Monday, October 21, 2013


Susanna Braund, Josiah Osgood (ed.), A Companion to Persius and Juvenal. Blackwell companions to the ancient world. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Pp. xv, 612. ISBN 9781405199650. $195.00.

Reviewed by Ilaria L.E. Ramelli, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart; Durham University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

This dense volume makes a stimulating contribution to the study of imperial Latin satire. First it concentrates on a historical, literary, and philological contextualisation of Persius and Juvenal (Part I). The book then passes on to single facets of Persius' and Juvenal's poetics (Part II), and finally expands on these two poets' Wirkungsgeschichte, aspects of the history of their reception up to the present (Part III). The most obvious competitors of this endeavour — but with different scope and focus — are the recent works by Dan Hooley on Persius, Juvenal, and Horace.1 Aptly enough, he is also a prominent contributor to the volume under review, providing the first essay of Part III, a competent overview of the afterlives of Persius and Juvenal from late antiquity to the past century. Given the richness of this work, I shall treat four essays from the first Part, four from the second, and one from the third.

Ralph Rosen in "Satire in the Republic" offers an intriguing rereading of some of Horace's satires in the framework of his investigation into the formation of the Roman satiric tradition, while David Armstrong ("Juvenalis Eques") argues forcefully that Juvenal probably was of equestrian status, in a time in which members of this class often had to rely on patronage. Hence, Armstrong suggests, Juvenal's attention to this institution and the cliché of the "poor client" attached to his literary persona. This issue of role-playing in imperial satire will be taken over in Part II by Paul Roche's interesting investigation into "Self-Representation and Performativity." Imperial satirists' self-construction depends on their way of positioning themselves in relation to their literary antecedents.

Barbara Gold in "Juvenal, the Idea of the Book" criticises a reading of Juvenal's five books as marked by breaks: Juvenal intentionally structured Book 1, and the others, as a farrago (Satire 1.86), with variety as organising principle. A similar principle underlies Juvenal's exploration of Roman identities, through a diverse gallery of (often deviant) characters. The final essay of Part I, by Holt Parker on the manuscript tradition of Persius and Juvenal, bears heavily also on the reception of these authors, the theme of Part III, since it points out that, while Persius continued to be read throughout antiquity and later, Juvenal soon fell into oblivion.

The most engaging papers in Part II deal with Persius' and Juvenal's relation to philosophy and politics. Shadi Bartsch in "Persius, Juvenal, and Stoicism" warns that Roman satirists "might echo some of the more common wisdom of the Epicurean and Stoic schools" but "maintained an ironic distance from doctrinal niceties and those who preached them" (217). This is true for Roman satirists in general, though an exception should be made in the case of Persius (and perhaps, later on, Martianus Capella): Persius was proud of presenting himself as a disciple of the Stoic philosopher, and teacher of philosophy, Annaeus Cornutus, who taught the doctrines of Chrysippus and Socrates and received Persius as a disciple in his "Socratic fold" (Socratico, Cornute, sinu, Satire 5.37). Bartsch is certainly right to remark that "in Persius alone among Roman satirists, the Stoic philosopher is not a figure of fun — at least not from the satirist's perspective — but a speaker of wisdom" (218). She briefly provides a list of Stoic doctrines that are obvious in Persius' satires,2 and observes that the form of Stoicism that Persius supports is Roman Stoicism, with scarce interest in logic or physics, but focus on ethics. I note that Persius mentions Chrysippus' sorites as a logical paradox, but with an application to ethics (the insatiability of passions), in the last verse Satire 6, and his library seems to have included Chrysippus' opera omnia (Vita Persii 7).

Persius' aversion for rich food and meat is rightly highlighted on pp. 227-229, where it is also remarked that vegetarianism was a philosophical commonplace already for the Pythagoreans. In this connection, an opposition between body and soul, scarcely grounded from the metaphysical point of view in the Stoic immanentistic system, but nevertheless existent in Roman Stoics such as Persius and Seneca, is rightly noted by Bartsch (232), who remarks upon Persius' use of scelerata pulpa in Satire 2.62-63 to denote human flesh in its relation to vice and its opposition to the divine sphere. She points to a parallel use of σάρξ in Epictetus, and one may also add Marcus Aurelius' negative presentation of the body.

