Satires (Juvenal)

The Satires are a collection of satirical poems by the Latin author Juvenal written in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD.

Frontispiece depicting Juvenal and Persius, from a volume translated by John Dryden in 1711.

Juvenal is credited with sixteen known poems divided among five books; all are in the Roman genre of satire, which, at its most basic in the time of the author, comprised a wide-ranging discussion of society and social mores in dactylic hexameter.[1] The poems are not individually titled, but translators have often added titles for the convenience of readers.

Roman Satura was a formal literary genre rather than being simply clever, humorous critique in no particular format. Juvenal wrote in this tradition, which originated with Lucilius and included the Sermones of Horace and the Satires of Persius.[2] In a tone and manner ranging from irony to apparent rage, Juvenal criticizes the actions and beliefs of many of his contemporaries, providing insight more into value systems and questions of morality and less into the realities of Roman life. The author employs outright obscenity less frequently than Martial or Catullus, but the scenes painted in his text are no less vivid or lurid for that discretion.

The author makes constant allusion to history and myth as a source of object lessons or exemplars of particular vices and virtues. Coupled with his dense and elliptical Latin, these tangential references indicate that the intended reader of the Satires was highly educated.[3] The Satires are concerned with perceived threats to the social continuity of the Roman citizens: social-climbing foreigners, unfaithfulness, and other more extreme excesses of their own class. The intended audience of the Satires constituted a subset of the Roman elite, primarily adult males of a more conservative social stance.

Manuscript tradition

The controversies concerning the surviving texts of the Satires have been extensive and heated. Many manuscripts survive, but only P (the Codex Pithoeanus Montepessulanus), a 9th-century manuscript based on an edition prepared in the 4th century by a pupil of Servius Honoratus, the grammarian, is reasonably reliable. At the same time as the Servian text was produced, however, other and lesser scholars also created their editions of Juvenal: it is these on which most medieval manuscripts of Juvenal are based. It did not help matters that P disappeared sometime during the Renaissance and was only rediscovered around 1840. It is not, however, uncommon for the generally inferior manuscripts to supply a better reading in cases when P is imperfect. In addition, modern scholarly debate has also raged around the authenticity of the text which has survived, as various editors have argued that considerable portions are not, in fact, authentically Juvenalian and represent interpolations from early editors of the text. Jachmann (1943) argued that up to one-third of what survives is non-authentic: Ulrick Knoche (1950) deleted about hundred lines, Clausen about forty, Courtney (1975) a similar number. Willis (1997) italicizes 297 lines as being potentially suspect. On the other hand, Vahlen, Housman, Duff, Griffith, Ferguson and Green believe the surviving text to be largely authentic: indeed Green regards the main problem as being not interpolations but lacunae.[4]

In recent times debate has focused on the authenticity of the "O Passage" of Satire VI, 36 lines (34 of which are continuous) discovered by E.O. Winstedt in an 11th-century manuscript in Oxford's Bodleian Library. These lines occur in no other manuscript of Juvenal, and when discovered were considerably corrupted. Ever since Housman translated and emended the "O Passage" there has been considerable controversy over whether the fragment is in fact a forgery: the field is currently split between those (Green, Ferguson, Courtney) who believe it isn't, and those (Willis, Anderson), who believe it is.[4]

Synopsis of the Satires

Book I

Satire I: It is Hard not to Write Satire

It is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant
of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself...

difficile est saturam non scribere. nam quis iniquae
tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se...

This so-called "Programmatic Satire" lays out for the reader a catalogue of ills and annoyances that prompt the narrator to write satire.[5] Some examples cited by Juvenal include eunuchs getting married, elite women performing in a beast hunt, and the dregs of society suddenly becoming wealthy by gross acts of sycophancy. To the extent that it is programmatic, this satire concerns the first book rather than the satires of the other four known books. The narrator explicitly marks the writings of Lucilius as the model for his book of poems (lines 19–20), although he claims that to attack the living as his model did incur great risk (lines 165-67). The narrator contends that traditional Roman virtues, such as fides and virtus, had disappeared from society to the extent that "Rome was no longer Roman":[5]

Dare something worthy of exile to tiny Gyara and death row,
if you want to be anything at all. Probity is praised – and it shivers in the street.

aude aliquid brevibus Gyaris et carcere dignum,
si vis esse aliquid. probitas laudatur et alget.

