42] [43] Fo formulated an operational criterion to tell real satire from sfottò, saying that real satire arouses an outraged and violent reaction, and that the more they try to stop you, the better is the job you are doing. [44] Fo contends that, historically, people in positions of power have welcomed and encouraged good-humoured buffoonery, while modern day people in positions of power have tried to censor, ostracize and repress satire. [37] [40]

Teasing (sfottò) is an ancient form of simple buffoonery, a form of comedy without satire's subversive edge. Teasing includes light and affectionate parody, good-humoured mockery, simple one-dimensional poking fun, and benign spoofs. Teasing typically consists of an impersonation of someone monkeying around with his exterior attributes, tics, physical blemishes, voice and mannerisms, quirks, way of dressing and walking, and/or the phrases he typically repeats. By contrast, teasing never touches on the core issue, never makes a serious criticism judging the target with irony it never harms the target's conduct, ideology and position of power it never undermines the perception of his morality and cultural dimension. [40] [42] Sfottò directed towards a powerful individual makes him appear more human and draws sympathy towards him. [45] Hermann Göring propagated jests and jokes against himself, with the aim of humanizing his image. [46] [47]

Classifications by topics Edit

Types of satire can also be classified according to the topics it deals with. From the earliest times, at least since the plays of Aristophanes, the primary topics of literary satire have been politics, religion and sex. [48] [49] [50] [51] This is partly because these are the most pressing problems that affect anybody living in a society, and partly because these topics are usually taboo. [48] [52] Among these, politics in the broader sense is considered the pre-eminent topic of satire. [52] Satire which targets the clergy is a type of political satire, while religious satire is that which targets religious beliefs. [53] Satire on sex may overlap with blue comedy, off-color humor and dick jokes.

Scatology has a long literary association with satire, [48] [54] [55] as it is a classical mode of the grotesque, the grotesque body and the satiric grotesque. [48] [56] Shit plays a fundamental role in satire because it symbolizes death, the turd being "the ultimate dead object". [54] [55] The satirical comparison of individuals or institutions with human excrement, exposes their "inherent inertness, corruption and dead-likeness". [54] [57] [58] The ritual clowns of clown societies, like among the Pueblo Indians, have ceremonies with filth-eating. [59] [60] In other cultures, sin-eating is an apotropaic rite in which the sin-eater (also called filth-eater), [61] [62] by ingesting the food provided, takes "upon himself the sins of the departed". [63] Satire about death overlaps with black humor and gallows humor.

Another classification by topics is the distinction between political satire, religious satire and satire of manners. [64] Political satire is sometimes called topical satire, satire of manners is sometimes called satire of everyday life, and religious satire is sometimes called philosophical satire. Comedy of manners, sometimes also called satire of manners, criticizes mode of life of common people political satire aims at behavior, manners of politicians, and vices of political systems. Historically, comedy of manners, which first appeared in British theater in 1620, has uncritically accepted the social code of the upper classes. [65] Comedy in general accepts the rules of the social game, while satire subverts them. [66]

Another analysis of satire is the spectrum of his possible tones: wit, ridicule, irony, sarcasm, cynicism, the sardonic and invective. [67] [68]

The type of humour that deals with creating laughter at the expense of the person telling the joke is called reflexive humour. [69] Reflexive humour can take place at dual levels of directing humour at self or at the larger community the self identifies with. The audience's understanding of the context of reflexive humour is important for its receptivity and success. [69] Satire is found not only in written literary forms. In preliterate cultures it manifests itself in ritual and folk forms, as well as in trickster tales and oral poetry. [23]

It appears also in graphic arts, music, sculpture, dance, cartoon strips, and graffiti. Examples are Dada sculptures, Pop Art works, music of Gilbert and Sullivan and Erik Satie, punk and rock music. [23] In modern media culture, stand-up comedy is an enclave in which satire can be introduced into mass media, challenging mainstream discourse. [23] Comedy roasts, mock festivals, and stand-up comedians in nightclubs and concerts are the modern forms of ancient satiric rituals. [23]

Middle Kingdom (2000-1700 B.C.E.) and 2nd Intermediate Period (1700-1550 B.C.E.)

