Juvenal: Roman Satirist

Page of Juvenal's Satires
Satura tota nostra est.
Satire is all ours.

Some of our favorite television shows and movies are satires. This usually biting form of entertainment owes its creation not to the artistic Greeks, who developed comedy, tragedy, lyric poetry, and more, but to the usually thought of as more practical Romans.

Roman verse satire, a literary genre created by the Romans, is personal and subjective, providing insight into the poet and a look (albeit, warped) at social mores. Invective and obscenities, dining habits, corruption, and personal flaws all have a place in it. Juvenal was a master of exposing the foibles of society, with elegance.

What We Don't Know About Juvenal

While we must always be leery of assuming the persona (the speaker in the poem) speaks for the poet, in the case of the last and greatest of the Roman satirists, Juvenal, we don't have much choice. He wasn't mentioned by most contemporary poets and is not included in Quintilian's history of satire. It wasn't until Servius, in the late 4th century, that Juvenal received recognition.

We think Juvenal's full name was Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis. Juvenal may have come from near Monte Cassino. His father may have been a rich freedman and rhetorician. This deduction is based on the lack of dedication in Juvenal's satires. Since Juvenal didn't dedicate his work, he probably didn't have a patron, and so may have been independently wealthy, but he may have been very poor. We don't know Juvenal's birth or death date. Even the period at which he flourished is debatable. It is possible he outlived Hadrian. What is clear is that he endured the reign of Domitian and was still alive under Hadrian.

Topics of Juvenal's Satires

Juvenal wrote 16 satires varying in length from (xvi) 60 lines to (vi) 660. Topics, as stated in his opening programmatic satire, include all aspects of real life, past and present. In reality, the topics center on all aspects of vice.

Book 1

Satire 1 (In English)
Programmatic satire in which Juvenal states that his purpose is to write satire in a world where sinners are men of power.
Satire 2 (In English)
Satire on homosexuality and the betrayal of traditional Roman values.
Satire 3 (In English)
Contrasts corruption of modern Rome with the older simple way of life still found in the country.
Satire 4
Farcical political satire about the meeting of an imperial council to determine how to cook an outlandish fish.
Satire 5
Dinner party at which the patron continually humiliates his guest client.

Book 2

Satire 6
A wonder of misogyny, a catalogue of evil, eccentric, and depraved women.

Book 3

Satire 7
Without patronage in high places, intellectual pursuits suffer privations.
Satire 8
Aristocratic birth should be accompanied by noble behavior.
Satire 9
A dialogue in which the author assures Naevolus, a male prostitute, there will always be work for him in Rome.

Book 4

Satire 10
What should be prayed for is a healthy mind and body ( mens sana in corpore sano)
Satire 11
Epistolary invitation to a simple dinner.
Satire 12
Description of sacrifice to be made for the safe escape of a man named Catullus from a storm at sea because he jettisoned his treasures.

Book 5

Satire 13
Consoles Calvinus on his loss -- of money.
Satire 14
Parents teach their children the vice of greed by their example.
Satire 15
Mankind has a tendency towards cannibalism and should follow Pythagoras' dietary recommendations.
Satire 16
Civilians have no redress against military assaults.
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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "Juvenal: Roman Satirist." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/juvenal-roman-satirist-119363. Gill, N.S. (2020, August 26). Juvenal: Roman Satirist. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/juvenal-roman-satirist-119363 Gill, N.S. "Juvenal: Roman Satirist." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/juvenal-roman-satirist-119363 (accessed June 3, 2023).