By Catherine Keane
OUP (2015) h/b 251pp £47.99 (ISBN 9780199981892)
In the very first sentence of the first satire (semper ego auditor tantum?), Juvenal uses a rhetorical question with exaggeration and ellipse to establish the immediate impression of an angry author. This well-known and much discussed angry persona is just the beginning of the story. Satire is not always in the heroic mode attributed to Lucilius driving his chariot across the plain (1.19-20). There is a quieter Juvenal: in Book 3 an ironist, Book 4 an unruffled and amused onlooker, and finally a merciless cynic in Book 5.
K. pays due attention to ancient discussions of emotion such as Seneca’s de ira and de tranquillitate while noting Juvenal’s eclectic and creative use of other literature. K. takes the reader systematically through the 16 satires but her analysis of what Juvenal is doing is always more subtle and nuanced than the basic outline. For example, anger persists beyond the first two books and K. claims ‘actually plays quite a significant role in this new phase of Juvenal’s oeuvre’ as we find in Satire 11. 185-9, where the adulterous wife recalls Satire 6, or in Satire 12 where ‘Juvenal seems to transform into the scathing satirist again’ when legacy hunting becomes the focus. K. wants us to think about the use of satiric rhetoric to manipulate the audience’s feelings or elicit a response (‘the pleasure of collusion’). Is the satirist a moralist or entertainer? How far does irony push the audience ‘to engage and impose interpretations’? What are we to make of the laughing philosopher Democritus, with his perpetuo risu (10.33) who finds matter for laughter in all his encounters? ‘This is a social critic that Juvenal wants his readers to observe and critique in turn’ says K. before looking at Heraclitus’ weeping, the other side of the caricature coin.
The famous prayer at the end of Book 10 (ut sit mens sana in corpore sano) is part of a positive wish for a tranquil mind, the path to which is through virtus. The end of Satire 10 for K. marks the beginning of Juvenal’s ‘foray into the subject of tranquillity’, and by the end of Satire 15 when Juvenal moves on from topic of cannibalism to the ‘assertion of positive values.’ There is a transition observed by K as Juvenal reinvents satire as ‘emotional engagement with the world.’
This densely argued, subtle and scholarly book will appeal principally to serious students of Juvenal.