Juvenal Satire 6

1                    This satire is written in the satirists voice but does not mean that these are the satirists opinions. During Saturns reign (i.e. at the beginning of time) chastity reigned on earth. Gods, men and animals all lived together.

5                    Wives were different in the beginning – different to the mistresses of the love poets anyway (Cynthia was the mistress of the poet Propertius, Catullus wrote about Lesbia his mistress who wept for her sparrow.) In the old days wives lived simple lives and raised strong children – they didn’t care about their appearance and were “shaggier than their husbands”

12                In the beginning men lived as equals to oaks and rocks (some myths stated that men sprang from rocks.)

13                Some Chastity (i.e. sexual faithfulness) survived into the next age – the age of Jove (i.e. Jupiter) but only while Jove remained a boy and before the Greeks learned to swear on another’s life or grave. Chastity still remained while there were no such things as thieves and gardens and orchards needed no protection. When Jove grew up Chastity left the earth with her sister Justice.

The point of this first section is to show how things were better in the beginning of the world (the age of Saturn or the Golden age where men dwell in harmony with their gods) When the world got older (the age of Jove or the silver age ) behaviour gradually deteriorated until Chastity and Justice withdrew together.

22                The next age, the age of iron, brought crime. The first adulterers appeared in  the silver age but Juvenal and his companion live in the present Iron age . how then , asks Juvenal, can his friend even be thinking of marriage and engagement?

28                Note the attack here is not on women in general but on Postumus for contemplating marriage. Juvenal accuses him of being mad! Wouldn’t he rather commit suicide than get married and endure tyranny. Postumus is offered an alternative to marriage – if it’s sex he wants then why not sleep with a boy since they don’t nag or demand presents or say that he’s no good in bed!Instead , Juvenal the satirist moans, Postumus has decided to uphold the family Encouragement act (which encouraged Roman citizens to marry and have children so that there were more citizens in the Empire.


40                Postumus’ aim in getting married is to have children in spite of the fact that he’ll have to give up luxury goods in order to pay for them like mullet or pigeons. Postumus was once the randiest man about town who is looking for a wife with conservative moral values. If he finds a modest wife, Juvenal suggests that he sacrifice to Juno (goddess of the marriage bed) and kiss the Tarpeian altar (at Jupiters temple) Jupiter and Juno are worshipped together in marriage because they are a divine couple.

Juvenal now says that there are few wives with a qualification to join in the celebration of the feast of the corn goddess (when celebrants would have to abstain from sex for 9 days) . Postumus is told to prepare for such religious ceremonies (i.e. his wife won’t sleep with him) by hanging wreaths on the doorpost . Juvenal imagines that Postumus marries Hibernia (her name means winter!) and that she won’t find one man enough  for her sexual appetite – Juvenal claims that it’d be easier to persuade her to be blind in one eye rather than stay with  one man!

55                Juvenal the satirist now proposes to  show how silly Postumus’ claim that a country girl can keep a good reputation . Juvenal argues that if she behaves in such a modest way in the town then he (Juvenal) will believe that she really  is chaste. This is a new take on the town/country theme in satire.

61                Jupiter (called Jove here) and Mars conquered sexually in the countryside , so  why  should Postumus consider that country girls are so innocent?

62                Postumus is told to look around the arcade of the city and the theatre to find a wife of devotion (the arcade and theatre are places that prostitutes would ply their trade!) When Bathyllus (a “ballet” type dancer ) dances “Leda” all the women lust after him , Juvenal the satirist says that the country girl learns fast about infidelity in such an atmosphere!

70                When the theatre season is over, claims Juvenal (in the summer when it’s too hot) women relieve the boredom by  taking in actors to “lodge”! One actor even played a woman himself but Aelia still fancies him! Women pay good money to live with counter tenors (to  have sex is the undertone!) and even like ham actors. Wives prefer to make actors fathers Juvenal tells Postumus , so when the baby  comes along and Postumus should start celebrating, expect the baby to look like a gladiators son!

