William Thomas Wehrle, The Satiric Voice: Program, Form and Meaning in Persius and Juvenal. Altertumswissenschaftliche Texte und Studien 23. Hildesheim: Olms-Weidmann, 1992. Pp. 155. ISBN 3-487- 09613-7. DM32.80.
R. P. Bond.
University of Canterbury, New Zealand.
This book is full of many good things. Whether or not, however, the sum of these good things adds up to a totally satisfactory piece of work is another matter. It is an indication of this problem with the book that it took several attempts satisfactorily to engage with the work and, finally, the demands of an overdue deadline before the reviewer was able to complete an initial reading. The overwhelming impression was of something deriving from a splendid course of lectures on Persius and Juvenal to a far better than average university class.
The first question to ask is whether or not the treatment accorded the two authors in the one volume is either desirable or necessary. Wehrle himself is aware of this problem and in his introduction, where he deals honestly and sympathetically with his own problems with the more extreme forms of modern theory, he disavows any conscious effort at comparativism except where convenient and unavoidable (p. 1). Whereas, however, the comparisons which do inevitably arise are more than useful in the treatment of program and voice (although insufficient attention is paid to Persius' debt to Horace in these key areas) very little of significance is achieved through the parallel treatments in the nevertheless thoroughly researched sections on language and imagery.
Wehrle's treatment of the philosophical platforms of the two authors also seems inadequate, especially when he demonstrates, and has as his methodological base, a detailed reading and understanding of the texts. One is led to wonder whether the author is afflicted by the all too common tendency to underestimate the importance of the word-play possible between the everyday and philosophically technical use of language in the work of the Roman satirists.
The review is beginning to sound ungracious and excessively harsh, which is a great pity because this reviewer found many aspects of the book to be extraordinarily persuasive and was thereby required in particular to reassess many of his axiomatic assumptions regarding two of his favourite classical authors. Especially his understanding of two critically important poems, Persius Satires 5 and Juvenal Satires 3 was radically enhanced by Wehrle's explication of the satiric voices utilised by the two authors in these poems. To identify Cornutus as the interlocutor of Persius in Satire 5 gives a far greater resonance to the work and, indeed, a greater immediacy and intimacy to the encomium in honour of Persius' mentor. Why, however, Wehrle is apparently unwilling to take the next and perhaps obvious step and draw a parallel between the relationship between Persius and Cornutus and Socrates and Alcibiades in Satire 4 is something of a mystery, given the tendency of Roman authors and their literary executors to ensure that one poem in a collection feeds off and adds to others juxtaposed with it.
Regarding Juvenal Satires 3, Wehrle's arguments about the presentation of Umbricius as a less than totally favourable spokesperson for the very morality that he and his ilk had allowed to degenerate, it must be confessed that this reviewer was moved from downright scepticism to a grudging acceptance. Wehrle's discussion of the meaning of Umbricius' name as indicating a character less than totally real, a 'shadow', as it were, was most convincing, especially for someone who has himself argued that Ofellus ('Tit-Bit') is a less than complimentary name for the spokesperson of traditional Italian morality in Horace Satires 2.2.(1) Having said that, however, Wehrle is not generous in attributing to Horace all or even some of the pervasive influence on the satires of Persius which is clearly evidenced by the text. The implicit debt to Horace goes far beyond Persius' explicit placing of himself in the satirical tradition of Horace and Lucilius. Surely it would have been useful to discuss or, at least, to mention the formative influence of the start of Horace Satires 2.3 on the start of Persius Satires 3? Also, the influence of the concept of the Stoic conscience and the possibility of the didactic comes ('comrade') being none other than one of Persius' own overhung voices should perhaps have been mentioned in rather more than a footnote referring to the brief but relevant discussion in Barr and Lee.(2)
Once more there seems to have been a reluctance on the part of the literary critic to come to terms with the philosophical influence on a poem written in a genre with necessary links to the ethical discussions of influential current philosophical schools, especially given Persius' acknowledged debt to Stoicism in general and to Cornutus in particular. To even suggest, as Wehrle does, that Persius could be sarcastic in his references to the Stoa is remarkable. Even the critical centurion of Satire 3.77 aliquis de gente hircosa centurionum (`one from the goatish tribe of centurions') directs his attack against recognisably Epicurean rather than Stoic doctrine.
A more profitable approach might well have been to ask whether the satirical discourse of Persius made use of acris iunctura (`sharp juxtaposition/connection', Sat. 5.14) as a result of the unconscious and inner struggle between a desired Stoic idealism and a passionate young man's repressed appetites, 'natural' and 'unnatural', rather than to suggest simply that such disjunctions as occur in the text were the result of a desire to shock and to demand that an audience look with new eyes at familiar material.
However, having said that - and it is not appropriate to suggest a new and different book in a review, where the reviewer is clearly less productive than the reviewed - it is certainly true that this book on Persius and Juvenal, despite some faults, already cited, and some shortcomings of style (the excessive use of the [explanatory] parenthesis, for example), and the sometimes unwarranted use of the tendentious 'of course' and 'naturally' and a tendency to obfuscate meaning by some unnecessarily convoluted forms of expression and an occasional excess of quotation over analysis, has prompted this reviewer both to review attitudes long held and even to change some. The book is well worth serious attention.
(1) R.P.Bond, 'The Characterisation of Ofellus in Horace Satires 2.2', Antichthon 14 (1980) 112-116.
(2) Guy Lee & William Barr, The Satires of Persius (Liverpool 1987) 2.