One famous Middle Kingdom text, the &ldquoSatire of the Trades,&rdquo[4] outlines the dangers and misfortunes that accompany seemingly every occupation but that of the scribe. Noticeably absent is the role of slavery, which one prominent Egyptologist reasonably believes was not a clearly defined social group during this time.[5] Various phrases referring to a type of forced labor are, however, found in the Satire:

  • w Hr bAk.f (&ldquodrawn/made to work&rdquo),
  • w Hr bAk.f mni.ti (&ldquomade to work in the fields&rdquo),
  • tw.f m Ssm 50 (&ldquobeaten with 50 lashes&rdquo for a day&rsquos absence), etc.

The concept of forced labor is clear in this text, yet it doesn't explictly mention slavery. This is emblematic of the problems of terminology.

In another Middle Kingdom text, the Westcar Papyrus, the term Hm is used to describe two individuals massaging their master, the legendary magician Dedi:

The "Purchase" of Workers

Various documents during this period mention for the first time commercial transactions involving workers (bAk.w). One text mentions the purchase of three male workers and seven female ones to add to those inherited by his father, while another individual added twenty &ldquoheads,&rdquo namely slaves or servants to his estate.[7] That they were purchased and added to an inheritance seems to indicate a form of long-term servitude or slavery, but again the terms are ambiguous, especially &ldquoheads.&rdquo

Captured Foreigners

More obvious is the case of specific Asiatics, who were captured in military campaigns, reduced to slavery, and then entrusted to individuals as property, who could then be inherited or sold.[8]

Taken as a whole, both native-born Egyptians and foreigners could thus serve as slaves/servants. Antonio Loprieno notes,

Again, it must be stressed that there is no consensus as to the precise legal statuses of those called &ldquoslaves/servants&rdquo (Hm.w) or &ldquoworkers&rdquo (bAk.w).

Other Terms Relevant to Slavery

Other terms Middle Kingdom terminology also includes the following:

  • Conscripts (w) &ndash Those who were conscripted to serve in the army, labor in building or agricultural projects or mining quarries as a temporary labor force.
  • Deserters (w) &ndash The punishment for desertion was a life of labor.[10]
  • Royal servants (w-nzw) &ndash Egyptians who shared the status of the Asiatic slaves, and, in contrast to conscripted workers, if they fled they were executed.[11]

Unique cases of interaction between slaves and masters are evident in this time period. A slave named Uadjhau was taught to read and write by his master.[12] During the Second Intermediate Period, if not earlier, it was possible to earn freedom and citizenship through marriage.[13]

Slavery: A Shark's perspective

By Marcus Rediker | September 23, 2007

This year and next mark an important historical anniversary: Two centuries ago, both the United States and Great Britain abolished the African slave trade.

By the time they did, the trade had carried 9 million Africans to New World plantations, where they would live under the lash and produce the largest planned accumulation of wealth the world had yet seen. Abolition followed a long and determined campaign waged by antislavery activists on both sides of the Atlantic.

But who really brought the slave trade to an end?

In popular history, the people who abolished the slave trade are seen virtually as saints. They were somber, often dressed in black they were devout, earnest, and good they were the very embodiment of Christian virtue. In New England, many were descended from Puritans and reflected their austere and humorless ways. In England they were epitomized by the aristocratic evangelical William Wilberforce, the voice of abolition in Parliament. The recent movie "Amazing Grace" portrays him as a selfless, somewhat sickly angel who loved animals, servants, Africans, and God. Piety has long been seen as the hallmark of abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic.

If that were the full story, though, it would be exploded by this document. While working in the special collections library of Bristol University in England on a book on 18th-century slave ships, I found an almost completely unknown broadside entitled "The Petition of the Sharks of Africa." It looked like any other printed petition, elegant in its composition, suitable for presentation, addressed "To the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled."

It was, however, a vivid and harsh piece of satire. In fact it claimed to have been written by the "Sharks of Africa," who declared themselves to be a numerous and flourishing group thanks to the many slave ships that visited the coast of West Africa. From these vessels, they explained, they got "large quantities of their most favourite food - human flesh."

