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Juvenal (Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis), Roman satirist. Known primarily for the angry tone of his early Satires, although in later poems he developed an ironical and detached superiority as his satiric strategy. The highly rhetorical nature of the Satires has long been recognized but only recently has the allied concept of the ‘mask’ (persona) been deployed (primarily by Anderson, see bibliog. below) to facilitate assessment of the Satires as self-conscious poetic constructs, rather than the reflections of the realities of Roman social life for which they have often been read. This approach is reinforced by rejection of the biographical interpretation, in which Juvenal's ‘life’ was reconstructed from details in the Satires. In fact, virtually nothing is known of his life: he is the addressee of three epigrams of Martial (themselves highly sophisticated literary constructions) which indicate his skill in oratory. The absence of dedication to a patron in Juvenal's Satires may suggest that he was a member of the élite. The few datable references confirm Syme's assessment that the five books were written during the second and third decades of the 2nd cent. ce (or later), at about the same time as Tacitus (1) was writing his Annals. There is no reason to doubt that the Satires were written and published in books. Book 1 comprises Satires 1–5, book 2 Satire 6 alone, book 3 Satires 7–9, book 4 Satires 10–12, and book 5 Satires 13–16 (the last poem is unfinished).

In book 1 Juvenal introduces his indignant speaker who condemns Rome (satire is an urban genre), especially the corruption of the patron–client relationship (amicitia) (in Satires 1, 3, 4, and 5; see cliens; patronage) and the decadence of the élite (in 1, 2, and 4). Satire 1, following predecessors in the genre, provides a justification for satire and a programme of the angry tone and the victims of satirical attack. These include the ‘out-groups’ (Richlin) who transgress sexual and social boundaries, such as the passive homosexuals of Satire 2 (see homosexuality) and the social upstarts, criminals, and foreigners attacked by Umbricius in Satire 3 (Umbricius figures himself as the last true Roman, driven from an un-Roman Rome). The Roman élite are portrayed as paradigms of moral corruption: the selfish rich are attacked in Satires 1 and 3 and the emperor Domitian is portrayed as sexual hypocrite and autocrat in 2 and 4. Those dependent on these powerful men are not absolved from blame: the courtiers humiliated by Domitian by being asked to advise on what to do with an enormous fish in Satire 4, like the client humiliated by his wealthy patron at a dinner party in 5, are condemned for craven compliance.

The focus upon Roman men in book 1 is complemented by the focus upon Roman women in book 2, which consists of the massive Satire 6, comparable in length to a book of epic. The speaker fiercely (but unsuccessfully) attempts to dissuade his addressee from marriage by cataloguing the (alleged) faults of Roman wives. Here Juvenal develops his angry speaker in the ultimate rant which seems to exhaust the possibilities of angry satire; thereafter he adopts a new approach of irony and cynicism. Initially (in book 3) Juvenal's new, calmer persona takes up the same topics as treated in book 1, although his detachment invites a less stark perspective: clients and patrons (Satires 7 and 9) and the corruption and worthlessness of the élite (8). He then marks his change of direction explicitly at the start of book 4, where the speaker states his preference for detached laughter over tears as a reaction to the follies of the world; in the remainder of Satire 10 he accordingly demolishes first the objects of human prayer, then the act of prayer itself. His programmatic declaration is borne out by the ‘Horatian’ tone and topics (see horace) of Satire 11 (where an invitation to dinner conveys a condemnation of decadence and a recommendation of self-sufficiency) and 12 (where true friendship is contrasted with the false friendship of legacy-hunters). The speaker of book 5 becomes still more detached and cynical as he turns his attention to the themes of crime and punishment, money and greed. The opening poem, Satire 13, offers a programmatic condemnation of anger in the form of a mock consolation, which indicates clearly the development from book 1 where anger was apparently approved.

Juvenal claims that his satire replaces epic (Sat. 1) and tragedy (6. 634–61): his chief contribution to the genre is his appropriation of the ‘grand style’ from other more elevated forms of hexameter verse, notably epic. This contrasts markedly with the sometimes coarse language of Lucilius (1) and the tone of refined ‘conversation’ adopted by Horace in his satirical writings. Juvenal's satiric ‘grand style’ mingles different lexical levels, ranging from epic and tragedy (e.g. the epic parody in Satires 4 and 12) to mundanities, Greek words, and occasional obscenities. His penchant for oxymora, pithy paradoxes, and trenchant questions makes Juvenal a favourite mine for quotations, e.g. mens sana in corpore sano (10. 356) and quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (6. 347–8): ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’ and ‘who guards the guards themselves?’ The Satires also appropriate the themes and structures of other forms of discourse: they are rhetorical performances which develop for satiric ends material drawn from epic (Homer, Virgil, Ovid) and pastoral poetry; situations and characters of comedy and mime; philosophical ideas and texts (including Plato (1) and the Hellenistic philosophical schools); and rhetorical set-pieces (consolation, persuasion, farewell speech).

Juvenal's Satires apparently present reassuring entertainment for the Roman male élite audience. However, inconsistencies written into the texts allow alternative views of Juvenal's speakers as riddled with bigotry (chauvinism, misogyny, homophobia) or as cynically superior. In literary history, Juvenal's significance is in bringing to fullest development the indignant speaker: his ‘savage indignation’ had a lasting influence on Renaissance and later satire (as Johnson's imitations of Satires 3 and 10, London and The Vanity of Human Wishes, indicate) and remains central to modern definitions of ‘satire’. See satire.



A. E. Housman (ed.), Saturae (2nd edn. 1931).Find this resource:

    W. V. Clausen, A. Persi Flacci et D. Iuni Iuvenalis Saturae, rev. ed. Oxford Classical Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.Find this resource:


      E. Courtney, A Commentary on the Satires of Juvenal (1980).Find this resource:


        N. Rudd, Juvenal: The Satires (1991).Find this resource:

          S. Braund, Juvenal and Persius. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.Find this resource:

            Index verborum

            M. Dubrocard, Juvenal-Satires: index verborum (1976).Find this resource:

              Scholia vetustiora

              Ed. P. Wessner, Scholia in Iuvenalem vetustiora collegit (1931).Find this resource:


                W. S. Anderson, Essays on Roman Satire (1982).Find this resource:

                  J. C. Bramble, Cambridge History of Classical Literature 2. 597–623.Find this resource:

                    S. H. Braund, Beyond Anger: A Study of Juvenal's Third Book of Satires (1988).Find this resource:

                      A. Richlin, The Garden of Priapus: Sexuality and Aggression in Roman Humor (1983).Find this resource:


                        Syme, Tacitus, apps. 74 and 75.Find this resource:

                          Syme, Roman Papers 3. 1135–57.Find this resource:

                            Bibliographic survey

                            S. H. Braund, Roman Verse Satire, G&R New Survey 23 (1992).Find this resource:


                              J. Ferguson, A Prosopography to the Poems of Juvenal (1987).Find this resource:

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