Satire II: Hypocrites are Intolerable

I get an itch to run off beyond the Sarmatians and the frozen sea,
every time those men who pretend to be old-time paragons of virtue
and live an orgy, dare to spout something about morals.

Vltra Sauromatas fugere hinc libet et glacialem
Oceanum, quotiens aliquid de moribus audent
qui Curios simulant et Bacchanalia uiuunt

170 lines. The narrator claims to want to flee civilization (i.e. Roma) to beyond the world’s end when confronted by moral hypocrisy. Although the broad theme of this poem is the process of gender inversion, it would be an error to take it as simple invective against pathic men. Juvenal is concerned with gender deviance

Satire III: There is no Room in Rome for a Roman

What could I do at Rome? I don't know how to lie;
If a book is bad, I am unable to praise it and ask for one;
I don’t understand the motions of the stars – I am neither willing
nor able to predict the death of someone’s father; I never inspected the guts
of frogs; other men know all about ferrying what the adulterers send to brides;
nobody is going to be a thief with me as his accomplice,
and that right there is why I’m going in no governor’s entourage
– I’m like a cripple, a useless body with a dead right hand.

quid Romae faciam? mentiri nescio; librum,
si malus est, nequeo laudare et poscere; motus
astrorum ignoro; funus promittere patris
nec uolo nec possum; ranarum uiscera numquam
inspexi; ferre ad nuptam quae mittit adulter,
quae mandat, norunt alii; me nemo ministro
fur erit, atque ideo nulli comes exeo tamquam
mancus et extinctae corpus non utile dextrae.

322 lines. In the place where Numa Pompilius (the legendary second king of Rome) received a nymph’s advice on creating Roman law, the narrator has a final conversation with his Roman friend Umbricius, who is emigrating to Cumae. Umbricius claims that slick and immoral foreigners have shut a real Roman out of all opportunity to prosper. Only the first 20 lines are in the voice of the narrator; the remainder of the poem is cast as the words of Umbricius.

In 1738, Samuel Johnson was inspired by this text to write his "London: A Poem in Imitation of the Third Satire of Juvenal". The archetypal question of whether an urban life of hectic ambition is to be preferred to a pastoral fantasy retreat to the country is posed by the narrator:

As you love your hoe, live as the steward of your garden,
whence you may lay out a feast for one hundred Pythagoreans.
It is meaningful – in whatever place, in whatever backwater –
to have made oneself the master of a single lizard.

uiue bidentis amans et culti uilicus horti
unde epulum possis centum dare Pythagoreis.
est aliquid, quocumque loco, quocumque recessu,
unius sese dominum fecisse lacertae.

Satire IV: The Emperor’s Fish

Back when the last Flavian was ripping up a half-dead
world – and Rome slaved for a bald Nero –
in sight of the shrine of Venus, which Doric Ancona upholds,
the marvelous expanse of an Adriatic turbot appeared,
and filled the nets; ...

cum iam semianimum laceraret Flauius orbem
ultimus et caluo seruiret Roma Neroni,
incidit Hadriaci spatium admirabile rhombi
ante domum Veneris, quam Dorica sustinet Ancon,
impleuitque sinus; ...

154 lines. The narrator makes the emperor Domitian and his court the objects of his ridicule in this mock-epic tale of a fish so prodigious that it was fit for the emperor alone. The council of state is called to deal with the crisis of how to cook it, where the fish can neither be cooked by conventional means due to its size, nor can it be cut into pieces. The main themes of this poem are the corruption and incompetence of sycophantic courtiers and the inability or unwillingness to speak truth to power.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's motto, vitam impendere vero (to pay his life for the truth) is taken from the passage below, a description of the qualifications of an imperial courtier in the reign of Domitian:

... nor was he the sort of citizen who was able to offer
up the free words of his heart and stake his life on the truth.
That is how he saw so many winters and indeed his eightieth
summer, and by these arms he was safe even in that audience hall.

... nec ciuis erat qui libera posset
uerba animi proferre et uitam inpendere uero.
sic multas hiemes atque octogensima uidit
solstitia, his armis illa quoque tutus in aula.

