Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.09.19

Yvan Nadeau, A Commentary on the Sixth Satire of Juvenal. Collection Latomus, 329.   Bruxelles:  Éditions Latomus, 2011.  Pp. 472.  ISBN 9782870312704.  €68.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Lindsay C. Watson, University of Sydney (

The present work by Nadeau, his third contribution in eight years to the Collection Latomus series, represents the first sizeable commentary in English on Juvenal Satire 6 since Courtney (1980). It consists of a brief introduction which rails against the opaqueness of apparatus critici and then helpfully surveys various approaches to the issue of the poetic voice in Juvenal, firmly rejecting Iddeng’s recent attempt to overturn the persona-theory. The commentary proper, in running rather than line-by-line format, occupies some 320 pages, followed by a brief conclusion and then Nadeau’s own text, which is notable for the retention of lines such as 65, 138, 188, 460 and 614A-C, generally excised by editors, and the relocation of the larger Oxford fragment to follow 345, as in Braund’s 2004 Loeb, to take the most up-to-date instance. The whole is rounded off by three appendices, the latter two brief, the first of 82 pages, which contribute to the creation of the so-called ‘grand style’ in Juvenal, ‘[which] is always accompanied by irony, bathos, mockery’ (358). The greatest amount of space is devoted to a comprehensive listing of verses featuring what the author styles the VABBA pattern, lines ‘containing one verb (V) and two pairs, AB, AB of noun-adjective’ (ibid.) - and in many instances other words of lesser import, adverbs, conjunctions and prepositions. It is here that the volume’s origin in a PhD thesis most clearly betrays itself. The book as a whole is informed by the proposition that Satire 6 is characterised by a dialogue between two competing voices, that of the straight-man, whom Nadeau titles ‘Junius,’ and ‘a humorist <‘Decimus’>, with a literary penchant and a mastery of language and comic verve’ (315), who constantly undercuts the moralising and angry sermonising of Junius, making the whole into a bravura display of wit and intertextual allusiveness.

Nadeau’s work displays admirable breadth of reading in primary sources. It is written in a highly idiosyncratic fashion (see e.g. 294-5, which are cringe-worthy), but, far more serious, it is open to criticism on interpretational and, above all, methodological grounds. I take these in reverse order. In the first place, Nadeau does not seem to have thought through his target audience. He protests that a textual apparatus will be incomprehensible to ‘a first year undergraduate, fresh from Portobello Comprehensive’ (p.7), while a good deal of the stylistic analysis is so rudimentary (e.g. pp. 101 and 181) as equally to suggest an undergraduate readership. But, at the same time, the commentary is so replete with quotations in extenso of real or imagined parallels in frequently difficult texts —I estimate that these amount to a quarter or more of the whole—that it would be a truly forbidding read for all but the most advanced undergraduate.

This brings me to my second point. The commentary is astonishingly diffuse. Nadeau is not one to restrict himself to a single parallel when a multiplicity will suffice. For instance, on pp. 25-7 no fewer than 7 separate texts and 45 lines of Latin are quoted in order to make a perfectly obvious point about the centrality of the focus and lares to the Italian household. Pp. 126-7 see 10 passages cited to establish secreta 190 as sexually suggestive. At 263 almost a whole page of Gellius is reproduced to offer a parallel for the antiquarian female of 451- 6 who ambushes her husband with a display of literary and grammatical pedantry. Irritatingly too, the same passages are often quoted more than once, instead of being cross-referenced.

Third, notwithstanding its prolixity, the commentary is remarkably selective. The reader will, for example, search in vain for any discussion of the very difficult 159 obseruant ubi festa mero pede sabbata reges. Eight passages of the Digest are quoted to validate a secondary, punning meaning of affectus 214, viz. ‘will’ or ‘intention’ in the juristic sense, but there is no discussion of Juvenal’s fudging and misrepresentation of the legal situation in the immediately following 216-18. The description of the half-covering for the gladiatrix’s left leg (crurisque sinistri/ dimidium tegimen 256-7) is dismissed as a comic touch, whereas in fact it is a very precise description, supported by iconographic evidence, of the armament of the murmillo, and hence indicative of the woman’s transgressive determination to approximate as closely as possible to her male counterpart. Above all, Nadeau’s stratagem for reading Juvenal is to approach him almost solely through the lens of intertextuality. There is almost no recognition of the explosion of works on social history which have transformed Classical studies in the last forty years. To exemplify from the related fields of sexuality and magic – since Nadeau is particularly interested in teasing out Juvenalian obscenity – virtually no account is taken of the outpouring of work during that period on the pantomime, the social history of prostitution, contraception and abortion, erotic spells and the indispensable contributions of Köhne and Ewigleben and Kathleen Coleman on gladiators, all of which could and should inform discussion respectively of 63-6 and O 25-6; the Messalina-scene 114-32 as well as 320-6; 592-601; 610-26 and 133-5 (rightly identified by Nadeau as relating to love-charms); and the Eppia-episode (82-113) and 247-67.

