Daniel M. Hooley, Roman Satire. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Pp. xi + 189. ISBN 1-4051-0689-1. UK£17.99.
School of Classics and Linguistics,
University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Hooley describes his book as ‘an invitation to a dialogic relationship with a literature that gets richer and more fascinating the more time one spends with it,’ (p. vii). One can but only agree wholeheartedly with the value judgement encapsulate within this statement. The ‘invitation to a dialogic relationship’, however, is couched in an idiosyncratic and conversational style clearly designed to appeal to a younger than average readership and in a register which might well jar on the sensibilities of the more traditional classical scholar. It is a style made notorious/familiar by the ever stimulating, but sometimes obscure John Henderson. Hooley's obvious enthusiasm for the subject, his liveliness and imaginative lateral readings and responses to the primary sources go a long way to excusing such arguably inappropriate expressions as, to cite but a few, p. 5, ‘posh Seneca’, p. 29, ‘written off by the posh dandy Maecenas as just another loony poetaster, and sent packing,’ p. 108, ‘a startlingly obscene pub(l)ic display’, which smacks of schoolboy humour and ‘Carry On’ films, p. 121, ‘Juvenal's poem is his own riff on that theme’, and p. 127, ‘a tarted up, Thoroughly Modern Philly’. On p. 153 we have the disturbing statement that the homespun philosophising of Petronius' freedmen in the Cena Trimalchionis ‘is a wonderful parody of a Juvenalian rant,’ which poses the question whether part of one work can be a parody of another not yet even written. After so much negative comment one is bound to add that Hooley's book is endlessly stimulating even or especially when one differs from its findings. It is indeed ‘an invitation to a dialogue'. However, some parts of the authors half of the dialogue are more convincing than others.
In discussing satire's attitude to itself and its own worth in the introduction (pp. 1-12), Hooley makes the good point that although supposedly a genre of humble rank it was part of the recreational activities of the privileged elite at Rome. He cites Horace's comments in Sermones 1.4 to the effect that his satires are not proper poetry, but does not entertain the possibility that Horace's disclaimer might well be an exercise in self- deprecatory irony. However that may be, Hooley's discussion of satire as ‘Roman Literature Noir’, as a kind of safety valve by means of which unofficial views on ‘a more human scale’ find expression, and his introduction of the idea of the persona are excellent and insightful. The notion that satire in Rome represented ‘the private side of the voice of authority’ (p. 19) is continued in the first chapter.
The discussions of Ennius and Lucilius in Chapter 1, ‘Beginnings(?)’ (pp. 13-27), are brief but informative, ‘a (short-order) Cook's tour’ (p. 20) and quite sufficient to serve as an introduction to the major generic satirists, Horace, Persius, and Juvenal, and such adjuncts as Petronius and the creators of Menippean Satire. In the section in Chapter 2, ‘Horace’ (pp. 28-86), entitled ‘Just the Facts Please’, which gives a potted biography of Horace, there are, nevertheless, examples of speculation and guesswork with no evidentiary foundation provided, for example ‘Horace was no soldier and, it is likely, no passionate believer in Brutus' republicanism,’ (p. 29). However, Hooley is well aware of the need historically and intellectually to contextualize the reading of the Sermones, as Rome finally emerged from a civil war in which traditional values had been sorely tested or even destroyed. His section, ‘Diatribe’, shows a keen awareness of the need for sequential reading of the poems and Hooley provides an excellent discussion of how to read a Horatian satirical poem as ‘everyman's rumination on the parlous state of things’ (p. 33). Hooley discusses each of Horace's Sermones in turn, providing an interpretation and a brief summary of scholarly and critical views on each poem. While each discussion is interesting and to the point it is very clear that Hooley as well as Horace is writing for the doctissimi, two clubs which speak a shared language, one of Rome's aristocratic elite, one of an Anglo-American intellectual elite. This latter fact may be at odds at times with the explicit characterisation of the book as an ‘introduction’. Some of the discussions of individual poems seem a little superficial, notably that of Sermones 2.2, while, on the other hand such readings as that of 1.7 make more sense of that poem than any piece of criticism I have come across before. It is natural that in such an intensely personal set of readings of intensely personal poems the responses of the readership of the criticism will be as varied as the responses to the readership of the primary source material. Where Hooley is especially good is in dealing with those poems where Horace himself deals with the composition, content, and purpose of the Sermones, for example 1.4, 1.0 and 2.1, while he is also refreshingly open to the idea of other poems, such as Sermones 2.8 also making implicit comments on Horace's literary agenda, for example ‘. . . he treats this feast as programmatic, he presents satire's mixed plate so egregiously overdone that the only sane reaction is to walk away coldly’, p. 83, though what does this say about the genre of the Epistles?