Satire V: Patronizing Patronage

An eel awaits you – close relative of a long snake –
or maybe even a Tiber-fish spotted with gray blotches,
a home-born slave of the Embankment, fat from the gushing Cloaca Maxima
and accustomed to venture into the covered sewer beneath the center of the Suburra.

uos anguilla manet longae cognata colubrae
aut glaucis sparsus maculis Tiberinus et ipse
uernula riparum, pinguis torrente cloaca
et solitus mediae cryptam penetrare Suburae.

173 lines. The narrative frame of this poem is a dinner party where many potential dysfunctions in the ideal of the patron-client relationship are put on display. Rather than being a performance of faux-equality, the patron (Virro as in 9.35) emphasizes the superiority of himself and his peers (amici) over his clients (viles amici) by offering food and drink of unequal quality to each. Juvenal concludes with the observation that the clients who put up with this treatment deserve it.

Book II

Satire VI: The Decay of Feminine Virtue

Main article: Satire VI

... I am aware
of whatever counsels you old friends warn,
i.e. "throw the bolt and lock her in.” But who is going to guard the
guards themselves, who now keep silent the lapses of the loose
girl – paid off in the same coin? The common crime keeps its silence.
A prudent wife looks ahead and starts with them.

... noui
consilia et ueteres quaecumque monetis amici,
'pone seram, cohibe'. sed quis custodiet ipsos
custodes, qui nunc lasciuae furta puellae
hac mercede silent? crimen commune tacetur.
prospicit hoc prudens et a illis incipit uxor.

c. 695 lines. For the discussion and synopsis, see Satire VI.

Book III

Satire VII: Fortuna (or the Emperor) is the Best Patron

If the goddess Fortuna wants, from a mere teacher you will become consul,
if this same goddess wants, a teacher will be made from a consul.
For what was Ventidius? What was Tullius? Anything really
other than a comet and the marvelous power of hidden fate?
Kingdoms will be given to slaves, and a triumph to captives.
A really fortunate man, however, is even more rare than a white crow.

si Fortuna uolet, fies de rhetore consul;
si uolet haec eadem, fiet de consule rhetor.
Ventidius quid enim? quid Tullius? anne aliud quam
sidus et occulti miranda potentia fati?
seruis regna dabunt, captiuis fata triumphum.
felix ille tamen coruo quoque rarior albo.

243 lines. Juvenal returns to his theme of distorted economic values among the Roman elite – in this instance centered on their unwillingness to provide appropriate support for poets, lawyers, and teachers. It is the capricious whims of fate that determine the variables of a human life.

Satire VIII: True Nobility

Although your whole atria display ancient wax portraits on
every side, excellence is the one and only nobility.
Go on and be a Paulus or Cossus or Drusus in your morals –
esteem this more important than the images of your ancestors.

tota licet ueteres exornent undique cerae
atria, nobilitas sola est atque unica virtus.
Paulus uel Cossus uel Drusus moribus esto,
hos ante effigies maiorum pone tuorum.

275 lines. The narrator takes issue with the idea that pedigree ought to be taken as evidence of a person’s worth.

Satire IX: Flattering your Patron is Hard Work

But, while you downplay some services and lie about others I've done,
what value do you put on the fact that – if I had not been handed over
as your dedicated client – your wife would still be a virgin.

uerum, ut dissimules, ut mittas cetera, quanto
metiris pretio quod, ni tibi deditus essem
deuotusque cliens, uxor tua uirgo maneret?

150 lines. This satire is in the form of a dialogue between the narrator and Naevolus – a male prostitute, the disgruntled client of a pathic patron.

Book IV

Satire X: Wrong Desire is the Source of Suffering

It is to be prayed that the mind be sound in a sound body.
Ask for a brave soul that lacks the fear of death,
which places the length of life last among nature’s blessings,
which is able to bear whatever kind of sufferings,
does not know anger, lusts for nothing and believes
the hardships and savage labors of Hercules better than
the satisfactions, feasts, and feather bed of an Eastern king.
I will reveal what you are able to give yourself;
For certain, the one footpath of a tranquil life lies through virtue.

orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano.
fortem posce animum mortis terrore carentem,
qui spatium uitae extremum inter munera ponat
naturae, qui ferre queat quoscumque labores,
nesciat irasci, cupiat nihil et potiores
Herculis aerumnas credat saeuosque labores
et uenere et cenis et pluma Sardanapalli.
monstro quod ipse tibi possis dare; semita certe
tranquillae per uirtutem patet unica uitae.