When the dead were thrown overboard, the sharks devoured the corpses. Sometimes they got live flesh, when African rebels who preferred death to slavery jumped overboard. When slave ships were "dashed on the rocks and shoals" of the region, throwing "hundreds of human beings, both black and white" into the water, it was a feast.

The sharks were writing to the British Parliament kindly asking them not to end the slave trade. Taking a sensible conservative view, the sharks denounced the abolitionists' "wild ravings of fanaticism," confident that their benevolent lordships would not let His Majesty's loyal shark subjects starve. The petitioners were sure that they could count on "the wisdom and fellow-feeling" of the House of Lords. Sharks should stick together, after all.

Nothing I had read had prepared me for such a document. Here, unexpectedly, was a dark and daring kind of humor I had never known to exist among abolitionists.

Further research revealed that it had been republished widely, in Edinburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Salem. I concluded that "The Petition of the Sharks of Africa" had been written by a Scot named James Tytler, who was a physician, poet, composer, an editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and Britain's first hot-air balloonist. For his radicalism, he was eventually arrested and charged with sedition, only to flee into exile in 1793, first to Ireland, then to Salem. His contribution has never figured in the histories of abolition - partly, I am convinced, because it does not fit the enduring image of abolitionists.

The document joins a long string of new findings that have changed our understanding of who the abolitionists were. Working-class men and women protested the trade through boycotts sailors smuggled pamphlets and told their horror stories to activists ashore. The front line of the war against human bondage was occupied by the enslaved themselves, whose resistance sent shock waves around the world, terrifying many and inspiring some. Their names may be lost to the history books, but they anchored a complex and diverse social movement.

Why do we need to know this today? First, it is important to understand that the abolition of the slave trade, and of slavery itself, was not a gift from on high. William Wilberforce did not abolish the slave trade, as "Amazing Grace" might make it seem, just as a lone Abraham Lincoln did not free the slaves. It will no longer do to pretend that a "great man" did things that are more accurately described as a result of a complex historical situation and a many-sided resistance.

Second, it is important to people demanding justice and reparations today - whoever and wherever they may be - to know that their forebears played an important role in bringing the slave trade and indeed the entire institution of slavery to an end. We owe the end of the abolition of the nefarious trade not just to aristocrats and Puritans, but to enslaved rebels, to factory workers and sailors, and to at least one irreverent Scottish daredevil.

Marcus Rediker is a professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. His new book, "The Slave Ship: A Human History," will be published by Viking-Penguin in October.

The Real Story Behind the 17th-Century ‘Tulip Mania’ Financial Crash

In 1636, according to an 1841 account by Scottish author Charles MacKay, the entirety of Dutch society went crazy over exotic tulips. As Mackay wrote in his wildly popular, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, as prices rose, people got swept up in a speculative fever, spending a year’s salary on rare bulbs in hopes of reselling them for a profit.

Mackay dubbed the phenomenon “The Tulipomania.”

𠇊 golden bait hung temptingly out before the people, and one after the other, they rushed to the tulip-marts, like flies around a honey-pot,” wrote Mackay. “Nobles, citizens, farmers, mechanics, sea-men, footmen, maid-servants, even chimney-sweeps and old clothes-women, dabbled in tulips.”

When the tulip bubble suddenly burst in 1637, Mackay claimed that it wreaked havoc on the Dutch economy.

Tulip price index from 1636-1637. The values of this index were compiled by Earl A. Thompson in Thompson, Earl (2007), "The Tulipmania: Fact or artifact?", Public Choice 130, 99� (2007).

“Many who, for a brief season, had emerged from the humbler walks of life, were cast back into their original obscurity,” wrote Mackay. “Substantial merchants were reduced almost to beggary, and many a representative of a noble line saw the fortunes of his house ruined beyond redemption.”

But according to historian Anne Goldgar, Mackay’s tales of huge fortunes lost and distraught people drowning themselves in canals are more fiction than fact. Goldgar, a professor of early modern history at King’s College London and author of Tulipmania: Money, Honor and Knowledge in the Dutch Golden Age, understands why Mackay’s myth-making has endured.