82                Juvenal tells the tale of Eppia who eloped with a gladiator to Egypt to illustrate his point. She ignored her family and husband , even the public games and favourite actor to elope! Even though Eppia was brought up well she didn’t care for reputation and sailed away (Juvenal says it’s rare for a well brought up woman to care for reputation!) Note that Eppia wouldn’t have gone aboard a ship and endured such hazards for her husband but will  for her lover.

Juvenal then goes on to ask what it was that hooked her since Sergius the gladiator was by no  means good looking  and even old! The fact is, says Juvenal, he had a glamorous job , they seem even handsomer than Adonis. She clearly prefers an ugly gladiators to duty and her husband.

116            If Eppias deeds were a society scandal the even the Emperor Claudius had to put up with marital infidelity (he is a “gods rival” here since he was deified.) The theme of marital infidelity continues here. The theme is mentioned not because Juvenal is a misogynist (hates women) but the satirist tries to persuade Postumus (whose names means “after death”! i.e. his marriage will be his death) not to marry.

The satirist tells how even the emperor and god, Claudius was made fun  of by his wife Messalina who , once she though  he was asleep, went  to the brothel and slept with all the nobles and commoners in Rome and she was the last “prostitute” to leave the brothel and the hardest worked!

125            Messsalina shows her nipples and belly that house a prince (i.e. Brittanicus the son of Claudius – the implication is that he was the son of a prostitute ,Messalina, and an unknown client). No amount of sex could satisfy the emperors wife Messalina , if Postumus argues that Messalina was unfaithful because her husband couldn’t satisfy her in bed then the satirist has proved that no one could satisfy her. Messalinas nick name was “wolf girl” i.e. either first lady of Rome or an animal in bed.

134            Juvenals theme won’t be women as witches casting love spells which proves that he is not writing a misogynistic poem as he ignores the obvious targets that could prove women were bad. His theme is chastity in marriage and sets out to prove that women can’t be faithful in marriage since they have a large sex drive.

135            Another theme emerges, again concerned with married women. Censennia brings her husband a large dowry when they get married – 3 million sesterces (enough to make her husband an equites) and that is why her husband thinks that he has the perfect wife. Her husband burns with desire not for her but for her money and the social position that is able to bring. She can desire sex but lives like a widow since he’s only interested in her money.

143            Another example of a man who appears to be in love with his wife but isn’t really is Sertorius. In reality he only loves her looks , when those leave her, she’ll be packing her bags. At the moment , she can do what she likes because she has looks. She can sleep with his slave boys, have anything she wants if it means keeping up with the neighbours , even if it means purchasing it in the winter time (in the winter at the Saturnalia stalls were set up in the Campus Martius which made it impossible to see the frescos of the heroes of old like Jason)  Sertorius allows his wife to buy anything, even the ring of Berenice, Queen of Israel who had an adulterous affair herself with her brother Herod Agrippa.


162            Juvenal now turns the theme from women who betray their husbands to women of virtue. Even women of virtue aren’t good to marry the satirist tells Postumus since they would be insufferable. Sabine virgins are boring ,this refers to the legend of Romulus and how he invited the neighbouring village of the Sabines to celebrate a religious festival at Rome then had all the women carried off by the Roman men. The point of this legend is that Sabines are representative of the virtuous women who make Rome great here  - but the satirist thinks virtue is insufferable! Juvenal the satirist absurdly claims that he would rather marry  a tart than a woman of virtue.

170            An example of an insufferable woman of virtue is now given – Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi who were respected Republican statesmen. Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus the man who conquered Carthage and the mother of 2 important statesmen – insufferable here because she was too full of virtue! He tells her to stuff Hannibal and the Carthaginian myth (since her father was Scipio Africanus) and get lost !

165            Another example of a woman who is insufferable because of her virtue is given. Niobe gave birth to 7 sons and daughters by Amphion (here she is said to be more prolific than the Alban sow that showed Aeneas that he had reached the site of the city of Rome in “The Aeneid” -  it was said to suckles 30 piglets.) The point is that Niobe told Leto her children were better than those of Leto . Apollo and Artemis were Letos children and they shot Niobe down for boasting that she was more virtuous than a goddess (Leto)

171            Juvenal the satirist claims that a wife of virtue is insufferable and unnatural. Every husbands wife gives the husband  the shivers he claims.

