Juvenal Satire 3

1          Juvenal says "goodbye" to his friend (we learn later that his friend is Umbricius) The friend is leaving the city for the countryside. In fact, to be specific, he is leaving for Cumae – home of the Sibyl (and entrance to Hades) Cumae is situated opposite Baiae, the seaside retreat of the rich and famous. Cumae is also situated in Naples near a barren offshore island . Juvenal longs for such isolation than staying in Rome. It is a typical theme of Roman rhetorical schools – the joys of life in the country verses the squalor of Rome.

7          Juvenal bemoans the perils of the city citing such perils as fires, collapsing houses (themes expanded upon later in this satire ) and poets reciting work in August (see satire 1)

11        While Umbricius' goods are loaded on a cart he lingers a while at the southern gate of Rome, the Capuan gate, which led out of Rome onto the Appian way. Near the Capuan gate was an aquaduct (hence  "dripping arches")

14        Near the Capuan gate it was said that King Numa Pompilius met his mistress (but Egeria was a nymph- Juvenal seems to imply that these weren't religious meetings but sexual!) Juvenal bemoans the fact that where Romes religious reforms were concieved, a foreign religion (Jews) now rents the shrine. juvenal implies the Jews are squatters (i.e. unwanted) and their only possession was a "Sabbath haybox" (used for keeping food hot on the Sabbath when cooking was forbidden) The jews expect each tree to show a profit (they were famous moneylenders) and the muses have been evicted – Numa is said to have consecrated the sacred grove of Egaria to the Muses (i.e now a symbol of native religion has been replaced by a foreign cult.)

            Historically, the jews had been evicted by the Emperor Claudius nbut there was a major influx of Jews into Rome following the fall of Jerusalem in 70A.D. Jews were unpopular because of their refusal to participate in Roman religoius observance . not only has a foreign cult taken over a Roman shrine but it's a cult not interested in Roman gods but only in making money.

19        Umbricius and Juvenal visit Egrarias new shrine – it's been modernised – marble has replaced the natural limestone . In this satire Juvenal bemoans the fact that the old ways  have been replaced by the new .

25        Umbricius tells Juvenal the reasons that he is leaving Rome. He claims that  there is no room in Rome for the decent professions (i.e. those practised by the Roman citizens as opposed to slaves, foreigners and the lower orders) Decent professions don't show any profit claims Umbricius (but note he appears more interested in money!) Umbricius is really going because his resources have shrunk (i.e. he's lost money) He that is why he's going to Cumae (where Daedalus put off his wings i.e. landed)

28        Having said that he is going while he can , (he's middle aged) he bids Rome farewell , listing what he regards as unsavoury professions . His list includes:

Sanitary engineers (appropriate for one standing under an aquaduct )

Municipal archetects (They build temples, drain swamps, make harbours , clear rivers , pocket the cash and then claim they are bankrupt.

            Once such men were horn players (the lowlife theatrical profession) They now appear to have made so much money they can stage gladiatorial shows and butcher gladiators if the mood takes them.

40        Such fraudsters (claims Umbricius) are raised from the gutter by fickle fortune and made top people.

42        Umbricius claims he can't stay in rome because he doesn't have the virtues (!) required to get by such as lying. He can't kill people in oreder to get on. He has never "meddled with frog guts" (i.e. practised magic against an enemy) He has never been able to be a go between for adulterous lovers. He is no good at theft so no (provincial) governor will accept him on his staff. (Governors often claimed too much tax off the provincials or too much in terms of living expenses) Even conspiracy seems to be a virtue! He cannot blackmail . If Verres (a provincial governor in the time of Cicero i.e. long dead) promotes a man you can guarantee it's because Verres is blackmailed by that man! Not all the gold of Tagus (a river of Spain and Portuagal where you pan for gold) is worth the price you pay if you become powerful claims Umbricius.

            Umbricius directs this invective against the new virtues of Rome because he is,of course , jealous! We have learned that Umbricius' resources have shrunk because of these new professions which he claims practise nothing but deceit. it is his own failure that makes him claim he's the only one left from a "decent profession" and the only one left with morals. It is therefore not necessarily true that Rome is corrupt – this is Umbricius' viewpoint. caused by jealousy.

