According to Aristotle (Poetics, ii. 5), Hegemon of Thasos was the inventor of a kind of parody; by slightly altering the wording in well-known poems he transformed the sublime into the ridiculous. In ancient Greek literature, a parodia was a narrative poem imitating the style and prosody of epics "but treating light, satirical or mock-heroic subjects". Indeed, the apparent Greek roots of the word are para- (which can mean beside, counter, or against) and -ode (song, as in an ode). Thus, the original Greek word parodia has sometimes been taken to mean counter-song, an imitation that is set against the original. The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, defines parody as imitation "turned as to produce a ridiculous effect". Because par- also has the non-antagonistic meaning of beside, "there is nothing in parodia to necessitate the inclusion of a concept of ridickule".
Roman writers explained parody as an imitation of one poet by another for humorous effect. In French Neoclassical literature, parody was also a type of poem where one work imitates the style of another to produce a humorous effect. Ancient Greece made satyr plays which parodied tragic plays. People that were in the plays dressed up like satyrs which were followers of most Olympian gods such as Dionysus and Hermes.
- 1: a literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule
- 2: a feeble or ridiculous imitation
A parody also called spoof, send-up or lampoon), in current use, is an imitative work created to mock, comment on or trivialise an original work, its subject, author, style, or some other target, by means of satiric or ironic imitation. As the literary theorist Linda Hutcheon puts it, "parody … is imitation, not always at the expense of the parodied text." Another critic, Simon Dentith, defines parody as "any cultural practice which provides a relatively polemical allusive imitation of another cultural production or practice." Parody may be found in art or culture, including literature, music (although "parody" in music has an earlier, somewhat different meaning than for other art forms), animation, gaming and film.
The writer and critic John Gross observes in his Oxford Book of Parodies, that parody seems to flourish on territory somewhere between pastiche ("a composition in another artist's manner, without satirical intent") and burlesque (which "fools around with the material of high literature and adapts it to low ends"). Historically, when a formula grows tired, like in the case of moralistic melodramas in the 1910s, it retains value only as a parody, as in the case of Buster Keaton shorts that mocked it.
In his 1960 anthology of parody from the 14th through 20th centuries, critic Dwight Macdonald offered the general definition "Parody is making a new wine that tastes like the old but has a slightly lethal effect."