186            Every girl thinks she’s beautiful (and thus worth marriage) but still tarts herself up (“a la Grecque” -  “like a Greek) Women of Rome pretend to be Athenian and chatter in Greek while not being  good at Latin (i.e. women often pretend to be one thing – modest and chaste when, in fact, it’s a mask. All girls are as passionate as the Greeks and take on their manners – this might be alright for a schoolgirl argues the satirist but it’s embarrassing in  an old woman. He is trying  to get Postumus to see that he might  be turned on by  his intended’s appearance and language , who wouldn’t be ? The language and appearance is all an act! Postumus is told not to preen himself for his intended since he still looks old !

202            The satirist now asks if Postumus isn’t going to marry for love (but looks, wealth and sex as all  appear to be reasons that Juvenal has argued are in his intended) why marry at all? Weddings cost money, the satirist argues – guests are greedy and expect cake and momentos (coins or victory issues at the end of a feast  were often given out) If Postumus’ mind is so set on marriage then the satirist claims that he will be enslaved.


207            Even if the woman herself is on fire with love she is sadistic. If Postumus marries she will be the one in control of the financial matters , friend and even lifelong companions. She will replace these lifelong friends of his with her own lovers who will even be included in Postumus’ will . Even pimps and ringmasters are free to do what they want but a married man cannot! She will even order the slaves to be crucified on a whim (note the conversational style and imagined defence of the innocent slave by the husband against the tyrannous wife!) The point is that men were supposed to be masters in their own house but here he can’t even punish his own slaves!

Eventually, argues the satirist, the wife will return to her lovers , leaving the husbands house that has just been decorated for the wedding feast !(so, she returns to her lovers even before she’s married!) She ought to keep score of the number of husbands that she’s had on her tombstone argues the satirist!

228            The mother in law encourages the wife to spend money , giving advice on how to answer love letters from seducers. The mother in law also fixes the servants , getting them to lie to cover the wife’s affair and even pretending she’s unwell to give her daughter an excuse to visit her lover. (All these are scenes typical of Roman comedy and love poetry) The mother in law often deceived her own husband and has taught her daughter how to do the same argues Juvenal the satirist.

242            In court most cases deal with either defending a woman’s honour or accusing her (so  women are either defendant or plaintiff in the courts.!) She can even teach a lawyer (notorious  liars ) a thing or two!

247            Women even like playing  the part of men – female athletes and lady fencers are examples . they claim that they dress as men to practise for the floral festival (where games and farces were often performed by women) but in reality they are getting fit for the sexual arena! It is a fortunate husband who sees his wife’s armour for sale says Juvenal ! Women often wear greaves but complain that silk chafes their skin claims Juvenal the satirist!

Juvenal then  calls on 3 Roman well known for their virtue – Lepidus (a noble family from the aristocracy) , Metellus (a priest who lost his sight saving a statue of a god from a fire ) and Fabius the Guzzler (another noble aristocrat) . All these people represent noble Roman virtues and are asked to evaluate how good a woman is at “fencing drill” i.e. sex.

269            Even in bed, the husband is baited. She is jealous of his boyfriends or fictional mistress. She cries over these but she isn’t crying  because she cares for him. She’s jealous -  she too has lovers , her desk drawers are full of letters from them. Even if she’s caught red handed in bed (with Quintilian – a rhetorician who was able to argue and present an action in the best light!) she is able to talk to the husband and convince him that she could do what she wanted and have fun!

288            Juvenal the satirist moves on to ask how such monsters came about. He answers that in the old days women were poor and had to stay  at home and work hard , especially when there was a threat of war like Hannibal at the gates. In those days men were different too. The satirist argues that peace has brought corruption to the city and peace is a worse enemy than Hannibal!

294            When poverty perished crime came , claims Juvenal. As the Empire expanded and countries were added to the Empire, (e.g. Sybaris, Rhodes etc) so  corruption came into the seven hills (Rome) Money from the empire brought loose morals and will destroy Roman values claims the satirist.

