Juvenal’s sixth satire

Satire, in order to resonate with the audience, has to reflect something about reality, but, in Juvenal’s case, it is surely a heightened, exaggerated version of it, even a caricature. As evidenced, this is by far the longest, and in some ways the most offensive, of the Satires by Juvenal, his sixth, which he devotes to a wide-ranging attack on the folly, for men, of marriage. Postumus, are you really Taking a wife? You used to be sane enough—what Fury’s got into you, what snake has stung you up? Why endure such bitch-tyranny when rope’s available By the fathom, when all those dizzying top-floor windows Are open for you, when there are bridges handy To jump from? Juvenal did not have a narrow view of women. He does not, in this satire, portray all wives as vicious oppressors. Instead, the female stereotype is firmly defined as nasty, lying, vicious, pretentious, emasculating, garrulous, aggressive, vulgar, nymphomaniacal, gluttonous, dishonest, shameless, greedy, selfish, quarrelsome, impertinent, and disgusting. However notably absent in this satire is the idea of women as stupid and ineffectual. Instead, they are offensively intelligent — a legitimate castrating bitch. Some women are extravagant, drunken gossips; others are insatiable nymphomaniacs and/or cruel and domineering liars. A whorish corruption, according to Juvenal, is the leading characteristic. Of course, some men may occasionally come across a virtuous woman: she is (the famous phrase) a rara avis, as unusual as a black swan. But Juvenal is a tough man to please: ” Who could endure a wife that possessed all perfections?” Such rare birds are invariably ” haughty, condescending prigs” who spoil virtue with pride. As well, from my point of view, any woman who would profess to be perfect or unflawed has two of the greatest flaws of all, which could make her as ugly as any leper or scarred person: vanity and overwhelming self-pride. But, there are other flaws as well which can encompass Juvenal’s distaste and a lot of society’s disregard and contempt of women and their actions. Another trait mentioned by Juvenal is that of women’s lust, the main focus of this entire body of work. As is made abundantly clear, Juvenal is most horrified by this feature, and the lies and betrayals he sees prompted thereby. In his view, female sexuality begets masks, forgeries, and imperfect messages between external signs and internal meanings. From overbearing lust by women, to what means could any man be able to decide on a wife who could be virtuous to her husband? At what time could any husband leave his home in complete trust of his wife to remain faithful? As well as distrust of the husband, the wife, upon learning this, would begin to get angry, to boil her husband’s distrust into rage of the false misgivings (or perhaps true misgivings) of herself. Anger, on the other hand — because it ” whirls [women] headlong,” disables control, and prompts revelation of that which is within — earns Juvenal’s respect. To make a woman angry is to pull the truth out of her. Or perhaps it’s to pull insults and hurtful things from them to put an end to discretions made against them, to satisfy the accusations of the people with doubt. Whichever may be the case, this work is still a satire. It is a fictional piece of work created to inspire humor and meaning to those who read it. To read and attempt to understand it is hard. However, the meaning I can grasp from this is that women, like men, have the capacity to be conniving, cheating, and evil. All humans, in general, have this capacity and ability to act in that manner. A true, virtuous person may be hard to find, but it is possible. To many people, it may seem as thought Juvenal has written the truth, because as he wrote it as a joke, many things are brought out in reality to prove that it is more than a satire because it holds truths seen and experienced everyday. To discern that it is only about women is false, but can be said truthfully about many men as well. A large misconception of satires is that they are only for amusement, that they provide no truths to be borne by the public. Instead, most satires hold truths in it which reflect upon many of the people who read them. Whether it is by coincidence or that the author is purposefully attempting to show digressions, it is unclear. But those principles are embedded within his work, and are seen clearly by his audiences. The entire Sixth Satire is a virulent attack against women, accusing them of virtually all the vices imaginable. It is an attempt by Juvenal to show the public of the violations of marriage performed on a day-to-day basis. But by choosing the women as the target, those who are the kind, emotional, loving, gravitational points of the household, he is showing that it is possible for anyone to stray from something sacred. He is also showing his own distastes for the sanctity of marriage during his own time. His disgust is shown through the actions of the women, of their unfaithfulness towards their husbands, their betrayals, and their actions made in public to offend their husbands. Juvenal’s view is at times vulgar, but can be reflected in today’s society through the ever-increasing number of divorces, abuses, and affairs. This humorous piece of work can be taken as it is meant, or with a grain of salt. It holds truths as well as falsehoods made in jest, but it is clearly up to each individual reader as to what meaning is derived from it. Personal experiences by the individual are the basis for this reason. For me it is meant as humor; for you it may be the same, or perhaps as a slap in the face against those who believe that it is okay to cheat on their marriage. However the case, it is still a glimpse into the lifestyle of Rome at that time, but more importantly, a slice of the human condition.