|Res vera agitur:
The Advisers to Domitian in Juvenal 4 and Virgil’s Catalogue of Italian Heroes
The influence of Statius’ De Bello Germanico on Juvenal’s description in his fourth satire of Domitian’s advisers, who have been summoned to pronounce their opinions on what is to be done with a prodigiously large turbot recently caught off the shores of Italy, is well-established (see recently Courtney 1980, Winkler 1989, and Flintoff 1990). I argue, however, that Juvenal’s satirical vignette is also a parody of Virgil’s Catalogue of Italian Heroes (Aen. 7.641-817).
Juvenal and Virgil both begin their catalogues with an invocation to the Muses, and Juvenal’s invocation reads as a humorous re-writing of Virgil’s. The latter addresses the sources of his inspiration as deae (Aen. 7.641) and divae (645), while the former irreverently dubs them puellae Pierides (4.35-36), cheekily adding, “may it benefit me to have called you girls” (prosit mihi vos dixisse puellas). Whereas Virgil exhorts these divinities to “move songs” (cantus movete, 641), Juvenal explicitly forbids them from doing so (non est / cantandum, 34-35): as the matter at hand is a true one (res vera agitur), narration (narrate, 35), not song, is called for. Juvenal has been criticized here for employing the pedestrian verb cantare in place of the more august canere (Winkler 1989), but there is no failure in registry, for Juvenal’s cantare looks back specifically at Virgil’s cantus. The truth-speaking satirist’s invocation, then, is carefully crafted to trump that of his fictional model.
Among the personages that comprise each catalogue—though at least three of the names appear also in Statius (see Ercole 1931)—the similarities between Juvenal and Virgil are also numerous. Virgil’s fifteen Italian heroes have been whittled down to ten dubiously Italian anti-heroes (Crispinus, for one, is Egyptian). Virgil’s father-and-son pair, Mezentius and Lausus (647-54), find their match in Juvenal’s Acilius and his son (94-103), but the satirist has pointedly reversed their roles: whereas in the Aeneid, Mezentius is described as “scarcely a father” (pater haud) to Lausus, who is said to deserve better, in Juvenal it is the father, Acilius, who has an unworthy son. Acilius’ son is “very junior to be a member of the consilium” (Courtney 1980: 218), but if his presence is understood as Virgilian parody, his inclusion in the catalogue is no longer puzzling. Two further individuals are also presented as a pair in each: Catillus and Coras (672) in Virgil, and Veiiento and Catullus (113) in Juvenal (one wonders further whether this Catullus, who is said to be blind, 113-122, is a play on Virgil’s Caeculus, “little blind man,” 681). Finally, Virgil’s various “tamers of horses” (equum domitor, the epithet used of both Lausus and Messapus, 691) seem to be echoed by the advisor named Pegasus (77). Perhaps most strikingly Virgilian in Juvenal’s account is the attention paid to the advisors’ (un-)martial qualities. This absurdity is well illustrated, for example, by Pompeius, who “slits throats with a whisper” (110), and Fuscus, who “plots battles in his marble villa” (112)—a far cry from brave Catillus and Coras, Ufens, Turnus, Camilla, and the skilled fighters led by Aventinus, Halaesus and Oebalus. It is compelling to read this comical figuring of Domitian’s advisors as inept warriors, when the task at hand requires only sycophancy, as parody of Virgil’s noble epic catalogue.
Juvenal’s Virgilian model, for which I argue here, not only represents another instance in which the satirist combines allusions to both Statius and Virgil to great epic-parodic effect (cf. Flintoff 1990 and Baines 2003 for other such examples) and adds meaning to Juvenal 4, but also contributes to the self-definition of the genre. Written in the same meter, yet concerned with starkly different material, satire and epic are inextricably intertwined, and it is in the hands of Juvenal in particular that “the power of satire” is fused with “the style of epic,” resulting in his unique “epic satire” (Winkler 1989).
Baines, V. 2003. “Umbricius’ bellum ciuile: Juvenal, Satire 3.” G&R 2nd series 50.2: 220-237.
Courtney, E. 1980. A Commentary on the Satires of Juvenal. London.
Ercole, P. 1931. “Stazio e Giovenale.” RIGI 1-2: 43-50.
Flintoff, T. E. S. 1990. “Juvenal’s Fourth Satire.” In F. Cairns and M. Heath (eds.), Papers of the Leeds International Latin Seminar, Sixth Volume, 1990: Roman Poetry and Drama, Greek Epic, Comedy, Rhetoric: 121-137. Leeds.
Winkler, M. M. 1989. “The Function of Epic in Juvenal’s Satires.” In C. Deroux (ed.), Studies in Latin literature and Roman history V: 414-443. Brussels.