The chapter on Horace is disproportionately long, a characteristic explained by the claim that the chapter provides a methodological model for the criticism of subsequent authors.
In Chapter 3, ‘Persius’ (pp. 87-111), the biographical material is useful and the discussion of the complex relationship between Persius and the works of Horace valuable in the extreme, ‘he (Persius) uses Horace as a necessary counter, simultaneously a point of inspiration and radical departure,’ (p. 89). This is hardly surprising since Hooley is the author of The Knotted Thong: Structures of Mimesis in Persius (Ann Arbor 1997) and the scholarship which went into that publication clearly informs much of this chapter. Hooley contrives to make sense of Persius -- no mean feat in itself -- and indicates that the chapter on Persius is not merely the result of a need on the part of Hooley to pay lip service to this important author. Hooley indicates the debt Persius owes to Horace and indicates also the development of a canon of recurrent issues that appear in the satiric corpus as a whole. Because of constraints of space Hooley's commentary on Persius' Stoicism and his debt to Cornutus is rather sparse, although his acceptance of Houseman's identification of the unus . . . comitum (Satire 3.7) is welcome, although a cross-reference to the comes atra of Horace, Sermones, 2.7.115, might have been informative in terms again of Persius' creative exploitation of the earlier poet.
Given the extent of Juvenal's text the length of Chapter 4, ‘Juvenal’ (pp. 112-40), is disappointing, especially because what is said is, as Freudenburg declared in his cover comments, ‘chock-full of smart new observations’. Hooley confesses that the chapter is ‘a whirlwind tour’, (p. 116). What one can say is that the observations on the individual poems are sharp and full of insight, that Hooley's discussion of the persona ‘problem’ indicates clearly that this is no longer a real problem in these days post Anderson and Braund. Typical of Hooley's insights is the following, ‘While dismissing the epic and tragedy of the recitation hall, he creates an epic and tragedy, and comedy too, of satire,’ (p. 116) which comment does ample justice to the scale and impact of Juvenalian satire. One possible omission is the lack of a mention of the debt owed by the ‘mad satirist’ to the life and times of Cato Maior which were very likely an inspiration for the ‘arguments’ of Satire 6 and the characterisation of the persona created by the consummate poet Juvenal.
The strengths and possible weaknesses of this book are demonstrated by a quotation one can make from the chapter on Juvenal, which deals with the attacks on the ‘ghosts of Rome’, those safely buried along the Appian Way, ‘Civil war, those horrific executions under Nero, Domitianic repression, the sleaze of power politics, rampant luxury and greed -- this is the nasty underside of power and empire, past and current. These ghosts won't stay buried in modern Rome; Juvenal digs them up and puts them on (if we are paying attention, gruesome and terrifying) display. More than that he processes Rome's nasty ghosts: they are there in the targeted sinners, the gluttons and grabbers and lechers (‘this is what we have become’), but they are there too in the bigotry, hypocrisy, and anxiety of the perceiving, satirising eye/I,’ (p. 138).
Hooley concludes with a lengthy chapter on ‘Menippeans and After’ (Chapter 5, pp. 141-71) in which he discusses first Seneca's Apocolocyntosis, briefly but informatively, and Petronius' Satyricon, at greater length and with great perception and intelligence, taking as his starting point Tacitus' description of the parodic suicide of Petronius Arbiter in Annales 16.18. Seldom have I read more sensible material on Petronius in such a short compass, where Hooley comes to the conclusion that the Satyricon was ‘(not) meant to be one of our clean and recognisable literatures, it works actively against conventional ideas of literary kinds . . . that in Greece and Rome were determinatively precise,’ (p. 151). Finally there is an interesting summary of post-classical satire in the English language down to and including the Simpsons, with passing references to most of the satirical luminaries from the European tradition, somewhat in the manner of Gilbert Highet. This space might have been profitably devoted so far as a classical scholar is concerned to a more in depth study of Juvenal and Petronius. However, that is very much a personal view.
In conclusion, Hooley's book is at once entertaining, inspiring, infuriating, and informative. The treatment of the different authors is uneven. It is not the kind of book that one would recommend as a set text for a course on Roman Satire, but it is a volume to which one would direct bright students in search of stimulation and intellectual challenge.