You are here

Memory, Origins, and Fiction in Juvenal’s Satire 3

Maya Sunita Chakravorty

Boston University

Juvenal’s Satire 3 opens with the narrator’s friend Umbricius’ emigration from Rome to Cumae. The impetus for the move is, as Umbricius explains, because “there is no place for any Roman here” (119). Recent work on the satirical nature of Satire 3 by scholars such as Victoria Baines, Tom Geue, and Gregory Staley has focused on Umbricius as a mock-epic exile, establishing a system of nostalgic references to Vergil, Homer, and Statius. However, my paper will demonstrate for the first time that there is another set of literary allusions which go back even further to Rome’s earliest writers: Livius Andronicus and Cato the Elder. Furthermore, I argue that while these allusions in Satire 3 present the reader with a nostalgic view of the Republic, the poem simultaneously satirizes these references by revealing them to be fictitious allusions to a Rome which never existed.

In the scene of Umbricius’ departure (10-20), the narrator describes the grove at which Numa used to meet with Egeria, where the Camenae have been kicked out. Alain Gowing argues that in general, archaic Roman monuments are not just “Republican structures but rather...quintessential ‘sites of memory’, thus underlining Umbricius and the narrator’s nostalgia for the Republic (133). While the sites themselves clearly allude to the early days of Rome, as is discussed by Livy (1.21.3), I argue that Juvenal’s emphatic placement of Camenis as the last word spoken by the narrator before introducing Umbricius, specifically alludes to Rome’s earliest extant poet Livius Andronicus, who invoked them as Muses in the first line of his Odusia (Fr. 1 Warmington). Moreover, in his opening speech, Umbricius bears a striking resemblance to Cato the Elder, both in his portrayal in Cicero’s De Senectute, and in the De Agricultura itself. Cato was known for being a severe old man, and for his steadfast adherence to the old-fashioned mores of Republican Rome, and Umbricius personifies these same qualities in his speech. Umbricius’ use of the word honestis in his complaint that “there is no place in Rome for respectable skills” takes the reader back to the preface of Cato’s De Agricultura, which uses the adjective to describe money-lending as disreputable (3.21-2).

Juvenal satirizes these nostalgic allusions to Livius Andronicus and Cato the Elder by juxtaposing them with Umbricius’ portrayal of Rome as a crumbling and decaying metropolis overrun with foreign peoples (3.58-68). The satire lies in the absurd inconsistency between Umbricius’ xenophobia and the fact that he is part of a society derived from foreigners. While Umbricius may have been a true Roman who grew up having “drunk in the Aventine air, and was nourished on Sabine berries” (3.84-5), one must ask how “Roman” is Rome? The Romans had two widely accepted, albeit dissimilar, foundation myths: Romulus and Remus, and the arrival of the eponymous Trojan hero of Vergil’s Aeneid in Italy. Livy’s Romulus forcibly married the neighbouring Sabines to his men, and Vergil’s Aeneas is fated to marry Lavinia, princess of Latium, thus demonstrating a diverse genealogy. Likewise, Rome’s first epic poem, Livius Andronicus’ Odusia, was written by a half-Greek freedman and based upon Homer’s Odyssey, the Pan-Hellenic poem instrumental in the genesis of Ancient Greek identity. Even the ancestry of Cato the Elder cannot be confirmed as purely Roman; some scholars have suggested that his grandfather was not a Roman citizen, having moved to Tusculum from the Sabine countryside. Although the Romans tended to coopt the Sabines as their own people, they were initially two separate ethnicities. The poem’s xenophobic preoccupation with different ethnicities not only inhabiting Rome, but also being responsible for the corruption of its culture and mores, as well as a deep nostalgia for the olden days, highlights a fervent desire to preserve Roman identity. However, Juvenal’s allusions to Livius Andronicus and Cato the Elder – neither of whom is a “pure” Roman – call into question the validity of these nostalgic memories.

Session/Panel Title

Satire

Session/Paper Number

4.3

© 2020, Society for Classical Studies Privacy Policy