“It’s a great story and the reason why it’s a great story is that it makes people look stupid,” says Goldgar, who laments that even a serious economist like John Kenneth Galbraith parroted Mackay’s account in A Short History of Financial Euphoria. 𠇋ut the idea that tulip mania caused a big depression is completely untrue. As far as I can see, it caused no real effect on the economy whatsoever.”

The problem, says Goldgar, is the source material that Mackay used. In 17th-century Holland, there was a rich tradition of satirical poetry and song that poked fun at what Dutch society deemed to be moral failures. Out of that tradition came entertaining pamphlets and poems that targeted the alleged folly of the tulip buyers, whose crime was thinking that trading in tulips would be their ticket into Dutch high society.

“My problem with Mackay and later writers who have relied on him—which is virtually everybody—is that he is taking a bunch of materials that are commentary and treating them as if they’re factual,” says Goldgar.

To get the real scoop on tulip mania, Goldgar went to the source. She spent years scouring the archives of Dutch cities like Amsterdam, Alkmaar, Enkhuizen and especially Haarlem, the center of the tulip trade. She painstakingly collected 17th-century manuscript data from public notaries, small claims courts, wills and more. And what Goldgar found wasn’t an irrational and widespread tulip craze, but a relatively small and short-lived market for an exotic luxury.

In the mid-1600s, the Dutch enjoyed a period of unmatched wealth and prosperity. Newly independent from Spain, Dutch merchants grew rich on trade through the Dutch East India Company. With money to spend, art and exotica became fashionable collectors items. That’s how the Dutch became fascinated with rare 𠇋roken” tulips, bulbs that produced striped and speckled flowers.

First these prized tulips were bought as showy display pieces, but it didn’t take long for tulip trading to become a market of its own.

“I found six examples of companies that were set up to sell tulips,” says Goldgar, “so people were quickly jumping on the bandwagon to take advantage of something which was a desired commodity.”

Tulip prices spiked from December 1636 to February 1637 with some of the most prized bulbs, like the coveted Switzer, experiencing a 12-fold price jump. The most expensive tulip receipts that Goldgar found were for 5,000 guilders, the going rate for a nice house in 1637. But those exorbitant prices were outliers. She only found 37 people who paid more than 300 guilders for a tulip bulb, the equivalent of what a skilled craftsman earned in a year.

But even if a form of tulip mania did strike Holland in 1636, did it reach every rung of society, from landed gentry to chimney-sweeps? Goldgar says no. Most of the buyers were the sort you would expect to be speculating in luxury goods—people who could afford it. They were successful merchants and artisans, not chambermaids and peasants.

A Satire of Tulip Mania, painted by Jan Brueghel the Younger circa 1640.

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

“I only identified about 350 people who were involved in the trade, although I’m sure that number is on the low side because I didn&apost look at every town,” says Goldgar. “Those people were very often connected with each other in various ways, through a profession, family or religion.”

What really surprised Goldgar, given Mackay’s tales of financial ruin, was that she wasn’t able to find a single case of an individual who went bankrupt after the tulip market crashed. Even the Dutch painter Jan van Goyen, who allegedly lost everything in the tulip crash, appears to have been done in by land speculation. The real economic fallout, in Goldgar’s assessment, was far more contained and manageable.

“The people who stood to lose the most money in the tulip market were wealthy enough that losing 1,000 guilders wasn’t going to cause them great problems,” says Goldgar. “It’s distressing and annoying, but it didn’t have any real effect on production.”

While tulip mania and the ensuing crash didn’t flatline the Dutch economy as Mackay asserted, there was still some collateral damage. From court records, Goldgar found evidence of reputations lost and relationships broken when buyers who promised to pay 100 or 1,000 guilders for a tulip refused to pay up. Goldgar says that those defaults caused a certain level of 𠇌ultural shock” in an economy based on trade and elaborate credit relationships.

Even if the tulip craze came to an abrupt and ignominious end, Goldgar disagrees with Galbraith and others who dismiss the entire episode as a case of irrational exuberance.

“Tulips were something that was fashionable, and people pay for fashion,” says Goldgar. “The apparent ridiculousness of it was played up at the time to make fun of the people who didn’t succeed.”

