Juvenal and Persius/Preface

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It is a work of some hardihood to attempt the translation into English prose of an author who is at once a unique master of style, a splendid versifier, the greatest satirist, and one of the greatest moralists, of the world. Yet it is a task that has appealed to scholars of every age, and has a special fascination for one who is called upon by the conditions of this series to produce a version which shall be at once literal and idiomatic.

In the case of a great writer like Juvenal, who writes for all time, each generation seems to demand a translation of its own, in accordance with the changes in its own point of view and the shifting usages of language; and each translator desires to bring out in his own way the special meaning which the author has conveyed to him.

I have consulted all the better-known translations, especially those of Mr. S. G. Owen, Mr. J. D. Lewis, and Messrs. Strong and Leeper; and there are many good idiomatic renderings of short phrases to be found in Mr. J. D. Duff's excellent edition of Juvenal. But my greatest obligation is to a collection of MS. papers on Juvenal and Persius left to me many years ago by my uncle, the late Professor William Ramsay of Glasgow University, whose prelections on Juvenal were much appreciated. Among these I have found many happy renderings written on the side of a text used for class purposes; and to the same source I owe much of the matter of the Introduction, especially the whole section on the history of the Roman Satura. I have also derived much advantage from Professor Housman's critical edition of Juvenal, and I have to thank him for permission to make use of his paraphrase of Sat. vi., ll. O l-O 30.[1] In translating Persius I have been under the greatest obligation to the well-known version of Professor Conington.

As it is one of the principles of this series to print the originals as a whole, Sats. ii., vi., and ix., so often omitted by translators, are included with the rest. They all contain fine passages, and some of Juvenal's most powerful writing is to be found in Sat. vi. The lines which have to be omitted or toned down to meet modern taste are few in number, and it must in fairness be acknowledged that although Juvenal's realism is at times extremely gross, it is always repulsive, never alluring or prurient, in its tone.

I have found it advisable to add summaries to the Satires both of Juvenal and Persius, so as to make clear in every case the course of the argument. Juvenal's rhetorical exuberance frequently carries him away from his subject, and leads him into irrelevancies; while Persius, in his love for recondite phrasing and rapid transitions, sometimes leaves the reader embarrassed as to his main purpose. Juvenal's sixth Satire, to whose merits so little attention has been paid in English editions, has been treated somewhat more fully than the rest.

The text of both the Juvenal and the Persius is based upon Bücheler's text of 1893, which, as Mr. Duff points out, was the first to give a full and trustworthy account of the readings of P (the Codex Pithoeanus). Any variation from that text is mentioned in the notes, together with a statement of the authority on which it has been adopted. Bücheler's edition was re-edited in 1910, with but few changes, by Dr. F. Leo. The most important of these changes is that he now recognises as genuine the passage discovered in 1899 by Mr. E. O. Winstedt in the Bodleian MS.


March 1, 1918.


  1. See note on vi. 365, p. 110.