Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.08.29

Christine Schmitz, Das Satirische in Juvenals Satiren.   Berlin:  de Gruyter, 2000.  Pp. 305.  ISBN 3-11-016925-8.  168 DM.  

Reviewed by Victoria Baines, University of Nottingham, UK (
Word count: 2256 words

This work, based on a Habilitationschrift, seeks through detailed consideration of a number of effects employed in the Satires to determine modes of Juvenalian satiric expression. After an introduction in which S. seeks to define satire in terms not of its purpose but of its technique, the work splits into four sections: the satiric presentation of "real life"; the stylistic basis for satiric speech and representation; categories of the satiric; the satiric contact with literary and mythological models. After a brief conclusion reviewing these sections, the work closes with an appendix on Willis' 1997 Teubner edition of the Satires, the most radical modern revision of the text.1 Throughout her discussion S. focuses on specific analysis of satiric mechanisms, which she sees as fundamental to the understanding of Juvenalian satire. As a result, the book is essentially a systematic analysis of examples drawn from a range of satires and discussed individually. It is useful more as a reference work than as a cover-to-cover read, a research tool which, by design or otherwise, allows the reader to dip into the work for examples of specific effects.

Two very pertinent concepts are put forward: the first is distortion (Verzerrung), central to S.'s assessment of Juvenal's satiric practice. Within this category lies the reduction of a man to one part of his body (so Priam's miserabile collum at 10.269), the personification of the material world (especially in Juvenal's fifth satire) and exaggeration. S's investigation of these three, however, is somewhat limited: the technique of exaggeration, a distinctive component of Juvenal's satire, merits three pages, and there is no attempt to look beyond the handful of examples cited to consider the effect of exaggeration on the tone of a whole satire or the contribution of (for instance) the rhetorical practice of amplificatio to this technique.

S. emphasises also the process of exposure (Blossstellung), achieved by highlighting the gap between appearance and reality (Schein und Sein). This process plays a fundamental part in much of Roman verse satire. It reasonably prompts discussion of the ritual function which satire entails and the predilection of Juvenal's speakers for anger at hypocrisy and concealment. In S.'s assessment, however, there is no concerted attempt to address these questions. The helpful notion of Schein und Sein appears in the book passim and enters the reader's consciousness through osmosis rather than argument. For example, in considering Laronia's accusation at 2.78, Cretice, perluces, S. deems it sufficient to identify that perluces works on two levels in so far as the effeminate Creticus both wears a see-through garment and adopts the moral high ground unconvincingly. At this point one would expect S. to refer to her definition of satire in the preliminary section of the book. In fact she never makes a concerted attempt to integrate it into the rest of the work. This is especially regrettable with regard to the discussion of exposure: by applying her findings from the first section to more detailed examination of the text she could have considered the place of exposure in a definition of satire. As it is, her discussion operates almost exclusively at the level of the individual passage considered in isolation.

In the last section of the book S. considers Juvenal's treatment of established literary models. At 180ff. she discusses the place of parody: for this she turns to Freund's (1981) definition of "instrumental parody", a use of quotation and allusion which does not work against a literary model but casts it as a structural foil.2 S. applies this definition to Juvenalian satire with a view to explaining his particular appropriation of elevated material. So at 182 S. shows how the allusion at 5.138-9 - tibi paruulus aula / luserit Aeneas - to Dido's wish at Aeneid 4.327-30 for a son by Aeneas serves not to discredit the epic model but to point up the difference between elevated sentiment and seedy reality. Juvenal's use of such material is often misunderstood, certainly oversimplified, in an attempt to fit his work into a tradition which focuses on Horace's and Persius' rejection of epic poetry. S.'s more complex notion of the Juvenalian use of elevated material is developed fairly extensively. There is, however, as elsewhere in the book, little consideration of the effect of this definition on Juvenal's work as a whole and there are several glaring omissions, e.g. the question of parody of Statius' De Bello Germanico in Satire 4 and significant reminiscences of Lucan's Pharsalia in 15. And whilst S. acknowledges in her introduction that her work is by no means exhaustive, these omissions perhaps betray a certain narrowness of scope.

