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p1008 Satura

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp1008‑1009 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

SATURA, or in the softened form SATIRA, is the name of a species of poetry, which we call satire. In the history of Roman literature we have to distinguish two different kinds of satires, viz. the early satura, and the later satira which received its perfect development from the poet C. Lucilius (148‑103 B.C.). Both species of poetry, however, are altogether peculiar to the Romans. The literal meaning of satura, the root of which is sat, comes nearest to what the French call pot-pourri, or to the Latin farrago, a mixture of all sorts of things. The name was accordingly applied by the Romans in many ways, but always to things consisting various parts or ingredients, e.g. lanx satura, an offering consisting of various fruits, such as were offered at harvest festivals and to Ceres (Acron, ad Horat. Sat. I.1; Diomed. III p483, ed. Putsch.); lex per saturam lata, a law which contained several distinct regulations at once (Festus, s.v. Satura). It would appear from the etymology of the word, that the earliest Roman satura, of which we otherwise scarcely know anything, must have treated in one work on a variety of subjects just as they occurred to the writer, and perhaps, as was the case with the satires of Varro, half in prose and half in verse, or in verses of different metre. Another feature of the earliest authors, as we learn from the celebrated passage in Livy (VII.1), is that it was scenic, that is, an improvisatory and irregular kind of dramatic performance, of the same class as the versus Fescennini [Fescennina]. When Livius Andronicus introduced the regular drama at Rome, the people, on account of their fondness for such extempore jokes and railleries, still continued to keep up their former amusements, and it is not improbable that the exodia of later times were the old saturae merely under another name [Exodia].

Ennius and Pacuvius are mentioned as the first writers of satires, but we are entirely unable to judge whether their works were dramatic like the satura of old, or whether they resembled the satires of Lucilius and Horace. At any rate, however, neither Ennius nor Pacuvius can have made any great improvement in this species of poetry, as Quinctilian (X.1 § 93) does not mention either of them, and describes C. Lucilius as the first great writer of satires. It is Lucilius who is universally regarded by the ancients as the inventor of the new kind of satira, which resembled on the whole that species of poetry which is in modern times designated by the same name, and which was no longer scenic or dramatic. The character of this new satira was afterwards emphatically called character Lucilianus (Varro, de Re Rust. III.2). These new satires were written in hexameters which metre was subsequently adopted by all the other satirists, as Horace, Persius, and Juvenal who followed the path opened by Lucilius. Their character was essentially ethical or practical, and as the stage at Rome was not so free as at Athens, the satires of the former had a similar object to that of the ancient comedy at the latter place. The poets in their satires attacked not only the follies and vices of mankind in general, but also of such living and distinguished individuals as had any influence upon their contemporaries. Such a species of poetry must necessarily be subject to great modifications, arising partly from the character of the time in which the poet lives, and partly from the personal character and temperament of the poet himself, and it is from these circumstances that we have to explain the differences between the satires of Lucilius, Horace, Persius, and Juvenal.

After Lucilius had already by his own example established the artistic principles of satire, Terentius Varro in his youth wrote a kind of satires, which were neither like the old satura nor like the satira of Lucilius. They consisted of a mixture of verse and prose, and of verses of different metres, but were not scenic like the old saturae. They were altogether of a peculiar character, and were therefore called satirae Varronianae, or Menippeae p1009or Cynicae, the latter because he was said to have imitated the works of the Cynic philosopher Menippus (Gellius, II.18).

(See Casaubon, de Satyrica Graecorum Poesi et Romanorum Satira, libri II Halae 1774, with notes by Rambach.)


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