301            Roman women too have been corrupted . They get drunk at feasts  and wear too much perfume. Women like Maura and Tullia piss on the statue of Chastity (i.e. modern women have no respect for the old virtues.) They can’t even be bothered with men since they would rather have sex with one another instead! It is significant that the hatred of modern women for chastity is re enforced here – it is exactly half way through the satire . The satire is not about Juvenals misogyny (woman hating) but his personas misogamy (marriage hating)

316            Juvenal now turns to  a criticism of the Bona Dea (Good Goddess) , this was a festival  that only women were allowed to. It took place annually in the house of the praetor or consul for that year and became notorious for the dancing and drinking that took place at the festival. The satirist accuses it of being a festival of Priapus, the god of fertility and accuses the celebrants of wanting to get laid (a foolish accusation since there were no men present) One criticism he also makes is that at the festival of the Bona Dea, all women were considered equal regardless of social status.  The satirist imagines a dancing contest between Saufeia (who is later beaten by  Medullina) and some prostitutes (Saufeia and Medullina are Roman noble women) The women dance suggestively and would even excite old men such as Nestor and Priam (note the mock epic tone again, even the heroes of old would be corrupted by the rites of the Bona Dea he claims!)

329            Once the dancing contest is over,  the men are called. If their normal lover isn’t up  to performing to satisfy her sexual appetite , they sleep with the slaves of animals (a donkey is mentioned!) They even have sex with foreigners – Moors and Hindus . The satirist claims that everyone knew the identity of the “lady harpist” who attended the Bona Dea festival in the time of Caesar -  the tribune Clodius dressed as a lady harpist and entered the festival  when it was being held at his political rival Caesar’s house by his wife Pompeia (she was reputed to  be Clodius’ mistress) Here the satirist Juvenal imagines the penis of Clodius (his “tool” ) was as long as Caesar’s political pamphlets against Cato.

344            There was a time when no one would dare profane religious ritual but now every altar has its “Clodius in drag” i.e. someone who profanes religious ritual. The point of the section on the Bona Dea is that even Roman noble women who are married can put it about like a prostitute. Even Caesar’s wife betrayed him and therefore both arguments are meant by the satirist to put Postumus off marriage.

337            The next section warns Postumus not to trust those who profess to be camp with his wife. Even the lanista (one who ran a gladiatorial school) runs a better establishment than Postumus’. In a gladiatorial school net throwers don’t mess with felons . Postumus’ intended wife shares her “cup” with anyone – even a prostitute wouldn’t drink from that cup. She’s allowed to take advise from these men who pretend to be women but really  all  they want is sex- and he’ll teach her a few things about it gladly too! He may look like Thais (a mistress of the Egyptian king Ptolemy ) but in bed he’s like Triphallo (a stud in a play by Naevius)

338            Juvenal now turns again to  Postumus . Postumus is a real man claims Juvenal , even the maids know that! If Postumus is sexually satisfied (by the maids) then why marry? Juvenal  answers the advise Postumus’ friends might have given him in order to help keep his wife chaste – they suggested locking her up but even the guards aren’t to  be trusted as no one guards them! She will bribe them to let her out to liase with her lovers , she might even seduce them first!

352            All women are the same – peasant or lady , no one can be trusted to remain faithful to their husband!

353            Another example of a money grabbing wife is given. Ogulnia is mad about the games -  she uses the family silver to send money and gifts to her favourite athlete via a boy that she has hired for the purpose. Even if they are poor, married women don’t show restraint . Men are contrasted – they learn to  be like ants, saving little by little . Pleasure is clearly more important to a married woman than saving money!

365                  Girls prefer liaisons with eunuchs (castrated men who were often allowed to escort women) because eunuchs won’t get them pregnant. Black male eunuchs are preferred   to  slave boys – they are bigger! Even Priapus the fertility god might be jealous of a black male eunuch.

