Kirk FREUDENBURG, Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Pp. xviii + 289. ISBN 0 521 80357 (hardback), 0 521 00621 X (paperback).
Review by Raymond Astbury
In his introduction F. describes the ?Lucilius problem?, the fact that Lucilius had established a lex operis which none of his successors was able to follow. ?Every writer of satire after Lucilius fights a losing battle against him? and each produces a version of satire which is significantly different from that of the founder. F. rightly sees these changes as more than ?mere ?generic adjustments? that reflect the personal preferences of its authors? but as a product of Rome's lost Republican identity. The libertas of a wealthy, well-connected citizen in the second century BCE which lay at the foundations of Lucilius? satire was no longer available to authors writing under the emperors, so satire is ?remade radically over time precisely because these authors feel and respond to the increasing pressures of totalitarian oversight.? None of this seems very new and the claim that ?existing general studies of Roman verse satire tend to do little in this regard? is a little tendentious (cf. Coffey, Roman Satire2 pp. 91, 98-9, 110-1, 136-7). F.?s general conclusion (admittedly never explicitly stated) appears to be that because Horace and (especially) Juvenal fail to be Lucilius they are not really worth reading - his attitude towards Persius is somewhat less negative. To condemn poems for not being what the critic thinks they should be rather than to consider them for what they are seems a strange approach.
The body of the work consists of discussion of most of the satires of Horace and Persius (some quite briefly) and Book I (Satires 1-5) of Juvenal. What we have here is for the most part the expression of opinion, of F.?s preferred way of reading each poem, and the reader can do little more than agree or disagree with F.?s views. I found some of his ideas quite persuasive, some interesting and thought provoking, some improbable and some quite absurd. I was impressed by his analysis of the allusion to Lucretius at the end of Hor. serm. I. 1, by his discussion of Hor. serm. II. 1. 13-15 with its omission of Actium from the kind of things that might be written in praise of Caesar?s martial exploits, by his observation that what Persius and his contemporaries thought of Nero was probably very different from the picture of Nero presented by later writers like Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio, and by his lengthy analysis of Juvenal?s semper ego auditor tantum? as part of a general tendency in the post-Domitianic period to wish to look back to and write about the ?traumatic? recent past. On the other hand I was quite unconvinced by, for example, his desire to see in Hor. serm. I. 1 and Pers. 6 metaphorical observation on the nature of satire. Nor do I find his forays into the fashionable realm of intertextuality at all persuasive. It would appear that any passage with a slight verbal or thematic resemblance to that under discussion can be asserted to have been in the author's mind and can thus be used to assist in the interpretation of a passage. Of course such a connection can be neither proved nor disproved. ?Who can say what anyone, let alone a poet, might have meant when he wrote that particular line?? (Barbara Pym to Philip Larkin). F. himself admits that it all depends on ?the reader?s personalised sense of what is ?too much? ? - I reach satiety a good deal sooner than F., but he assures us that his views accord with ?current standards of intertextual criticism.?
sed recti finemque extremumque esse recuso
?euge? tuum et ?belle.?
To turn to a few of the points of detail which I have noted, the translation of caballo as ?steed? in Hor. serm. I. 6. 59 gets the register wrong - better ?nag?; the suggestion that Bolanus in Hor. serm. I. 9. 11 is Horace's slave is surely mightily improbable; the translation of Hor. ars 386 id tibi iudicium, ea mens, as ?That is your means of assessing, she your intelligence?, apparently taking ea to refer to Minerva in the previous line, shows a surprising unfamiliarity with Latin idiom.
What I miss most in this book is any sense that poetry is more than a series of conundrums to be puzzled over or a field in which to exercise ingenuity, any sense that the reader might be moved or instructed or entertained by reading the satirists. The work is mercifully fairly free of jargon, but it is written in a relentlessly jaunty style which becomes very wearing after a few pages. The specialist in Roman satire will feel obliged to read this and will find some interesting ideas herein, but I do not think anyone else need trouble with it.