BMCR 1997.06.16

1997.6.16, Henderson, Figuring out Roman Nobility

, Figuring out Roman nobility : Juvenal's eighth Satire. Exeter studies in history. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1997. viii, 168 pages ; 21 cm.. ISBN 9780859895170

Who is writing this review now? 1. Is it the REVIEWER? and if so, who is this reviewer? Is he anyone so crowned by the choice of the editors of the Bryn Mawr Classical Review?—i.e., is he the BMCReviewer? 2. Or is he some unknown but more specific person, Y. NADEAU (YNiewer) of limited competence in the reading of Juvenal’s text—if the text is Juvenal’s rather than that of the reader of this review this time—different another time and therefore multifarious, variable to infinity, ever changing, unstable, protean—about which nothing can therefore be said. 3. Or is the reviewer “JohnHendersonhistext”, “JohnHendersonhistext” being but a construct of the reader coming into being when it is read, in this instance by the reviewer (BMCReviewer or YNiewer)—and is therefore the reviewer HENiewer (this being a shorthand version of “JohnHendersonhistext”) modified by YNiewer and BMCReviewer and so modified whenever and however many times there occurs the intervention of 4. the present, but again infinitely variable in time and space and therefore never the same except by miraculous coincidence, reader (READiewer) of this GARB-led but AGE-less text. Or 5. is the reviewer the original posited author *JUViewer, whose text is created by HENiewer, YNiewer, BMCReviewer, READiewer at different times and in different proportions on every occasion, concussion, concession, or contraction when they have recourse and/or intercourse, rectiverse, perverse, converse or polyverse- but truly polyversatile and volatile (pretty polly).

When the author, critic, reviewer, and reader, (to use extremely old-fashioned terms, thoroughly and convincingly discredited by the incisive, intensive, precise and decis-IVE insight of modern-day authors, critics, reviewers, and readers (to use … [ da capo and ad lib. ] ))))))) who is able to say what?

Let us suppose that the reviewer (BMCReviewer, YNiewer, HENiewer, READiewer, *JUViewer in different combinations at different times but snapshotted in a careless (o caresses! o douceurs infinies!) and timeless preface should, avoiding premature closure, say something, would he be associating hisselves with “depoliticizing criticism—persuasively and prevalently” as HENiewer says (p. viii)? Would the converse then be true, that non-closure or disclosure is associated with an appoliticizing criticism or construct, and is that what we have here (whatever is meant by here here which could be there here and now but an unspecified timeless and dyspatial there always), an appoliticizing reading of an appoliticizing reader (or author or critic or reviewer.. [as above]). If that is so, then the critic, reader, author etc (from now on please take the etcs as read, foreclosing on my constant mises-au-point) is not effecting a premature closure when he says (perhaps, but how can we be sure, whoever “he” are?) that Juvenal figuring out Roman Nobility will reward “your” [our? their?] attention (possibly) because his powerful and sustained tirade holds up a tangle of key processes of Roman sociality for ghoulish and gleeful or, it may be, rancorous and outraged mauling. Then is someone somewhere who may possibly it may be be interested at this time in these latitudes in the political discourse of the *JUViewer text and its relation to life and literature or, to be more precise, LIFTerature or, better still, TTILtrAfeRUE which combines them unouterminglably.

But is *JUViewer positioned discoursewise alongside VERGIL(say) or FLACCUS or SILIUS or MANILIUS in their common reading of the space around the atria of the nobles where are foregrounded and displayed {foreplayed?}, black with soot ( atrium quod fumo atrum) or, as in the atrium of poem 6 { (ignemque laremque et pecus et dominos,) atrium quod fimo taetrum}, the triumphatores, stemmata, wax representations of ancestral worthies? Or does the text of *JUViewer relate discoursefoolish contrariwise to *SILIUSiewer and *VERGILiewer and *FLACCUSiewer and *MANILIUSewer (for they too are surely authors, critics, reviewers, readers [vide supra]) in orientation? Or else, by how many degrees in relation to the true north or the magnetic, if we accept the convention of dividing the infinity of directions into three hundred and sixtieths and use those as units of measurement, do the positionings of their AUTHORIAL or AUTHORitarial canons deviate? For is it not true that even a satirical emplotment of nobility could produce different growths depending on whether the PLOT be nurtured with the ENGRAIS or rather INGREASE (INGREASE for INCREASE) of antique worth contrasting with modern decadence or else left en jachere (iacere therefore untilled, unincreased, ungreased and unaneled) for all to be judged by the same standards rather than differentially according to how proficient their ancestors were? in other words, is Satura assuming that stemmata faciunt quid—where quid is not money nor sanctity but merely “sanctimoney”, or not even accepting that? Satura, that is, as bloated ( satur) or explotted by *JUViewer—not necessarily the same as PERSIviewer or LUCILIviewer and certainly not FLACCIviewer.

