Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Francesco Bracci, La Satira 11 di Giovenale: Introduzione, Traduzione e Commento. Texte und Kommentare, Band 48. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2014. Pp. v, 230. ISBN 9783110371130. €84.95.

Reviewed by Brian S. Hook, University of North Carolina at Asheville (bshook@unca.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


[The reviewer apologizes for the tardiness of this review.]

As others note,1 commentaries on Juvenal have become a special province of Italian scholars. Several have been produced as doctoral theses by students of the noted scholars Antonio Stramaglia2 and Franco Bellandi, including this commentary by Bracci, who thanks Stramaglia for his help as well as his dissertation director Mario Citroni in his acknowledgements. (Since 2012, four such commentaries have appeared in De Gruyter's series Texte und Kommentare.3) The rewards of such a focus are most apparent in the commentary itself and Bracci's attention to lexical, semantic, grammatical and metrical details, and in his explication of Realien that we encounter in Juvenal.

Bracci also engages interpretive questions about unity, genre and moral seriousness in his introduction (pp. 3-38), and his work is careful and thoughtful if not always persuasive. He explores the relationships that Satire 11 has with Martial, Horace, the genre of dinner invitations, Roman moralism, and with other satires of Juvenal. The first 55 lines of Satire 11 are loosely connected to what follows them, and Bracci reviews and critiques previous approaches before offering his own "middle way" of coherence: "vice is degrading in itself," ruining both rich and poor, causing them to forget human affections and moral and civic qualities. He follows Adamietz in suggesting that the opening lines relate popular criticism but not the poet's: the people fault luxury only if the spendthrift cannot afford it.4 Bracci sees a correction of this criticism, and the interpretive key for whole satire, in lines 176-178: the rich are called "gay and elegant" (hilares nitidique, 178), not prodigal or wicked, when they gamble or commit adultery. Although this occurs near the end, Bracci concludes that Juvenal develops his theme gradually throughout the satire and reveals its unity only at the end. However, Bracci recognizes such apparent disjunctions in other satires, e.g. 4 and 10, between "introductory" sections and what follows, and he observes that "it is necessary to recognize that the clear presence of a structural design is not incompatible with the artificiality of its result" (p. 7).

Bracci surveys three epigrams of Martial (5.78, 10.48 and 11.52) that Juvenal seems to have taken as models for a dinner that is simple rather than poor, whose entertainments are likewise plain and friendly (pp. 9-15). Bracci thinks Juvenal borrows from Martial to compete with and surpass him, specifically in the "greater moral seriousness" of Juvenal's dinner and poem (p. 13). Martial's epigrams contain no criticism of excess, and his emphasis is on good taste, not morality. Bracci agrees with Adamietz that Satire 11 is not an invitation to dinner, even though it shares elements of that subgenre. By adding more moralistic elements, such as the condemnation of excess and the evocation of antique Roman mores, Juvenal "has preferred to allude to the well-known form of the dinner invitation, but creates instead an original form" (pp. 16-17).

Bracci identifies Horace Serm. 2.2 as Juvenal's model for the emphasis on simplicity and moderation and for the attack on luxury, mild by earlier Juvenalian standards, but far from the serenity of Ofellus, Horace's rustic sage. Horace Ep. 1.5 to Torquatus serves as a model for Satire 11's close (vv. 183-208). Bracci sees Horace's central ideas as the "dissatisfaction connected with luxurious dining…and the golden mean" (p. 23), but notes that Juvenal explores these themes only implicitly. However, Horace and Juvenal share a rejection of excess and an exhortation to know oneself, which, for Bracci, certifies Horace as the more important source for Satire 11. The most significant difference is Horace's real interest and "sincere research" in ethical philosophy, compared to its slight presence in Juvenal. Even the admonition to "Know Thyself" in 11.27 is economic rather than philosophical, according to Bracci, and therefore conveys a note of parody. Bracci does not work out the interplay of parody and moral seriousness. If philosophical statements are simply a "pose" and a parody, then we may read the satire as an insincere statement, or more extremely, as the statement of a satirist created by Juvenal to serve as an object of satire. If the philosophical statements are actually those of Juvenal, then we must explain how to identify moral seriousness in the shallow deployment of ethical ideas. Bracci views the "voice" of the satires as that of Juvenal himself, and he regards Juvenal's philosophy as the "virtual absence of any intellectual content…the declamatory manner…draining ideas of their substance" (p. 25, fn. 34). For Bracci, satire 11 does not reveal any true reflection, as we find in Horace Serm. 2.2 and elsewhere, but the "rhetorical nature of the moralistic attitude of the poet" (p. 25). In the longest section of the introduction (pp. 25-31), Bracci locates Juvenal within the tradition of Roman moralism. To my mind, this is his most important contribution and is expressed convincingly. Bracci notes that Juvenal himself recognizes that the early Romans offered as moral exempla were a rhetorical and literary invention, and he uses them in the same way. Bracci cites Juvenal 2.149-158, with its simultaneous evocation and dismissal of the traditional view of the Underworld and Roman Republican heroes, and Juvenal 8 on Roman nobility, as parallels. Bracci proposes that Juvenal's praise in these cases is "simulated" (though he does not clearly articulate what marks it as simulated), and in Satire 11 he cites lines 100-102 as an example: Juvenal praises the early Roman soldier who had no appreciation for Greek art and smashed works of great artists. Bracci proposes that ancient Rome serves Juvenal in Satire 11 as an extreme model counterbalancing the depraved consumption of Juvenal's own society. Bracci interprets Juvenal's own moderation, demonstrated in his meal (11.56-76), as the "middle way" and the true moral core of the satire. That intermediate virtue is represented elsewhere in the satire: while the ancient Roman soldier smashed Greek art and contemporary diners enjoy Spanish dancers, Juvenal's entertainment includes readers of Vergil and Homer (11.179-183). Juvenal offers this moral model implicitly through the ironic and rhetorical detachment with which he praises the ancient Romans, but at the end of the satire he passes from a declamatory mode to a familiar and Horatian one, to mark which of these two moral models truly stands at the heart of the satire. "The Republican heroes complete their function once they have been used to attack the vices of the contemporary rich" (p. 29).