59        Having attacked what Umbricius sees as "a new virtue " of Rome , he moves on to what he sees as another perversion in Rome. He now attacks the Greeks claiming "Syrian Orontes has poured it's sewage into the Tiber" , Antioch, a cosmopolitan city stood on the Orontes river – this image stands for all the foreigners from the East who have corrupted what Umbricius sees as a pure Roman stream – the Tiber. He is also arguing that in fact , it's not just Greeks that have corrupted Rome but also anyone from the East.

            He lists corruptions to Roman Civilisation that he views as originating in the Esat – manners, language , flutes , harps, tambourines and whores (the race corse seems to have been a popular place to pick up prostitutes (see satire 6 line 582-91)

70        Umbricius claims that the founder of Rome should see how his "homespun rustics" behave today (Romans liked to believe they descended from simple country folk.) Even the rustics wear dinner pumps (evening shoes ) with Greek names. The rustic Romans also decorate wrestlers necks which are well greased (wrestlers rubbed on a compound of grease and wax before wrestling) The point that Umbricius is trying to make is that the Romans have been corrupted by the Greeks and now even use Greek words and admire Greek sports (i.e. wrestling) People from Achaaean provinces (e.g. Sicyon, Macedonia etc) now go for houses in the best districts. Umbricius claims all people from the East have the same characteristics – quick wit, nerve and a gift of the gab. Umbricius is , of course, jealous that he doesn't live in the best districts or have these characteristics so he regards them as perversions to conceal his anger! The Greeks (by which Umbricius means anyone from the East) are versatile when it comes to jobs – they are able to be schoolmasters, rhetoricians etc! sarcastically Umbricius suggests that since they are so versatile they should fly away since a Greek invented wings (since Daedalus was born in Athens)

81        Umbricius now goes on to convince us more of his jealousy. He tells Juvenal that these things have come to a pretty pass when Greeks "wear purple" (i.e. become a senator who wore a broad purple stripe on his toga) and when they receive more status) prominence than Umbricius at dinner parties or witnessing wills (only important people were invited to witness a will in order of social

84                Umbricius is quick to remind Juvenal of "pure Roman" status – born on Roman hills and brought up eating Sabine olives . His Roman status has been usurped by foreigners he feels . his snobbery is humorous – no baby could grow up eating nothing but native olives.!

86        Umbricius now gives another example of a Greek “perversion” – they parsie the conversation of stupid people (stupid because they accept the flattery)He goes on to give an example of such flattery – when a weakling is compared to Heracles lifting Antaeus off the ground . Antaeus was supposed to be invincible as long  as he was in contact with mother Earth but Heracles lifted him from the ground and crushed him. It is appropraite in the context of Satire 3 here because :

a)Its deliberate imitation of Greek epic poetry while Umbricius criticises the Greeks.

b)The imagery – the Greeks are crushing the true Romans like Heracles crushed Antaeus because like Antaeus they have been lifted from their roots!

Umbricius also claims the Greeks (i.e. a generic term meaning foreigners in general) are able to praise a woman who sings like a hen having sex with a cock!

91                Umbricius claims that on the stage they (the Greeks) reign supreme (because they are good  actors ) and play the most convincing women (men only played female roles . Umbricius claims that their athletic bodies are ideal for the role – they don’t show the “Great Divide” (i.e. beer belly) beneath their female robes.

These criticisms of the Greeks are absurdities . We are left wondering why Umbricius would want to play a female role like the Greek anyway! He is simply jealous of their athletic bodies and a Greek ability  to lie convincingly to climb the social ladder.

99                Further examples of a Greek ability to decieve – they can laugh and weep without meaning it when they need to ingratiate themselves.

107            In spite of most peoples disgust, a Greek is able to applaud when a friend belches at dinner or pisses onto an upturned gold basin (a popular past time at dinner parties to see who was the most drunk!) Unmbricius is again making  his point – the gGreeks are such good actors that they can pretend something that is vulgar is clever.

