Juvenal Biography

(Poet)

Born: 55

Born In: Aquino, Italy

Juvenal was a Roman poet considered the most influential of all Roman satiric poets. He was active during the Silver Age of Latin literature. He is best remembered as the author of a collection of satirical poems known as the Satires, an acerbic critique of Pagan Rome composed between the late first and early second century AD. His poems were in accordance with the writing style of Lucilius, often considered the originator of the genre of Roman satire. Juvenal wrote in dactylic hexameter; his works are refined and clearly structured. He is believed to have written at least 16 poems on a range of Roman topics. Not much is known about his personal life, but from the sparse sources that are available, it seems that he was born into a wealthy family. While he was able to secure a post in the army under Emperor Domitian, his military career was not a very successful one, and he failed to rise through the ranks. Thus embittered, he wrote a scathing satire against the successful officers, hinting that one needed favors from the court for promotions. This got him banished from the kingdom. He was able to return to Rome after Domitian’s death.

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Quick Facts

Died At Age: 72

Born Country: Italy

Quotes By Juvenal Poets

Died on: 127

place of death: Rome, Italy

Biography

Decimus Junius Juvenalis was born sometime in the1st century AD in Aquinum (modern Aquino). His year of birth is speculated to be 55 AD.

Only a few details about his life are available. The scant sources available today reveal that he was born into a well-to-do family. He was probably the biological or adopted son of a rich freedman.

Some sources state that he was probably trained under the prominent educator and rhetorician Quintilian.

It is believed that he became an officer in the army as a young man. He aspired to rise high in the administrative service of Emperor Domitian but this did not happen.

Juvenal was unable to get the desired promotions for a high-profile administrative career and this made him angry and bitter. Thus, he wrote a biting satirical poem claiming that one needed court favors to gain a promotion. This angered the emperor and he banished Juvenal.

It is not known exactly to where Juvenal was exiled. He probably went to the remote town of Syene, now Aswān, in Egypt. His property in Rome was confiscated.

Domitian was assassinated in 96 AD, following which Juvenal could return to Rome. However, he was poverty-stricken and had no gainful employment at the time of his return. He was reduced to living on the charity of rich citizens.

Over time, his situation improved and he was even able to acquire some property, a farm at Tibur (now Tivoli). In his later years, he owned some livestock and employed a few servants. By all accounts, his last years were spent in modest comfort in Rome. 

It is not known when exactly he died; he probably died in or after 127.

Juvenal is credited to have taken the satire genre to new heights. However, he was not much popular in his lifetime and has hardly been mentioned in Roman literary circles by contemporary poets. His works began to receive some belated attention in the late 4th century.

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Literary Works

Juvenal is credited with the authorship of 16 poems divided into five books. All these poems are composed in the Roman genre of satire. These poems mainly talk about the corruption in Roman society, social deviance, vices, and the brutalities of human beings.

In his Book One, containing Satires 1–5, he writes about the tyranny of Emperor Domitian and his brutal reign. It was most probably published between 100 and 110.

Book Two, which comprised of one long satire, Satire 6, talks about the general life of Romans. It came out in the year 115.

Satires 7, 8, and 9 are contained in Book Three, which opens with the praise of a benevolent emperor—probably Hadrian—who encourages writers by endowing a literary institute.

Not much is known about Book Four except for that it comprises Satires 10, 11, and 12. Book Five, containing Satires 13, 14, 15, and 16 has allusions to the year 127.

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Major Works

Satire 3 is one of Juvenal’s most famous verses. The poem is in the form of a monologue by a person called Umbricius, a loyal Roman citizen, who is leaving Rome to seek out a better life in the country. The verse lists all the reasons why Rome has become unliveable.

Around 115 AD, he wrote the verse Satire 6, which became his most notorious one. He writes about what he sees as the decay of women’s virtues and laments about the degraded state of feminine morality. This work has been construed by modern scholars as a “misogynistic rant.”

Another one of his popular verses, Satire 10, was composed around 120. Also known as The Vanity of Human Wishes, this poem talks about mankind’s vanity and frivolous desires. It is considered one of Juvenal’s most entertaining poems.

See the events in life of Juvenal in Chronological Order

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