Features April 2003
Lessons from Juvenal
On the great Roman satirist.
It is difficult not to write satire.
—Juvenal, on the Rome of his day
J’ai en ce moment une forte rage de Juvenal. Quel style! quel style!
—Flaubert, in a letter of 1853
Satire, if it is to do any good and not cause immeasurable harm, must be firmly based on a consistent ethical view of life.
—Kierkegaard, The Present Age
Probably the most politically incorrect Roman poet, certainly the most caustic, was the satirist Decimus Junius Juvenalis—Juvenal to us. We expect satirists to expose hypocrisy, injustice, corruption. Juvenal does this. We also expect satirists to exaggerate, to caricature, to lampoon. Juvenal does this, too, in spades. But satire, like liquor, comes in a variety of flavors and potencies. There is mild satire, whose means are gentle and whose aim is comic. Gilbert and Sullivan are satirists in...
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