Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History

  Compton, Todd M. 2006. Victim of the Muses: Poet as Scapegoat, Warrior and Hero in Greco-Roman and Indo-European Myth and History. Hellenic Studies Series 11. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Chapter 26. Juvenal: The Burning Poet

Thus, it is entirely appropriate that a persistent tradition of embittered exile should be attached to the vita of the poet. Even if he was not exiled—and, just as in the case of Naevius, some scholars deny that the exile ever took place [8] —such a story would be a necessary topos in the life story of a dominant satirist. The exile is not explicitly attested in the satires; Sidonius, born in AD 430, clearly refers to an exile that may be Juvenal’s, but he does not mention Juvenal by name. After mentioning Ovid, he refers to another poet, who “later, in a similar disaster, blown by a gust from the noisy public, was banished by an irritated actor.” [9] The sixth-century Byzantine chronicler John Malalas is our first explicit attestation for the exile. He wrote:

ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς βασιλεὺς Δομετιανὸς ἐφίλει τὸν ὀρχηστὴν τοῦ πρασίνου μέρους τῆς Ῥώμης, τὸν λεγόμενον Πάριδα. περὶ οὗ καὶ ἐλοιδορεῖτο ἀπὸ τῆς συγκλήτου Ῥώμης καὶ Ἰουβεναλίου τοῦ ποιητοῦ τοῦ Ῥωμαίου, ὡς χαίρων εἰς τὸ πράσινον. ὅστις βασιλεὺς ἐξώρισε τὸν αὐτὸν Ἰουβενάλιον τὸν ποιητὴν ἐν Πενταπόλει ἐπὶ τὴν Λιβύην, τὸν δὲ ὀρχηστὴν πλουτίσας ἔπεμψεν ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τῇ μεγάλῃ ἐπὶ τὸ οἰκεῖν αὐτὸν ἔξω τῆς πόλεως.

The emperor Domitian loved the dancer known as Paris from the Green faction in Rome; he was reproached for this by the Senate at Rome and by the Roman poet Juvenal, for favoring the Green faction. The emperor banished the poet Juvenal to Pentapolis in Libya, but enriched the dancer and sent him to Antioch the Great to live there, outside the city.

Aside from this one reference, only the vitae attached to the scholiasts and manuscripts, contradictory and unfactual as they often are, attest explicitly to the poet’s exile. Trying to piece together a historically convincing Juvenalian exile from the scholiast lives is a problematic task; however, a rough consensus can be obtained. [11] Following is the most common version of the Vita:

D. Iunius Iuuenalis, libertini locupletis incertum est filius an alumnus, ad mediam fere aetatem declamauit animi magis causa quam quod se scholae aut foro praepararet. deinde paucorum uersuum satura non absurde composita in Paridem pantomimum poetamque eius semenstribus militiolis tumentem genus scripturae industriose excoluit; et tamen diu ne modico quidem auditorio quicquam committere ausus est. mox magna frequentia tantoque successu bis aut ter auditus est, ut ea quoque quae prima fecerat inferciret nouis scriptis … erat tum in deliciis aulae histrio multique fautorum eius cottidie prouehebantur. uenit ergo Iuuenalis in suspicionem, quasi tempora figurate notasset, ac statim per honorem militiae quamquam octogenarius urbe summotus est missusque ad praefecturam cohortis in extremam partem Aegypti tendentis. id supplicii genus placuit, ut leui atque ioculari delicto par esset. uerum intra breuissimum tempus angore et taedio periit.

Junius Juvenalis, the son or adopted son (this is not established) of a rich freedman, was a declaimer until about middle age, more as a hobby than because he was preparing himself for a career as a professional declaimer or barrister. Then he composed a satire of a few verses, quite wittily, against the pantomime dancer Paris and his librettist, who was vain because of trivial six-month military appointments, and proceeded to devote himself to this style of writing. Yet for a long time he did not venture to entrust anything even to quite a small audience. Subsequently he gave readings a few times to packed audiences with such success that he inserted into his later writings his first composition also [Satire 7.90–92 is quoted]. At that time there was an actor who was a court favourite, and many of his fans were being promoted daily. Therefore Juvenal came under suspicion of making indirect attacks on the times, and, although in his eighties, he was removed from Rome by a military appointment and sent to take command of a cohort on its way to the remotest part of Egypt. This kind of punishment was decided upon so that it might match his trivial and humorous offence. However within a very short time he died because of vexation and disgust.