Dave Roos is a freelance writer based in the United States and Mexico. A longtime contributor to HowStuffWorks, Dave has also been published in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek.

Reflecting on the Rise of the Hoteps

An anthropologist looks at a U.S. subculture inspired by ancient Egypt and its effort to foster a particular Black identity.

A meme circulating on social media shows “the history of a Black male” through five men: It starts with an Egyptian pharaoh, moves on to a slave, an American worker, someone with a lynching rope around his neck, and finally, an orange-suited prison inmate. The message is that Black men have fallen from grace: now imprisoned, when they once ruled.

T he image falls neatly into the category of Hotep subculture: a relatively new movement in the U.S. that uses Egyptian history as a parcel to wrap up messages of Black pride. People characterized as Hoteps tend to wear traditional African styles, create content about the history of Black people from before the transatlantic slave trade, and spread ideology about the place of Black men and women within Black communities.

I n the current U.S. political climate, and globally, Black pride and social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter are critical to the resolve held by those who fight against systemic racism. Not all of the ideals expressed within the Hotep movement, however, are celebratory or progressive. Hotep memes often denounce homosexuality and interracial marriage, and spread conspiracy theories or inaccurate ideas about history. They also place women as secondary to men Hotep memes often preach that Black men should strive to fight the oppression that has disenfranchised them, but they tend to be silent about the oppression of Black women.

A s a Black woman and an anthropologist interested in how cultural heritage is created, I find this subculture a fascinating case study in ideologies of Afrocentrism—where those ideas originated and how they have been adapted. It is also a lesson in what kinds of cultural pride may do more harm than good.


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T he term “Hotep” comes from the ancient Egyptian word for “to be at peace” and is sometimes used in contemporary Black culture as a greeting. Despite the positive connotations of the word, the term has come to be used not so lovingly the label was put upon this microculture by outsiders to “other” those seen to have problematic beliefs and opinions. The term belongs in the same category as other microculture labels, like “hipster” for someone who is pretentiously trendy or “WASP” for someone white, privileged, Protestant, and elitist.

P inpointing when and where this definition of “Hotep” arose is difficult. Its popularity is growing on Twitter and Instagram, as Hotep content—iconic photos, cartoons, memes—spreads these ideas.

Hotep jewelry and clothing often feature ancient Egyptian iconography like the falcon god Horus (shown) and the ankhs (on the bird’s talons), a symbol of eternal life. Yann Caradec/Flickr

W ithin Hotep memes, Black women are often presented as “Nubian queens” or “mothers of civilization” through images celebrating their beauty and power. Claims are made that they have superhuman taste and superior breast milk. They are expected to serve primarily as support to their Black husbands.

H otep art also often conflates African imagery (picking and choosing from Africa’s 54 modern countries and countless cultures) with stereotypes of African culture, such as animal skins, “tribal” garb, and ancient Egyptian royalty. Other Hotep memes juxtapose incongruous elements of African culture and contemporary life. One, for example, shows a Black man dressed in an African kufi hat, with an eye patch featuring an Egyptian design. His other eye glows with light, and he points to his temple, as if he is enlightened to some sort of truth. It reads: “Y’all working for Quicken Loans, but not QUICK to LOAN a brother a hand in the fight against oppression.”

T he line between genuine Hotep posts and posts intended to poke fun at the Hotep subculture has become blurred. For example, one shows a Black man dressed as an Egyptian pharaoh with the caption: “After you’ve defeated all the Hoteps, this is the final boss. Becarful (sic), he will connect 9/11 to the Atlantic slave trade in one sentence.” This meme is clearly a satire of the conspiracy theories sometimes attributed to Hoteps, such as that the lab mice used in medical research are “albino” and therefore not suited to developing medicine for people of color.

A n obsession with Egypt is not new extensive cultural fascination with Egypt goes back to the late 1700s, when Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign to North Africa inspired interest in Egyptian art and archaeological remains. Museum exhibitions starring King Tutankhamun in the 1970s kicked off a new spate of “Egyptomania” in the Western world: The 1972 show of Treasures of Tutankhamun at the British Museum was the first ever blockbuster exhibition, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors. Ancient Egyptian art has become both familiar and exotic in mainstream culture.