380      If a wife has musical tastes she calls on musicians to “come” so she can “handle their instruments”

387            The satirist now goes on to give an example of a patrician lady (rich and noble) who took a lute player to compete in the Capitoline festival (this dates the satire to after 86A.D. when the festival of music on the Capitoline hill was founded) She hopes the lute player will  get the oak wreath (first prize) for the best “performance” She even prays to Janus for this without shame because he is the god of two faces -  she pretends to be a rich and noble family woman but prays for her favourite to win –like Janus she is “two faced” If its not musicians a woman prays for says Juvenal,  then it’s comedians or tragedians.

397            Worse than the wife who likes musicians is the one who is flat chested , talks back to her husband and gossips about who got others pregnant or others favourite sexual positions ! Such a wife looks for comets which bring bad omens and the bad omens that they bring (here, floods on the Niphates)

415            Such a woman beats her neighbour (husband) if her sleep is broken by the dog barking (i.e. the husband wanting to have sex with her!) She bathes in the evening i.e. she often smells. She enjoys intimate massages and sits in the sweat room at the baths ( a male only place because men were naked there!) She neglects her wifely duties at home -  her guests starve until  she appears and when she does appear she drinks on an empty stomach and vomits.

434            An educated wife is worse! She justifies even Didos actions (!) and refuses to listen to academic debate on the topic. Her talk is hollow and noisy (like pots and bells clashing together) like a “lunar midwife” (i.e. witch ) calling on the full moon . If she really is eloquent she should be a man (offering a pig to Silvanus and going to  the penny baths are male occupations) Educated wives embarrass at dinner parties -  they are too clever ! Reading grammatical treatise , observing syntax and quoting poets are matters that should concern men maintains Juvenal the satirist. A woman should educate her own girlfriends and leave the husband in peace!

460            A woman goes to a lot of trouble to look pretty in the evenings for her husbands dinner guests , wearing emerald chokers and pearl pendants. It’s been hard work for her husband who’s had to endure watching his wife get ready , wearing face masks and vanishing cream so the husband can’t kiss her! She is, of course, not dressing for him and his guests but for her lover.

466            Juvenal details the layers of make up a noble woman would be required to wear, he then goes on to say that if a husband is repulsed by the make up  and sleeps with his back to her then the servants suffer from the wool maid to litter bearer. Some wives even enjoy the punishment of the husband refusing to talk to  her! The wife can even exhaust her slaves , acting like a governor of a Silician court (Cicero tried Verres the governor of Sicily for extorting too many taxes from the provincials , he was like a dictator.)

If her lover waits for her in the gardens of Isis (an Egyptian goddess – implication that her lover is foreign) she will torture her slave girl to get her ready. The wife even blames her maid Pseca because she has the wrong shaped nose! Both old maids and new work around the clock to make the wife look beautiful for her lover and make her hair rise like tall flats!

506            While she makes herself look absurdly  beautiful for her lover, she ignores her husband – she behaves more like a neighbour than a wife and loves running up bills that the husband is expected to pay for!


512      Juvenal now describes another religious procession celebrated by  women , that of Bellona and Cybele (both different names for the mother goddess) The worshippers are led by a giant eunuch who  wears a Phrygian mitre ( a pointed cap with cheek flaps favoured in the religions of Asia Minor.) The wife will listen to the requests of the eunuch to lay out 100  eggs for purification and new clothes , she will even bathe in ice cold water on his instructions and tremble naked across the field of Mars. If Io (a lover of Jupiter driven mad by Juno/Hera and who wandered into Egypt) orders her to go to the ends of the earth (here Meroe) then she is willing ,believing  herself divinely  led by the goddess. Praise from the satirist must  go to Anubis (the Egyptian dog headed god) who thought Isis’ grief when her husband Osiris died was false. Anubis prays for women who have failed to abstain from sex within marriage – they pay him to pray and he makes a lot (since they can’t refrain from sex!)

The point of this section is that a wife will do anything in the name of religion , even a foreign religion, but will  do nothing for her husband. The wife will even abstain from sex if religion calls for it , but not from sex outside of wedlock. These are simply more reasons that Postumus should not marry.

