Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Sixteen Satires

By Juvenal

I wanted to be super clever and start this off by saying, “Juvenal is juvenile,” but that’s not exactly the right word. What’s a word for “inflammatory, self-righteous, ranting, bitter old man*”? If you think of one, let me know.

Juvenal’s satires are a commentary on what he characterizes as the degradation of Roman society, for which he holds all his contemporaries responsible while upholding the moral and political purity of his forebears. He’s poisoned with nostalgia and thinks the golden age of Rome has come and gone; observing his city makes him feel the way I imagine I would if I were stuck in front of a TV with no remote and forced to watch MTV or South Park 12 hours a day. Or if I were trapped in a modern art museum.

Part of me almost pities Juvenal, because at times his tirades come off sounding more like those of an aging man unable to let go of his glory days or keep up with a fast-paced and transforming society than those of a sanctimonious blowhard. But then Satire VI came around relentlessly ragging on women and with its cruel pettiness cured me of any sympathetic twinges.

What I take from these satires is that, just as human nature has remained constant throughout history, we perceive our societies to be in a constant state of decline. Why is that? It seems that every generation balks at the behavior of the next while glorifying that of their predecessors. But are really we in a downward spiral of corruption that began when Eve bit into that infamous apple? Or are we simply skittish of change? Is this a phenomenon of degradation or evolution?

*Okay. So I don’t actually know if he was an old man. But that’s how I picture him.

Books Read This Year: 7
Top 100 Progress: 38/100

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