Juvenal and Persius/Juvenal's Satires Summarised

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Juvenal's Satires Summarized

The contents of Juvenal's Satires may be summarised as follows;


In his 1st Satire, which was probably written as a Preface, either to the whole of the Satires, or to one of the five separate books which made up the whole, Juvenal again follows in the steps of Persius. Among the reasons which impelled him to write satire he puts first of all his disgust at the popular poetry of the day, and at the recitations on hackneyed mythological subjects to which he is compelled to listen. He has heard enough of Theseus, Jason, and Orestes; he is bored by perpetual descriptions of the grove of Mars, of the cave of Aeolus, and of the exploits of Monychus. He prefers to deal with realities; he must describe the men of his own time;—

Whatever passions have the soul possessed,
Whatever wild desires inflamed the breast,
Joy, Sorrow, Fear, Love, Hatred, Transport, Rage,
Shall form the motley subject of my page.

(Gifford's Version of i. 84, 85.)

Precisely similar is the disgust expressed by Martial at the mawkish mythological poetry of his day:—

Qui legis Oedipoden caligantemque Thyesten,
Colchidas et Scyllas, quid nisi monstra legis?
Quid te vana iuvant miserae ludibria cartae?
Hoc lege, quod possit dicere vita, Meum est.
Non hic Centauros, non Gorgonas Harpyasque
Invenies; hominem pagina nostra sapit.

(Epp. x. iv. 1-2, 7-10.)

Juvenal and Martial may thus be said to have developed a school of practical poetry. Just as Socrates is said to have called down the attention of men from the heavens to the earth, so did Juvenal and Martial call men from the barren repetition of mythological tales and fancies, and the no less barren field of rhetorical declamation, to describing the life of men as lived in their own time and city.

Juvenal ends his 1st Satire with the announcement that he is not to follow the example of Lucilius in attacking his contemporaries; his shafts are to be directed, not against the living, but against the dead. This is not to be taken merely as a sign of caution on Juvenal's part, as though he were afraid of rousing resentments like those aroused by Lucilius, but is rather an indication that his main purpose is to expose the vices and follies of the day, not to attack the individuals who had committed them. He is to be a preacher of morality, not a chastiser of persons. And this promise is to a large extent made good. Juvenal makes no effort to describe or ridicule individual characters, nor did he possess the special talent for the purpose. His subject, no doubt, requires him frequently to quote names; but such names are usually given merely as typical of some special kind of failing. They are taken either from books, or from persons who had in some way or other made themselves notorious; some of them may have been invented for the occasion. In no case do we recognise any special feeling of animosity against the person named; nowhere can we discover any trace of that personal vindictiveness which sharpens the point, and impairs the truthfulness, of so much of our most famous modern satire. And Juvenal's most exaggerated invectives are relieved by the feeling that they are the sincere outpourings of that saeva indignatio which has so often been coupled with his name.


In his 2nd Satire Juvenal attacks false philosophers—men who, while exhibiting in public the stern looks and uncouth manners of Stoics, practise the worst vices in secret. It is characteristic of Juvenal that he quotes as instances of the worst depravity the fact that a Roman noble wore clothes of almost transparent texture, and that the Emperor Otho used cosmetics and carried with him a mirror as part of his paraphernalia for war.


The 3rd Satire, from an artistic point of view, is perhaps Juvenal's finest performance. It contains a brilliant picture of the living Rome of his day, of its sights and sounds, its physical dangers and annoyances, its luxury and its meanness, its wearisome social observances, and of the intolerable inequalities which made it impossible for a poor man with any self-respect to continue any longer to live in it.

In lines 18-20 we find a charming indication of the poet's natural good taste when he exclaims how much nearer to us would be the spirit of Egeria " if her fountain were fringed by a margin of green grass, and there were no marble ornament to outrage the native tufa."


The 4th Satire is of a lighter kind; it is in the nature of a skit upon the solemn importance with which an exacting emperor like Domitian might invest the most frivolous act of obsequious flatterers. A mullet of huge size is sent up as a present to the emperor, who at once summons a meeting of his cabinet council to consider how the fish is to be treated.


