You are here

The End of Juvenal Satire 1 and the Imitation of Lucilius and Horace

Brian S. Hook

University of North Carolina at Asheville

I propose a reading of the ambiguous ending of Juvenal Satire 1 as a programmatic statement of Juvenal’s appropriation of Lucilius and Horace through the echo of words and themes from Horace Epistle 1.19. I do not propose a single, stable meaning for Juvenal’s complex ending, but the dialogue with Horace provides a literary rather than social context and thus a more positive reading.

Scholarly approaches to the end of Juvenal 1 have been largely negative. Focus is often drawn to the persona created by Juvenal, who is revealed to be “a spineless and petty bigot” (Braund 1996, 120), worthy of “derision…both for his real faults (cowardice, blasphemy) and because of his ridiculous appearance” (Plaza 2006, 47), a “victim of the very crisis of criticism he has indicted in the poem,” (Uden 2015, 14)—in other words, a hypocrite. Many interpretations, as Freudenburg frames it, treat this ending as a “kind of diagnostic parody” (2001, 238) that challenges readers to make sense of the apparent inconsistencies, either to rescue Juvenal from them or to let them stand.

The primary inconsistency of Juvenal Satire 1 is his about-face from the imitation of Lucilius, mentioned first in 1.19-21 and again in 1.165-167. Lucilius is presented as a bold warrior, driving his chariot and roaring with drawn sword at his guilty audience. Juvenal continues the battle metaphor in the warning his interlocutor provides, galeatum sero duelli/ paenitet, “It’s too late to regret the battle once you’ve put on your helmet” (1.169-170). Scholars, for example Braund (1996, 116-119), have compared Juvenal’s ending with Horace 2.1 and Persius 1, but there have been few and brief recognitions of the presence of Horace Epistle 1.19 in Juvenal’s ending (e.g. Stramaglia 2008, 115).

In Epistle 1.19, Horace addresses poetic matters and imitators, but he concludes it with language that evokes battle and retreat. As he does in certain satires (1.10, 2.1), Horace prefers a smaller, distinguished audience of noble readers, among whom he includes Maecenas and Augustus. Horace feels drawn into combat with a larger audience that he proclaims is dangerous, and he prefers to withdraw from it. Shame, anger, tears, fear, battle and death appear in the concluding lines of both poems. Horace’s hinc illae lacrimae (Epis. 1.19.41) is echoed in Juvenal 1.168, inde ira et lacrimae. In his first programmatic satire, Juvenal incorporates language from the end of Horace’s hexameter verse production, as if to mark that he is picking up where Horace leaves off. (Juvenal seems to omit Persius and to configure the satiric “triad” as Lucilius, Horace and himself.) We are then invited to read the difficult conclusion of Juvenal’s first satire as a comment on his likeness and difference from his predecessors and models Lucilius and Horace.

In Epistle 1.19, Horace demeans “slavish” imitation, but he has to distinguish his imitation of Archilochus from how others imitate him. He does so by claiming to appropriate numeros animosque Archilochi, but not res et verba (24-25). Horace’s description of his appropriation of Archilochus contrasts his accusation of Lucilius’ appropriation of the Old Comic poets in Sat. 1.4. Where Horace took only Archilochus’ meters (and spirit), Lucilius changed the comic meters but is otherwise entirely dependent on them: hinc omnis pendet Lucilius, hosce secutus/ mutatis tantum pedibus numerisque (“From them Lucilius derives everything: he imitated them with only their rhythms and meters changed” Sat. 1.4.6-7).

It is possible to see Juvenal locating himself as the third in the triad after Lucilius and Horace, and his first satire as staking out his position in terms of his predecessors. Clearly Lucilius dominates Juvenal’s poem: it is Lucilius’ animi that animate Juvenal. But Horace fears his audience and exits the battle. Just as Horace found a middle path between originality and tradition and castigated those who imitated him “slavishly,” Juvenal finds a literary middle way between his two predecessors.

Session/Panel Title

Getting the Joke

Session/Paper Number


© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy