II. JUVENAL

Unfortunately, Juvenal corroborates Tacitus. What the one writes in mordant prose about princes and senators, the other chants in bitter verse about women and men.

Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, son of a rich freedman, was born at Aquinum in Latium (59). He came to Rome for his education and practiced law there “for his own amusement.” His satires betray the shock of rural tastes struck by the loose turmoil of city life; yet he appears to have been friends with Martial, whose epigrams show no prejudice in favor of morality. Shortly before Domitian’s death, says an uncertain tradition, Juvenal composed, and circulated among his friends, a satire on the influence of dancers at court; the pantomime actor Paris, we are told, took offense and had him exiled to Egypt. We cannot say if the story is true, nor when Juvenal returned; in any case he published nothing till after Domitian’s death. The first volume of his sixteen satires appeared in 101, the remainder in four volumes at intervals in a long life. Probably they were unforgiving memories of Domitian’s time; but the indignation that makes them so vivid and unreliable suggests that a few years of “the good emperors” had not cured the evils he denounced. Perhaps, again, he chose the satire as a characteristic Roman form, found models and some material in Lucilius, Horace, and Persius, and molded his fulminations and his wrath on the rhetorical principles that he had learned in the schools. We shall never know how darkly our picture of imperial Rome has been colored by the pleasures of denunciation. Juvenal takes everything for his subject, and has no trouble in finding in everything some aspect that can bear condemning. “We are arrived at the zenith of vice,” he thinks, “and posterity will never be able to surpass us”; so far, so true. The root of the evil is the unscrupulous pursuit of wealth. He scorns the plebs that once ruled armies and unmade kings but can now be bought with panem et circenses, bread and circuses; this is one of a hundred phrases to which Juvenal’s vitality gave lasting life. He resents the influx of Oriental faces, dress, ways, smells, and gods; protests against the clannishness of the Jew, and likes least of all the “greedy little Greek” ( Graeculus esuriens )- the degenerate descendant of a people once great but never honest. He loathes the informers who, like Pliny’s Regulus, get rich by reporting “unpatriotic” remarks; the legacy hunters who flutter around childless old men; the proconsul living in lifelong luxury on the profits of a term in the provinces; the clever lawyers who spin out lawsuits like an excreted web. He is disgusted above all by sexual excesses and perversions: by the roue who on marrying finds that his lechery has left him impotent; by the dandies whose manners, perfumes, and desires make them indistinguishable from women; and by the women who think that emancipation means that they should be indistinguishable from men.

His sixth and bitterest satire is devoted to the gentler sex. Postumus is thinking of marriage; don’t do it, Juvenal warns him; and then the poet portrays the women of Rome as selfish, shrewish, superstitious, extravagant, quarrelsome, haughty, vain, litigious, adulterous, equaling every marriage with a divorce, substituting lapdogs for children, going in for athletics, worse yet for literature, quoting Virgil at you, spouting rhetoric and philosophy- “oh, may the gods save us from a learned wife!” He concludes that there is hardly a woman in the city worth marrying. A good wife is a rare bird ( rara avis ), stranger than a white crow. He marvels that Postumus should think of marriage when “there are so many halters to be had, so many high and dizzy windows are accessible, and the Aemilian Bridge is close at hand.” No; stay single. And get out of this nerve-wearying bedlam called Rome and live in some quiet Italian town where you will meet honest men and be safe from criminals, poets, collapsing tenements, and Greeks. Put ambition behind you; the goal is not worth the striving, so long is labor and so brief is fame. Live simply, cultivate your garden, desire only so much as hunger and thirst, cold and heat demand; learn pity, be kind to children, keep a sane mind in a healthy body ( mens sana in corpore sano ). But only a fool will pray for a long life.