The READiewer might wish to know how one and all of the other *iewers (being no ewe but merely new i.e.a novice), view this question. He will not find help here i.e. in this lieu or this revue—for perusal, unmusical.

Is Satura then emplotting nobility in the moralists’ discourse as might be exemplified by Seneca and as so aptly demonstrated by Braund? Undoubtedly, but seriously? How concordant are philosophy and Satura in

indignus genere et praeclaro nomine tantum

As (I think) HENiewer points out, this is an elaborate pun, everything between indignus and insignis looking backwards and forwards at the same time. Would HENiewer commit itself to an opinion on what *JUViewer, if he could be accused of having intention and so commit his *iewers to post Cartesian intentionality, circumvolute to a statement on the likelihood of it being read that the punning adds or subtracts to or from the philosophical point, would his fleeting mindfulness square with YNiewer’s view inclining to the latter? And if so, is the reading implying premature closure ( coniecturatio praecox) and therefore apoliticising, the politics of nobility implicating literary and educational ambience being the force motrice of HENiewer LECTUR ing (reading)*JUViewer?

Just afterwards, the following verses read themselves:

nanum cuiusdam Atlanta uocamus,
Aethiopem Cycnum, prauam extortamque puellam
Europen; canibus pigris scabieque uetusta
levibus et siccae lambentibus ora lucernae
nomen erit pardus, tigris, leo, siquid adhuc est
quod fremat in terris uiolentius. ergo cauebis
et metues ne tu sic Creticus aut Camerinus.

being a blistering attack, conjecturally, couched in epic or mock-epic language, on what? or an unintellectual but not unlearned mocking of whom? The freaks, I fear. The nobles are painted ridiculous when the freaks, animal including human, are laughed at. A depoliticising reading? Not if politics embrace views about freakshows. But does HENiewer care? READiewer might not think so—although he might since he makes HENiewer do what he wants.

HENiewer reads politicisingly the classic texts where literature subplots politics, literature embracing education and tweaking it to give it a spin of nobility and thread itself through the woof of Roman society. Such a classic text is the “show” of the great heroes of the katabasis (going down to Hades) described in Aeneid 6. When therefore *JUViewer reenconfigures thus the philosophical commonplace about the uselessness of pedigrees (chums) in horses:

sed uenale pecus Coryphaei posteritas et
Hirpini, si rara iugo Victoria sedit.
nil ibi maiorum respectus, gratia nulla
umbrarum; dominos pretiis mutare iubentur
exiguis, trito ducunt epiraedia collo
segnipedes dignique molam uersare nepotes.

the epic diction pounces on the turning wheels of epiraedium and of millstone in order to be put in body of the rotavoluting (wheel-turning) nepotes of Anchises and Aeneas in

donec longa dies, perfecto temporis orbe,
concretam exemit labem, purumque reliquit
aetherium sensum atque aurai simplicis ignem.
has omnes, ubi mille rotam uoluere per annos,
Lethaeum ad fluuium deus euocat agmine magno….
(V. A. 6.745-9)

making READiewer ask, one surmises, what Satura is doing here? This is an example of

“Juvenal’s poem is the strong work of a major classic: by which I mean that it absorbs strength from the texts that it hosts, the most sublime of canonical poems in Latin. For on crossing the threshold of the poem, we are soon entranced by Juvenal’s parade of his poet ancestors….”

But strength absorbed reabsorbs what? the viewpoint of VERGIviewer? So HENiewer seems to claim:

“Epic poetry, in particular, was the textual vector for this drive to condition the future. Thus Juvenal’s quasi-epic Satire mocks poems that do what it does; but its mockery is at the same time itself another way to inculcate the old lessons, however silly and quaint it shows them to have been all along. Mockery attends celebrity: the great clans knew to keep infamy in the family.”

Satura writes The Aeneid. VERGIviewer sees what *JUViewer sees. What does READiewer see? “Anne, ma soeur Anne, ne vois-tu rien venir?” “Non, car j’ai aux yeux de la poudre d’HENiewer.”

