With each day the ghost of Juvenal looms larger. This famed Roman satirist sought to capture the Emperor Domitian’s vice-infested culture, in the gloomy years ending the first century. The more people tried to censor him the more merciless his tongue became.
Trump’s America should study his incisive texts, including this famous passage often translated as “who is watching the watcher?” See:
Hey there, you
Who do you think you’re fooling [with] this masquerade…
I know the advice my old friends would give—“Lock her up
And bar the doors.” But who is to keep guard
Over the guards themselves? They get paid in common coin
To forget their mistress’s randy little adventures;
Both sides have something to hide. Any sensible wife,
Planning ahead, will first turn the heat on them.
–Juvenal’s Sixth Satire
(Trans. Peter Green. In Juvenal, Sixteen Satires (New York: Viking Penguin, 1985), 140.)
Through laughter he taught readers about fake news and kangaroo courts. The simple message in Satire VI, known as his diatribe on women, is this: See who’s paying the investigator, and you’ll know what general falsehoods the investigator is likely to come up with. Caveat Priebus.
Culture in the third phase
Three periods of the Roman Empire’s culture stand out. Just before and after the birth of Christ, Virgil’s Aeneid and Horace’s gentle satires trumpeted an Augustan “Romanitas” (or “Roman virtue”) for jittery citizens who survived decades of civil war to become the most powerful people in the whole world. Call this the “winsome phase.”
Mid-century, just after the end of Paul’s ministry, a generation of writers including Petronius (Satyricon) and Lucan (Pharsalia) reacted to the excesses of Nero’s reign by penning epic-length narratives full of viscera and gore. Call this the “gross phase.”
Over a century after Virgil’s Aeneid, in a third phase, Juvenal emerged as a new voice of satire. He felt neither inspired to offer virtuous stories nor compelled to use grotesquerie to mourn virtues lost. Call this the “crass phase.”
For Juvenal’s generation, all that remained was sarcastic exposés on the utter crudeness of a self-righteous but decadent society. He was perhaps like Bill Maher, only a social conservative. (His second satire, on sodomy, has already gotten him banned from Classics syllabi on politically correct campuses!)