Bracci argues that Juvenal's satire and his use of the Republican past is based on an "artificiality" understood by both author and audience that does not overturn the moral basis of the satire. Bracci views the "artificiality" as Juvenal's use of rhetorical means to give more force to the moral message. Although I generally agree with Bracci here, his position is underargued; the nature and role of Republican exempla, as opposed to more contemporary exempla, in Pliny and Tacitus, for example, could strengthen his claim that Juvenal's audience "can distinguish the authentic message from rhetorical exaggeration and caricature" (p. 30). Bracci diagnoses the problem as ours: we lack familiarity with the conventions that would allow us to distinguish seriousness and play. Regarding the "truthiness" of satirical exaggeration (thank you, Stephen Colbert), that does not seem to be wholly true; we recognize it fairly easily in Petronius and Rabelais and Swift and Twain. The problem, if there is one, seems to lie with Juvenal, requiring interpreters to explain how they identify authenticity and moral seriousness in his satire. Bracci instead posits an "expert reader who is able to pick up" the "topoi like that of the golden age of early Rome and the irony that colors those passages as part of the literary nature of satire…and coexists with the moral nature of satire, which neither Juvenal nor his audience would have regarded with suspicion as a literary artifice" (p. 31). Irony is a default mode in satire, but it is not a simple, single concept, and Bracci does not explain how he understands its function in Juvenal.

On the whole, Bracci's commentary seems to miss an opportunity. Bracci documents and catalogues many very useful thematic and verbal parallels. But we also find an unusually reflective satirical voice—unusual for Juvenal's satires—who invites his companion Persicus to lay aside his cares, forget his business, the noisy games and his adulterous wife, and enjoy a brief respite. Bracci addresses the poetics and rhetoric of the satire but misses the "personal" elements that come as a surprise, the fact that Juvenal "performs not only as the 'I' that delivers satire but as a person with a body, a house, and a fairly ordinary social identity."5 Bracci argues with Ribbeck for excising certain passages as "falsch Juvenal," but without examining why Ribbeck accepted most of the satire as "echt," despite rejecting Juvenal 10 and 12. To be fair, Bracci acknowledges in his introduction that he will not engage the development of the personality or satirical mask of the poet, because he finds his thematic approach, with its subtle cross-references, more justified (p. 31 and note 49). But in certain passages of Satire 11, the "voice" of the satirist is different enough that it really must be noted and not passed over as one interpretive road not taken.

Some similar silences affect the commentary. For example, Bracci notes that the ecphrasis in lines 103-107 is "a passage of the most elevated style of the satire, dense with expressions and images that recall epic poetry"; and he notes that Courtney sees in these lines a "lightly parodic intention." Bracci apparently agrees with Courtney, but without further exploration or explanation. Why this parody here, and what effect does it have? Regarding a single word, Bracci notes simply that the "elevated" adjective Graias, rather than Graecas, at line 100 "has a sarcastic function," and he cites the same three Juvenalian examples that Courtney cites, including Satire 8.226. For the use of Graiae at 8.226, in contrast, Dimatteo provides a concise paragraph about the different adjectives, their uses and tones, which authors use which adjectives, and how Juvenal's uses align with and differ from others; when Dimatteo mentions Juvenal's "ironic attitude," his understanding of the irony is clear.

There are quite a few typographical errors: I counted nearly two dozen, most in the bibliography, but also in the introduction and notes, occurring in Latin, German and English. The commentary is unnecessarily difficult to use. It is divided into tiers of increasing focus. Bracci identifies divisions of the satire in his introduction (lines 1-55, 56-63, 64-76, 77-119, 120-182, 183-208), and each has a short introductory paragraph in the commentary, as do shorter blocks of lines that vary from two to seven lines. But detailed comments on specific words and phrases are not marked by line numbers, so references to other specific lines are difficult to find. This is the only commentary in this series from De Gruyter that does not identify specific lines for each comment.


1.   E.g. Tom Geue on Biagio Santorelli's commentary in Juvenal IV, BMCR 2013.01.41.
2.   Stramaglia also produced a commentary in 2008: Giovenale Satire 1, 7, 12, 16. Storia di un poeta. (Testi e Manuali per L'Insegnamento Universitario del Latino. Nuova Serie 103.) Bologna: Pàtron Editore, 2008.
3.   In addition to this volume: B. Santorelli, Giovenale, Satira IV: introduzione, traduzione e commento. Texte und Kommentare, Bd 40 (2012); B. Santorelli, Giovenale, Satira V: Introduzione, Traduzione E Commento. Texte und Kommentare, Bd 44 (2013); and G. Dimatteo, Giovenale, "Satira" 8: Introduzione, testo, traduzione e commento. Texte und Kommentare, Bd 49 (2014).
4.   Joachim Adamietz, Untersuchungen in Juvenal. Wiesbaden, 1972.
5.   This description comes from Catherine Keane, Juvenal and the Satiric Emotions. Oxford, 2015 (p. 150), which appeared after Bracci's commentary. Bracci's mentor Antonio Stramaglia makes a similar observation for satires 11 and 12: "Per le prima ed unica volta nella sua produzione, il poeta pone adesso sé medesimo al centro del discorso satirico…le satire 11 e 12 esemplificano concretamente tali principi (sc. articulated impersonally in satire 10) attraverso l'esperienza personale del poeta…" (2008, 230).

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