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There and Back Again: Inverting the Virgilian Career in Juvenal's Third Satire

James Taylor

Recent scholarship on Juvenal’s third satire has aptly demonstrated that any straightforward and earnest reading of Umbricius has to be supplemented by an appreciation of the ironies inherent in his presentation (Fruelund Jensen 1986; Braund 1996 233–6; Hardie 1998 247–51; Baines 2003 235–7). However, what this ironic appreciation of Umbricius has struggled to explain is the rationale behind the composition of the third Satire and its dispositio within Juvenal’s first book.  The ironic approach begs the question of why Juvenal would devote the central and longest poem of the first book to another speaker whose arguments and viewpoint are simply to be laughed off by the reader.

Building upon the approach of Hardie 1998, which argued for Umbricius’ apparent transformation into an inspired poet by the surrounding locus amoenus and its recollection of the Phaedrus, this paper argues that we can gain insight into the third Satire if we see Umbricius and his choices as a foil against which Juvenal defines his own poetic career and continued devotion to urban existence and the genre of satire. This reading of the poem centres on a series of allusions to the Virgilian corpus and the model poetic career that it constitutes, arguing that the overwhelming focus on allusions to the Aeneid within this satire (Estevez 1996; Staley 2000; Baines 2003) has often failed to acknowledge their existence alongside allusions to the Eclogues (Witke 1962) and the Georgics.

By adopting an approach which takes into account the allusions to the entirety of the Virgilian career and corpus, I wish to demonstrate that Umbricius continually misreads Virgil by failing to appreciate the significance of the parallels which he invokes and that his own trajectory from city to countryside reverses the trajectory of the Virgilian career. By doing so, I hope to show, on the one hand, that Juvenal is aligning Umbricius with the derivative poets of the first Satire, who in their devotion to and handling of the same themes as past poets often seem to miss the point and rob those works of their vitality, and, on the other, that the cultural authority invested in the Virgilian career model may more rightly belong to poets who remain in the city and treat original topics, such as Juvenal, rather than hacks such as Umbricius.

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Running Down Rome: Lyric, Iambic, and Satire

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