The 5th Satire, in a tone of bitter irony, gives us the most perfect picture we possess of the manner in which a patron of the Imperial times might discharge the old historical duty of entertaining his clients. The picture is taken from the life; and we cannot doubt that Juvenal had experienced in his own person the humiliations which he describes. Nothing can be more revolting, nothing more repugnant to every idea of hospitality, than the manner in which the host Virro entertains his guest, who as a full reward for faithful daily service receives at length the long-hoped-for invitation to dinner. He sits, or rather reclines, at the same table, but on a lower couch. He is subjected to every kind of indignity at the hands both of the host and of his menial attendants. For every course a different and inferior dish is served to the client; so also with the drink. It is not that Virro grudges the expense of the entertainment; it is his deliberate object to insult his client, and he rejoices in his humiliation.


The longest, the most elaborate, and the most brilliant of Juvenal's Satires is the 6th, which puts before us, in long procession, a Dream of Unlovely Women.

What, Postumus? Are you, in your sober senses, going to take to yourself a wife? Do you not know that Chastity has fled this earth? She may have stayed with us in Saturn's time, and perhaps lingered awhile under Jupiter before he grew his beard, in the days when men still made their home in caves, and when wives spread couches of leaves and beast-skins on the mountain-side. But know you not that since the Silver Age came in adultery has been all the vogue? Are you actually thinking of making a marriage contract and presenting an engagement ring? By what Fury are you possessed? Have you no halter by you? is there no high window from which you can take a leap? (1–37.)

And is Ursidius, once the most notorious of gallants, preparing to obey the Julian law and to rear an heir? ready to forgo all the turtles and mullets and other dainties which his childlessness now brings him in? Bleed the simpleton, ye doctors, if he thinks he can find a virtuous wife; if he finds one, let him sacrifice a heifer with gilded horns to Juno! Why, nowadays a wife would sooner be contented with one eye than with one husband! (38–59.)

Can you, in all the tiers of the circus or the theatre, find a single honest woman? Women love the stage; if you marry a wife it will be to make a father of some harpist or flute-player. Or perhaps, like Eppia, the Senator's wife, she will run off to Egypt with a gladiator, leaving home and husband and sister, and brave all the perils of the deep. Had her husband bidden her go on board a ship, she would have deemed it an act of cruelty; no woman has boldness but for acts of shame! (60–135.)

If a husband believes in his wife's virtue, it is because of the dowry that she has brought him; the Cupid that inflamed him was in her money-bags! If he love her for her beauty, she will lord it over him as long as that lasts, and ruin him by her extravagance; once her charms are faded, he will put her to the door. If, again, she be virtuous, comely, rich, fertile, and high-born, what husband can endure a woman who is all perfection, and is for ever casting her high qualities in his teeth? Away with your high ancestry, Cornelia! away with your Hannibal, your Syphax, and your Carthage! Remember the fate of Niobe! (136–183.)

How nauseous is the female habit of using Greek for every act and circumstance of life! Women now do everything, even their loves, in Greek. You might forgive it in a girl; but what can be more revolting than to hear Greek terms of endearment in the mouth of an old woman? (184–199.)

If you marry without love, why marry at all? Why be at the expense of a marriage-feast and all the other costs of matrimony? If you are really and truly in love with your wife, then bow your head submissively to the yoke. She will take full toll of you; she will rejoice in stripping you bare; she will do all your buying and your selling for you; she will show your old friends to the door, and make you leave legacies to her lovers. She will crucify your slaves for little or no offence; if you expostulate, and plead for delay, she will tell you " It is my will; the thing must be done! " In the end she will leave you, and wear out her veil in other bridals. What think you of one who ran through eight husbands in five seasons? (200–230.)

No hope of peace so long as your mother-in-law is alive. She rejoices to see you fleeced; she helps her daughter in her intrigues, and teaches her to be like herself.

Women are desperately litigious; never yet was there a lawsuit which did not have a woman at the bottom of it. If Manilia is not a defendant, she is a plaintiff; she instructs her learned counsel how to adjust his pleas. (231–245.)

