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It was once thought by readers and critics of Juvenal that there were two different writers by that name, the declamatory writer of Satires 1-6 and a softer, more ironic satirist as seen in Satires 7-16. Although few now believe the echte and the unechte theory (Ribbeck), readers still struggle to see connections between the early and the later Juvenal. I argue in this paper for an approach to reading Juvenal that allows for the messy and vibrant character of his satire (the self-described farrago, 1.85-86) while discerning in the sixteen Satires a continuing thread of themes, characters and words that evolve and act as an intertextual (between the five Books of Satires) and intratextual (within one Book of Satires) commentary on previous Satires of Juvenal. This approach not only allows us to see Juvenal’s Satires as a work with a growing sense of design (Anderson) but also sets his work among the many classical authors who composed in larger units of Books rather than in subunits of poems or letters (Cloud and Braund, Henderson, Hutchinson, Arethusa special volume), By expanding on his various themes with varying exempla, Juvenal constructs a picture of Rome that becomes whole only as it reflects on and succeeds its earlier parts.

One major theme that recurs prominently in several Satires is sexual deviance and the way that gender roles and the use of the body define the behavior of the Roman citizen. Satire 2 introduces the “hypocritical pervert” (Rudd) and various types of sexual deviants: Creticus, who pleads a case in court wearing a gauzy dress; transvestites who crash the (all-female) rites of the Bona Dea; an aristocratic Gracchus who plays the “bride” reclining in the lap of “her” new husband. This theme is repeated in Satire 9, a dialogue between a pathic (Naevolus) and his “husband,” the aristocratic Virro. Characters, themes, situations, and specific language are repeated from Satire 2, with growing effect. The theme is once again varying forms of deviant behavior. The rites of the Bona Dea reappear several times, the perfect forum for cross-gendered characters. There is also specific linguistic repetition: the key word tristis, used oppositionally with turpis in Satire 2 to describe the stern moralist vs. the depraved cinaedus (2.9, 62, 71, 83, 111) opens up Satire 9, describing Naevolus and forming a link back to Satire 2.

An even more striking repetition is the phrase pumice levis (9.95), used of a depilated homosexual whose body is smoothed by a pumice stone; this phrase clearly picks up and further develops the podice levi of Satire 2.12 (“hairy limbs and hard bristles on your arms give the promise of a manly spirit but you have swollen hemorrhoids cut out by a smiling doctor from a smooth ass”). The two phrases pumice levis and podice levi occupy exactly the same line position in the two Satires. Each such repetition embroiders on and refines the earlier uses of the word, character or event, and all are put to the service of the true theme of the Satires: Romanitas, or what it means to be a Roman citizen (generally defined in Juvenal by its opposite). Juvenal slowly unfolds the definition of Romanitas by “progressive variation” (Van Sickle): not by simple repetition but by casting a similar character in a different rhetorical structure (e.g., monologue/dialogue), or adding a secondary theme (patronus and cliens), or toning down a previously harsh, bitter or crude locution with a milder, more clever and more mature restatement (e.g., the homosexual pairings in Satires 2 and 9).

Thus earlier Satires work to give added resonance to later Satires and to provide briefer introductions to fuller treatments later on. The earlier Satires plant the seeds for later Satires, giving rise to a “supporting series of triggers” (Henderson) that develop Juvenal’s ideas and themes into an ultimately consistent and powerful picture.


  • Anderson, W.S. 1986. "The Theory and Practice of Poetic Arrangement from Vergil to Ovid." In N. Fraistat (ed.), Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections. Chapel Hill, NC: 44-65.
  • Arethusa 13.1, 1980. Special Issue on "Augustan Poetry Books."
  • Cloud, J.D. and S.H. Braund. 1982. "Juvenal's Libellus - - a Farrago?" Greece and Rome. 2nd series 29.1: 77-85.
  • Henderson, J. 1997. Figuring Out Roman Nobility: Juvenal's Eighth Satire. Exeter.
  • Henderson, J. 1999. Writing Down Rome: Satire, Comedy, and Other Offences in Latin Poetry. Oxford.
  • Hutchinson, G.O. 2008. Talking Books: Readings in Hellenistic and Roman Books of Poetry. Oxford.
  • Ribbeck, O. 1865. Der echte und der unechte Juvenal. Berlin.Rudd, N., trans. 1991. Juvenal, the Satires. Oxford.
  • Van Sickle, J. 1980. "The Book-Roll and Some Conventions of the Poetic Book." Arethusa 13: 5-42.

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