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Mask or mirror? : a study of Juvenal's Satires as a reflection of authorial personality and perspective.

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This study aims to present Juvenal's Satires as a whole as the fundamentally coherent and plausible product of the author's own personality, convictions and circumstanceswhere the latter may be reasonably inferred. It therefore questions the view that the dichotomy which the persona theory creates between the author and his notional 'speaker' provides the basis for a better insight into Juvenal's Satires. There is no compelling reason to reject the impression that in his earlier Books Juvenal was genuinely writing from the standpoint of a disaffected client; and an examination of the Epigrams of Juvenal's contemporary, Martial, suggests that complaints of paupertas should not be dismissed as a merely conventional literary facade. Juvenal's own resentment as a neglected dependant and his contempt for the corrupt Roman elite give the first three Books their basic coherence. However, while Satires 7, 8 and 9 are not characterised to the same extent by the strident invective which is the hallmark of the earlier poems, the notion that the image of the 'indignant' satirist is deliberately abandoned, albeit tentatively, after Book 2 is less convincing , if one gives due weight to the types of themes treated in the third Book and to the nature of the satirical vehicle used in each instance. Juvenal's empathy with the plight of the neglected intellectuals in Satire 7 and his condemnation of the effete and corrupt elite in Satires 8 and 9 are clear and forthright: the shift in satirical technique away from aggressive invective towards a more analytical treatment of the themes in Satires 7 and 8, as indeed befits the subject matter, and towards wryly ironic 'humour in the sordid dialogue with Naevolus in Satire 9 are not to be interpreted as the manifestation of a refashioned authorial persona. The importance of theme as a major determinant of the satirical method or technique employed is equally evident in the fourth Book. Here, the themes lend themselves, in general, to a more consistently didactic approach, reminiscent of Horace's Sermones. From the outset of Book 1, Juvenal focuses perSistently on avaritia, in all its manifestations, as a root cause of the malaise in Roman society; and this vice continues to playa dominant role in Book 3 (particularly in Satires 7 and 9). Not only does avaritia come under further attack in Satires 11 , 12 and 13, but the prominence given to it in Satire 14 provides cogent evidence of the extent to which the satirist is preoccupied with this most pernicious of social evils. These poems also illustrate the fact that, even when Juvenal adopts a more didactic or reflective approach, his urge towards acerbic satire is far from suppressed; and, as in the cases of Satires 7 and 8, he shows his predilection for using ostensibly positive themes as platforms for attacks on vice and depravity. Similarly. when other themes congenial to his prejudices and convictions present themselves - such as an appalling act of barbarism perpetrated by the Egyptians - that urge can readily find expression through the poet's innate propensity towards ira and indignatio. Furthermore, Books 4 and 5 provide ample evidence of the very qualities which characterize the so-called 'angry' satirist of the first two Books: vigorous and persistent denunciation of contemporary greed and other vices, strong moral convictions, brooding pessimism and cynicism and , not least, an acerbic wit and a genius for crafting powerfully evocative images. The evidence is tenuous, but sufficient to suggest that the shifts in tone and focus in Books 4 and 5 could also be attributed , in part, to Juvenal's circumstances and state of mind at that time. In Satires 10-14 Juvenal shows a particular interest in the Epicurean virtue of tranquillitas. This is perhaps to be attributed to a realization that angry protests could effect no real changes for the better and that some solace could be derived from a more detached perspective, and to the comforting conviction that ultimately wickedness finds its nemesis in the torture of a guilty conscience. For one steadfastly convinced that he lived in an age of unsurpassed and incorrigible vice, in which the gods were apparently ineffectual, it was probably both satisfying and logical to cultivate such a perspective. One should also not lose sight of the fact that the poet's age could well have contributed to shifts of both attitude and interest. Satire 15 provides strong corroboration of the view that Juvenal's personality and attitudes remain basically consistent and that theme is a major determinant of the satirical manner adopted. The merciless attack on the Egyptians is not to be seen as a consciously contrived return to the 'old style' or, more fancifully, as an exercise in selfii mockery. Rather, it is clear proof that Juvenal has not forsaken his inherently aggressive xenophobia, which was so prominent in Books 1 and 2. Similarly, what remains of Satire 16 suggests the same character traits which are so powerfully conveyed in the first Satire. Thatone can still feel the presence of the bitter and acerbic pessimist of that first Satire is not the effect of calculated mask-changing , but a further indication that the Satires as a whole should be seen as a reflection of the author's own personality and perspective.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1999.


Juvenal. Satirae., Theses--Classics.