The application to Juvenalian satire of Freund's definition of "instrumental parody" is ultimately helpful: however, its identification of a literary model as a foil to reality leads S. to view the process of epic reference chiefly as unidirectional. She emphasises the degradation of epic/mythical content, but on the whole does not consider that allusion to such models can at the same time serve to elevate satiric reality to the heroic level. She does not take into account Juvenal's description of his predecessor Lucilius as a Homeric warrior (1.20, 1.165ff.), a portrayal which suggests that the satirist sees himself as embarking on an epic mission. Juvenal's description in the third satire of the dangers of Rome for the poor client is the one exception to S.'s assessment: she acknowledges that he equates these with heroic combat (220). This suggests that the relationship between Juvenal's satire and epic is more complex than much of her discussion implies. A wider-ranging treatment of the topic might have helped to define that complexity further.

S. considers perspective as an agent of the satiric and thus identifies changes in speaker as such. So, in her treatment of the third satire she shows how the satirist distances himself from Umbricius by having him make the futile choice to move from the Graeca urbs which is Rome to the Greek colony of Cumae (62). Emphasis on perspective throws light on the tendency of scholars to view Juvenal's characters as thinly-veiled presentations of the satirist's own views, an assumption which has prompted the question whether we are to refer to the "satirist" or the "satiric speaker". S.'s approach encourages the reader to view Juvenalian satire as a theatrical production (cf. Henderson's (1995) argument for the "performativity" of Juvenalian satire 3) and Juvenal himself as writer-director-actor rather than as a simple protagonist. She identifies points at which the reader is encouraged to view a satire as a spectaculum, e.g. the command at the beginning of the fourth satire, Ecce iterum Crispinus, and the fall of Sejanus spectandus at 10.56ff. As with the concepts of distortion and exposure, this is a step in the right direction which could have been developed more systematically, and will, I hope, provoke debate elsewhere.

The sense of the book as an assemblage of discreet discussions is reinforced by aspects of its organisation: when a phrase appears in two or more different categories basic background information is repeated each time, giving the reader the (mistaken) impression that the work deals with only a handful of passages which for one reason or another are attractive to the author. Scenes frequently revisited include 6.490-93 (in which a moody matrona tears out the hair of her coiffeuse) which S. uses--in three different sections--to show the satiric effect of a single word (i.e. play on crinem/crimen), the use of diminutives (capillis--mamillis) and a response to an Ovidian model respectively; so too the accusation of the effeminate Creticus perluces at 2.78 features in separate (surely related?) discussions of incongruity and the treatment of literary and mythological models. The choice of the name Ucalegon, a character mentioned in Aeneas' recollections of the destruction of Troy at Aeneid 2.310-12, for a victim of a house fire at Rome is examined in separate sections discussing both satire's contact with the literary tradition and its parasitic transformation of traditional elements.

The duplication of references to certain episodes is exacerbated by a lack of clarity in the division between mythical and epic models, which leads to S. treating some scenes as examples of both. So the Achilles-thug's delivery of the question "unde uenis?" to the unfortunate passer by at 3.292 is listed not only as an example of the distortion of an epic model (169-208) and of the parasitic transformation of traditional elements of other genres (208-238) but also of the distorting representation of mythical heroes (239-277) (in three different sections); and the allusion at 6.172 to Ovid's (via Seneca's) representation of the Niobe myth is separated from discussion of the myth itself. One could argue quite convincingly that this clear-cut distinction between epic and myth is misplaced, since myth for Juvenal is essentially literary and predominantly epic or tragic. It is certainly confusing: to some extent this approach reduces Juvenalian satire to a mere collection of phrases, discouraging the reader from considering the poems as coherent presentations. A feeling of disorientation results also from the insertion of essays on individual satires. Only three satires are covered--2 (128-137), 5 (269-277) and 9 (262-269)--and although these pieces appear to deal with more general topics than the rest of the work, they still have a very narrow focus. So, the piece on the theme of the second satire is an attempt rather to explain the place in the satire of the scene in which Gracchus engages in gladiatorial combat (2.143-148). Moreover, influential work on the subject is ignored--her argument is similar to Konstan's (1993)4 that Gracchus' appearance in the arena symbolises inferiority and subordination, but she does not appear to be aware of this. More generally the bibliography is heavily weighted towards Germanic scholarship, notably in the section on parody and intertextuality, in which Anglo-American work is entirely neglected (for this see; in the listing for secondary literature there are some glaring omissions--John Henderson, for example, does not feature at all.