Then there is the athletic woman, with her wrappers and her ointments, her belts, greaves, and gauntlets; puffing and blowing all the time, she belabours a stump with wooden sword or shield; and though her skin is so delicate that she must needs wear garments of silk, she goes through all the exercises, all the attitudes and postures, of the gymnasium. What gladiator's wife would stoop to do the like? (246–267.)

The connubial couch is ever full of bickerings and reproaches; no sleep to be got there! It is there that the wife assails her husband with the fury of a tigress that has lost her whelps; she rakes up every imaginary grievance against him, and has always floods of tears at her command; he, poor fool, imagines they are tears of love. If she herself be caught in a delinquency, she brazens it out; "We agreed," says she, "that you should go your way and I mine." (268–285.)

Whence came all these monstrosities among us? When Latian homes were poor and humble, when hands were hard with toil, when Hannibal was thundering at our gates, our homes were pure; Roman virtue perished along with Roman poverty. Long peace and enervating riches have been our ruin, pouring all the corruptions of Rhodes, Miletus, and Tarentum into our city. Little wonder that Ave have deserted the simple rites of Numa and adopted the foul practices of the Good Goddess! (286–351.)

Ogulnia wishes to make a show at the games she hires a gown, a litter and followers, with a maid to run her messages; she presents to some smooth-skinned athlete the last remnants of the family plate. Such women never think what their pleasures cost them; men sometimes have an eye to economy, women never. (352–365.)

If your wife have a taste for music, she will abandon herself to the musicians; her bejewelled fingers will for ever be strumming on their instruments; she offers wine and meal to Janus and to Vesta that her Pollio may win a crown of oak-leaves. You Gods must have much time upon your hands if you can listen to prayers like these! (379–397.)

Better that, however, than that your wife should be a busybody, running about the town and discussing the news with generals, and in her husband's presence, unabashed; she knows everything that is taking place in every corner of the globe; she retails every scandal of the town; she picks up the latest rumours at the city gates; she knows what countries are being devastated by floods, what disasters comets are boding to the kings of Parthia and Armenia, and repeats her tales to every man and woman in the street. (398–412.)

More terrible still is the termagant, who loves to lash her poor neighbours; when a dog disturbs her slumbers, she orders the owner to be thrashed first, and then the dog. She enters the baths noisily by night, works at the dumbbells till she is wearied, and then submits herself to the bathman for massage. Meanwhile her famished guests have been wearying for their dinner; when at last she arrives, she slakes her thirst with bumpers of Falernian, which soon find their way back on to the floor. (413–433.)

No less of a nuisance is your learned lady, who discourses on poetry, and pits Homer and Virgil against each other. She outbawls all the rhetoricians with her din; she could unaided bring succour to the labouring moon. She lays down definitions like a philosopher; she should tuck up her skirts half-leg high, sacrifice a pig to Silvanus, and take a penny bath![1] She knows all history, quotes poets that I never heard of; she has every trick of speech at her fingers' ends, and will pull you up for the smallest slip in grammar. Take no such wife to your bosom! (434–456.)

Still more unbearable is the wealthy wife, who thinks that everything is permitted to her. Her neck, her ears, are resplendent with precious stones; she plasters her face with bread-poultices and Poppaean pastes which stick to her husband's lips when he gives her a kiss. She never cares to look well at home; it is for lovers only that a clean skin and Indian perfumes are reserved. In due time she washes off the layers with asses' milk, and the face can be recognised as a face instead of as a sore! (457–473.)

If the husband has been neglectful, the maids will suffer for it; the slightest fault will bring down a thrashing on them with whip or cane; some women engage their floggers by the year. The lady meanwhile is making up her face, or chatting with her friends, or examining a piece of embroidery, or reading the Gazette; not less cruel than Phalaris, she keeps her flogger at it all the time. If in a hurry to keep an assignation, she wreaks her vengeance on her tirewoman with a thong of bull's hide for every curl out of place, while the second maid builds up the lofty erection on her head; so serious is the art of beautification! so complicated the artistic structure! Not a thought for the husband all this time; he is only a little nearer to her than a next-door neighbour; she heeds not what she costs him. (474–511.)