Umbricius claims that Greeks hold nothing sacred , he will seduce anyone to climb the ladder socially and politically (the lady of the house, the virgin daughter ,even the unbearded husband to be of the daughter could be seduced.)

115            Even Greek academics have their vices claims Umbricius (i.e. not just common people) He mentions a “Stoic greybeard” who “narked on his friend and pupil and got him liquidated” This is a reference to Publius Egnatius Celer who accused his pupil and friend and had him killed by Nero. Celer was brought up in Tarsus (where Bellerophon fell from Pegasus in mythology) He is used as an example because :

a)Juvenal rarely uses examples from contemporary society . His was a dangerous age to live in and mentioning a contemporary could lead to problems for the satirist.

b)The image used is interesting. He mentioned that Celers birthplace was Tarsus where Bellerophon fell from Pegasus. The corruption of an eminent Stoic philosopher is a fall from grace.

121            Umbricius bemoans that fact that there is now no  room for honest Romans when Rome is ruled by “Greek born secret agents” who monopolise all  the patrons in Rome. He claims that  the Greeks drop poison (i.e. gossip) in the ears of patrons and Umbricius’ loyal service is dispensed with. Notice that the venom dropped here is “half Greek, half personal” – the rumour that has cost Umbricius his job is half true!.

130            Umbricius asks what all this work gets you anyway . What’s the point of paying respect  to patrons (here “maiden aunts” ) In spite of all the effort one can put into a client patron relationship , someone might get there first and thus the patron will elbow out the minion. Umbricius claims that even free born citizens must stand aside for wealthy tycoons slaves. Again, Umbricius is jealous since the slave of a wealthy man can afford classy harlots but he, a free born citizen, must ask “can I afford it” !!

134            Even in court no one takes notice of moral character , only  wondering what the witness is worth (in other words , the more money you have , the more believable the testimony! Umbricius gives a list of moral Romans, who ,he claims,  would all  be asked whether they are worth musch  financially. They are :

Scipio- (Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica) who was believed by the Senate to be morally upright enough to escort the black betyl, which was believed to be the visilbe presence of the Mother Goddess , into the city of Rome.

Metellus-(Caecilius Metellus) the high priest who rescued the image of Minerva (Athene) from the fire when the temple of Vesta caught fire in 241 B.C.

Numa – The king of Rome (mentioned also in lines 1 –28) who gave religious laws to Rome.

Umbricius’ point here is that even Romans who  were famed for their virtue wouldn’t be seen as virtuous in Umbricius’ day since the law courts only see people in terms of financial worth not moral worth) Comically, Umbricius is really comparing his own moral worth with the great Romans, Scipio, Metellus and Numa.

142            Absurdity again as Umbricius imagines the Roman jury would only be interested in Numa , Scipio and Metellus’ number of slaves , aamount of land and dinner service in order to  find out how much they are worth financially. A mans word is only  as good as the number of bonds in his strong box asserts Umbricius.

146            A pauper can swear by all  the gods between Rome and Samothrace and he’ll  be accused of lying under oath (perjury) A poor man is laughed at because of his appearance. A poor man is often thrown out of the best seats in the theatre to make way for someone richer . Umbricius sees these things as unreasonable – they are not necessarily! He imagines that the poor are thrown out of the best seats at the theatre to make way for the son of a prostitute and a sycophant whose companions are sons of athletic trainers and gladiators. Again, this is an absurdity and a product of Umbricius’ jealousy – how would he know the parentage of a complete stranger who has had him removed from his seat? He claims that this is a result of Othos reserved seat Act – Otho was the tribune for 67B.C. The first 14 rows of seats behind the orchestra in Roman theatres were reserved for the equites (i.e. the middle class -  the knights).The point is that the law has existed for hundreds of years unyet Umbricius knowingly breaks it and then complains abusively when he is asked to move!

160            Umbricius claims that you can’t marry well  if you don’t have enough money for a dowry . Poor men don’t inherit or even gain a decent lowly job. He absurdly claims that all lower income citizens should have gone on strike years ago!

