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DECIMUS JUNIUS JUVENALIS (c. 50-127), Satyrae [Satires]

In Latin, illuminated manuscript on parchment
Italy, Tuscany (Florence), c. 1450-1475

TM 401


82 ff., complete [collation: i-viii10, ix1(of 2, with last folio of bifolium a cancelled blank], catchwords, 24 lines, ruled in blind (perhaps with a ruling-frame), justification: 142 x 80 mm.), written in dark brown ink in a fine humanistic cursive minuscule in a single hand, headings and closing words in pale red ink, some marginal contemporary notes in red, first capital of each verse set off to the left, eleven two-line high initials in burnished gold on blue, pink or green grounds with opposing colors infill heightened by white tracery, five large illuminated initials in white-vine style (bianchi girari), 3- to 4-line high, the initials themselves in burnished gold entwined with white-vine leaves infilled in blue, pink and green heightened with white dots, initials terminating in gold bezants on penwork sprays, first page with three-quarter white-vine border infilled in blue, pink and green heightened with white dots, colored floral motifs and burnished gold bezants on pen sprays, lower portion of decorated white-vine border of first page containing an armorial shield, contemporary or near-contemporary marginal and interlinear annotations and/or corrections throughout, notes by at least three different hands. Bound in fifteenth century half calf over wooden boards, back sewn on two thongs, remnants of a single leather clasp now wanting, ink inscription on upper board (see Provenance below) (Generally in fine condition, with clean wide margins, a bit of discharge on first page, a few stains to parchment). Dimensions 210 x 125 mm.

Attractive Italian humanist copy with beautiful script and skillful white-vine illumination on finely prepared parchment of one of the most popular classical texts of all time, Juvenal’s Satires. Satirizing all aspects of everyday Roman life in elegant Latin, Juvenal’s text is known in manuscripts from late Antiquity (the fourth century) and was fashionable in the Renaissance, when it was employed extensively in the schools. The original binding and many marginal notes—surely those of a student or teacher—enhance the interest of this fine manuscript.


1.Copied and illuminated in Italy, perhaps in or near Florence, with white-vine illustration similar to that found in Florentine codices. An unidentified armorial shield (colors partially effaced) is placed in the lower border decoration on the frontispiece page, most likely that of the first owner or patron who commissioned the present manuscript. Identification of the heraldry as well as the scribe might well signal a more exact provenance.

2. A note in black ink on the upper bare wooden board reads: “Scritture antiche della famiglia Belli de Firenzuola.” Firenzuola is a town located midway between Florence and Bologna in Tuscany.

3. Continental Private Collection.


ff. 1-21v, Juvenal, Satyrae, Book I (Satyrae 1-5), rubric in pale red ink: Iunii Iuvenalis Satyrarum liber primus incipit feliciter; incipit, “Semper ego auditor tamen numquamreponam...”; explicit, “[…] Flagra pati his epulis et tali dignus honore”(ed. Ramsay, 1918 (repr.1996), pp. 2-82);

ff. 21v-36v, Juvenal, Satyrae, Book II (Satyra 6), incipit, “Credo pudicitiam saturno regemoratam...” ; explicit, “[…] Pontica ter victi cautus medicamina regis” (ed. Ramsay, 1918 (repr.1996), pp. 82-136);

ff. 36v-50v, Juvenal, Satyrae, Book III (Satyrae 7-9), incipit, “Et spes et ratio studiorum in cesare tantum...”; explicit, “[…] Que siculos cantus effugit remige surdo” (ed. Ramsay, 1918 (repr. 1996), pp. 136-192);

ff. 50v-65, Juvenal, Satyrae, Book IV (Satyrae 10-12), incipit, “Omnibus in teris que sunt a gadibus usque...”; explicit, “[…] Exequet nec amet tantum nec ametur abillo” (ed. Ramsay, 1918 (repr. 1996), pp. 192-244);

ff. 65-82, Juvenal, Satyrae, Book V (Satyrae 13-16), incipit, “Exemplo quodcunque malo commictitur ipsi...”; explicit, “[…] Ut leti faleris omnes et torquibus omnes. Finis”; final rubric, “Omnes laus infine …Deo gratias” (ed. Ramsay, 1918 (repr. 1996), pp. 246-306).

Little is known of Juvenal’s life (Latin: Decimus Junius Iuvenalis, c. 50-127 A.D.), and most of the biographical details come from allusions in his own Satires. His native town was Aquino in southern Lazio, where he must have been born into a family of some repute representative of the higher levels of provincial life. However, he appears to have lived most of his life in Rome, the literary period of his life spanning the reigns of the emperors Trajan (98-117 A.D.) and Hadrian (117-138 A.D.). Probably while in Rome, he received the best education of his time and was trained in the moral principles of the Stoics. Belonging to the generation of Caligula, Claudius, and Nero, Juvenal knew Rome during its period of worst corruption, as is reflected in his poetry. The Satires show Juvenal to be “a realist of the realists,” grappling with the real things of life and holding up a mirror to all aspects of the private life of the Rome of his day (see Ramsay, 1918, introduction).

The Satires:
The Satires are a collection of satirical poems by Juvenal written in dactylic hexameter in the late first and early second centuries A.D. The distinctly Latin literary genre devoted to clever, humorous critique on a variety of subjects originated with Gaius Lucilius (c.160s-103/2 B.C.), and included works by Horace (65-8 B.C.), as well as the Satires of Juvenal’s near-contemporary Persius (34-62 A.D.), with whom he is often grouped in modern critical editions, reflecting the manuscript tradition. Sixteen known poems are extant (the sixteenth is incomplete) divided into five books. These five books are discrete works, and the evidence suggests that they were published separately over time, for their themes and approaches differ. Although they are not individually titled, translators have added titles for the convenience of readers.