Another is the prey of every superstition. In come the noisy crew of the frantic Bellona and the Good Goddess, clanging their cymbals; they pay reverence to the huge emasculated priest; to avert his prophecies of evil, she presents him with a hundred eggs, and some cast-off clothing; these carry off the threatened peril and purify her for the entire year. In winter-time she breaks the ice for a plunge into the Tiber, and then crawls with bleeding knees over the Campus Martius. At Io's bidding—for she believes that the Goddess herself holds commune with her—she would go on a pilgrimage to Egypt to bring water from Lake Meroe with which to besprinkle the shrine of Isis. She pays reverence to the dog-headed Anubis, with his close-cropped and linen-clad followers; a fat goose and a thin cake will obtain absolution for all her peccadilloes from Osiris. (511–541.)

Next comes a Jewish hag, leaving her basket and her hay, who whispers secrets into her ear, expounding the holy laws of her tribe; she interprets or invents dreams for the smallest of coins. An Armenian or Syrian soothsayer, manipulating a pigeon's liver, promises her a youthful lover, or the inheritance of some rich and childless man. He probes the entrails of a dog, sometimes even of a boy, committing a crime that he may himself turn informer. But most trusted of all is the Chaldaean, whose words come direct from the fount of Hammon — more especially if he have done something to deserve exile and narrowly escaped death. Your virtuous Tanaquil consults him about the too long delayed death of her mother or her uncle—having first enquired about your own death. Such a one knows nothing about the stars; but beware of the woman in whose hand you see a well-thumbed almanack, and who claims to be an expert; she is herself consulted, and regulates her whole life after the dictates of the occult science. Rich women consult a Phrygian or an Indian augur; the poor woman looks for a diviner in the Circus, of whom she enquires whether she shall marry the tavern-keeper or the old-clothesman. (542–591.)

Poor women will bear the pangs of childbirth; but you will rarely find a woman lying-in who sleeps in a gilded bed. So potent are the draughts of the abortionist! Hand the potion to her yourself, my man, and rejoice in the murder of your unborn children; you might otherwise find yourself the father of a blackamoor. If an heir be wanted for some great house, roguish Fortune knows where to look for one; she takes her stand by night at the foundling pool, dandles a chance infant in her arms, and spirits it away into some lordly house to become a Pontifex or a Priest of Mars! (592–609.)

Instructed by Thessalian witches, a wife will make her husband imbecile or raving mad with a magical love philtre: just as Caesonia's[2] potion robbed Nero's uncle of his senses. More guilty she than Agrippina; for Agrippina did but " send down to heaven " a slobbering dotard, whereas Caesonia's medicament slew knights and senators together, and turned the whole world upside down with fire and the sword. (610–626.)

To kill a stepson is now thought quite in order; beware, ye wards, if ye have wealth; keep an eye upon your stepmother's cakes, and 'let her cup be tasted before you put it to your lips. Do you suppose that I am telling mere idle tales, breathing forth mouthings like a tragedian? Would to heaven it were so! but just look at the case of Portia, who was caught in the act; "I did it," she confessed; "with my own hands. I gave aconite to my boys." "What, you viper? you slew two of them at one meal?" "Ay; and seven too had there been seven to slay!" (627–642.)

Tragedy, indeed, tells us of the crimes of Procne and the Colchian; I seek not to deny them. But they sinned in wrath, not for filthy lucre's sake; what I cannot abide is the calculated crime, woman would let her husband go to Hades if she could save her lapdog! Daughters of Danaus[3] are to be found in plenty among us; every street in Rome contains its Clytemnestra; the only difference is that she made use of a clumsy two-bladed axe, while these women do the trick with the liver of a toad—and perhaps with a knife, if their lord have fortified himself with antidotes! (643–661.)


The 7th Satire promises a good time for letters and learning from the expected patronage of the new emperor, and is mainly taken up with bewailing the miserable prospects of all the literary professions. The good old days of patronage are gone; the wealthy pay no respect to letters, or assist them only in ways that involve no cost to themselves; the only patronage worth having nowadays is the favour of a popular play-actor. The poet, the historian, the advocate, the rhetorician, the grammarian—all have the same tale of neglect and poverty to tell, whereas singers and jockeys are splendidly rewarded. The teacher's profession, which is the noblest, and the most deserving of respect, of all the professions, fares worst of all; there is no money that a father grudges so much as that spent in the education of his son.


