Juvenal and Persius/Lucilian Satire

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Lucilian Satire

C. Lucilius, proclaimed by Horace, Persius, and Juvenal as the founder of Roman Satire, was born at Suessa Aurunca, in Campania, in B.C. 148; he died in B.C. 103. If not actually the inventor of Roman satire, he was the first to mould it into that form which subsequently acquired consistency and full development in the hands of his distinguished successors. Juvenal has no hesitation in acknowledging him as its father;—

Cur tamen hoc potius libeat decurrere campo
Per quem magnus equos Auruncae flexit alumnus;

Sat. i. 19-20.

Horace says of him that he was the first to compose poems in this style;—

Quid cum est Lucilius ausus
Primus in hanc operis componere carmina morem,

Sat. ii. i. 63.

Like Quintilian, Horace proclaims Lucilius as a writer in a style unknown to Greece;—

Graecis intacti carminis auctor (Sat. i. x. 66).

He was a man of good social position; Horace speaks of himself as "infra Lucili censum" (Sat. II. i. 75). He served in the Numantine war, and seems to have been on intimate terms with Scipio, and the literary society which gathered round him. He was a prolific writer, having written no less than thirty books of Satires, each book probably containing several pieces. The subjects treated were of the most miscellaneous kind, embracing questions of religion, morals, politics, and literary criticisms; some of them even touched on questions of grammar, Living in the days of the free republic, he indulged in broad and coarse personalities, attacking his enemies by name;—

secuit Lucilius urbem,
Te Lupe, te Muci, et genuinum fregit in illis.

Pers. i. 114-15.

In this respect, Horace tells us, Lucilius took his model from the writers of the old Attic comedy; but while commending his freedom and his wit, Horace is severe upon his style, which he pronounces rough, redundant, and inartistic. In the general tone of his writings, and in the purity of his aims, he seems to have represented on its best side the literary and moral ideas of the Scipionic circle. His poems have been described as open letters to the public, embracing the whole life of a cultivated man of the world in good position, ready to criticise everything and everybody in politics, literature, and social life.

With regard to the metre which he employed, the great body of his poems, with some exceptions, were written in dactylic hexameters; and from that time forward this became the recognised metre of Roman satire.


And now for the bond which linked together these various forms of composition under the common name of Satura.

It was the practice among the ancients, in making the stated sacrifices to Ceres or Bacchus, or other rural deities, to offer to each god a collection of the various first-fruits of the earth, piled up upon a large platter. The Greeks designated offerings of this mixed kind by the name TrayKap-rria. or 7ray/cap7ros Ovaia; while the Latins called a platter thus piled up a Lanx Satura, or simply Satura, that word being the feminine of the adjective satur (from root sat), signifying repletion. The same word was used of other things possessing the same quality; a Lex passed per saturam was a law containing enactments on various subjects which were all passed together as a whole. Thus the term came to be used of any miscellaneous collection, any medley or hotch-potch consisting of many mixed ingredients.

(1) The first kind of entertainment to which the word was applied was that described by Livy vii. 2, consisting of rough dialogue set to music, {impletas mod is saturas), with singing and dancing. The whole might appropriately be called a Dramatic Miscellany or Medley.

(2) Ennius and Pacuvius removed Satura from the stage, and gave the name to a number of pieces composed on a variety of subjects and in a variety of metres. The whole, viewed as a collection, might be called a Poetical Miscellany.

(3) Varro, taking as his model the dialogues of Menippus, wrote a vast number of pieces on a multitude of different subjects, some purely comic, some on grave themes drawn from recondite philosophy, but even these treated with a certain liveliness of manner (conspersas hilaritate quadam), and all thrown into the form of a dialogue, mostly in prose, possibly with some admixture of verse, and forming what may be called a serio-comic Philosophic Miscellany.

(4) Finally comes the Satura Luciliana, the great characteristic of which was the variety of subjects dealt with. Of these, however, politics ceased to be one after the time of Lucilius. If we admit the limits marked out for himself by Juvenal in the famous lines,

Quidquid agunt homines, votum, timor, ira, voluptas,
Gaudia, discursus, nostri farrago libelli est (i. 85-6),

we might define it as a Moral Miscellany. Unlike previous forms of Satire, it eliminated prose and restricted itself to one form of verse, the dactylic hexameter. It devoted itself mainly to social and moral topics, castigating the vices and follies of mankind as depicted in their lives and occupations. Almost any subject relating to man or society might be dealt with in a Satura. Horace allowed himself a very wide field, including critical disquisitions and such anecdotes as might lead to humorous or caustic comment; while Lucilius went further still, entering even on the discussion of questions of grammar and orthography. Having originated on the stage, Satire retained to the last evident traces of its dramatic origin. Varro's Satires consisted largely of dialogue; dialogue is constantly appearing in Horace; Juvenal is full of dramatic touches; while the proper unravelling of obscurely marked dialogue forms one of the main difficulties in the interpretation of Persius.