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Defining the Art of Blame: Classical Satire

Catherine Keane


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405119559.2007.00006.x


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Many ancient Greek and Roman literary works, bearing a range of generic labels, contain hints of what a modern audience would call satire. Thus, a chapter on classical satire might cover a huge quantity and variety of material. The opposite tack would be to cover the very narrow range of authors named by the Roman rhetorician Quintilian, who, in the late first century CE, declared satire to be “entirely Roman” ( tota nostra, The Education of the Orator 10.1.93). His pronouncement limits satire to the handful of verse authors who, as a result, came to comprise the ancient canon in the eyes of most scholars. This exclusive group consists of four writers — Lucilius, Horace, Persius, and Juvenal — who worked between the second century BCE and the generation following Quintilian's own. But even their distinctive art is the product of centuries of experimentation by Greek and Roman authors, who articulated key satiric concerns, dilemmas, and strategies. Accordingly, the present chapter will avoid the two extremes of classification, and present a diachronic story of satire's origins. We may begin by cracking open the restricted definition of satire to find a more expansive and theoretical model lurking within. In claiming satire as a Roman invention, Quintilian relied on a formalist notion of genre shared by many ancient critics. Technical criteria, such as performance context, metrical ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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