Sunday, March 27, 2011


Catherine C. Keane, A Roman Verse Satire Reader: Selections from Lucilius, Horace, Persius, and Juvenal. BC Latin Readers. Mundelein, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2010. Pp. xxvi, 142. ISBN 9780865166851. $19.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Bryce Walker, Sweet Briar College (

Version at BMCR home site


A Roman Verse Satire Reader is a recent addition and fine complement to the expanding Bolchazy-Carducci series aimed at advanced undergraduates and intended to work in combination with other texts. Keane is acutely aware of this mission, and this volume will certainly be a welcome component of a variety of Latin literature and culture courses. The persistence of satire from Lucilius to Juvenal and its many points of contact with other genres and rhetorical modes certainly justifies the inclusion of this volume in the series, and Keane is an excellent choice for selecting and editing the specified 500-600 lines from the corpus of Roman Satire. Nevertheless, like the genre itself, this slim volume at times overreaches in its scope and as a result may best function more as an ancillary than as a central resource to an undergraduate language course.

The opening one-page overview contains the obligatory quotation from Quintilian that satire was tota nostra and gives a description of the genre including a brief and compelling discussion of the etymological origins, generic affiliations, programmatic satire, and satirical persona, or as Keane prefers, "personality." Remarks on the individual satirists and passages chosen for this volume follow, including a brief depiction of the meter and style, as well as useful and varied suggestions for further reading. The Latin text consists of four selections from the fragments of Lucilius, four excerpts from Horace, three from Persius, and six from Juvenal. There are brief and insightful introductions to each of the passages establishing the literary and cultural context. There is also a helpful vocabulary with vowel quantities included at the end of the book.

Keane's stated goals are "to trace the broad changes in satire from the Republic to the high Imperial period; to show each author's range of themes and strategies; to draw attention to the ways the authors imitate and modify one another's work; and occasionally to train the spotlight on a poem that might not otherwise make it onto course syllabi" (xxii). As a consequence the selections move chronologically and there is often an understated thematic coherence between passages. Keane does the reader a commendable service in her commentary by highlighting in bold points of contact with other passages within the volume. Additionally, in plain type she directs the reader to related verses from the satirists that lie outside the scope of her commentary. On her choice of selections Keane is to be applauded on two fronts. First, in such a circumscribed volume she includes 35 lines of Lucilius as well as significant excerpts from the often neglected and difficult Persius. Second, she chooses passages from less popular satires such as Horace Sermones 2.5 and 2.7 as well as Juvenal 13 and 14. The reason for this lies in Keane's desire to showcase not only the personae the satirists employ 'most frequently and strikingly,' but to provide a multiplicity of perspectives and rhetorical modes (xii). This is a worthy goal, but one that she does not fully achieve given the confines of the series. In these limited excerpts it seems difficult enough to establish what can be considered the dominant Horatian or Juvenalian modes of satire let alone develop a nuanced understanding of the author's various "personalities."

Indeed, Keane admits that there is much that both students and instructors must bring in order to more fully appreciate the text. In her introduction she recommends that "students using this volume will benefit by familiarizing themselves with some issues in satiric scholarship and discussing the individual selections in these terms" (ix). For this purpose she provides a limited and current bibliography on the genre, but in some ways this focus on generic investigation exists in tension with her desire for the genre to be read as a "window into Roman culture" (ix) and as a response to political, military, and cultural growth. Keane appropriately qualifies this notion of satire as a transparent view of Roman society well enough, but this view may be difficult to overcome. Nevertheless Keane fully intends this book to be used as a comparandum with other sources on Roman culture and not as unbiased evidence of Roman society. How successfully the snippets of Satire can be employed in a discriminating investigation into the reality of ancient Rome without an understanding of the subtleties of the genre is difficult to judge, but it is perhaps too much to ask of this libellus. Still, while the role of this volume is less clearly defined than others in the series, instructors will certainly be glad to have a collection of excerpts that are extremely adaptable to a wide variety of courses.

Keane selects fragments from Lucilius on a range of topics, including his famous description of political and social competition in Rome (frr. 1145-51) and his definition of virtue (frr. 1196-1208). Although in her introduction Keane emphasizes Lucilius' engagement with contemporary politics (xiii-xiv) there are unfortunately no fragments involving contemporary political figures. This is surely due to the brevity of these fragments, but nevertheless in this respect the description from the introduction does not fully correspond to the selected texts. From Horace's first book of satires she includes a sampling of the diatribe satires (1.1.41-79) and important programmatic lines from Sermo 1.4, but the absence of Maecenas is noticeable. From his second book a brief passage on legacy hunting from the speech of Tiresias in 2.5 and an extended selection of Davus' philosophical diatribe from 2.7 give the reader a sense of Horace's range in these compositions. From Persius we see a similar thematic pattern in the passages: the beginning and end of the programmatic first Satire, two passages from the second satire concerning moral hypocrisy, and the description of Persius' philosophical underpinning and debt to Cornutus from the fifth Satire. The first three of the Juvenalian passages are well known and indicative of his indignatio: the urban vices that inspire his farrago, a portion of Umbricius' description of Rome, and a taste of misogyny from the sixth satire. From there Keane offers some selections increasingly less known to contemporary readers but thematically connected with others in the volume: an indictment of contemporary performances, an ironically charged depiction of the golden age, and a lengthy passage on parental hypocrisy from the rarely encountered fourteenth satire.

There are occasional innocuous typos (e.g. the odd single spaced verses on page 3, mire for mirae on page 55), but others, such as the feminine form terriculas being listed only as neuter in the glossary, could be perplexing. The grammatical assistance offered by the notes is quite helpful with such difficult texts, but at times uneven. For example, Keane identifies facimus in Persius 1.10 as a verb in an indirect question, but does not note the poetic use of the indicative, a possible source of confusion for undergraduates expecting to see the subjunctive. Earlier, however, she notes that credunt (Luc. fr. 526) introduces an indirect statement. Moreover, some notes seem compressed to the point of potential confusion. For example, the note on veto . . . oletum (p. 55) seems to try to accomplish too much as it touches on the metaphorical, grammatical, cultural, and etymological in a five line explanation. All of these, however, are minor issues with a commentary that will add welcome depth to the syllabi of numerous courses and spotlight the scope of Roman Satire's multiple generic and cultural points of contact.

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