166            He claims at Rome the problems are worse than anywhere. Rents are high and slaves cost too much to feed – he can’t even afford to eat himslef let alone feed his slaves! Here we realise Umbricius is not as poor as he thinks since he can afford slaves!

170            Now we come to the crux of the matter. Umbricius is ashamed to  eat off earthenware dishes . The problem is not that Umbricius is poor but that he’s not as rich as he would like to be and he blames others for that. In the countryside he imagines that he’d be happy  enough to eat off earthenware dishes and wear a blue cloak with a hood , presumably because he imagines , in the countryside they will make him appear richer than he is.

175            Umbricius imagines that he’ll be happy  enough watching the same shows in the theatre time after time and that the audience in the country will not care for social status (since everyone dresses alike in the country imagines Umbricius. Umbricius imagines that not even magistrates wear robes of office in the countryside but wear plain white tunics. He then compares his idealised view of the country with Rome and claims that in Rome everyone lives beyond their means on borrowed credit to keep up with the neighbours. In Rome you are expected to salute Cossos (an aristocrat) and Veiento (an informer) in order to gain honours . In order to climb socially x has to have his beard trimmed and y offers up his boyfriends kiss curls . Barbers do  well in such a climate and make much money. Umbricius claims that Juvenal will have to live in such a climate , bribing his way to the top in order to make others richer.

190            Umbricius now contrasts the quality of housing in the town and country . I n the town, houses collapse around peoples ears . In Italian villages such as Praeneste, Gabii or Tivoli, such things are unheard of. (he imagines )

194            Umbricius claims that most of Rome is propped up to prevent it falling and that landlords paper over cracks, telling tenants that everything is fine . In such buildings fire is a common event.

Historically speaking, fire was fairly common in Rome. Under Augustus in 23 B.C. and 6 A.D. two fires broke out. Under Tiberius the next Emperor there were also 2 fires in 27 A.D. and 37 A.D. Another fire took place under Nero in 64A.D. and another under Titus. After the fire of 23B.C. Augustus established a fire brigade . The fire brigade were reorganised after the fire of A.D. 6 when the “vigiles” (fire brigade) were organised into 7 cohorts of freedmen responsible for 2 regions of the city each – there was a substation and a main station in each of the seven districts of Rome.

The depiction of life in the city by Umbricius in satire 3 must not be taken too literally though. Umbricius exaggerates the perils of life in the city in order to make life in the countriside seem more appealing. Life in the country is also idealised since he does not mention the fact that to live in the country farmers had to work hard preparing the land etc.

202                  Umbricius tells Juvenal that by the time the fire has worked its way up to   the third floor apartment , you’re likely to fry on the top floor. In ancient Rome , the poorer you were , the higher up the building you lived. Notice Umbricius lives on the third floor – he’s not that poor!

207            Umbricius asks what Cordus (a poor man) owns and lists a short bed , six mugs and a pitcher with an upended bust of Chiron (tutor of Achilles) on it, and a settle crammed with books which the mice have gnawed. Cordus lost little when  it was taken from him. There may be some symbolism in the things which he looses:

a) Chiron, Achilles’ tutor is upturned – the old heroes have changed – in the first lines of the poem Umbricius listed the new heroes as thieves and liaars!

b) Cordus pretends to be clever but he reads Greek authors which have been gnawed by  mice. Umbbricius has blamed his poverty on the corruption of the Greeks.

The final straw on Umbricius’ “load of woe” is that no one will offer this poor man lodging or shelter i.e. no one will act as his patron. He  compares Cordus, the poor mans plight, with that of the millionares. If a millionares house caught fire and was gutted , all his friends would help him by bringing contributions (statues etc) to  help furnish his new house and thus the millionaire is better off than before. Umbricius even goes so far as to suggest that because he is better off after the fire, the millionare might have started it himself.

225            A house in the country is cheaper than a garret in the town . a country house has a plot for vegetables – you no longer have to hoist a bucket up to the top floor window box in order to water your windowbox. Umbricius imagines he’ll  enjoy the hard work of the country and imagines himself hoeing, working and planting. His idea of life in the country is idealised -  he doesn’t mention that all this will be hard work!

