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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) a writer of lampoons or satirical verse

A pasquiller is a satirist, or a writer of satirical, lampooning comedy.

More specifically, a pasquiller is a writer of pasquils, pasquins, or pasquinades—all sixteenth and seventeenth century terms for satirical verses or essays. And all with a fairly peculiar etymological story behind them.

In 1501, the head and torso of a partly-destroyed third-century BC statue was unearthed during building work in Rome. The statue (now known to be part of a larger image of the Spartan king Menelaus carrying the dead body of Patroclus) was rescued from destruction and installed on a plinth by a Roman cardinal, Oliviero Carafa, outside of his palace.

Precisely what happened next is the stuff of local legend. According to one version of the tale, local residents—long unhappy with Cardinal Carafa’s lavish lifestyle—began leaving scathing notes, verses and epigrams around the statue, satirizing and lampooning his religious hypocrisy. In another version, the statue was installed on or around St Mark’s Day, April 25, and to celebrate the occasion the cardinal himself draped it in a toga and surrounded it with devotional letters and verses. Either way, a tradition of pasting notes onto and around the statue—and, for that matter all the other so-called ‘Talking Statues’ of Rome—quickly became established.

It is from there, clearly, that the association with satirical comedy eventually developed. But why pasquin or pasquil? Admittedly, the origin of the statue’s name is unclear.

It now stands in the Piazza Pasquino in Rome, but it is the piazza who took its name from the statue, not the other way around. One explanation claims that the earliest satirical notes were left there by a local tailor named Pasquino, who was known for his sharp, quick wit. Another version of the tale claims Pasquino was a local teacher and grammarian who was one of the lampooning verses’ first victims.

Admittedly, the precise story here is now largely lost to history. But no matter where the name Pasquino comes from, it slowly became synonymous with the satirical comments themselves—and in that sense fell into use in English in the mid 1500s.

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