Momus, Critic of the Gods

Momus is the Greek god of satire. To me he is an obscure yet fascinating figure. You have to admire a minor god who gets kicked out of Olympus for constantly mocking the immortals. He calls Zeus a violent god and a horny womanizer, and tells Aphrodite that her sandals squeak and she talks too much. I always wanted to find the god of comedy, and it seems I’ve found him. Unfortunately, he has a dark side as well, being subject to accusations of unfair criticism and envy. He certainly sounds like a comedian.

Sophocles, the famous Greek tragedian, wrote a satyr play called Momos, now almost entirely lost. Satyr plays “featured choruses of satyrs… and were rife with mock drunkenness, brazen sexuality (including phallic props), pranks, sight gags, and general merriment.” What fun! It’s nice to see that Sophocles can lighten the mood a bit and offer some bawdy, burlesque comedy. This is the same playwright who horrified us with the story of Oedipus, who if you recall, inadvertently murdered his father, married his mother, and stabbed his own eyes out.

Let us end with a fine tale about Momus:

“According to an ancient legend, the first man was made by Jupiter, the first bull by Neptune, and the first house by Minerva. Upon completion of their labors, a dispute arose as to which had completed the most perfect work. They agreed to appoint Momus as judge and abide by his decision. Momus, however, being very envious of the handicraft of each, found fault with all. He first blamed the work of Neptune because he had not made the horns of the bull below his eyes so he might better see where to strike. He then condemned the work of Jupiter, because he had not placed the heart of man on the outside, that everyone might read the thoughts of the evil disposed and take precautions against the intended mischief. And lastly, he inveighed against Minerva because she had not contrived iron wheels in the foundation of her house, so its inhabitants might more easily remove if a neighbor proved unpleasant. Jupiter, indignant at such inveterate fault-finding, drove him from his office of judge, and expelled him from the mansions of Olympus.”

— from Aesop’s Fables, “Jupiter, Neptune, Minerva and Momus”; Collins Classics edition.

Momus or Momos (μῶμος) was in Greek mythology the personification of satire, mockery, censure; a god of writers and poets; a spirit of evil-spirited blame and unfair criticism. His name is related to μομφή, meaning ‘blame’ or ‘censure’. He is depicted in classical art as lifting a mask from his face. — Wikipedia (the main source of information for this post).

“Muses bright and Muses pale;
Sombre Saturn, Momus hale,
Laugh and sigh, and laugh again,
Oh! The sweetness of the pain!”

– From Keats’ poem, Welcome Joy, Welcome Sorrow

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