Portrait of Juvenal

Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis—or, as he is more commonly known, Juvenal—was a second-century Roman poet who was best known for writing a series of five books known as the Satyrae, or the Satires. Little is known about Juvenal’s life, mostly due to the fact that he documented very little about himself in his surviving works; moreover, contemporary accounts of Juvenal’s life are often inconsistent. However, it is known that he was born in Aquinum (modern day Aquino) in the Roman Empire around the year 60 A.D. and lived well into old age, dying sometime after 127 A.D., when he completed the fifth and final book of his Satires.

The purpose of Juvenal’s Satires was to critique aspects of Roman life that he saw as undesirable or immoral. Juvenal left no stone unturned in his criticism: some of his many targets were the elderly, women, homosexuals, the wealthy, and the military. Indeed, Juvenal's excessive criticism of society may have led to his downfall: according to surviving contemporary sources, Juvenal insulted a dancer named Paris (in his seventh satire), who was close friends with Emperor Domitian. Paris complained about the insult to Domitian, and as a result, Juvenal was banished to Egypt, ostensibly being given military command there. Historians debate over whether Juvenal’s banishment truly occurred, or if these are simply stories conflated by contemporary authors; nonetheless, it is generally accepted that Juvenal spent the rest of his life in Egypt, where he completed his last satires.


Juvenal left a large legacy in the realm of humanism, as many of the ideas presented in his Satires aligned themselves with Renaissance-Humanist thought. It is for this reason, among others, that Juvenal’s Satires became a common tool that humanist teachers used during the Italian Renaissance to educate their pupils on the Latin language, Roman history, and various early humanist themes.

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