366 lines. The theme of this poem encompasses the myriad objects of prayer unwisely sought from the gods: wealth, power, beauty, children, long life, et cetera. The narrator argues that each of these is a false Good; each desired thing is shown to be not good in itself, but only good so long as other factors do not intervene. This satire is the source of the well-known phrase "mens sana in corpore sano" (a healthy mind in a healthy body), which appears in the passage above. It is also the source of the phrase "panem et circenses" (bread and circuses) – the only remaining cares of a Roman populace which has given up its birthright of political freedom (10.81).

Satire XI: Dinner and a Moral

Our humble home does not take up such trifles. Another man will hear
the clacks of castanets along with words that a naked slave standing
for sale in a smelly brothel would refrain from; another man will enjoy
obscene voices and every art of lust, a man
who wets his inlaid floor of Lacedaemonian marbles with spit-out wine
Our dinner party today will provide other amusements.
The author of the Iliad will sing, and the poems of Vergil
that make the supremacy of Homer doubtful.
What does it matter by what voice such verses are read?

non capit has nugas humilis domus. audiat ille
testarum crepitus cum uerbis, nudum olido stans
fornice mancipium quibus abstinet, ille fruatur
uocibus obscenis omnique libidinis arte,
qui Lacedaemonium pytismate lubricat orbem;
nostra dabunt alios hodie conuiuia ludos:
conditor Iliados cantabitur atque Maronis
altisoni dubiam facientia carmina palmam.
quid refert, tales uersus qua uoce legantur?

208 lines. The main themes of this poem are self-awareness and moderation. The poem explicitly mentions one apothegm γνῶθι σεαυτόν (know thyself) from the temple of Apollo at Delphi, while its theme calls to mind another μηδέν ἄγαν (nothing in excess). The subject, in this instance, is the role of food and the cena (formal dinner) in Roman society. The narrator contrasts the ruinous spending habits of gourmands with the moderation of a simple meal of home-grown foods in the manner of the mythical ancient Romans.

Satire XII: True Friendship

Lest these actions seem suspicious to you Corvinus, this Catullus
for whose return I am placing so much on these altars, has
three little heirs. It would be fun to wait for someone to
pay out a sick (and in fact closing its eyes) hen for a friend
so “sterile;” truly, this is too much expense, and
no quail ever died for a father of children. If rich and childless
Gallitta and Pacius begin to feel a chill, the entire portico
is clothed with vows posted-up in the prescribed way
there are those who would promise a one-hundred-cow sacrifice
only because there are no elephants for sale here, ...

neu suspecta tibi sint haec, Coruine, Catullus,
pro cuius reditu tot pono altaria, paruos
tres habet heredes. libet expectare quis aegram
et claudentem oculos gallinam inpendat amico
tam sterili; uerum haec nimia est inpensa, coturnix
nulla umquam pro patre cadet. sentire calorem
si coepit locuples Gallitta et Pacius orbi,
legitime fixis uestitur tota libellis
porticus, existunt qui promittant hecatomben,
quatenus hic non sunt nec uenales elephanti,

130 lines. The narrator describes to his addressee Corvinus the sacrificial vows that he has made for the salvation of his friend Catullus from shipwreck. These vows are to the primary Roman gods – Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva (the Capitoline Triad)- but other shipwrecked sailors are said to make offerings to Isis. In the passage quoted above, the narrator asserts that his sacrifices are not to curry favor or gain an inheritance, common reasons for making vows among those who would not hesitate to sacrifice their slaves or even children if it would bring them an inheritance.

