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ANCIENT ROME - JUVENAL - SATIRE III

(Satire, Latin/Roman, c. 110 CE, 322 lines)

Introduction | Synopsis | Analysis | Resources
Introduction
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“Satire III” (“Satura III”) is a verse satire by the Roman satirical poet Juvenal, written around 110 CE or after. The poem is a monologue by a friend of Juvenal called Umbricius who is leaving Rome for a better life in the country, and who lists all the many ways in which Rome has become an unbearable place to live. It is perhaps the single most famous of Juvenal's sixteen Satires.

Synopsis
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In the prologue, the poet addresses his audience in the first person, explaining that his friend Umbricius, whom he is meeting for the last time on the edge of the city of Rome, is about to depart from Rome for a better life in the country, a decision of which Juvenal thoroughly approves. The poet then joins the audience as Umbricius, a loyal Roman citizen who can no longer endure his homeland, speaks his mind in an extended monologue.

As he sets off for Cumae, Umbricius relates the reasons he has been driven from Rome: that there is no longer any room for honest men, only liars and paupers; that the only way to earn the patronage of great men is to learn their guilty secrets; that Greeks and Syrians (who are willing to lie and cheat and do whatever it takes) are starting to oust the native Romans from their jobs; that only rich men are believed on their oaths; that the poor are ejected from their places in the theatre; that he can never hope to marry an heiress or to receive a legacy; that costs are too high in Rome and the style of living too pretentious; that there is a constant danger from fires or falling houses; that the noisy crowded streets make sleep impossible; that the poor are hustled on the streets, while the rich are borne safely through the streets in litters; and that there is a constant danger from items thrown from windows, as well as from rowdies, burglars and bandits.

Umbricius begs Juvenal to visit him in Cumae whenever he is visiting his native Aquinum, and promises to support him in any attempts at political reform Juvenal might take up.

Analysis
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Juvenal is credited with sixteen known poems divided among five books, all in the Roman genre of satire, which, at its most basic in the time of the author, comprised a wide-ranging discussion of society and social mores, written in dactylic hexameter. Roman verse (as opposed to prose) satire is often called Lucilian satire, after Lucilius who is usually credited with originating the genre.

In a tone and manner ranging from irony to apparent rage, Juvenal criticizes the actions and beliefs of many of his contemporaries, providing insight more into value systems and questions of morality and less into the realities of Roman life. The scenes painted in his text are very vivid, often lurid, although Juvenal employs outright obscenity less frequently than does Martial or Catullus.

He makes constant allusion to history and myth as a source of object lessons or exemplars of particular vices and virtues. These tangential references, coupled with his dense and elliptical Latin, indicate that Juvenal’s intended reader was the highly-educated subset of the Roman elite, primarily adult males of a more conservative social stance.

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Timeline | Alphabetical List of Authors | Index of Individual Works | Index of Important Characters | Sources
 
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