Juvenal Essay - Critical Essays


The word “satire” derives from the Latin sat, which means “sufficient” or “full.” Satire is a miscellany, dealing with a variety of subjects in a range of metrical forms. Juvenal inherited a Roman satiric tradition dating at least as far back as Quintus Ennius (239-169 b.c.e.; commonly known as Ennius), whose works in this genre dealt with daily life. Cicero and Aulus Gellius refer to the third century b.c.e. Greek Cynic philosopher Menippus of Gadara, who in serio-comic prose ridiculed the pseudo-philosophers of his day. Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 b.c.e.; commonly known as Varro) imitated Menippus in prose and poetry, treating a wide range of subjects. Horace, Persius, and Juvenal credited Gaius Lucilius (c. 180-103 b.c.e.) as the true creator of satire. Using dactylic hexameter, the meter of epic, Lucilius attacked individuals by name. Lucilius focused on social and moral vices and follies rather than on political matters.

In Satire 1.85-86, Juvenal says that he takes as his province all human activity, people’s pledges, fears, anger, lusts, joys, and bustling about. While modeling his meter and subject matter on Lucilius, he recognized that naming living people could prove dangerous. Therefore, he chose to cite the dead as exemplars of contemporary misbehavior. Also, condemning previous rulers such as Nero and Domitian would please the current emperor. Seeking to elevate the status of satire above that of epic and tragedy, Juvenal claims that whereas those genres deal with fiction, satire treats reality. Like Lucilius, he relies heavily on the epic meter of dactylic hexameter. His verses contain 3,600 of these, compared to Horace’s 2,400 and Persius’s 650. To elevate his diction, he employs periphrasis. Instead of naming Pluto in Satire 10.112, he calls the god the son-in-law of Ceres. At 16.6, he refers to Juno as the mother of the Muses who delights in the sandy shore of Samos. Juvenal is memorable because of his aphoristic quality. Thus, he writes that honesty is praised and neglected (1.74). At 10.356, he advocates praying for a healthy mind in a healthy body. In Satire 6 at Oxford fragment 31-32, he denies that appointing sentries over a wife will guarantee her chastity, for who will guard the guards? The oft-repeated phrase “bread and circuses” is his (10.8).

Juvenal’s style is rhetorical. His first satire begins with four rhetorical questions, implying that his audience shares his view. The third and fourth of these questions employ anaphora (repeating the same opening word for emphasis). These are two of his favorite devices throughout his writing. Other rhetorical elements that he frequently employs are anadiplosis (repeating at the beginning of a clause a word or words that end or appear prominently in the preceding one, such as in 2.135-136, 6.34-35, 7.213-214) and epanalepsis (using the same word or clause after an interval, as in his lines 9.67-68, 10.365-366, 12.48). Like the rhetorician, the satirist argues a...

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