F or a young Black person struggling to connect to their ancestral cultural heritage, ancient Egypt is a familiar, attractive place to start. Egypt is the most well-known and powerful cultural influence from Africa today, making it easy for many African Americans to adopt Egyptian culture and to use its legacy of royalty, artistic sophistication, and technological advancement to create a message of Black superiority.

T he trauma and loss of African heritage through the transatlantic slave trade arguably created a gulf that was filled by a kind of “therapeutic mythology”—a constructed heritage built around memories of the homeland. From Egypt to nations across the continent, the historic and renewed connection to Africa created the unique identity of “African American.” This identity encompasses a culture where African traditions (the ones that survived a long history of colonialism) have been altered to fit new, American environments.

I n the early 20th century, at a time when Blacks were very much politically, economically, and socially disenfranchised in the United States, Afrocentrists like Molefi Kete Asante and Black scholars like W.E.B. Du Bois highlighted a relationship between ancient Egypt and modern Black Americans in order to instill a sense of pride for Black achievement. However, these links contain the implicit, inaccurate assumptions that all ancient Egyptians would have physically resembled those who self-identify as Black today, and that all modern Black people can trace their lineage to ancient Egypt. Nevertheless, these ideas have trickled down into the mainstream: Many of my Black family members and friends have Egyptian-esque decorations in their homes to celebrate Black culture and pride.

I ronically, perhaps, recent research has shown that early Egyptians were mostly lighter-skinned: Genetically, Egyptians did not mix with darker-skinned sub-Saharan peoples until the last 1,500 years, well after the end of native Egyptian dynasties. I have seen the ancient word for the Nile Valley, Kmt—which translates as “black land”—used as evidence that Black people lived in Egypt actually, it refers to the black, fertile soil of that region.

W hen viewed through an anthropological lens, I understand how the Hotep subculture fosters positive identity constructions. The Hoteps movement is a testament to the uniquely painful and complicated history of African Americans. It is anchored in a long tradition of looking to Africa for points of needed pride. Yet it also risks propagating false histories and conventions, and, ironically, disparaging Black women and those who are LGBTQ in the service of elevating Black identity.

U.S. artists, such as Beyoncé, are inspired by and utilize African styles in their music and clothing. Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney

T here are plenty of positive examples of contemporary Afrocentrism: African culture has become influential in American media in the last few years, such as in the Afrofuturist movie Black Panther, the rise of Afrobeats in American music, or even Beyoncé’s increasing use of Egyptian aesthetics in her clothing line. I do not see the self-identification of African heritage by the Hotep subculture as problematic: The re-creation of a lost African heritage can often be therapeutic for the Black community.

W hat should be examined more deeply is the way the Hotep narrative could be damaging. Hotep memes, and the history and logic that underpin this subculture, reveal the ways that the movement depends far too often on misogyny, homophobia, inaccurate history, and stereotypes of the Black experience. A serious reflection on how modern subcultures create their identity is critical to ensuring that the same violence that created African American identities is not perpetuated in the future.

‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ Review: Iannucci’s Quirky Dickens Take Is His First Mixed Bag

“The Personal History of David Copperfield”

Editor&rsquos note: This review was originally published at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. Searchlight Pictures releases the film in select theaters on Friday, August 28.

Armando Iannucci has been the reigning king of filmed satire for years, but with &ldquoThe Personal History of David Copperfield,&rdquo he trades zingy political satire for a messy assemblage of whimsical conceits. On its own terms, Iannucci&rsquos warm-hearted adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic has good intentions to spare, from an inspired color-blind cast led by Dev Patel in top form, to a cascade of playful scene transitions that mimic the kaleidoscopic overview of the Victorian narrator&rsquos bumpy life. But even then, the intermittent charm suffers from the choppiness of Iannucci&rsquos approach, which veers from nuttiness to earnest restraint, as if the filmmaker were at war with his better instincts. Iannucci remains a singular voice, but &ldquoDavid Copperfield&rdquo marks his first mixed bag.



