The Function of Humour in Roman Verse Satire: Laughing and Lying

By Maria Plaza | Go to book overview

Epilogue: The Genre Devours Itself

In Juvenal’s fifteenth satire satiric humour reaches its limits. The kernel of J. 15 is a narrative about how two feuding Egyptian villages engage in a fierce battle which ends with one tribe catching a man from the other village, and eating him in their fury. Before coming to its end, Juvenalian humour flashes a final burst of grotesque funniness, a rush of what modern jargon would call ‘sick humour’, in the detailed description of a man torn to pieces and eaten without timeconsuming culinary preparation:

labitur hic quidam nimia formidine cursum
praecipitans capiturque. ast illum in plurima sectum
frusta et particulas, ut multis mortuus unus
sufficeret, totum corrosis ossibus edit
uictrix turba, nec ardenti decoxit aeno
aut ueribus, longum usque adeo tardumque putauit
expectare focos, contenta cadauere crudo. (15.77–83)

One man tripped as he rushed along in exceeding panic, and was caught. But
the victorious mob chopped him up in many bits and pieces so that this
single dead body would be enough for many. Then they ate him, gnawing his
bones, not bothering to boil him in a brass cauldron, or roast him on spits.
They found it such a drag and such a bore to wait for the fire to take, so they
made do with a raw corpse.

In this passage the harsh parody of a battle situation, and the incongruous intertwining of ghastly ‘realistic’ detail with detached cooking terminology combine to create grim and questionable humour: is this still funny?

Several theoretical discussions of humour, including that of Cicero in the second book of De Oratore, claim that the laughable borders

-338-

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The Function of Humour in Roman Verse Satire: Laughing and Lying
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents ix
  • A Note on Editions and Translations x
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Object-Oriented Humour 53
  • 2 - Humour Directed at the Persona 167
  • 3 - Non-Aligned Humour 257
  • Epilogue- the Genre Devours Itself 338
  • Bibliography 342
  • Index Locorum 359
  • General Index 367
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