BMCR 2000.04.23

Roman Verse Satire: Lucilius to Juvenal. A Selection with an Introduction, Text, Translation, and Notes

, , Roman Verse Satire: Lucilius to Juvenal. A Selection with an Introduction, Text, Translation, and Notes. Wauconda, IL: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 1999. xvii + 221. $24.00.

Recently, Roman satire has been working its way into books aimed at the undergraduate and upper-level secondary market; specifically, Susanna Braund has published two such volumes in the last 8 years.1 This important development in the pedagogical profile of Roman satire — as a genre, not solely as separate authors — has fallen short in only one category: presentation of the texts themselves in an anthology. William Dominik and William Wehrle have addressed this deficiency in their new volume, which contains selections from the four Roman hexameter satirists along with an introductory chapter and commentary.

In their Foreword and Preface, Dominik and Wehrle (henceforth D/W) explain the purpose of the volume. The Foreword explains the selection of poems (which I will list below) while the Preface discusses other features of the volume related to its expected classroom use. D/W hope that their book will be useful in Classical civilization courses in translation, as well as in Latin courses. To this end they have included both the Latin texts and facing-page translations of the selected poems, and have supplied a commentary on the translation, not on the text. D/W take pains to explain their approach to the translation itself. They have aimed to reproduce the texts plainly, line for line, even when it means being “too literal in places” (xiii) or faithfully rendering obscenities. As for the Notes, D/W mention that their translation, being so literal, really supplies the philological commentary, while the actual notes focus on historical, prosopographical, and literary matters.

The Introduction first gives a brief history of the Roman genre, and summarizes relevant examples of Menippean and other non-hexameter satire (Ennius, Seneca, Petronius, Martial). D/W then outline the work of the four satirists in this volume, complete with summaries of the included poems (plus a few others) and brief bibliographies for each poet. Some of this is written in a kind of shorthand that may lead students to pursue other sources, e.g. “[hexameter,] the meter of ‘lofty’ (Greek) epic” (5); “Lucilius is cited by Horace as his literary/spiritual model” (7); “the poetic value-assumptions of Persius’ contemporaries” (9). There is no information on the ancient reception of the satirists, although again the bibliographies will guide students to discussion of this. In general, these are capsule summaries, meant to supply information about content rather than to make any specific arguments about the poets or the genre; this is reflected in the broad, un-annotated bibliographies. This last feature might be useful for graduate students as well as undergraduates, since D/W list editions and commentaries in languages other than English. Incidentally, as the bibliographies indicate, there is a frustrating imbalance in the area of commentaries: no new philological commentary on Horace’s Sermones has appeared recently, although there have been a number of good ones on Persius and Juvenal.

D/W account for their choice of satires as follows. They have attempted to give a proper impression of common themes in satire, so have included some groups of related poems (e.g. Horace 2.1, Persius 1, Juvenal 1; in addition, Lucilius’ “dog-letter” fragment, 3-4W, is a nice prelude to Persius 1.109-110). At the same time, they did not follow this plan religiously, and left out some poems whose themes are treated elsewhere in the volume (e.g. Horace 2.6 is not included, since the topic of city and country life is already represented in Juvenal 3). This leaves room for more unique poems, such as Horace 1.9 and Persius 4. The result is a nice range of poems with just enough thematic continuity to promote discussion of generic issues. To sum up the contents: the Lucilius section contains several well-known long fragments (on Albucius, ugly women, the rat-race, and virtus) as well as some interesting shorter ones (2, 3-4, 36-37, 70, and 713-714 W). From Horace we have Sermones 1.9, 2.1, and 2.8. Persius is well-represented: D/W include the Choliambics and Satires 1, 3, and 4. Finally, the Juvenal section contains Satires 1, 3, and the enormous 6. The collection is excellent: the selected poems neatly convey the range in content and the programmatic conventions of the genre, and are among the most colorful, and easy to teach, in all of Roman satire. It is also a nice consequence that the collection starts (after Lucilius, that is) with an “autobiographical” poem of Horace’s, introducing the reader to the hapless character of the satirist, and ends with a poem whose conclusion discusses the nature of the satiric genre (Juvenal 6.634-638).

The translations, again, are not meant to be poetic creations on their own, but utilitarian renderings of the Latin. I will not quote much from them here, since they should be easy enough to imagine: they are simply the very exact translations that one would produce in a class or for a talk handout (embellished with occasional italics, and many more quotation marks and parentheses). In translating Persius, though, it looks as though D/W played up the Latin word order and primary translations a bit more than with the other satirists, in order to “translate” Persius’ jarring rhythm and strange language. For example, Persius 1.55, verum … amo, is translated “Truth I love;” 1.119, me muttire nefas, becomes “That I mutter is wrong?” and 1.42, os populi meruisse, becomes simply “to have merited the populace’s mouth.” Occasionally, a suggestive phrase in Latin is brought out more pointedly in English (e.g. Persius 1.18, patranti fractus ocello : “effeminate with eye’s orgasmic sparkle”).

The commentary is there mainly to explain proper names, Roman customs, literary and historical references, and some “untranslatable overtones of certain words and phrases” (xiv). There are also notes on disputed portions of the texts. These notes are indicated in the texts with asterisks, either in the Latin text (if the note concerns a textual problem) or the translation (all other cases). This gets a little bit messy when an entire section is starred because its location or authenticity is debated (every line of Lucilius’ fragments, Persius’ Choliambics, and the Winstedt passage of Juvenal 6 is starred).

There are a few small errors to note. H. R. Fairclough is listed in two different places in the Horace bibliography (8). I found one Latin line that ended up on the translation page (Juvenal 6.194). There are a couple of translations that I would emend if I thought students were consulting them in a Latin class (e.g. Horace 1.9.70-71, nulla mihi … religio est, “Religion is nothing to me”). One translation, “dramas” for togatas at Juvenal 1.3, does not indicate that these plays were comedies in particular (nor does the note). The name “Winstedt” is misspelled (195). As for other possible drawbacks, I find the commentary to be somewhat uneven; for instance, there is a note explaining the expression “he left me under the knife” (Horace 1.9.73-74), which would not seem to require explanation, but no note referring to the Epicurean background of the “quote” at Persius 3.83-84 ( gigni / de nihilo nihilum, in nihilum nil posse reverti), which would be helpful.

I can envision a number of possible uses for this volume: in a Roman civilization course, in an undergraduate Latin class in which the students are also equipped with a philological commentary (or, alternatively, in which they are studying other satires in Latin, and reading these ones in translation only), or even in a graduate course in which students will go and find commentaries on their own (the Introduction with its bibliographies would be useful to graduate students studying for exams). Despite some drawbacks, this volume was an excellent idea that the authors must have enjoyed carrying out. It is attractive and not too expensive, and will provide students with an appropriate introduction to the colorful genre of satire.


1. Susanna Braund, Roman Verse Satire (Oxford, 1992) and The Roman Satirists and Their Masks (Bristol, 1996).