At the same time, he has clearly pushed his talents to a new arena. With everything from &ldquoVeep&rdquo to &ldquoThe Death of Stalin,&rdquo the writer-director has transforming dense bureaucratic processes into snappy and sardonic showdowns. With &ldquoDavid Copperfield,&rdquo he applies that same skill to literature, transforming Dickens&rsquo sprawling first-person opus into a blithe mid-century romp. But it&rsquos hard to shake the sense that this acerbic storyteller has softened his bite.

Nevertheless, the movie begins with an introduction to the innovative visual style that becomes its most appealing factor. As Patel takes the stage to introduce a rapt crowd to his memoirs, he walks into an open-air backdrop, as the scene changes around him, and wanders into the sunny farmland where his mother gives birth. From there, Patel narrates a freewheeling variation of the original tale, detailing how his amiable single-parent household that took a rough turn with the introduction of his cruel stepfather (Darren Boyd), who beats the boy before sending him off to a harsh boarding school. (The man charges into David&rsquos adulthood as a giant hand crashing through the ceiling of David&rsquos idyllic life.)

Unleashed in an unforgiving city, the boy finds some respite from dopey street-urchin Mr. Micawber (Peter Capaldi, hilariously unhinged) and musters his way to adulthood at the home of his kooky aunt (an inspired Tilda Swinton) and her mentally unstable husband Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie, who makes for an amiable nut job). These are just a few of the familiar faces from Dickens&rsquo novel who come and go, as the movie careens through years of David&rsquos life as he learns to sort out the fragments and take charge of his family&rsquos legacy. Ben Whishaw makes for a ratty villain as the scheming clerk Uriah Heep, who plots to overtake the legal firm of Mr. Wickfield (Benedict Wong), the trenchant overseer of the Copperfield estate. As his daughter Agnes, Rosalind Eleazar flits between David&rsquos close confidante and potential romantic interest with convincing pathos, while the role of his first love, Dora, falls to a cartoonish Morfydd Clark.

There&rsquos much to be appreciated about the movie&rsquos energetic pace, and the casting never fails to convince. But Iannucci&rsquos restless scene transitions &mdash rising curtains reveal new scenes, projected images provide in-scene flashbacks, and so on &mdash confuse empty gimmicks for innovative narrative trickery. As much as the movie maintains its upbeat and whimsical tone, it falls short of directing that approach to some constructive end. The occasional boisterous moments hint at Iannucci&rsquos true instincts lurking just beneath the material, including a sustained drunken sequence sped-up and choreographed like a classic bout of slapstick, and cringeworthy moments where characters crash into the cluttered sets. But only in its closing moments does &ldquoDavid Copperfield&rdquo lean into the sheer outlandishness of the character&rsquos story, by returning to his writing table as he confronts the way he chooses to present himself to the world.

It&rsquos a welcome means of shaking up a familiar set of circumstances by acknowledging that they all take place through one man&rsquos rose-colored lens. His story is a rousing tale of perseverance in large part because he&rsquos the one telling it. That raises questions not only about the various twists leading up to that point, but how they speak to the relationship between British identity and its storied history of grandiose characters. David Copperfield learns to be himself only by working through the many expectations thrust upon him he&rsquos an inviting centerpiece to the world&rsquos most famous coming-of-age tale, and Patel plays that role with utter conviction.

But Iannucci only comes around to these observations late in the game, and at times drops the meta-textual approach for more straightforward illustrations of the book&rsquos bigger dramatic turns. Of course, Dickens&rsquo book walked its own fine line between satire and sentimentality, so the very unevenness of Iannucci&rsquos approach suggests a sophisticated gamble behind the camera to do justice to the material. Instead, it winds up trapped somewhere between a faithful retelling and half-formed bursts of revisionist concepts. David Copperfield may be an unreliable narrator, but his story deserves a steadier hand.

Grade: B-

&ldquoThe Personal History of David Copperfield&rdquo premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

As new movies open in theaters during the COVID-19 pandemic, IndieWire will continue to review them whenever possible. We encourage readers to follow the safety precautions provided by CDC and health authorities. Additionally, our coverage will provide alternative viewing options whenever they are available.

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