Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.01.41 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.01.41

Biagio Santorelli, Giovenale, Satira IV: introduzione, traduzione e commento. Texte und Kommentare, Bd 40.   Berlin; Boston:  De Gruyter, 2012.  Pp. ix, 209.  ISBN 9783110283945.  $112.00.  

Reviewed by Tom Geue, King’s College, Cambridge (

Perhaps Juvenal’s famed xenophobia is alienating foreign scholarship. For the only ones happy to touch him nowadays seem to be fellow Italians. Santorelli’s new commentary is a ballooned version of his Laurea Specialistica thesis at the University of Pisa, shaped with the guidance of the great Italian Juvenalians (Franco Bellandi and Antonio Stramaglia) and the doyen G.B. Conte. The result is an impressive piece of focussed scholarship. While early Juvenal is well-serviced on the commentary front (especially in English),1 Santorelli still manages to tear new gills for this fishy satire. And unlike other commentaries (mis)taking themselves for encyclopaedic repositories of neutrality, Santorelli’s contribution is not afraid to interpret. The commentary’s major jolt is to read the satire not as straightforward excoriation of the old news (Domitian and court), but as applicable also to Juvenal’s contemporary political landscape. This may well be a satire to prick Trajan’s ears.

The introduction helpfully dices the big fish into digestible parts. Santorelli offers a schematised summary (2-4) and a brief demarcation of the path ahead: Satire 4 is plated as a caricature of Domitian’s regime which slates both the King himself and the servile staff around him, parodying the Statian target text (De Bello Germanico), whose perceived importance must be inversely proportional to the number of verses surviving from it (four – a classic case of fragment fetish, but probably justified). Santorelli will make much of the (‘il’) ‘modello letterario’ later (9-13). First, we confront the age-old structural problem familiar to every Juvenal fan: how to yoke together two seemingly incompatible parts of a satire. Santorelli stresses over the mismatch between the Crispinus (v.1-33) and the Council (v.34-154) sections, pointing up the inconsistencies – and Santorelli finds these cringeworthy enough to endorse the venerable suggestion that 1-33 were composed after 34-154, and tacked on later. Santorelli squints hard, but locates the only positive connection in the presence of a big fish. He bristles when Crispinus is served up as the worst figure possible, only to be outdone unexpectedly by a greater monster still. The structural problem plagues Santorelli throughout, but I cannot help thinking this implicit insistence on perfect unity – especially in the alternately distended and emaciated Juvenalian corpus – a little quaint. The logic of (early) Juvenal commonly traces a dance of self-surpassing deterioration, moving from bad to worse when we thought we had already hit worst – does this ‘problem’ really merit six-page treatment then?

After the structural fretting, Santorelli aptly handles the literary model behind the Council; he dismisses Uden’s fresh work (n.6 below) on the poem’s parody of panegyric in general to focus on the particular, Statius’ De Bello Germanico. Santorelli then conveniently genealogises the interpretative trends around the poem, giving a quick run-down of pre-1980 scholarship, then forking from the watershed Deroux 19832 to discuss two recent readings: Luisi 1998,3 which sees the poem as criticism of Domitian in his capacity as Pontifex Maximus and glimpses the trial of the Vestal Cornelia in the background, and Ramelli 2000,4 which makes the poem speak about Domitian’s persecution of Christians. Santorelli discredits these readings seriatim, clearing space for his own third way. His arguments for doing so are solid enough. But these interpretations appear (at least from a shameless Anglophone perspective) to be strange straw men, rogue protuberances from the mainstream tradition; in any case, if Santorelli is not building upon these readings, but rather rejecting them tout court, why devote so much time their way? Why foreground Luisi and Ramelli over, say, Freudenburg 20015 and Uden 2011,6 whose work on the poem may be equally (if not more) valid for situating the argument? When Santorelli divulges his own agenda (p.20), he claims to differ from Luisi and Ramelli in sticking to the traditional path: ‘sarei propenso…a considerare la satira 4…un attacco alla politica tenuta da Domiziano nei confronti delle instituzioni e dell’aristocrazia politica: un attacco condotto attraverso una parodia…del perduto De bello Germanico’. We could perhaps have arrived here without such heavy doses of Luisi and Ramelli.

Santorelli begins his own interpretation by whisking us through other models of literary big fishes/dishes (Suetonius, Seneca, Herodotus). This background-plotting works well to show up (Santorelli’s) Juvenal’s point, even if it leads to traditional territory: Santorelli avers that Juvenal is laying into the acquiescent councillors as much as the invisible man in the high chair. In a reflective moment (p.24), Santorelli modestly claims to have come to a more probable reading without overloading the text. His interest lies in the use Juvenal makes of literary and rhetorical commonplaces for his satiric ends; he is emphatically not reading Juvenal like a product of allusive art, or delicate Alexandrianism, or (worse!) the oracular pronouncements of a modern symbolist. No, his will be a straightforward satirist voice (evident from his translation too), a voice that attacks the dead so it can speak clearly. This Juvenal is no Virgil or Ovid.

We slip into something less comfortable – and more invigorating – when Santorelli discusses the political intentions of the satire (24-28). This is the cherry-on-top: he marshals small clues to push for a revisionist reading. That is, he marks the poem’s gestures towards a not-so-different brave-new-world of Trajanic Rome. Envisaging a poet who does not positively press for full continuity between Domitian and Trajan, but rather hints at a lack of change, Santorelli makes a persuasive case (even if the goal is establishing a vague ‘impression’). Some of the poem’s major clues are left fuzzy, and seem to talk gnomically of absolute power in general; how designed these are for Trajan over emperor X is debatable. As for datability, Santorelli briskly uncovers covert references to (early) Trajan in particular; and so Trajanic daters will rejoice to find more support for their timelines (see p.13 n.17).

