Juvenal and Roman Culture

Today I read Juvenal’s Satires. It was quite interesting and it had a lot to say about Roman Culture ad what it had become. Overall I found the food entertaining but vulgar at times however that was his style of writing. You can read my Good Reads review when I get around to writing it ^^

Juvenal himself is somewhat a mystery. Little is know about his life and himself in general. What they do know is based off of festivals and such that he mentions in his writing being able to pinpoint him to a point of time. Recently a tombstone was uncovered which had his name on it which would mean that they knew a little more about his history and his lifestyle. What they can conclude from his writings is that he was an old man disgraced or poor who was angry at where the culture had gone.

I think that a reason that I enjoyed this book was that most of what he was saying fits in with today and culture in America today. It certainly leads to some quirky moments in his readings where you are like… wait this is about the Romans! not the US. He writes on a wide array of topics from hypocrites and homosexuals to Egyptian cannibals and women without discretion.

When a barber who scraped my beard in youth has a larger pile of wealth than all of the nobility; when that scum of the Nile, Crispinus, ex-slave from Canopus, around his shoulder flings a cloak of Tyrian cloth and wafts a hot-weather gold ring in the air on his sweating finger, unable to bear thereupon the extra weight of a heavier jewel- when this goes on, It’s hard to keep from writing satire. – Juvenal I

That pretty much sums up his attitude for the next fifteen satires that he is going to write at us. It is an interesting couple of hours to hear about all the wrongs in roman society. He speaks of men who buy slaves to sexual gratification, women who go take up men’s roles, women who do whatever they please, slaves who overcome their masters in wealth, the death of the aristocratic families in society and how there are no more respectable bloodlines. He talks about women who scheme without discretion for the deaths of their husbands for more power.

Now being a student who has watched pretty much any movie about Rome this seems like a pretty valid picture that the movies have drawn out for us. I think that in this case all the scheming and drama is in fact historically correct. Who can forget the evil Livia in I, Claudius or Attia of HBO’s ROME with their shameless scheming to kill of emperor after emperor or her newest lover. I would be tempted to say that no none of that happened as Romans were noble beings and would not sink to that level. Then you remember that the Romans did some pretty bad stuff and Juvenal only underlines that culture of evil precedents in his satires.

It is a shame that I could not find the book in its original Latin as I would have liked but unfortunately no books in Latin here. Next book I am reading is Aristophranes Four Comedies. Woohoo 🙂


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