Elsewhere within the work there are problems of categorisation. This is particularly evident in the section on the satiric function of diminutives. Terms denoting meanness (e.g. patella at 5.85) are placed in a category for modest means and an atmosphere of cosiness, whilst ostensibly similar usages (e.g. the characterisation at 5.105 of the Tiber bass served to the poor client as uernula) are listed under a different heading of derogatory effect. In order for this category to be defined sufficiently the target of the derogatory sentiment needs to be identified. S. does not ask this question, an omission which leads to confusion. So when she discusses catella at 6.654, the diminutive denoting a woman's love for her lapdog, she draws attention to the contrast between the treatment of puppy and husband but does not make clear exactly how catella (as opposed to the act of comparison) is derogatory. The diminutive surely denotes endearment for the puppy--whilst the context is derogatory, the diminutive itself does not have derogatory force. Hence this entry is no different from those included in the preceding category of diminutives expressing emotional nuance, amongst them Sergiolus and ocelli to denote the passion of a matrona for a retired and disfigured gladiator, the ocellos of Cynthia at 6.8 reminiscent of the opening of the first book of Propertius, and the aforementioned paruulus...Aeneas at 5.138f.

S.'s examination of individual satiric effects achieved in Juvenal's text by as little as a single word necessarily gives her work a narrow focus. This is not balanced, however, by any attempt to look beyond the detailed or to set the effects within the context of Juvenal's work as a whole, or of a Roman satiric tradition. The latter is most noticeable: very little mention is made of Juvenal's place in a satiric heritage (a glance at the index reveals reference to only nine passages in Horace's Sermones and three of Persius; Lucilius--surprisingly for a study of Juvenal--does not appear at all). So, to come back to the fundamental concept of distortion, there is no reference to obvious parallels in earlier satirists of the reduction of a man to a body part. Yet Persius' brief work, for instance, abounds in such imagery (e.g. the personification of uenter at line 11 of the Prologus; a proliferation of body parts in the first satire, including an unruly spleen, an orgasmic eye, a critical finger-nail, a grey head and a paternal testicle; purpureas ceruices at 3.41 to describe men under the sword of Damocles; patricia uolua for a well-born female). Similarly there is no comparison to the issue of exposure in Lucilius, Horace (notably the exposure of Horace by Dauus in 2.7 as unable to practise what he preaches on a suitable choice of woman) or Persius (e.g. his revelation in his second satire of the hypocrisy of prayers--a predecessor of Juvenal's tenth).

On the whole S. deems it sufficient to identify an effect rather than interpreting it within its wider context: rarely does the reader feel that (s)he has been offered a coherent account of a satire. There is, however, a positive consequence of her attention to detail insofar as it allows the reader to see that Juvenal's satiric techniques persist throughout the corpus. S. does not herself draw this to the reader's attention. Hence it would be profitable to investigate further how far her evidence can be used to argue for continuity in Juvenal's satiric approach. At the same time setting Juvenal's techniques against the backdrop of those of his satiric predecessors will also help to determine how far these concepts and the forms that they take are peculiar to Juvenalian satire.


1.   Willis, J. (1997) D. Iunii Iuuenalis Saturae sedecim, Stuttgart, Leipzig. Willis accepts excisions from as far back as the nineteenth century. In general S makes a sound case for the retention of suspect passages, and throughout her work shows how lines which Willis identifies as spurious can be expressive of the satiric.
2.   Freund, W. (1981) Die Literarische Parodie, Stuttgart.
3.   Henderson, J. (1995) "Pump Up The Volume: Juvenal, Satires 1.1-21, PCPhS 41:101-137.
4.   Konstan, D. (1993) "Sexuality and Power in Juvenal's Second Satire" LCM 18.1:12-14.

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