Book V (incomplete)

Satire XIII: Don’t Obsess over Liars and Crooks

What you suffer: they’re the misfortunes of many, at this point well-known,
and indeed trite, and drawn from the middle of Fortuna’s deck.
Let’s lay off the excessive groaning. Pain should not be
sharper than what’s called for, nor greater than the damage.
You are hardly able to endure the least tiny particle of ills
however slight – burning in your frothing guts, because a friend
did not return to you the things deposited with him under oath?
Does a man who has already left sixty years behind his back
– a man born when Fonteius was consul – get stupefied by events like these?
Or have you advanced nothing to the better from so much experience?

quae pateris: casus multis hic cognitus ac iam
tritus et e medio fortunae ductus aceruo.'
ponamus nimios gemitus. flagrantior aequo
non debet dolor esse uiri nec uolnere maior.
tu quamuis leuium minimam exiguamque malorum
particulam uix ferre potes spumantibus ardens
uisceribus, sacrum tibi quod non reddat amicus
depositum? stupet haec qui iam post terga reliquit
sexaginta annos Fonteio consule natus?
an nihil in melius tot rerum proficis usu?

249 lines. This poem is a dissuasion from excessive rage and the desire for revenge when one is defrauded. The narrator recommends a philosophical moderation and the perspective that comes from realizing that there are many things worse than financial loss.

Satire XIV: Avarice is not a Family Value

Although youths imitate the other vices of their own free will,
they are commanded to practice only avarice unwillingly.
For this vice deceives with the appearance and shape of a virtue,
since it has a grim bearing and a severe surface and exterior,
the miser is lauded as if he were frugal without hesitation –
as if he were a sparing man, and a sure guardian of his own possessions,
better than if the Serpent of the Hesperides or the one
from the Black Sea guarded those same fortunes.

sponte tamen iuuenes imitantur cetera, solam
inuiti quoque auaritiam exercere iubentur.
fallit enim uitium specie uirtutis et umbra,
cum sit triste habitu uultuque et ueste seuerum,
nec dubie tamquam frugi laudetur auarus,
tamquam parcus homo et rerum tutela suarum
certa magis quam si fortunas seruet easdem
Hesperidum serpens aut Ponticus. ...

331 lines. The narrator stresses that children most readily learn all forms of vice from their parents. Avarice must actually be taught since it runs counter to nature. This vice is particularly pernicious, since it has the appearance of a virtue and is the source of a myriad of crimes and cruelties.

Satire XV: People without Compassion are Worse than Animals

But these days there is greater concord among snakes.
A savage beast spares another with similar spots.
When did a stronger lion rip the life from another lion?
In what forest did a wild boar perish under the tusks of larger boar?

sed iam serpentum maior concordia. parcit
cognatis maculis similis fera. quando leoni
fortior eripuit uitam leo? quo nemore umquam
expirauit aper maioris dentibus apri

174 lines. The narrator discusses the centrality of compassion for other people to the preservation of civilization. While severe circumstances have at times called for desperate measures to preserve life, even the most savage tribes have refrained from cannibalism. We were given minds to allow us to live together in mutual assistance and security. Without limits on rage against our enemies, we are worse than animals.

Satire XVI: Soldiers are above the Law

Let’s deal with the common benefits first off,
among which by no means the least is that no civilian would dare
to strike you – and what’s more – if he gets struck, he denies it
and isn’t willing to show his knocked-out teeth to the judge either.

commoda tractemus primum communia, quorum
haut minimum illud erit, ne te pulsare togatus
audeat, immo, etsi pulsetur, dissimulet nec
audeat excussos praetori ostendere dentes

60 lines preserved. The primary theme of the preserved lines is the advantages of soldiers over mere citizens.


  1. Lucilius – the acknowledged originator of Roman Satire in the form practiced by Juvenal – experimented with other meters before settling on dactylic hexameter.
  2. There were other authors who wrote within the genre, but only the texts of these three have been extensively preserved.
  3. The intended reader was expected to understand these references without recourse to footnotes or reference works on Greco-Roman myth and history. The Satires are sophisticated literary works for a sophisticated reader.
  4. 1 2 Green, 1998, Introduction: LIX-LXIII
  5. 1 2 Miller, Paul Allen. Latin Verse Satire. 2005, page 232
  6. The word virtus in line 20 is the ultimate source of the English word virtue and is related to the Latin word vir (elite man). While the English term has primarily a moral connotation, the Latin word encompassed all characteristics appropriate to a vir – in short excellence. The narrator's point is that the only thing that makes one rightly nobilis (known, famous) is being personally outstanding.


External links

Latin Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Wikisource has original text related to this article:
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 6/25/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.