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Friend or Enemy?: Humor and Contradiction in Juvenal 11-13

Scheherazade Jehan Khan

University of Pennsylvania

In this paper, I first offer a reinterpretation of Juvenal 12 in which I argue that the apparent inconcinnity of the satire’s two parts, a problem for which scholars have long been seeking solutions, should be read as part of a carefully-orchestrated comedic performance of self-contradiction we also see at work in Juvenal 11. I then go on to argue that Juvenal 11-13 should be considered together as examples of a fruitful comedic strategy whereby traditional targets of satire occupy the positions of addressees and/or authors of literary genres associated with friendly correspondence.

Juvenal 12 has frequently been criticized for the apparent discontinuity between its two parts, the first a soteria (a poem of gratitude for the safety of a loved one) and the second, a diatribe against legacy hunters. Ramage first reconciled these seemingly disparate sections by proposing that the satire is about good and bad friendship--the soteria demonstrating genuine friendship and the legacy hunters, its opposite (Ramage 1978). Most scholars have since agreed that this thesis is untenable, as Juvenal's soteria is too steeped in irony to represent a genuine friendship (Ferguson 1979: 294). Uden views the inconsistency as one of argument: the soteria focuses on sacrifice and the diatribe, on legacy-hunting. Since neither topic seems to relate to the other, he proposes that the point of Juvenal's argument is to compare sacrifice with legacy-hunting. This leads him to read the poem primarily as a religious critique (Uden 2007: 176-202). While I do not object to Uden's reading per se, I do question the search to provide a solution for the "discontinuity" in the text, since it hinges upon the debatable assumption that the satirist is meant to present a coherent argument and fails to consider that the very discontinuity identified as problematic, best here conceived as a matter of the satirist's character than of his argument, is often a deliberate comedic strategy.

Rosen and Walker have discussed how the satiric trope of discontinuity or self- contradiction operates in satire 11 and I argue that Juvenal employs a very similar technique in 12 (Rosen 2009; Walker 2015). Both poems are composed of two parts: (1) a moralizing diatribe concerned with a particular topic and (2) the satirist's own enactment or performance of an approach to that topic. In satire 11, the diatribe precedes the performance, while in satire 12, they are in reverse order. In each case, the satirist transitions from one section to the other by coyly nudging his interlocutor (and his audience) to evaluate his performance based on the guidelines of his diatribe. I hope to show that much of the humor in satire 12 results from the audience’s or reader's attempt to do this.

In closing, I argue that satires 11, 12 and 13 each parody satirical and rhetorical techniques by placing traditional targets of satire (the glutton Persicus, the legacy-hunter Corvinus, the materialistic merchant Catullus and the avaricious man Calvinus) in the position of addressees and/or objects of traditional literary genres associated with the writerly performance of friendship (invitation, soteria and consolatio). Rather than attacking these characters directly, the satirist is forced to deal with them within the confines of these incongruously delicate genres. This potentially innovative strategy yields humorously disconcerting situations that explore the tensions between the satirist speaker and his targets from a more intimate and unexpected angle. Much of the humor in each of these satires arises from (a) the failure on the part of the satirist to improve his interlocutor and (b) the fact that the satirist's efforts ultimately result in what comes off as a performance of the very vice he condemns.

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