The 8th Satire is an attack upon pride of birth. Though there is no one who has more respect for the blood of the great old Roman houses than Juvenal himself, he discourses eloquently on the theme nobilitas sola est atque unica virtus. No man, no animal, can be called high-born whose breeding is not proclaimed by the possession of high qualities. A man must stand or fall by his own qualities, not by those of his ancestors. Be a stout soldier, an honest guardian, and an impartial arbiter; prefer honour to life; if called to govern a province, be just and tender-hearted to the provincials. If your wife be blameless, and you have no corrupt favourite in your suite, you may trace your lineage to the loftiest source you please; but if you are carried headlong by ambition, lust and cruelty, the noble blood of your ancestors rises up in judgment against you, and throws a dazzling light upon your misdeeds. What think you of the noble Lateranus, who drives his own chariot along the public way unabashed, and frequents low taverns, where he consorts with thieves, coffin-makers, and cut-throats? And what are we to say of a Damasippus or a Lentulus, who hire out their voices to the stage?—though, indeed, who might not be a mime when an emperor has turned lutist?—and worse still, have we not seen the noble Gracchus in the arena, not fighting with helm and shield and sword, but with a trident and a net in his hand? See how he has missed his cast, and lifts his face for all to see as he flies along the arena! Orestes, you say, was a parricide, like Nero; but Orestes slew no wife, no sister; he never sang upon the stage, he never wrote an epic upon Troy! And of all his crimes, which deserved greater punishment than that?

Whose blood could be nobler than that of Catiline or Cethegus? Yet they conspired to destroy the city; and it was the plebeian Cicero that preserved it. The plebeian Marius saved her from the Cimbri and the Teutones; the plebeian Decii saved our legions from the hosts of Latium; and the best king of Rome was a slave-girl's son.


The 9th Satire deals with a disgusting offence, one of the main sources of corruption in the ancient world.


The 10th Satire has been often called Juvenal's masterpiece; it has had the honour of being paraphrased by Johnson in his "Vanity of Human Wishes," and it has all the merits of a full-blown rhetorical declamation. It has some magnificent descriptions, especially that of the fall of the favourite Sejanus. But it is a profoundly depressing and pessimistic poem. Except in the last few lines, there is not a word of hope or encouragement for the ordinary human being; no sense that any kind of life can be worth living; not one word of counterpoise to the long, dismal catalogue of human failures; no suggestion that in great lives which have ended in disaster there may have been moments of noble action, high endeavour and inspiration. The description of old age is revolting in its minuteness, and it is not relieved by a single touch of sympathy or kindliness. The text of the whole is

Quid tam dextro pede concipis ut te
Conatus non paeniteat votique peracti?

Our wishes, our prayers, are all equally vain. If you lust for riches, think of the fate of a Lateranus, a Seneca, or a Longinus; even in days of primitive simplicity, man's follies provoked the tears of Heracleitus and the laughter of Democritus. Some men are brought to ruin by their lust of place and power, like Pompey, the Crassi, and Sejanus; others, like Cicero and Demosthenes, by the fatal gift of eloquence. The glories of war end in misery and disaster—look at the calamitous ends of Hannibal, of Xerxes, and Alexander! Men pray for long life; but old age does but bring with it a host of miseries and infirmities, ending in the loss of reason. What calamities had Nestor, Peleus, and Priam to go through because of their length of days! What disasters would have been escaped by Marius and Pompey, what glory might not have been theirs, had they died earlier!

The loving mother prays that her children may have beauty; but when did modesty and beauty go together? The fair maiden, the fair youth, live in a world of peril and of snares. Hippolytus and Bellerophon warn us that even purity has its dangers; and what was the end of the fair and high-born youth who became a victim to the passion of Messalina?

