Horace and Juvenal--an Overview

        Horace and Juvenal are Rome's most famous practitioners of satire, an art which seems to be peculiarly Roman in its origins and generic features.  Satiric wit is related to comic drama, especially the "Old Comedy" of the Greeks, in which actual historical persons, perhaps even people in the theater audience, could be named on stage.  Suppressed by legal actions as defamatory and dangerous to public order, the Old Comedy was replaced by the New Comedy of "type characters" which endured the translation to Latin theater as the Jealous or Miserly Old Man (senex), the Braggart Warrior (miles gloriousis), the Crafty Slave (often named "Davus"), the young lover, the parasite or devious "yes-man," etc.  The satires of both Horace and Juvenal mix Old and New Comedy conventions depending on how dangerous their satire's target might be.  Juvenal's first satire actually is entirely a sort of catalogue of possible satiric targets, noting which ones are easier to publicly shame and which will be likely to have the satirist attacked by thug, killed, or exiled.  Think of the functions of public exposure of foolish or criminal behavior.  This is poetry operating as a social police force to arrest or at least deflate the pride of Romans behaving badly.  Like gossip or rumor, often depicted as "Fama," one's public fame, satire alerts us to the secret life of Rome where the elite and the poor, senators and criminals, meet.  What modern American art and entertainment forms are the heirs of Roman satire?  How is Roman satire related to current Twitter and other Internet practices generally called "trolling"?

        Horace also wrote "epistles," or letters to specific persons that were later circulated with the intention that many Romans would read them.  This practice has far-reaching consequences, leading to the Renaissance Humanists' epistolary publications of their "new thinking" about the classics, Christianity, and modernity, and to the development of the "essai" by Michel de Montaigne (1533-92), who invented the form of analytical inquiry that you practice when you write papers for your courses.  For Thursday, I have added Book II, Epistle 1, addressed to Emperor Caesar Augustus and offering an analysis of the emerging Roman canon of poetry as well as a critique of the "modern" (C1 CE) Roman poets with whom Horace competed.  Together with the "Ars poetica" (Epistle II.3), it is one of the first post-Aristotelian works of literary criticism.  Horace pays attention to the public reception of poets, but he also seeks standards of poetic quality that can outlast the fads of any era's public adulation.  Try to create one for our own era!  If nothing else, it will teach you how hard it is, and how important, to create a reasonable rule that says "read this, not that!"  If you do not think such rules should exist, how will you defend your own work's right to be read?  It's a jungle out there.  Help your works compete for survival.