Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal

Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal

Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal

Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal

Synopsis

The first complete study of Roman verse satire to appear since 1976 provides a fresh and exciting survey of the field. Rather than describing satire's history as a series of discrete achievements, it relates those achievements to one another in such a way that, in the movement from Lucilius, to Horace, to Persius, to Juvenal, we are made to sense, and see performed, the increasing pressure of imperial oversight in ancient Rome.

Excerpt

The opening scene of Horace's first satire (Sermones 1.1) hustles us to the front row of a street-preacher's harangue. the man who rails at us there (a genius? a fool?) has us labeled as miserable, unbalanced, driven by desires for wealth and prestige that are utterly out of sync with nature's own sense of “limit” (finis), “due measure” (modus), and “just enough” (satis). From the very start, and without warning, he has decided that we are part of the problem, that our greed, discontent, lust, and so on, are grist for his satiric mill. Along the way we, his fidgety accused, must face up to that central, narratological task of determining who “we” imagine ourselves to be in relation to the man who speaks from the page, and just how much we want to credit his sometimes strained and addled reasoning against us. When he says de te | fabula narratur (“you are the fool in the story, ” S. 1.1.69–70) do we run for cover by reminding ourselves that the speaker is a zealot and a knowit-all, or, even easier, that he has someone else in mind? Maybe he means his addressee, Maecenas, or the fictive audience inside the poem. Or how about the poem's first-century-bce “intended” readers? Could he possibly really mean me?

The barrage continues into the second poem, where the penetrating philosopher / snake-oil salesman (take your pick) turns his eye towards matters of the male libido. Some men, he complains, chase after high-class matrons, turned on by the threat of being caught in flagrante. Others bankrupt themselves on prostitutes, preferring the thrill of a potential social disgrace. the basic moral issue, and the speaker's point of attack, remain precisely those of the preceding poem: fools willfully stray towards extremes because . . .

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