541            Juvenal now turns to the wife being solicited by a Jewess who  will interpret the wife’s dreams (for a price!) The wife also asks fortune tellers to predict  the future using traditional  methods i.e. looking at lungs or intestines ; they all predict what the wife wants to hear, a lady will  have a lover or inheritance . Of course, the fortune teller can always blackmail his client because what the wife really  wants to know is whether she will be caught with her lover!

563      Chaldaean astrologers take their prophecies from the oracles of Ammon in Egypt now that the Oracle at Delphi in Greece (of Apollo ) is silent – i.e. foreign gods are getting rid of the old gods and bringing new “morals” Even successful astrologers have been exiled like Ptolemaeus (who  switched allegiance from the Emperor Otho to Galba)

The point is that fortune tellers will tell wives what they want to hear but they are fickle. Juvenal goes on to say that fortune tellers can’t predict the future until they’ve been exiled (i.e. knows that he’s going  to die)

566            Priscus’ intended wife , Tanaquil  , often consults fortune tellers to tell her when her mother will  die or whether her lover will  survive her. Even a “Tanaquil” (named after a wife of King Tarquinius Priscus of Rome whose skill in magic enabled her to foretell that Servius Tullius would become the  next king can’t foretell the future and is worried.

576            Tanaquil won’t accompany her husband abroad because her horoscope forbids it – if she goes out of town, she consults her horoscope. If she eats it’s only at the times an Egyptian Petosiris recommends. These things are  all  a cover for Tanaquil to liase with her lover (she won’t leave town except at certain times!)

584            All classes of women are the same – if you can’t afford an astrologer , ask a phrenologist (one who  predicts the future by  feeling bumps on the head) Rich ladies can afford someone who  will neutralise thunderbolts (i.e. will ensure that they aren’t punished) but poor women get their future told at the Circus and embankment where plebeian (poor people) destinies are foretold. In the Circus, the poor women ask the same question as the rich – should they marry the rag and bone man(!!) Poor women are not as bad as the rich women , since they carry the children of their lovers through to full term whereas rich women pay for abortions.

594            Juvenal tells Postumus to kill his intended wife before the baby is born, otherwise he might find himself father to another’s baby  -and it will be a black child.

603            Often rich women try to pass off common babies as nobly born. Their real parents expose them on the hillside to  die but noble women pick them up and pass them  off as noble children.

Postumus’ intended is a witch claims Juvenal (she makes Thessalian love philtres -  witches came from Thessaly in ancient thought) Such magic spells cast by his intended have befuddled the wits of the husband and he can’t even remember what he’s doing!

Even Caesonia (wife of Caligula) drove her husband mad with a love potion) Nero was Caligulas uncle . If it’s good enough for emperors wives then it’s good enough for every wife claims Juvenal. If Juno  had driven Jupiter crazy it wouldn’t have been so bad as Caesonia driving Caligula mad (he killed politicians and poor men alike) Even Agrippina (wife of Emperor Claudius ) who   served a poison mushroom didn’t cause as much devistation as Caesonia  - Claudius was a doddering old idiot anyway!

626            Wives loathe a concubines offspring and often murder step  sons (Nero murdered Brittanicus, his mother ,Agrippinas step  son) Mothers can’t be trusted not to put poison is a dish. Juvenal the satirist claims he’s not making these accusations up as if it were a play by Sophocles – wives and mothers really  do these things. He backs up this assertion with Pontias confession ( a famous case in the time of Nero , she was Petronius’ daughter who  claimed that she had killed her children by giving them aconite . Medea and Procne did the same (they are both figures from mythology who  killed their children.) Juvenal the satirist claims that at least these women had an excuse – they did their crimes in anger . Worse still is the cold calculating woman. Alcestis in tragedy offered to die on her husbands behalf but nowadays women would rather kill the husband! Modern life has its Danaids (women who killed their husbands) Eriphyle (also killed her husband ) and Clytaemnestra (who  killed her husband, Agamemnon.)

659      Juvenal the satirist advises modern day Agamemnons (i.e. husbands tobe murdered by their wives) to take a hint from king Mithridates of Pontus who  poisoned himself daily (to build up resistance)and not get married or it will  be like daily poison.