In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Juvenal

  • Introduction
  • Life and Career
  • General Overviews of Roman Satire and Juvenal
  • Themes in Roman Satire
  • Reference Works
  • Latin Texts
  • Commentaries
  • Translations
  • Textual Transmission
  • Scholia
  • Humor and Irony
  • Studies of Particular Books
  • The Reception of Juvenal’s Satires

Classics Juvenal
Christopher Nappa
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 July 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0029


Little is known with certainty about the life of Juvenal, despite the existence of part of an ancient biography. He appears to have been born late in the reign of Nero and to have lived until at least 127 CE (during the reign of Hadrian). Fifteen complete poems and one fragment are extant. These are grouped into five books. Book 1 comprises Satires 1–5 on various topics; Book 2 consists of only Satire 6, by far Juvenal’s longest poem, a rant on the evils of marriage and female behavior. The keynote of both books is indignatio, “outrage.” Book 3, in a more measured tone, consists of poems 7–9, again on various topics. It appears to date from the reign of Hadrian. Book 4 contains Satires 10–12; the tone is again more measured and philosophical than in the early books, but the depth of Juvenal’s philosophy is questionable. The final book includes Satires 13–15 in their entirety, and sixty lines of a sixteenth poem. Poems 15 and 16 in particular mark a partial return to the outraged style of the early books. The first poem in each of these books, or, in the case of Book 2, the first section of Satire 6, functions as a programmatic poem, that is, a poem that (sometimes obliquely) introduces themes, issues, and even the stylistic palette of what is to follow.

Life and Career

Little can be said with certainty about the life and career of Juvenal. It has often been assumed that the poems in Books 1 and 2 were written during the reign of Domitian (81–96 CE) but published only after Trajan (98–117 CE). This view depends in part on the fact that Domitian seems to be the target of Satire 4 and Hadrian the unnamed emperor of the seventh poem. Following Syme 1958, some scholars now believe that all of the books were written and published under Hadrian, or, at the earliest, Trajan. Syme 1979a and Syme 1979b are the best place to begin. Some of the implications of the later dating can be followed in Waters 1970 and Hardie 1997–1998. Highet 1954 provides a very full, if dubious, reconstruction of Juvenal’s life.

  • Hardie, Alex. 1997–1998. Juvenal, Domitian and the accession of Hadrian (Satire 4). Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 42:117–144.

    Argues that the poem was written during the reign of Hadrian (117–138 CE).

  • Highet, Gilbert. 1954. Juvenal the satirist. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Pages 4–41 consist of the fullest reconstruction of the life and career of Juvenal, but this reconstruction now strikes most scholars as going well beyond what the evidence allows.

  • Syme, Ronald. 1958. Tacitus. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Discusses the dates of Juvenal’s life and career on pp. 499–500 and 774–778.

  • Syme, Ronald. 1979a. The patria of Juvenal. Classical Philology 74.1: 1–15.

    DOI: 10.1086/366464

    Sober assessment of the evidence for Juvenal’s life and circumstances. Reprinted in Roman Papers III, edited by A. R. Birley (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984), pp. 1120–1134.

  • Syme, Ronald. 1979b. Juvenal, Pliny, Tacitus. American Journal of Philology 100.2: 250–278.

    DOI: 10.2307/293691

    Fuller exploration of the evidence for Juvenal’s life first presented in Syme 1958. Reprinted in Roman Papers III, edited by A. R. Birley (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984), pp. 1135–1157.

  • Waters, K. H. 1970. Juvenal and the reign of Trajan. Antichthon 4:62–77.

    An interesting if neglected argument that all of Juvenal’s satires respond to the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian rather than the Flavians.

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