Now to matters of individual interpretation. Although he does not spell this out as a guiding principle, Nadeau sets out consciously to challenge or amplify prevailing readings (a good example of this is his emendation of auro 205 to aere in the light of the of the marriage formula per aes et libram, notwithstanding the fact that Trajanic aurei survive which bear the precise inscription to which Juvenal there refers). Sometimes, however, he hits the mark. On glandem ructante marito 10 he notes that ructare is associated with the consumption of luxury substances, so that ‘primitive man is here portrayed as having just completed to satiety a fine meal of ... acorns’. The interpretation of damnante Canopo at the opening of the Eppia-episode, standardly analysed as a sordid reconstitution of the Paris-Helen myth, is enriched by the observation that in Hdt. 2. 113ff., after Paris and Helen have been driven by a storm to the Canopic mouth, Paris is severely criticised by Proteus for his immorality in seducing Helen and carrying her off from her marital home. On 161-83 Nadeau notes that the elder Tiberius Gracchus in effect sacrificed his life for his wife Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, whereas his alter ego, Amphion, is only too eager to be rid of Cornelia’s mythical comparand Niobe. Pp. 189-90 constructively highlight the difficulties commentators have felt over posita in 320. On 342-5, where Juvenal alleges that Clodius’ desecration of the Bona Dea rite in 62BC was the exception rather than, as in his day, the rule, Nadeau appositely quotes Seneca’s counter-claim (Ep. 97. 1-2) that no era was more sinful than that of Cato and Clodius. P. 226 contributes to the much-discussed issue of Juvenal’s addressee by noting that, upon resurfacing after more than 300 lines (377), Postumus appears in connexion with a pusio, as at 34-7. On 429-30 it is observed that the elevation of orexim is brought crashing to earth by the low word intestino, which belongs in medical writing. On the hairdressing scene 487-505 the capillary pun on discrimen 500 is acutely remarked (but there is little attempt to address the severe difficulties of 495-6, nor is attention paid to an important source of the episode, additional to elegiac scenes such as Ov. Am. 1. 14. 13-18, in the shape of Sen. Brev. Vit. 12. 3, where Seneca protests against male fussiness and irascibility in matters of coiffure; an irascibility which Juvenal opportunistically transfers to the female, even expropriating Seneca’s metaphor dum de singulis capillis in consilium itur). At 619-20 non aliter quam si fecisset Iuno maritum/ insanum an allusion is rightly detected to the Dios apate of Iliad 14.

This said, a large number of Nadeau’s interpretations are, to put it no more strongly, longe repetita. There is no room here to rebut them in detail. I list here some of the more egregious and for the most part invite readers to judge for themselves: pp. 50-1, personified Pudicitia 14 is presented as an old woman because moratam 1 suggests someone who has lingered too long on earth and should properly be dead, uestigia... aliqua 14-15 intimating that she had become so infirm as to be able to take only a few steps (‘she is a candidate for a zimmer’); radere guttur 105 supposedly means that Sergiolus ‘was getting so old that his voice was becoming weak and strained’ (the usual view is ‘tralatician and wrong’); 165 nigroque simillima cycno ‘suggests that the woman is black like the black swan’; facies tua computat annos 199 contains the secondary implication that the Greeklette’s age is such as to make her good only for oral sex; 308-9 micturiunt hic /effigiemque deae longis siphonibus implent and urinam 313 refer to female ejaculate, while siphonibus suggests olisboi; 329-30, the adulter and the iuuenis are one and the same: this is quite at odds with the sense of the passage, an increasingly desperate descent through various sexual possibilities, culminating in an animal partner, lowest moreover in the equid hierarchy; leuibus 355 refers to the athlete’s practice of anointing the body with oil (in fact the term glosses ageneioi, the second age-category of contestants at athletic festivals); nec curanda uiris 455 is not neuter plural but co-oordinate with antiquaria 454 and means that the female in question is not fit for a male but should go off and satisfy her sexual urges with her opica amica; 473 ulcus conceals a reference to oral sex; 477-9, the penalty exacted from the Liburnus for the husband’s denial of intercourse (475-6, 478-9) is having to sleep with the ill-tempered-wife; at 515-16 Nadeau punctuates with a comma at the end of 515 and attaches plebeia to bucca, the Phrygian tiara ‘contrast<ing> the “nobility” of the tiara with the baseness of the bucca which, by innuendo, gives sexual relief to all and sundry’; in fact plebeia must go with tympana and refers to the markedly hierarchical character of Cybele’s cult, in which the plebs was distinguished from more important officiants; 575, an alleged reminiscence of Luc. 2. 519-21 requires us to take castra ... patriamque as a hendiadys for castra patriae; 618, ardebant cuncta et fracta compage ruebant is interpreted as reference to Stoic ekpyrosis, though there are much more relevant parallels to hand.

On every occasion that Greek is quoted it comes out completely garbled. In addition, I have noted the following errors. P. 85 read ‘6. 280’ not ‘6. 279’; p. 119 read ‘Plin, Nat. 7. 57’; p. 155 read ‘Ov. Ars 3. 672- 685’; p. 164 a line is omitted from the quotation of Hor. Carm. 1. 12; p. 165 read ‘Plin. Nat. 33. 150. 1’; p. 170 read ‘3. 69-71’; p. 220 read ‘Mart. 7. 58. 1-5’; p. 221 read ‘Ov. Am. 3. 15. 15-20’; p. 232 read ‘Ov Ars 3. 636-9’; p. 263 read ‘Gellius 5. 20 fin. and 5. 21’ not ‘Gellius 5. 20’; p. 296 Virg. Georg. 1. 32-5 and 335-7 are run together as a continuous quotation of 32-5; p. 297 read ‘Manilius 2. 202’; p. 311 read ‘Tib. 1. 3. 79-80’.

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