10 of History’s Greatest Satirists

This week sees a return to the list style format that made this blog famous quite popular. Here are 10 great literary satirists from history. They are presented in chronological order:


AristophanesAristophanes (444 B.C. – 385 B.C.)

Ancient Athenian playwright Aristophanes’ plays are still performed to this day. Respected and feared for his comic wit and scathing satire, he was merciless in his mockery of religious figures, politicians and poets. His victims included such influential figures as Euripides, Cleon and Socrates.


ChaucerChaucer (1343 – October 25th 1400)

Chaucer was the Middle Ages most famous poet. He was also an ardent humorist, who was highly critical of the order of the day, particularly the Catholic Church. His most famous work, The Canterbury Tales, is rife with comedic social satire.


ErasmusErasmus (October 28th 1466 – July 12th 1536)

Erasmus was a Dutch priest, theologian and social critic. He is best remembered for his satirical attack on the superstitions of the Church in his essay, In Praise of Folly. It is considered one of the most important works of the Renaissance.


Francois Rabelais Rabelais(February 4th 1494 – April 9th 1553)

Rabelais was a French Renaissance physician, monk and writer, who was famed for his satirical wit and crude sense of humour. His seminal work, The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, is a comedic masterpiece that satirises many elements of the Renaissance.


Jonathan Swift
(November 30th 1667 – October 19th 1745)

Swift was a cleric and author. His most famous title, Gulliver’s Travels, is a satire on human nature. It was a bestseller on publication, and remains popular to this day. The author’s ironic writing style led to subsequent satires similar to his own being labelled ‘Swiftian’.


VoltaireVoltaire (November 21st 1694 – May 30th 1778)

Voltaire was unrelenting in his criticism of the order of his day. His beliefs and determination to voice them resulted in 2 stints in The Bastille. Voltaire’s seminal work, the satirical Candide, was widely viewed as blasphemous and revolutionary at the time of its publication.


Jane AustenJane Austen(December 16th 1775 – July 18th 1817)

English novelist Jane Austen’s novels remain popular to this day. She was a supreme social satirist, who employed irony to criticise and parody the social order. Subjects included social class and 19th century views of women, particularly regarding marriage.


Nikolai Gogol Gogol(March 31st 1809 – March 4th 1852)

Gogol was a short story writer, dramatist and author, who utilised comic realism and acerbic satire in his writing. His targets included what he viewed as the unseemly elements of Imperial Russia. Gogol’s descriptions of bureaucrats and Russian provincials influenced many later writers.


Mark TwainMark Twain (November 30th 1835 – April 21st 1910)

Mark Twain was an American author and humourist best known for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and its sequel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The books are a satire of American southern antebellum society that parody religion, morality, and above all the practice of slavery.


Ambrose BierceBierce (June 24th 1842 – Circa 1914)

Bierce was a journalist, editorialist, writer and unrelenting satirist, whose satirical works include the lexicon, The Devil’s Dictionary, and the short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. The derisive satire that he employed in his writing earned him the moniker ‘Bitter Bierce’.


Next week’s blog post will be dedicated to more recent and contemporary satirists.



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