Better leave it to the Gods to determine what is best for you and for your state; man is dearer to them than he is to himself. But if you must needs pray for something, ask for things which you can give yourself: ask for a stout heart that fears not death; ask for power to endure; ask for a heart that knows not anger and desire, and deems that all the woes of Hercules are better than the soft cushions of Sardanapalus. These things you can bestow on yourself, and snap your fingers at the strokes of Fortune!


The 11th Satire consists of two parts. It begins with an account of the folly of gourmands of slender means, who ruin themselves for the pleasures of the table, forgetful of the golden rule γνῶθι σεαυτόν, which warns a man to know his tether, in finance as well as in other things, and not buy a mullet when he has only a gudgeon in his purse (1–55). This serves as a prelude to the second part of the Satire, in which the poet invites his friend Persicus to a genial but simple feast, the delicacies of which are to be furnished from the homely produce of his Tiburtine farm—such a feast as was served on simple ware to resale the consuls and dictators of the olden time. There will be no rich plate no costly furniture, no silver, no handles of ivory, no professional carver, no Phrygian or Lycian Ganymede to hand you your cup. Two simple country-clad lads will serve the table; no wanton dancing girls will be provided for your entertainment; only Homer and Virgil will be read. And our enjoyment will be all the greater that we can hear the roars of the circus in the distance, and hug ourselves in the delights of a rare and peaceful holiday (56–208).


In his 12th Satire Juvenal celebrates the narrow escape from shipwreck of his friend Catullus. A terrible storm had compelled him to cut away the mast and to throw overboard all the treasures of his cargo. But at length the storm abates, and Catullus with his crew arrive safe and sound in the new Ostian harbour. Juvenal then offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving for his friend's safety— no mercenary offering this for a rich and childless friend, seeing that Catullus has three little sons of his own. This leads the poet to have his fling at the wiles of legacy-hunters, some of whom would be ready to sacrifice a hecatomb of elephants (if elephants were to be had), or even to offer an Iphigenia of their own, in order to secure a place in a rich man's will.

The elephant passage is singularly cumbrous and out of place.


The 13th is the noblest of Juvenal's Satires. It takes the form of a consolatory epistle to Calvinus, who has been defrauded of a sum of ten thousand sesterces by the dishonesty of the friend to whom it had been entrusted. In offering him consolation, the poet not only uses all the arguments of robust common sense, but also in his concluding passages he may be said to reach the high-water mark of pre-Christian ethics; there is at least one notable pronouncement which seems to breathe the very spirit of the Gospel.

Every guilty deed brings its own punishment along with it; no guilty man can escape at the bar of his own conscience. Your loss is one of every-day occurrence; has experience not taught you to bear the smallest of misfortunes? Crime of every kind is rampant amongst us; honest men are not more numerous than the mouths of the Nile; it is mere simplicity to expect any man nowadays to abstain from perjury. In the days of Saturn, before the heavens were crowded with their present mob of divinities; in the days when youth stood up to reverence old age, dishonesty was a marvel to be wondered at; but in these days, if a man acknowledges a trust, and restores the purse entrusted to him, I deem him a prodigy. I liken him to a shower of stones, or to a pregnant mule, or to a river running white with milk. What if some other man have lost ten times as much as you? So easy is it to escape the notice of heaven if no man be privy to the guilty deed! Some men disbelieve in divine wrath; others believe in it, but will take the risk, provided they can secure the cash; punishment they argue, may perhaps never come after all! Granted that loss of money is the greatest of human calamities, what right have you to deem yourself outside the common lot of man, as though hatched from a white and lucky egg? Look at the list of crimes daily brought before the Court and dare to call yourself unfortunate! Who wonders at a swollen neck in the Alps, or at blue eyes and yellow hair in a German?

But is the perjured wretch to go unpunished? you ask. Well, if the man's life were taken, that would not bring back your money'; and when you tell me that vengeance is sweeter than life itself, I tell you that none think so but the ignorant, and that of all pleasures vengeance is the meanest. You may judge of it by this, that no one so delights in it as a woman!