[ back ] 1. Highet 1961:2.

[ back ] 2. Cf. Satire 1, esp. line 45, where his “fevered soul burns with wrath” (siccum iecur ardeat ira). Anderson 1964; Braund 1988.

[ back ] 3. See Highet 1961:163.

[ back ] 4. 10.188–288.

[ back ] 5. Satire 7, on poverty of the literary life; 3.152–153; Satire 5; for many more references, see Highet 1961:359.

[ back ] 6. 4.32; 1.24–30.

[ back ] 7. See above, ch. 2 (Aesop and the Delphians); ch. 7 (Simonides).

[ back ] 8. Notably Strack 1880; cf. Wilson 1903:xvi–xvii; Hild 1884; Vahlen 1923:181–201; further bibliography in Strack 1880:33; and in Wilson 1903. Courtney suggests that because Juvenal’s writings were long out of fashion, “nothing was known about his life when he again came into fashion, and resort was made to inference and fabrication” (1980:9).

[ back ] 9. Sidonius Apollinaris Poems 9.271–273: … qui consimili deinde casu / ad volgi tenuem strepentis auram / irati fuit histrionis exul (trans. Highet 1961:23), cf. Courtney 1980:6.

[ back ] 10. Text in Dürr 1888:20. Translation Jeffreys et al. 1986:139.

[ back ] 11. See Dürr 1888:22–30. I will use Dürr’s system of numbering when referring to the lives.

[ back ] 12. Trans. Courtney 1980:6, text in Clausen 1959:179; Dürr 1888:22.

[ back ] 13. Vita IV; scholiast, codex Bibl. reg. 1.

[ back ] 14. See Strack 1990:27.

[ back ] 15. Vita IV, my trans. qua ex re commotus, nulla alia occasione reperta struendae mortis in Iuvenalem, sub honoris pretextu fecit eum praefectum militis contra Scotos, qui bellum conta Romanos moverant, ut ibi interficeretur Iuvenalis. Vita IIa also hints that Domitian was seeking his death; cf. IV cod. Omnib.: hoc modo poetae mortis instruendae opportunitatem invenit (“In this way he found a means for bringing about the poet’s death,” my trans.).

[ back ] 16. See above, ch. 15; also chs. 22; 25.

[ back ] 17. Vita IIa: cum tantae auctoritatis virum publice punire non auderet … Cf. IIc.

[ back ] 18. Or his lover, according to John Malalas.

[ back ] 19. E.g. Vita IIb: quod iste sua tempora notasset, fecit eum exulare.

[ back ] 20. Courtney 1980:7.

[ back ] 21. Highet 1937:506.

[ back ] 22. Cf. Highet 1961:151–152. The centerpiece of satire fifteen is a revolting account of feudal omophagia.

[ back ] 23. Trans. Ramsay. Variant readings: gutture /pectore; deducit / deducis. These lines are problematic in their details, though the main image and thought are clear enough.

[ back ] 24. Cf. Green 1967:192n26, on the tunica molesta ‘shirt of pitch’.

[ back ] 25. Tacitus Annals 15.44.

[ back ] 26. “Finally they burnt him with fire” (τέλος πυρὶ κατέκαιον, Tzetzes Chiliades 5.737). Cf. Bremmer 1983b:317; Gebhard 1926:3, with bibliography. Some scholars have accepted this detail, but most have been skeptical of it.

[ back ] 27. On the tightening of Roman censorship under emperor and imperial bureaucracy, see Highet 1961:55; Sullivan 1985:153.