The text is based on Clausen’s OCT, with two small deviations. It is apparatus-bare, which Santorelli excuses on the grounds that it is engineered primarily as supplement to the commentary – and ample space is reserved for textual questions there. The translation is just as functional, but over-clarifies. A few examples will serve. In v.21, Santorelli translates cluso…antro ‘lettiga chiusa’, which gets the ‘point’; but sweeping away the cave metaphor cavalierly sweeps away its connotations, i.e. an invisible monster cooped inside. Santorelli has good reasons for taking fracta de merce (33) of Crispinus’ sprats to mean ‘rotten’ (‘avariati’), which the lemma justifies; but it’s still a big leap. Likewise with 136, Juvenal’s self-illustrating sententia sententia: vicit digna viro sententia is rendered ‘ebbe la meglio questa proposta, degna di chi la avanzava’ – completely unpacking the Juvenalian compression. Finally, the hypothetical express post of 148-9 tamquam…anxia praecipiti venisset epistula pinna picks up the poem’s abundant animal imagery; ‘con rapido volo’ for praecipiti…pinna neutralises these local effects for a more literal, intelligible phrase.

The commentary is generally laudable. It is particularly generous with prosopographical discussion in a name-littered poem. The help with linguistic questions is top-notch; anyone who thinks she has mastered even the most familiar Latin word should take stock of Santorelli’s detailed lexical histories and budding parallels. Sometimes these piles hamper rather than enable: the lemma on mea tempestate (140), for example, provides many analogous usages to mean ‘in my time’, but the enumeration overgrows a more challenging question about the satire’s temporality, both narrative and writing wise – when precisely is ‘my time’? Similarly the traffic of parallels banked up behind dedisset (145) – do we need four quotations to back the use of dare ‘to dedicate’ (cf. proponere 46)? On a related note, Santorelli performs masterly bathos when he spends nearly two pages discussing the best way to translate iumenta, but decides ultimately that Adams’ generic sense is fine – for the emphasis lies on another element anyway! stulta est clementia…periturae parcere chartae.

To wither into minutiae:

V.1 – Santorelli notes Crispinus’ (eponymous) presence in Horace and Persius, but fails to note ecce iterum as self-marking allusion, both intratextual and intertextual: ‘again’ from satire 1, but ‘again’ from the satiric tradition too. He finds saepe strange, given that Crispinus does not make that many appearances in Juvenal (though three is hardly rare); but could not vocandus est…saepe mean ‘worthy to be invoked often [not that I actually do]’?

V.8 – Santorelli struggles with nemo malus felix, thrown out by its incompatibility with the indignant Juvenal, according to whom there is an unfailing correlation between badness and success. Santorelli is following Bellandi’s (quoted here)7 tight delineation of two Juvenals; but the formulation is hardly mathematical, and in practice there is a heavier blood transfusion between ‘early’ and ‘late’ Juvenals than binary theorists would admit (Santorelli himself thinks that Juvenal’s later attitude is already evident here). I wonder whether it would be better to abandon such a strict model altogether, or at least moderate its tyranny.

V.28 – Santorelli interestingly takes tunc as logical inference (‘in that event’) rather than chronological pinpoint. He could have also marked its response to nunc (11): nunc moves to the smaller matters of Crispinus’ fish, tunc to the bigger ones of the induperator himself. tunc must still be ambidextrous though, especially in a satire fussing over temporality.

V.41 – Santorelli spring-cleans Juvenalian language yet again by excluding the pun in implevitque sinus: he takes this to mean the fish filled up the nets, and rules out ‘filled up the bays’ because it would not make sense in the plural. But could this not be classic Juvenalian hyperbole: ‘it filled up the bays (plural)!’?

V.105 – Santorelli is conspicuously silent (by necessity?) on the strange crime of Rubrius, which dare not speak its name (tacendae). But this moment could support his push for the satire’s contemporary spike: there are some things about which Juvenal must still keep silent.

V.142 – Santorelli stays straightfaced for deprendere. The verb does carry a primary sense of ‘scoprire/riconoscere’; but it can also mean ‘to catch an animal’. So here we imagine Montanus wading through the shallows, jaw agape, capturing oysters with his first bite – as well as identifying them.

V.152 – the ambiguity of vindice is sacrificed in capitalisation (one of the two editorial departures from the OCT); Santorelli makes a strong case for reading this avenger as Vindex in particular, to cap a name-saturated satire on calvus Nero.

The volume’s production value is acceptable for the main body (I counted eighteen mistakes), declining steeply in the bibliography (twenty-four counted in that section alone). But this is a thorough commentary on, and a bold reading of, a difficult poem – and for that, Santorelli deserves a good turbot or two.


1.   Courtney, E., A Commentary on the Satires of Juvenal, London, 1980; Braund, S., Juvenal: Satires Book I, 1996.
2.   Deroux, C., ‘Domitian, the Kingfish and the Prodigies: A Reading of Juvenal’s Fourth Satire’, in Deroux, C. (ed.), Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History, III, Bruxelles, 1983, 283-98.
3.   Luisi, A., Il rombo e la vestale: Giovenale, Satira IV: introduzione, traduzione e commento, Bari, 1998
4.   Ramelli, I., ‘La Satira IV di Giovenale ed il supplizio di san Giovanni a Roma sotto Domiziano’, Gerión 18, 2000, 343-59.
5.   Freudenburg, K., Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal, Cambridge, 2001.
6.   Uden, J., The Invisibility of Juvenal, PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 2011.
7.   Bellandi, F., Etica diatribica e protesta sociale nelle satire di Giovenale, Bologna, 1980. ​

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