*JUViewer addresses thus a Ponticus:

esto bonus miles, tutor bonus, arbiter idem
integer; ambiguae si quando citabere testis
incertaeque rei, Phalaris licet imperet ut sis
falsus et admoto dictet periuria tauro
summum crede nefas animam praeferre pudori
et propter uitam uiuendi perdere causas.
Dignus morte perit, cenet licet ostrea centum
Gaurana et Cosmi toto mergatur aeno.

As the sermon develops we suspect a mocking intention (thereby standing convicted of intentionality), Satura exhibiting a lecture (or is the right word leon) perverse of the paradoxa Stoicorum, and end up laughing at the lover of luxury gulping down his hundredth oyster (try it) and drowning in the perfume of Cosmus. Could Satura be mocking the anti-nobility philosophical commonplace by writing it into hyperbole ( poussa jusqu’a l’exces sa mordante)? If so what is *JUViewer’s viewpoint? And what is HENiewer’s viewpoint of *JUViewer’s viewpoint? YNiewer imagines a frustrated and much disappointed READiewer, especially those blurbed in “this book is aimed at undergraduate students of Roman satire, and school and college students of classical civilization”. Exeter is a foreign country. Undergraduates are truly pithful there – or piteous, or pitiable.

HENiewer, reading politics into the opening lines of the satire:

Stemmata quid faciunt? quid prodest, Pontice, longo
sanguine censeri…

smells the long kilolitres of blood needful to be shed to win a Roman triumph. What if the READiewer should, like YNiewer, be impelled by the word censeri to think of the language of the census, capite census, and see the proletarian counted by his head but the noble by his genes trailing right back to the first Mr. Ponticus, and so contrasted by the generic contiguity in vocables of head and blood? No matter, for

No matter what they decide, reciters and readers have to choose quite how to slant their performance, and their audience and they must make their own guesses, and so their own views plain in the process. And that is very much the point: the bite, or tweak, of Satire on its participants.

Is READiewer perusing HENiewer wasting his time then, not to say his pounds (L9.95)?—this for the mean Aberdonian; YNiewer gets his copy free.

What then of this:

Quo mihi te, solitum falsas signare tabellas
in templis quae fecit auus? statuamque parentis
ante triumphalem quo, si nocturnus adulter
tempora Santonico uelas adoperta cucullo?

So YNiewer would repunctuate the now traditional text which punctuates interrogatively after triumphalem rather than after auus. HENiewer translates the traditional text:

What’s it to me that you have been a persistent signatory to forged deeds
In temples that your grandfather built, with your father’s statue over your shoulder,
Awarded for his triumph? What’s that worth if you screw around after dark,
Hiding your forehead under the cover of an imported Santones hood?

YNiewer’s repunctuation balances two contrasts: the descendant’s perjury perpetrated in a temple built by his ancestor; the descendant’s adulterous uelamen contrasting with his ancestor’s triumphal crown ( uelamen too). Do such verbal niceties say something to READiewer about *JUViewer’s Satura ? Beyond HENiewer’s translation?

To a noble who prides himself on being a Cecropides:
at tu
nil nisi Cecropides truncoque simillimus Hermae.
nullo quippe alio uincis discrimine quam quod
illi marmoreum caput est, tua uiuit imago.

translated by HENiewer:

while you—
Zero, apart from being a Cecropid, spitting image of a Herm that’s been nobbled.
In fact the only criterion you come out ahead on is that
Herm has a marble head, whereas the cast of you is alive.

At least HENiewer sees that trunco refers to the mutilation of the Hermae, the loss of the erect penis which is their characteristic. Some modern commentaries beat coyly about this bush, preferring to think of missing arms and legs and other limbs rather than the obvious one. HENiewer then begins well, but does not stay: unlike the warlike plebeian, the Cecropid is an effeminate, he has no erect(ile) penis. Effeminates with no serviceable penes are limited in their heterosexual, still have scope in their homosexual, activity to “giving good head”, in the vivid vernacular of Men Only (Vol. 61, No 10, September 1996) and I don’t mean a Glasgow kiss. The herm’s head is marble; the Cecropid’s alive and active – or is it passive? Does that allow us to gauge the level of interest of Satura here?

And who is the READiewer now?

Tu le connais, lecteur, ce monstre delicat,
Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere.