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Juvenal

Juvenal Juvenal[5†]

Juvenal, born as Decimus Junius Juvenalis (55–60? CE, Aquinum, Italy—died probably in or after 127), is recognized as one of the most powerful Roman satiric poets[1†][2†]. Many of his phrases and epigrams have entered common parlance, such as “bread and circuses” and “Who will guard the guards themselves?”[1†].

Early Years and Education

Decimus Junius Juvenalis, known as Juvenal, was born around 55 CE in Aquinum (modern Aquino), Italy[4†][2†]. He was born into a well-to-do family and was probably the biological or adopted son of a rich freedman[4†][2†].

While the details of his early education are not well-documented, some sources suggest that he was likely trained under the prominent educator and rhetorician Quintilian[4†]. This education would have provided him with a strong foundation in literature and rhetoric, skills that would later be evident in his satirical writings.

Juvenal’s career began in the military, where he served as an officer during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 CE)[4†][2†]. Despite his aspirations for a high-profile administrative career, Juvenal was unable to secure the desired promotions[4†][2†]. This failure, coupled with his belief that court favors were necessary for advancement, led to his writing a satirical poem that criticized the successful officers[4†]. This act resulted in his banishment from the kingdom[4†].

After the assassination of Domitian in 96 AD, Juvenal was able to return to Rome[4†]. However, his return was marked by poverty and he had to rely on the charity of rich citizens[4†]. Over time, his situation improved, and he was even able to acquire some property, a farm at Tibur (now Tivoli)[4†]. Despite these improvements, his early experiences had a profound impact on his writings, which often reflected his resentment towards the societal structures of Rome[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Juvenal’s career began in the military, where he served as an officer during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian (r. 81-96 CE)[4†]. Despite his aspirations for a high-profile administrative career, Juvenal was unable to secure the desired promotions[4†][1†][4†]. This failure, coupled with his belief that court favors were necessary for advancement, led to his writing a satirical poem that criticized the successful officers[4†][1†]. This act resulted in his banishment from the kingdom[4†][1†].

After the assassination of Domitian in 96 AD, Juvenal was able to return to Rome[4†][1†]. However, his return was marked by poverty and he had to rely on the charity of rich citizens[4†][1†]. Over time, his situation improved, and he was even able to acquire some property, a farm at Tibur (now Tivoli)[4†][1†]. Despite these improvements, his early experiences had a profound impact on his writings, which often reflected his resentment towards the societal structures of Rome[4†].

Juvenal is best remembered as the author of a collection of satirical poems known as the Satires, an acerbic critique of Pagan Rome composed between the late first and early second century AD[4†]. His poems were in accordance with the writing style of Lucilius, often considered the originator of the genre of Roman satire[4†]. Juvenal wrote in dactylic hexameter; his works are refined and clearly structured[4†].

Juvenal’s 16 satiric poems deal mainly with life in Rome under the much-dreaded emperor Domitian and his more humane successors Nerva (96–98), Trajan (98–117), and Hadrian (117–138)[4†][1†]. They were published at intervals in five separate books[4†][1†]. Book One, containing Satires 1–5, views in retrospect the horrors of Domitian’s tyrannical reign and was issued between 100 and 110[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Juvenal’s body of work is primarily composed of 16 satirical poems, which were published in five separate books[1†][5†]. These poems provide a vivid depiction of life in Rome under various emperors, including the much-dreaded Domitian and his more humane successors Nerva, Trajan, and Hadrian[1†].

The satires targeted a wide range of topics prevalent in Roman society. From the decadent aristocrats to Egyptian cannibals, no subject was off-limits for Juvenal[1†][6†]. His biting commentary and rhetorical denunciations of Roman society were presented in a series of vivid pictures of Roman life[1†][7†], inspiring all later satirists[1†][7†].

Here are some of his main works:

Each of these works provides a unique lens into Roman society, capturing its follies, vices, and virtues with equal measure. Juvenal’s satires remain a vital source for the study of ancient Rome, despite their comic mode of expression making it problematic to accept the content as strictly factual[5†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Juvenal, known for his satirical poems, has been hailed as “the greatest satiric poet who ever lived” by humanities instructor Gilbert Highet[8†]. His work was largely ignored during his time, with only Martial referring to him among his contemporaries[8†]. However, his strictures on pagan Rome were appreciated by Christian writers, who found them congenial[8†].

