Introduced by Simon Callow
Illustrated by David Hughes
The progenitor of modern satire, Juvenal crafted these 16 works of perfectly crafted vitriol in opposition to the darker mores of first-century Rome. With an introduction by Simon Callow, the poems remain as ingeniously disrespectful as ever.
Who can sleep easy today? Avaricious daughters-in-law and brides are seduced for cash, schoolboys are adulterers.
The traditional Roman world of literary histories and philosophies is far removed from that of Juvenal’s merciless Satires. Sleazy politicians, male prostitutes, drunken aristocrats and usurping underlings replace eloquent orators and legendary generals. Juvenal’s ironic and politically incorrect verse wages war against all that irks him in Roman society. Indeed, when considering a ‘flabby eunuch’ or a ‘country of mutton-heads’, he claims that it is harder not to write satires.
Although very little is known about Juvenal’s life, it is generally thought that these 16 surviving works were written in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, each castigating the perceived political and social stupidities of Imperial Rome. In his newly commissioned introduction, Simon Callow discusses his very personal connection with Juvenal as a fellow performer; how, like the greatest stand-up comics, Juvenal ‘seems to be in the middle of a conversation ... his bottled rage suddenly erupting’. But within his seemingly uncontrolled diatribes, every barbed line is meticulously crafted, the comic timing precise, creating an effect that is not only deeply satisfying but also extremely funny. The subject matter is often controversial, even by modern standards, but the irreverent language is topical, reminiscent of today’s sharpest and most ruthless cultural commentators.
For this edition, we have used Peter Green’s revised translation of 1998. It closely mirrors not only the structure but also the volcanic fervor of the original Latin. David Hughes’s graphic illustrations brilliantly evoke the pleasure Juvenal takes in reviling his victims.
My odd relationship with Juvenal, Hamlet’s ‘satirical rogue’, goes back a long way – in fact, to 1941, when my school class of seniors, known as the Classical Sixth, was introduced to Satires III and X, in Latin, along with the English imitations of them by Samuel Johnson, ‘London’ and ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’. The Latin –and Juvenal is a notoriously difficult author – we were required to translate at sight, while committing to memory large chunks of both Juvenal himself and of the Great Cham’s pompously Christianising adaptations. This was, though we certainly didn’t realise it at the time, a most valuable baptism by philological fire. We grappled gamely with the nuts and bolts of Juvenal’s colourful and allusive Latin; the passages that we learned by heart drove home, the hard way, his densely vivid rhetoric, imagery and sound effects (one of these, I note, the pulling down of Sejanus’ statues at the time of his fall, which I can still recite in extensor, struck Simon Callow very much the same way).
What I began to discover as a schoolboy was a troubled and elusive human being, with a bile-laden grudge against his society. Living with him for years as a persistent translator brought him closer. It took the theatrical insight of Simon and Richard Quick to provide that essential third dimension, and see him giving his stand-up performance as the savage satirist he was, a true ancestor of Mort Sahl. So the chance of this Folio Society edition, complete with David Hughes’s creepily brilliant illustrations (as though Aubrey Beardsley and Egon Schiele had joined forces in the underworld), not only led to Simon’s deadpan introduction, but, through an accident of theatrical timing, has made possible a resurrection of Simon’s never-to-be-forgotten embodiment of Juvenal’s own stand-up routine. To bring the dead to life, Robert Graves wrote dismissively in a famous poem, is no great magic. He was wrong. Juvenal redivivus needed all those happy accidents I’ve listed, and the result has been a minor miracle.