The room devoted to Juvenal in Bartsch's essay is drastically thinner: less than three pages. She is right to remark that, although in Satire 13.120-123 the poet seems to claim that he has not studied the Stoic, Cynic, or Epicurean doctrines, he nevertheless deploys consolatory themes that are shared by Seneca. What is more, albeit not remarked by her, in this same satire Juvenal explicitly appropriates the doctrines of Chrysippus and Socrates and opposes them to the ignorance of those enslaved to passions, claiming that philosophy liberates people from vices. One could note that not only Satire 13, but also other satires are replete with Stoic motifs. Indeed the purported ignorance of philosophy might fit well with the "poor client" persona, and attacks on Stoics in the Satires are rather directed against pretended philosophers, as in Satire 2. In some satires, such as Satire 15 (not cited here either), "Zeno's precepts" are overtly praised. I agree, however, that, unlike Persius, "Juvenal does not employ a consistent persona" (235), which makes it difficult to classify him as a Stoic.

Matthew Roller in a fine chapter asks whether the absence of references to contemporary leading figures and governmental institutions in Persius and Juvenal means that they are not "political" at all. I agree with his answer in the negative. Roller highlights how both poets explored the limits and possibilities of satiric free speech. He finds attempts to discover references to the Trajanic-Hadrianic era in Juvenal unpersuasive, among the last being B. Santorelli, Giovenale, Satira IV (Berlin 2012), who points to Trajan. Satire 4 is analysed by Roller on 298-299.

Paul Allen Miller in "Imperial Satire as Saturnalia" associates satiric subversion to the Saturnalia festival, which he reads through Michail Bakhtin's analysis. Unlike Horace's satires on Saturnalian freedom (2.3 and 2.7), imperial satire reflects a distorted reality in which the carnival king is always on the throne. One thinks immediately of Nero and Domitian and how the historical situation shaped satiric irony. Not accidentally, another "Saturnalian" author analysed by Bakhtin, a novelist, is a contemporary of Persius and a victim of Nero: Petronius.

In Part III, Cristiana Sogno deals with the transformations of satire in late antiquity, from the late second to the sixth century CE. While it is generally assumed that Latin hexameter satire died with Juvenal, Sogno shows that in fact Latin hexameter satires were still composed in the fourth and fifth centuries. Moreover, in late antiquity prose satire coexisted with traditional verse satire, and one should note that the prosimetrum of Menippean satire was successfully deployed by Martianus Capella, who programmatically locates his work within Satura's realm (fabellam tibi, quam Satura ... edocuit ... explicabo, Book 1, section 2).3 But the "new satirists" — as Danuta Shanzer puts it4 — were mainly Christians, who appreciated satire not as a literary form, but as a way of moralising. Thus Sogno treats Tertullian, identifying among other things his misogyny and misogamy as a clear heritage from Roman satire. Sogno also touches upon Arnobius, finding clear reminiscences of Persius, and analyses Ammianus Marcellinus, a "pagan" who is deemed to include satire in his history in the form of a criticism of mores, especially in two digressions in which allusions to Juvenal are detected.5 Jerome, with his polemical and often venomous vein, is extensively examined as a repository of satiric passages, in which moral decadence is exposed and vehemently blamed.

In a volume of this kind it is normal that there are a few gaps and that not all contributions are of the same value or equally innovative and compelling. The overall quality of this book, however, is high and its contribution to scholarship fine.


1.   Among others, D. Hooley, Roman Satire (Malden 2007); "Rhetoric and Satire: Horace, Persius, and Juvenal", in A Companion to Roman Rhetoric, eds. W.J. Dominik–J. Hall (Malden 2007), 396-412; "Horace, Juvenal, and Martial", in The Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature, eds. C. Martindale–D. Hopkins, III (Oxford 2012), 217-254.
2.   More detailed treatment of Stoic themes in Persius in I. Ramelli, Stoici romani minori (Milan 2008), 1361-1515, rev. by G. Reydams-Schils, BMCR 2009.10.10.
3.   See I. Ramelli, Marziano Capella, Nozze di Filologia e Mercurio (Milan 2001), rev. by L. Polverini, Aevum 78 (2004) 216-218; ead., Tutti i commenti a Marziano (Milan 2006), rev. by M. Teeuwen, BMCR 2007.09.39, and rev. of L. Cristante–L. Lenaz, Martiani Capellae De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii I-II (Hildesheim 2011): CR 63 (2013) 477-479.
4.   D. Shanzer, "Latin Literature, Christianity, and Obscenity in the Later Roman West", in Medieval Obscenities, ed. N. McDonald, (Woodbridge, UK, 2006), 179-202, esp. 188.
5.   On him it would be worth citing the Philological and Historical Commentary on Ammianus Marcellinus series, by J. den Boeft, J.W. Drijvers, D. den Hengst, H.C. Teitler, Leiden.

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