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

Dangerfield recites Poem

I saw Back to School when I was a young teenager and loved it. It’s a fun 80s comedy, with a memorable cameo by Sam Kinison. How can you not love Rodney Dangerfield?

By the way, here is how the poem is supposed to go (Dangerfield’s character, Thorton Melon, skipped two stanzas — but then he was under a lot of pressure to pass his final exam):

Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Fail your way to Success

“Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, I have failed three times, and what happens when he says, I am a failure.” — S. I. Hayakawa

Failing is an essential part of life. I sincerely hope you failed at something this week. Perhaps you botched a recipe, missed a few questions on an exam, or were rejected by the opposite sex. Congratulations.

If you’re not failing, you’re stagnating. Instead of moving forward, falling and scraping your knee, you’re pedaling in place, on the stationary bike that is your existence. You’re comfortably getting nowhere.

Failing is essential to the creative process. Ideas and creative works perish, in a process akin to natural selection: multitudes are born, most will die. The best make it, and provide seeds for future growth.

I’ve always been a fan of the Onion, the satirical newspaper that offers some of the most cutting, clever humor you’ll find anywhere today. Consider the work that goes into it: the writers of the Onion start with 600 potential headlines each week, and over two days, select a mere 16 to appear in their paper:

This American Life – Tough Room, 2011

I found this story to be rather inspiring, especially with my background in stand-up comedy. It made me feel better about all my failed jokes. If anything, it made me realize I wasn’t writing, testing and refining enough bad jokes.

A good artist needs to maintain a high, exacting standard. Produce and create first, and soberly assess, revise or discard afterward. Repeat!

Poems Recited by Colbert

(From his recent interview with Caroline Kennedy about her new book, “Poems to Learn by Heart.”)

 

Opening lines of Kubla Khan, by Samuel Coleridge:

 

“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.”

 

Colbert, being the mighty Tolkien nerd that he is, couldn’t resist slipping in the following, from the hobbits’ encounter with Tom Bombadil in the Fellowship of the Ring. (Peter Jackson omitted this episode from the film, which by all accounts was a sound directorial decision. )

 

“Oh slender as a willow-wand! O clearer than clear water!

O reed by the living pool! Fair river-daughter!

O spring-time and summer-time, and spring again after!

O wind on the waterfall, and the leaves’ laughter!”

 

Lastly, e.e. cummings.  This poem is not nearly as exciting in print as it was delivered by Colbert:

 

“mr youse needn’t be so spry
concernin questions arty

each has his tastes but as for i
i likes a certain party

gimme the he-man’s solid bliss
for youse ideas i’ll match youse

a pretty girl who naked is
is worth a million statues”
― e.e. cummings