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Roman Satire

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 22 April 2010

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Roman Satire.

Much of Roman culture was a development of their rich inheritance from the Greeks. But satire was a form the Romans could claim to have invented.

The grandfather of Roman satire, Ennius, was also an important figure in early Roman literature more generally. Strikingly, he pioneered both epic and the satirical mockery of epic.

But the father of the genre, Lucilius, is the writer credited with taking satire decisively towards what we now understand by the word: incisive invective aimed at particular personalities and their wrongs.

All this happened under the Roman Republic, in which there was a large measure of free speech. But then the Republic was overthrown and Augustus established the Empire.

The great satirist Horace had fought to save the Republic, but now reinvented himself as a loyal citizen of the Imperium.

His satirical work explores the strains and hypocrisies of trying to maintain an independent sense of self at the heart of an autocracy.

This struggle was deepened in the work of Persius, whose Stoicism-inflected writing was a quietist attempt to endure under the regime without challenging it.

The work of the last great Roman satirist, Juvenal, was famously savage - yet his targets were either generic or long dead.

So was satire a conservative or a radical genre? Was it cynical or did it aim to 'improve' people? Did it have any real impact? And was it actually funny?

With:

Mary Beard
Professor of Classics at Cambridge University

Denis Feeney
Professor of Classics and Giger Professor of Latin at Princeton University

Duncan Kennedy
Professor of Latin Literature and the Theory of Criticism at the University of Bristol

Producer: Phil Tinline.

  • FURTHER READING

    Anderson, W.S., ‘Essays on Roman Satire’ (Princeton University Press, 1982)

    Braund, Susanna, ‘Roman Verse Satire’ (Oxford University Press, 1992)

    Freudenburg, Kirk, ‘Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal’ (Princeton University Press, 2001)

    Freudenburg, Kirk, ed. ‘The Cambridge Companion to Roman Satire’ (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

    Gowers, Emily, ‘The Loaded Table: Representations of Food in Roman Literature’ (Oxford University Press, 1993)

    Gowers, Emily, ‘The ends of the beginning: Horace, Satires I’, in ‘Perceptions of Horace: A Roman Poet and his Readers’, ed. L. Houghton and M. Wyke, Cambridge (2009), 39-60

    Gowers, Emily, 'The cor of Ennius', in ‘Ennius Perennis: the Annals and Beyond’ (2007) 17-37

    Green, Peter, ‘Juvenal: The Sixteen Satires’ (ed. 3, Penguin, 1998)

    Henderson, John, ‘Writing Down Rome: Satire, Comedy, and other Offences in Latin Poetry’ (Oxford University Press, 1999)

    Hooley, Daniel M., ‘Roman Satire’ (Blackwell, 2007)

    Rudd, Niall, ‘The Satires of Horace: A Study’ (Cambridge University Press, 1966)

    Rudd, Niall, ‘Satires of Horace and Persius: A Verse Translation’ (Penguin, 1976)

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