Writing during the reign of emperors Trajan and Hadrian, Juvenal drew on Roman legend and the history of preceding imperial dynasties as a means of scrutinizing cultural upheavals in the Rome of his day. Tacky foreigners, the nouveaux riches, women who don’t know their place, bloodthirsty—even crazy—emperors and their (often worse) wives confront the reader at every turn, along with bad poets, corrupt aristocrats, gladiators, whores, false philosophers, sad-sack men in the street, and slaves. Juvenal’s poetry set the tone, and often the topics, for satirists throughout the centuries of European literature.
In his sixteen verse satires, Juvenal presents speakers who decry the breakdown in traditional Roman values and the status of Roman men as they are confronted by upstart foreigners, devious and deviant women, class traitors, the power of the imperial household, and even the body itself. The satirist castigates vice and immorality even as he revels in describing them. This book locates Juvenal’s targets among the matrices of birth, wealth, class, gender, and ethnicity and walks carefully through a number of his most arresting vignettes in order to show not only what, but how, he satirizes. Moreover, the analysis shows that Juvenal’s portraits sometimes escape his grasp, and, as often as not, he ends up undermining the voice with which he speaks and the values he claims to hold dear. Individual chapters look at the satirist himself, rebellious bodies, disgraced aristocrats, uppity (even murderous) wives, and the necessary but corrupting power of money. The conclusion considers the endurance of both the targets and the rhetoric behind them in the modern world.
Making Men Ridiculous will interest scholars and advanced students of ancient satire, later European satire, imperial Roman culture and literature, and class, gender, and sexuality in the ancient world.