Decimus Junius Juvenalis (better known as Juvenal in English) lived between the late 1st and early 2nd century AD as a Roman poet that penned “Satires” , a popular collection of satirical poetry. While the exact details of his life are cloudy, we are still able to learn about this ancient character by reading the text of others, as well as his own writings.
Following in the footsteps of poets Horace and Persius, Juvenal wrote at least 16 poems in dactylic hexameter , covering a range of topics that mattered in the world of Romans. In ancient Rome, his “Satires” became an important source of information for the people because of its extensive number of perspectives. The comedic element of the work is also something that historians enjoy debating about. In the beginning, this particular piece was looked at as a harsh critique of Rome in Pagan terms, but nonetheless is revered as a significant piece of work because so many ancient texts have been lost in time.
Juvenal’s life has been recreated through bits and pieces of historical evidence that isn’t solidly accurate. However, we do know that a biography exists of the poet, which was called “The Vita Iuvenalis” (Life of Juvenal). It is this work that became linked to his manuscripts around the 10th century. However, it seems that it takes after the Satires more than making an account of the author’s life.
Yet, the biography and others similar to it provide interesting details. We lean the full name of the author. We find out that he was either the son or adopted child of a rich man (who was often referred to as a freedman or Spanish freedman). It is believed that Juvenal was a student of Quintillian , a Roman rhetorician that hailed from Hispania who is also associated with Renaissance writing.
It is said that Juvenal studied rhetoric until he reached middle age. This reason was twofold, as he took pleasure in this practice, as well as used his knowledge for legal purposes. If you read some of the Satires, you will find that he makes a considerable amount of references to how the Roman legal system worked. His assessments and mentionings were quite frequent, as well as accurate.
It is thought that Juvenal’s career as a satirist started when he was already relatively late into life. We learn that he was born in Aquinum. There is also proof that he spent a nice chunk of his life in exile because he insulted an actor who was in good favor with the court system. As a result, the emperor banished him. Juvenal is place in Trajan and Domitian, but most accounts state that his exile was in Egypt. However, there is one biography that links him to Scotland during the time of his banishment.
To learn more about Juvenal, as well as explore some of his ancient quotes, continue reading with Part II of Ancient Roman Poet , Juvenal