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.