235            Umbricius claims insomnia causes disease and death in the Roman city. He also claims too much food causes death. The noise of the Roman street would keep a poorman awake in his lodgings , only  a rich man (living away from the street) would get unbroken sleep.

He imagines the noise in the streets in Rome at night would keep “the doziest sea cow of an emperor awake” .This relates to  the Emperor Claudius who  had a habit of cat napping in public . The problem was that traffic was not allowed into Rome during the day or at least the 10 hours after dawn. Traffic would enter the city at night and thus it would become very noisy.

Umbricius returns to the main theme of the satire now-the difference between town and country life. Umbricius imagines that a business man can get through the crowded streets of Rome with minimum effort – he takes his litter . He compares this to the ordinary man who can’t easily get through the crowds without being stepped upon .This has been another example of Umbricius’ jealousy of the middle class business man who he imagines can take a litter whereas he has to rub shoulders with the “Hoi polloi” (ordinary people)

250            Umbricius now imagines that he sees a patron giving his “hangers on” (i.e. clients) a meal . Each client has a kitchen boy in attendance . One slave has been allocated to carry all the kitchen gear on his head while keeping the charcoal alight (symbol that the patron is a Roman magistrate) . In reality Umbricius is jealous that he’s not one of the hangers on of the rich patron.

257            Umbricius imagines a cart load of marble crushing the patron and his clients (proving his jealousy) He imagines the preparations for the client/patron meal carrying on in spite of the death of their master who he imagines crushed in the mud “without a copper stuck in his mouth for the ride” In ancient Rome a dead corpse was placed to rest with a coin in its mouth to pay for the journey to the afterlife.

270            Other catastrophes in the city are mentioned – falling tiles , chamber pots emptied out of windows are imagined by Umbricius and mentioned as perils of city life but it’s an exaggeration to boost his idealised vision of life in the country.Nevertheless it seems that despite legislation against building a house larger than 60ft, “skyscrapers” were often built taller than that. Upper stories were where poor people had apartments and windows looked out over the road from upper stories -  hence the complaint about the noise by Umbricius.

280            Umbricius imagines a bully thinking he’s like Achilles mourning for Patroclus when he’s only a drunk. Such a bully will attack Umbricius when he’s on his own but not a rich man surrounded by bodyguards. Ironically the bully accuses Umbricius of smelling of sour wine and beans – the very thing that Umbricius hates in this bully – drunkeness – he is himself! Ironically too, when Umbricius is beaten up he imagines that it is the bully who will accuse him of assault and battery! Umbricius does admit he hit him (he claims in self defence) – in reality Umbricius is as big a bully as the bully!

302            Umbricius claims that burglars are common in Rome at night and the bigger the empire becomes ,the more the crime rates fo up in the city (“Whenever armed detachments are patrolling .. Rome becomes a warren for this scum”) He also comically  claims that  most of the iron in Italy  is used to keep prisoners in chains in the city rather than used to make tools in the country. In the early days of Rome there was only one prison he asserts.

316            The Satire ends with Umbricius driving his cattle into the countryside where he intends to make his home . He promises to read Juvenals satires in the country – a sign that he will long for city life in the country! Umbricius can never be pleased!


·         The best article in the LRC is “City and Country in Roman Satire” to  be found in the book called “Satire and Society in Ancient Rome” edited by S.H. Braund.

·         Umbricius may be identified as a real person ; perhaps the soothsayer that predicted the emperor Galbas death or possibly A . Umbricius Magnus a friend of Virgil.

·         More likely Umbricius’ name is symbolic . Umbra means ghost in Etruscan (native Italian) .Umbricius departs at sunset to  go to Cumae – the entrance to the underworld . Is Umbricius a real person or more likely symbolic for the old Roman virtues that appear to be fleeing Rome?

·         Juvenal the satirist is not the one who complains about Romes decline in this satire as it is mostly  told in Umbricius’ voice. Juvenal the satirist does not agree with Umbricius’ viewpoints, he chooses to stay behind in the city.