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Title: Parody
Original Title: Parodie
Volume and Page: Vol. 12 (1765), pp. 73–74
Author: Unknown
Translator: Colt Brazill Segrest [Université de Nantes,]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link

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Citation (MLA): "Parody." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Colt Brazill Segrest. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Parodie," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 12. Paris, 1765.
Citation (Chicago): "Parody." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Colt Brazill Segrest. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2007. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Parodie," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 12:73–74 (Paris, 1765).

Parody. Trivial maxim or popular proverb. See Adage, Proverb. This word comes from the Greek ϖαρα and οδος , via , way, that is to say trivial, common, and popular.

Parody , ϖαροδια , parodus , is also said more properly of a poetic amusement that consists in applying certain verses of one subject to another in order to make the latter ridiculous, or to disguise the serious as burlesque, in trying to conserve as much as possible the same rhymes, the same words, and the same cadences. See Burlesque. It is thus that Mr. Chambers conceived the parody , but his ideas in this regard are not at all correct.

Parody was first invented by the Greeks from whom we take this term, derived from παρα and οδος , song , or poetry . We look at the Batrachomyomachy of Homer [1] as a parody of certain places in the Iliad , and even as one of the most ancient pieces of this genre.

Mr. l’Abbé Sallier of the Académie des Belles-Lettres, gave a discourse on the origin and character of parody , where he essentially said that the Greek and Latin rhetors distinguished different sorts of parodies . We can, says Cicero, in the second book of the orator, gracefully insert into the discourse a whole verse of a poet or a part of a verse, either without changing anything, or in making a minor change.

Changing just one word suffices in parodying a verse; thus the verse that Homer places in the mouth of Thetis, praying Vulcan to make arms for Achilles, becomes a parody in the mouth of a great philospher, who, discontent with his attempts at poetry, believed that he should make a sacrifice to the god of fire. The goddess says in Homer:

Ηφαιστε ϖρουολ’ωδε θετις νυτι σειο χατιζει
To me, Vulcan, Thetis implores your aid.

The philosopher also addressing Vulcan says to him:

Ηφαιστε ϖρουολ’ωδε πλατων νυτι σειο χατιζει
To me, Vulcan, Plato implores your aid.

In the same way, Corneille makes one of his characters in the Cid say:

However great Kings may be, they are what we are,
they can make mistakes like other men. [2]

A very small change made these two verses into a maxim received in the whole empire of letters.

However great kings may be, they are what we are,
and make mistakes in verse like other men.
Chapelain Décoiffé. [3]

Changing a single letter in a word becomes a parody ; thus Cato speaking of Marcus Fulvius Nobilior, of whom he wants to censor the inconstant character, changed his surname from Nobilior to Mobilior .

A third type of parody was the simple, yet malign, application of known verses, or of a part of these verses, without changing anything. We find examples of this in Demosthenes and in Aristophanes: we find in Hephaestion, in Denis of Halicarnassus, a fourth type of parody which consisted in writing verses in the taste and in the style of certain little approved authors; Such as these in our language are those where Mr. Despreaux [4] imitated the hardness of the verses of la Pucelle. [5]

Maudit soit l’auteur dur, dont l’âpre et rude verve
Son cerveau tenaillant rima malgré Minerve,
Et de son lourd marteau martelant le bon sens,
A fait de méchans vers douze fois douze cens.
[ Cursed be the hard author, of whom the rude and bitter verve
His gnawing brain rhymed in spite of Minerva,
And with his heavy hammer hammering common sense,
Made twelve times twelve hundred mean verses. ]

Finally, the last and principle type of parody is a work in verse, composed on an entire piece, or on a considerable part of well-known poetry, that one turns over to another subject and another meaning by changing some expressions; it is of this type of parody that the ancients most ordinarily speak; we have in this genre some pieces which have nothing to do with those of the ancients.

Henri Etienne, who was flourishing around the ninth olympiad, was the first inventor of parody, and he gives us Athenée as a guarantee; but Mr. l’Abbé Sallier does not believe that we can attribute to him the invention of all types of parody . Hegemon of Thasos, an island in the Aegean Sea, who appeared around the eighty-eigth olympiad, appears to him to be incontestably the author of the dramatic parody which was in the same taste of those that we present today in our theatres. We have a great number of them, some of them excellent, among which Agnès de Chaillot , [6] parody of the tragedy of Mr. de la Mothe entitled Inès de Castro , and Le Mauvais ménage , [7] parody of Marianne by Mr. de Voltaire. Concerning our parodies we can consult the reflections of Mr. Riccoboni on Comedy. [8] The Latins also made parodies imitating the Greeks.

One can reduce all types of parody to two general types, one which we call simple narrative parody ; the other dramatic parody . Both should have as their purpose pleasure and utility. The rules of parody concern the choice of the subject and the manner of treating it. The subject one undertakes to parody should be a well-known, famous, and esteemed work; no author has been parodied as much as Homer. As for the manner of parodying, the imitation must be faithful, the amusement good, lively, and short, and one should avoid a spirit of bitterness, base expressions, and obscenity. It is easy to see in the excerpt that parody and the burlesque are two very different genres, and that the Virgile travesti of Scarron is nothing less than a parody of the Aeneid . A good parody is a fine amusement, capable of amusing and instructing the most sensible and polished minds; the burlesque is a miserable buffoonery which can only please the populace.


1. In this parody, falsely attributed to Homer, the siege of Ilion is represented as a battle between frogs and rats on the bank of a pond.

2. Act I, Scene 3

3. Le Chapelain Décoiffé (1664), by Nicolas Despréaux-Boileau, parodies the Cid of Corneille.

4. Nicolas Despréaux-Boileau (1636-1711), author of Satires .

5. La Pucelle ou la France délivrée (1656) by Jean Chapelain. This epic poem, a total failure, marked the end of Chapelain’s poetic career. He remained, however, a member of the Académie Française, with the misfortune of being named by Colbert an administrator in the distribution of royal pensions to successful authors.

6. The authors of this parody are Pierre-François Biancolelli (Dominique) and Marc-Antoine Legrand. It was first performed in the Loge of the Abbé Pellegrin at the Foire St-Laurent in Paris on July 24, 1723, three months after the presentation of Inès de Castro . The success was considerable; the parody was staged up until 1791.

7. Voltaire’s Marianne was performed only once on March 6, 1724. After the catastrophic reception, Voltaire rewrote the play under the title Hérode & Mariane , which was staged the following year and was a great success. The Mauvais ménage by Marc-Antoine Legrand was staged in May 1725 at the Théâtre Italien in Paris.

8. Luigi Riccoboni, Observations sur la comédie et sur la génie de Molière , Paris, 1736.