The Satires appeared in five books, four containing three or more individual satires, which anatomise different aspects of modern life; the longest, the sixth, with its hair-raising denunciation of the disgraceful behaviour of women, fills the whole of Book II. In some of the satires, the author seems to speak in his own person, in others he adopts a different character, but behind these personas, as in the novels of Dickens, is the unmistakable presence of the author, performing them. naevolus, the male prostitute, is no more and no less real than Mrs Gamp’s Mrs Harris in Martin Chuzzlewit. This technique of Juvenal’s has caused scholars and critics a great deal of anxiety – is the whole thing a performance? Who is the real Juvenal? For an actor, this problem is no problem at all. I recognised within seconds what the Satires were: stand-up comedy, with its multiplicity of voices, to say nothing of its surreal fantasies. What the reviewers of Juvenalia at the Bush Theatre discerned was true not just of our little show but of the original from which it was drawn: the Satires stand in a tradition to which Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen, but equally Max Miller and Jackie Mason and Bernard Manning, all belong – the comic improvisation on a theme. ‘My wife, my wife,’ says the end-of-the-pier comic, ‘the other day I came home and the wife was crying her eyes out. I said, “What’s wrong?” She said, “I feel homesick.” I said, “This is your home.” She said, “I know. I’m sick of it.” ’ This is wordplay, of course; but it is equally social commentary.
Juvenal, needless to say, ranges wider and digs deeper than Max Miller; his themes are explicitly political and social. But his technique is equally scattergun, his targets constantly changing, as, with supreme virtuosity, he binds his non sequiturs together by sheer brilliance of language and unerring sense of comic timing, each outrageous sally topping the one before. introduction
Juvenal (Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis) lived in the late first and early second centuries ad. Little is known about his life for certain, but it is thought that he was born in Aquinum, now Aquino, and later moved to Rome, where he may have studied with the critic and master rhetorician Quintilian. His subsequent forays into rhetoric and satire, and specifically a lampoon on a court favourite, may have earned him exile in Egypt by Domitian in c.93. He was recalled after Domitian’s death in 96, and after the accession of Hadrian (117), who favoured the arts, he seems to have received enough official support to keep a small residence in Rome, as well as a small farm at Tivoli. The satires are his only surviving works, though his style was considered worthy of praise by Martial, who addressed three epigrams to him.
Peter Green was born in London in 1924, and educated at Charterhouse and Trinity College, Cambridge, with a wartime intermission in the RAF in Burma. After achieving a double first and a Craven Scholarship in Classics in 1950, followed by a PhD in 1954, he spent a decade as a literary journalist in London. From 1963 until 1971 he and his family lived in Greece, at first on the island of Lesvos, then in Athens, where he returned to teaching Classics at college level. In 1972 he joined the Classics faculty of the University of Texas at Austin, being appointed to a named chair in 1982. Emeritus since 1997, he currently serves as an adjunct professor of Classics at the University of Iowa.
Simon Callow is an actor, author and director. He studied at
Queen’s University, Belfast, before training as an actor at the Drama
Centre in London. He has appeared in many films and TV dramas,
including Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), Shakespeare in Love
(1998) and Dr Who (2005, 2011). He directed stage productions
of Shirley Valentine, Single Spies and Carmen Jones, as well as the film of
The Ballad of the Sad Café. He has written acclaimed biographies
of oscar Wilde, orson Welles and Charles Laughton, and his autobiographical
book, My Life in Pieces (2011), won the Sheridan Morley
Award. His most recent book is Charles Dickens and the Great Theatre
of the World (2014). He introduced The Folio Society’s edition of
My Life in Art (2000) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (2009).
David Hughes is an artist and illustrator. He studied at Twickenham College of Technology, earning a first class honours in illustration, and went on to work as a graphic designer at Granada Television in Manchester. He left Granada in 1985 to become a full-time illustrator, earning commissions from Walker Books, the Observer Magazine and The New Yorker, among others. In 1999 he won the D&AD Silver Award for his illustrations for Othello, and in 2010 Walking the Dog, his graphic novel about the daily life of an illustrator, won the Association of Illustrators Critic’s Award. He has also illustrated Count Belasarius (2010) and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (2012) for The Folio Society.
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Review by caesar1 on 26th Jul 2017
"Very pleased with this book. The cover art and book illustrations are first rate. There are about 110 pages of notes which help to understand the satires. Highly recommended!"