Mask or mirror? : a study of Juvenal's Satires as a reflection of authorial personality and perspective.
Author(s)Tennant, Peter Michael Wellesley.
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AbstractThesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1999.
This study aims to present Juvenal's Satires as a whole as the fundamentally coherent
and plausible product of the author's own personality, convictions and circumstanceswhere
the latter may be reasonably inferred. It therefore questions the view that the
dichotomy which the persona theory creates between the author and his notional
'speaker' provides the basis for a better insight into Juvenal's Satires.
There is no compelling reason to reject the impression that in his earlier Books Juvenal
was genuinely writing from the standpoint of a disaffected client; and an examination
of the Epigrams of Juvenal's contemporary, Martial, suggests that complaints of
paupertas should not be dismissed as a merely conventional literary facade. Juvenal's
own resentment as a neglected dependant and his contempt for the corrupt Roman
elite give the first three Books their basic coherence. However, while Satires 7, 8 and
9 are not characterised to the same extent by the strident invective which is the
hallmark of the earlier poems, the notion that the image of the 'indignant' satirist is
deliberately abandoned, albeit tentatively, after Book 2 is less convincing , if one gives
due weight to the types of themes treated in the third Book and to the nature of the
satirical vehicle used in each instance. Juvenal's empathy with the plight of the
neglected intellectuals in Satire 7 and his condemnation of the effete and corrupt elite
in Satires 8 and 9 are clear and forthright: the shift in satirical technique away from
aggressive invective towards a more analytical treatment of the themes in Satires 7 and
8, as indeed befits the subject matter, and towards wryly ironic 'humour in the sordid
dialogue with Naevolus in Satire 9 are not to be interpreted as the manifestation of a
refashioned authorial persona.
The importance of theme as a major determinant of the satirical method or technique
employed is equally evident in the fourth Book. Here, the themes lend themselves, in
general, to a more consistently didactic approach, reminiscent of Horace's Sermones.
From the outset of Book 1, Juvenal focuses perSistently on avaritia, in all its
manifestations, as a root cause of the malaise in Roman society; and this vice
continues to playa dominant role in Book 3 (particularly in Satires 7 and 9). Not only
does avaritia come under further attack in Satires 11 , 12 and 13, but the prominence
given to it in Satire 14 provides cogent evidence of the extent to which the satirist is
preoccupied with this most pernicious of social evils. These poems also illustrate the
fact that, even when Juvenal adopts a more didactic or reflective approach, his urge
towards acerbic satire is far from suppressed; and, as in the cases of Satires 7 and 8,
he shows his predilection for using ostensibly positive themes as platforms for attacks
on vice and depravity. Similarly. when other themes congenial to his prejudices and
convictions present themselves - such as an appalling act of barbarism perpetrated by
the Egyptians - that urge can readily find expression through the poet's innate
propensity towards ira and indignatio. Furthermore, Books 4 and 5 provide ample
evidence of the very qualities which characterize the so-called 'angry' satirist of the first
two Books: vigorous and persistent denunciation of contemporary greed and other
vices, strong moral convictions, brooding pessimism and cynicism and , not least, an
acerbic wit and a genius for crafting powerfully evocative images.
The evidence is tenuous, but sufficient to suggest that the shifts in tone and focus in
Books 4 and 5 could also be attributed , in part, to Juvenal's circumstances and state
of mind at that time. In Satires 10-14 Juvenal shows a particular interest in the
Epicurean virtue of tranquillitas. This is perhaps to be attributed to a realization that
angry protests could effect no real changes for the better and that some solace could
be derived from a more detached perspective, and to the comforting conviction that
ultimately wickedness finds its nemesis in the torture of a guilty conscience. For one
steadfastly convinced that he lived in an age of unsurpassed and incorrigible vice, in
which the gods were apparently ineffectual, it was probably both satisfying and logical
to cultivate such a perspective. One should also not lose sight of the fact that the poet's
age could well have contributed to shifts of both attitude and interest.
Satire 15 provides strong corroboration of the view that Juvenal's personality and
attitudes remain basically consistent and that theme is a major determinant of the
satirical manner adopted. The merciless attack on the Egyptians is not to be seen as
a consciously contrived return to the 'old style' or, more fancifully, as an exercise in selfii
mockery. Rather, it is clear proof that Juvenal has not forsaken his inherently
aggressive xenophobia, which was so prominent in Books 1 and 2. Similarly, what
remains of Satire 16 suggests the same character traits which are so powerfully
conveyed in the first Satire. Thatone can still feel the presence of the bitter and acerbic
pessimist of that first Satire is not the effect of calculated mask-changing , but a further
indication that the Satires as a whole should be seen as a reflection of the author's own
personality and perspective.