Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis1

Roman satirist of the 1st century. Probably2 born around 60-70 in or around Aquinum3. Died 140.

Little is known for certain about the details of the life and family background of Juvenal. Several biographies exist, but they are far from contemporary, and they often contradict each other. Culling from these biographies, and factoring in internal evidence in his works, some points appear to be fairly certain:

Juvenal, today, is most well-known for his 16 Satires (which were, already in ancient times, arranged into five books). These satires (Saturae) are sharp attacks on the vices and misdeeds of Roman society. Though the text of the Satires claim that they address themselves to the abuses of the past, it is clear from internal evidence that they are focussed on Juvenal's contemporaries. Laden with bitter ironic humour, the Satires present a pessimistic, somewhat misanthropic view of Rome, with none of the gentleness of Horace (though Juvenal claims him as an inspiration).

One may wonder why Juvenal was allowed to write his bitter attacks on Roman mores, but it would appear that at least part of the reason is to be found in his close relationship with the Emperor Hadrian (whether friendship or merely patronage, this would certainly have allowed him room for expression).

Many later writers, notably Chaucer, Dryden, and Swift, were influenced by Juvenal's biting style of social commentary.

Excerpt from Satire 3 (l. 109-125)

"Besides all this, there is nothing sacred to his lusts: not the matron of the family, nor the maiden daughter, not the as yet unbearded son-in-law to be, not even the as yet unpolluted son; if none of these be there, he will debauch his friend's grandmother. These men want to discover the secrets of the family, and so make themselves feared. And now that I am speaking of the Greeks, pass over the schools, and hear of a crime of a larger philosophical cloak; the old Stoic5 who informed against and slew his own friend and disciple Barea6 was born on that river bank where the Gorgon's winged steed fell to earth. No: there is no room for any Roman here, where some Protogenes, or Diphilus, or Hermarchus rules the roost - one who by a defect of his race never shares a friend, but keeps him all to himself. For when once he has dropped into a facile ear one particle of his own and his country's poison, I am thrust from the door, and all my long years of servitude go for nothing. Nowhere is it so easy as at Rome to throw an old client overboard."

(transl. G.G. Ramsay, 1918)


1 Probably. We're not entirely sure that this was his name...

2 This is a conjecture, based on various textual evidence in his writings, and some epigraphic evidence.

3 Another conjecture. An epigraph near Monte Cassino refers to a Junius Juvenalis, but this may be a different member of the same family. However, the consensus is to place Juvenal's birth in this old Volscian town. In Longfellow's poem, Monte Cassino, the fifth strophe declares:

There is Aquinum, the old Volscian town,
Where Juvenal was born, whose lurid light
Still hovers o'er his birthplace like the crown
Of splendor seen o'er cities in the night.

4 Martial, by his own admission a friend of Juvenal, called him a facundus (an eloquent orator).

5 Publius Egnatius Celer. See Tacitus' Annals, XVI.30-32 and Histories, IV.10 and IV.40.

6 See Tacitus' Annals, XVI.23 and XVI.33.

Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, Anglicized as Juvenal. Roman satirist who denounced the vice and folly of Roman society during the reign of emperor Domitian circa 60-140 A.D.

Juvenal was Born in Aquinum. Little is known about his life, biographies about him are unauthentic and generaly accepted as fictious. Juvenal was poor much of his life and depnended on the rich people of Rome. He is known for coining the phrase, "panem et circenses" (bread and circuses) to describe the principal pursuits of the Roman public. He may have served under Gnaeus Julius Agricola, commanding a cohort of Dalmatian auxiliaries, in Britain in 78.

The idiom, "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" (Who shall guard the guardians?) is in his sixth satire. Sixteen satires were written vividly representing life under the Roman empire with the likely time period between 100 – 128 A.D. The bitter criticisim in his writings was rarely equaled. Unsympatheticaly he denounces the careless and lavish society, the vicious oppression, the pretentiousness of women, and the criminality of Romans as he saw them.

Juvenals satires are summed as:

Satire 1: Juvenal states that his purpose is writing satires in a world where men of power are sinners.
Satire 2: Satire on homosexuality and the betrayal of traditional Roman values.
Satire 3: Distinction of corruption between modern Rome with the older simple way of life found in the countryside.
Satire 4: Absurd political satire about a meeting of an imperial council to agree on how to cook a bizarre fish.
Satire 5: Dinner party where the sponsor constantly humiliates his guests.
Satire 6: Catalogue of evil, eccentric, and decadent women.
Satire 7: Intellectual quests are hard without sponsorships in high places.
Satire 8: Noble births should be accompanied by gracious manners.
Satire 9: A discussion where the author guarantees Naevolus, a male prostitute, there will always be work for him in Rome.
Satire 10: Prayers should be for a healthy mind and body.
Satire 11: Letter invitation to a simple dinner.
Satire 12: Sacrifice to be made for the escape of Catullus from a storm at sea due to discarding his treasures.
Satire 13: Consoles Calvinus on his loss -- of money.
Satire 14: Children learn the vice of greed from parents by example.
Satire 15: Mankind has a tendency towards cannibalism and should follow Pythagoras dietary recommendations.
Satire 16: Civilians have no remedy against military assaults.



Ju"ve*nal (?), n. [L. juvenalis youthful, juvenile, fr. juvenis young.]

A youth.




© Webster 1913.

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