Decimus Junius Juvenalis, known today as Juvenal, is commonly regarded as the last and most powerful Roman satirist. Exact details about his personal life are sketchy at best, but it is known that his life spanned the late first and early second century AD (he even appears to be addressed by his contemporary Martial in a few of his epigrams). In total Juvenal’s Satires embodies a collection of 16 poems written in dactylic hexameter, with the poet’s tone varying from savage indignation from his earlier work towards a more reflective (some read older and more bitter) attitude by the collection’s end.
His subject matter is rich and varied, aimed at taking a sideways look at his contemporary society and demolishing its contradictions, conceits, and customs from within. Strongly reliant on the satiric tradition first established by Lucilius in the second century BC (and then continued by Horace in the Augustan period and Persius in the Neronian age), Juvenal nevertheless offers an extremely unique (if at times heavily caricatured) view of the social life in ancient Rome. Juvenal’s version of the Eternal City is awash with delinquents, immoral Latins, effeminate Greeks, homosexuals, Jews, lewd women, ill-mannered patrons with their cowardly clients, political informants, and other groups whom the poet judges undesirable, but never fear – the satirist is ready and willing to lead you by the hand through the hustle and bustle with a snide remark at every turn.
Sam Hayes, PhD student at Exeter university
Satire I. 1-36| Juvenal Strikes Back – reasons for writing satire
Contributed by Sam Hayes