But why fancy that such men escape punishment when conscience is for ever wielding its unseen unheard lash over their guilty souls? What punishment of Caedicius or Rhadamanthus can be so terrible as that of having to carry one's own accusing witness by day and by night, within one's breast? Truly spoke the Pythian oracle when it condemned the man who returned a deposit, not for conscience' sake, but from fear; for the man who meditates a crime within his heart has all the guiltiness of the deed. If he accomplishes the deed, he is never free from anguish; the choicest viands, the finest wines, offend his taste; when his tossed limbs at length sink to rest, he has visions of the temple and the altar by which he has forsworn himself; your image, larger than life, rises up before him and compels him to confess. These are the men who tremble at every lightning-flash; they believe that every rumbling in the sky, every sickness they have, is a sign of the wrath of heaven and betokens future punishment. And yet they will not mend their ways; what man was ever content with a single sin? So you may take comfort from this: your enemy will sin once again, and more openly: his fate will be ' the prison or the halter; you will rejoice in his punishment, and enjoy your vengeance after all!


The theme of the 14th Satire is that parental example is the most potent of educational instruments. The father who gambles, or gormandises, or cruelly abuses his slaves, is instructing his son in his own vices; the mother who has paramours teaches her daughter to be unfaithful; clothed with parental authority, such examples cannot be resisted. Let fathers therefore see to it that no foul sight be seen, no foul word be heard, within their doors; let them respect their child's tender years, let their infant son forbid the meditated sin.

When you expect a guest, your household are set to work to clean and scrub, that no foul spot maj offend the stranger's eye; and will you not bestir yourself that your son may see nothing but what is pure and spotless within his home? The stork, the vulture, the eagle all follow in the ways pointed out to them in the parental nest. Cretonius half ruined himself by building; his son completed the ruin by building grander and more sumptuous mansions. If the father keeps the Sabbath, the son will carry his superstition further still; he will flout the laws of Rome, and observe the secret rites and practices of Moses.

The one and only vice which the young practise unwillingly is that of avarice, since it has a spurious appearance of virtue. Hence fathers take double pains, both by precept and example, to instil the love of money into their sons; they practise the meanest economies that they may be wealthy when they die. Our hardy ancestors, broken by wounds and years, deemed themselves happy with a reward of two acres, which to-day would not be thought big enough for a garden. In the hurry to be rich no law is regarded, no crime stops the way. Foreign purple has banished the hardy contentment of the old Marsian and Hernican heroes, and opened the door to every villainy. When the father bids his son rise at midnight to seek for gain, telling him that lucre smells sweet whatever the source from which it comes, he is instructing him to cheat, to cozen, and to forswear himself; ay, and the disciple will soon outstrip his teacher.

It is as good as a play to watch how men will brave perils of storm and tempest to increase their pile of cash; not for mere livelihood, like the rope-dancer, but just to store up little pieces of gold and silver stamped with tiny images! Such a man is fit only for a mad-house; one day the storm will engulf his goods, and he will have to support himself by a painted shipwreck.

To guard great riches is as burdensome a task as to acquire them; better be lodged like Diogenes, who, if his tub were broken, could have it mended or replaced to-morrow. If you ask how much money should suffice, I would bid you have enough to keep out cold and hunger; add as much as would make up the fortune of a knight; if that be too beggarly, make it double, or treble the amount; if that suffice you not, then will not your soul be satisfied with all the wealth of Croesus or Narcissus!


The 15th Satire gives an account of a fierce fight between the inhabitants of two neighbouring townships in Egypt, Ombi and Tentyra. In the course of the battle a fleeing Tentyrite slipped and fell; his body was at once torn into pieces and devoured by the bloodthirsty Ombites. Juvenal furiously denounces the crime; and it gives him the opportunity, in a beautiful and pathetic passage, of declaring that the tenderness of heart evinced by the capacity to shed tears is the noblest and most beautiful of the characteristics of man; it is the power of sympathy between man and man that has built up all the elements of human civilisation.


The 16th Satire, which is only half-finished, is taken up with recounting the various privileges enjoyed by the military. No civilian can get justice against a soldier; and soldiers have special privileges in regard to property.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. i.e. take a public bath along with the men.
  2. Caesonia was Caligula's wife. Agrippina was supposed to have poisoned her uncle-husband Claudius, and so won for him divinity.
  3. i.e. wives who murder their husbands.