Making Men Ridiculous

Juvenal and the Anxieties of the Individual
Christopher Nappa
Barbed and vivid details in Juvenal’s satiric poetry reveal a highly complex critique of the breakdown of traditional Roman values


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.

Christopher Nappa is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Minnesota.

Praise / Awards

  • "Nappa's approach, which interprets imagery found throughout the corpus instead of interpreting individual poems, allows him to avoid traditional debates on the satiric persona while still revealing a poet engaged in his social world...Recommended."
    --Choice Reviews Online
  • "Nappa deserves high praise for his clear, no-nonsense, prose. The scholarship is thorough and well assimilated into the argument, but never distracts from the book’s trajectory, which remains clear and focused throughout. Nappa’s study deserves a prominent place among the recent monographs and commentaries that continue to enrich our understanding of this enigmatic and controversial poet."
    --Bryn Mawr Classical Review
  • "This is a work essential for gender studies in Roman Antiquity."
    -- Classical Antiquity

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Product Details

  • 236 pages.
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  • Ebook
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12350-6

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  • Roman satire, Juvenal, ancient masculinity, imperial Rome, women in ancient Rome, gender in satire, the body in satire, the Roman emperor in literature, Latin poetry, misogyny in literature