Juvenal’s work began to be appreciated by non-Christian authors about 250 years after his death[8†]. Ammianus Marcellinus claimed that among aristocrats of the late fourth century, Juvenal and the third-century biographer Marius Maximus were the only two authors read[8†]. The Egyptian satirist Claudian wrote two satires in imitation of Juvenal[8†].

Juvenal’s popularity increased during the Middle Ages[8†]. In medieval florilegia (collections of excerpts), Juvenal was cited more often than any other classical writer[8†]. The first printed edition of Juvenal appeared about 1470 in Rome[8†]. By 1501, some seventy editions of the satirist’s works had been printed in Italy alone, exceeding the number of editions of the works of any other classical author except for Cicero, Vergil, and Ovid[8†].

Juvenal’s satires are a vital source for the study of ancient Rome, although their comic mode of expression makes it problematic to accept the content as strictly factual[8†][5†]. At first glance, the Satires could be read as a critique of Rome[8†][5†]. That critique may have ensured their preservation by the Christian monastic scriptoria, although the majority of ancient texts did not survive[5†].

Personal Life

Details about Juvenal’s personal life are sparse and often speculative[1†][5†]. He is believed to have been born into a prosperous family[1†][9†][4†] and to have served in the military[1†][9†]. After his military service, he began a career in the Roman civil service under Emperor Domitian, but he failed to gain promotion[1†][9†]. This failure led him to write a satire declaring that court favorites had undue influence in the promotion of officers, which resulted in his banishment[1†]. His property was confiscated, and he was possibly sent to the remote frontier town of Syene, now Aswān, in Egypt[1†].

After the assassination of Domitian in 96 CE, Juvenal returned to Rome[1†]. However, without money or a career, he was reduced to living as a “client” on the grudging charity of the rich[1†]. After some years, his situation improved, and autobiographical remarks in Satire 11 show him, now elderly, living in modest comfort in Rome and possessing a farm at Tibur (now Tivoli) with servants and livestock[1†].

Despite the hardships he faced, Juvenal’s later satires show a marked change of tone and some touches of human kindness, suggesting that he found some consolation in his later years[1†]. He is believed to have died in or after 127[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Juvenal’s legacy as a satirist is significant, and his impact on literature is evident even today[2†][1†]. He was the first author to devote himself entirely to satire[2†]. His satires are filled with both hatred and anger: hatred for the old aristocrats who controlled the city and anger at how the impoverished were treated[2†]. His outbursts towards the corruption he saw prevalent in Roman society and human cruelty are major themes throughout his satires[2†]. Rome, in Juvenal’s eyes, was inhabited by degenerates and its virtue had all but perished[2†].

Many of his phrases and epigrams have entered common parlance—for example, “bread and circuses” and “Who will guard the guards themselves?”[2†][1†]. These phrases continue to be used in modern discourse, demonstrating the enduring relevance of his work[2†][1†].

Despite the hardships he faced, Juvenal’s later satires show a marked change of tone and some touches of human kindness, suggesting that he found some consolation at last[2†][1†]. This shift in tone may reflect his personal growth and evolving perspective on the society he critiqued[2†][1†].

Juvenal was fated to be remembered mainly for his beginning, and in a retrospective framework[2†][10†]. This concluding chapter shifts our perspective on the poet, illustrating how he was fully engaged with the life of the imperial capital and outlining his relationships with his predecessor Martial and his successors, specifically Horace[10†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Juvenal: Roman poet [website] - link
  2. World History - Juvenal [website] - link
  3. Britannica - Juvenal summary [website] - link
  4. The Famous People - Juvenal Biography – Facts, Childhood, Family Life, Career [website] - link
  5. Wikipedia (English) - Juvenal [website] - link
  6. The Conversation - Guide to the Classics: Juvenal, the true satirist of Rome [website] - link
  7. Encyclopedia.com - Juvenal [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Juvenal Analysis [website] - link
  9. PBS - The Roman Empire: in the First Century. The Roman Empire. Writers. Juvenal [website] - link
  10. Oxford Academic - Juvenal and the Satiric Emotions - Conclusion [website] - link
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