Their subjects are as follow. Book I includes Satires 1 to 5, on the ineptitude of poetry (1, perhaps written as a sort of introduction); hypocrites are intolerable (2); there is no room in Rome for a Roman (3), the emperor’s fish or a council meeting under Emperor Domitian (4); and the ideal of the patron-client relationship. Book II includes only Satire 6 on the decay of feminine virtue or on vicious women. Book III includes Satires 7 to 9, on the prospects of letters and learning under a new emperor (7), on the idea that virtue not birth gives true nobility (8), and the vice of homosexuals, a dialogue with a disgruntled client of a pathetic patron (9). Book IV includes Satires 10 to 12, on the true object of prayer (10), spendthrift and frugal eating, or dinner with a moral (11), and true friendship, or a friend’s escape from a shipwreck (12). Book V, which ends incompletely, includes Satires 13 to 16, on guilty conscience and desire for revenge (13), parents as examples (14), cannibalism in Egypt, on people without compassion (15), and the privileges of soldiers over mere citizens (16).

Making frequent allusion to history and myth as a source of object lessons or exemplars of particular vices and virtues, Juvenal aims his work at the highly educated reader. Without recourse to much obscenity, the Satires are every bit as vivid and even lurid as works by Martial and Catullus. The use of the Latin language is dense and elliptical. Critics suppose therefore that Juvenal’s audience--who would have responded to the themes of perceived threats to the social continuity of Roman citizens, be it social-climbing foreigners, unfaithfulness, or other extreme excesses--consisted of a subset of the Roman elite, specifically adult males of a conservative social stance.

The Manuscript Tradition:
The manuscript tradition of Juvenal is very complex. No complete list of all the extant manuscripts exists, although over 500 have been recorded—perhaps more than for any other classical author. There are also a few leaves preserved from ancient copies, and an indirect transmission of a few lines quoted in other works. Because the work is poetry, it is subject to an unusual amount of corruption. In addition, Juvenal fell out of favor in Antiquity to be revived only in the last quarter of the fourth century, when he became widely popular, as attested by Ammianus Marcellinus (Book 28, 4:14), and he appears in the commentaries on Virgil of Servius. His text thus suffered from its obscurity; in the fourth century difficult or obscure words were sometimes replaced with less difficult or more comprehensible words by readers and copyists, in the interest of producing a book that could be read and understood. Modern scholars estimate that around 50-100 spurious lines were interpolated into the text before the revival in the fourth century. These lines are present in all subsequent versions of the text. The overwhelming majority of the manuscripts reflect this ancient edited version of the text. Worse still, cross-contamination of readings between the medieval copies of this family makes it impossible to draw up a tree of what was copied from what. Even geographical divisions are unstable and difficult to make precisely.

Most scholars have agreed that one manuscript offers the best and most important text among all the extant manuscripts of the Satires. Known as “P” (the Codex Pithoeanus, now Montpellier, Bibliothèque Universitaire de médecine), MS 125) after the name of one of its owners Pierre Pithou, this manuscript served as the copy for the edition of Juvenal and Persius printed in Paris in 1585 (see below), although it was subsequently lost and recovered only in the nineteenth century. Written in the important monastery of Lorsch in the first quarter of the ninth century, this manuscript was transcribed in a fine Carolingian miniscule and contains not only the texts of Juvenal and Persius but also the ancient scholia (early commentaries or explanatory notes added in the margins), not present in the other manuscripts. Although scholars agree that “P” escaped the deluge of interpolation found in most of the other manuscripts, Housman (1905, 1931), among others, argues that in certain cases readings in other manuscripts of the group designated by the Greek letter “Phi” (Φ) are superior to those in “P” and must be considered along with the evidence of “P” in order to arrive at a “true reading” of the Satires.

The present manuscript belongs to the non-“P” manuscripts of Group “Phi,” which all descend from a version of the text made in the fourth century, also known as the edited recension. Among the hundreds of manuscripts in Group “Phi,” manuscript “K” is sometimes singled out as a close copy of the source for all the manuscripts in this group. Transcribed in the ninth century, this manuscript now in Florence (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana Cod. 34,42) includes all sixteen of the Satires in addition to the Life of Juvenal, and at the beginning of Satire 7, a marginal inscription identifying the grammarian who edited the text in the fourth century: “Legi ego Niceus apud M. Serbium Romae et emendavi” (I, Nicaeus, read this in Rome at the house of Servius the master/teacher and corrected it). Other important early manuscripts of Group “Phi,” dating between the ninth and the eleventh centuries, include “F” in Paris (Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 9345) written at Cluny; “A” in Munich (Bayer. Staatsbibl., Clm. 408); and “L” in Leiden (Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 82), the latter including the same inscription found in “K.”

The attribution of the present manuscript to Group “Phi” or the edited recension finds confirmation in numerous textual readings, including in Satire 1, habitas at v. 114 (instead of habitat in “P”); quiescit at v. 126 (instead of quiescet in “P”); in Satire 2, et contum at v. 150 (instead of et pontum in “P”); etc. The inscription referred to above in “K” and “L” is not present in our codex.

Complicating further the textual tradition, there are three fragments of Juvenal from late Antiquity, which do not agree with either the “P” or the non-“P” groups (for these see CLA I.30, III. 305, and CLA. supp. 1710). Each of these fragments was transcribed in the sixth century, perhaps as early as c. 500. In addition, there are 36 otherwise unknown lines of Satire 6 discovered in 1899 by E. O. Winstedt in a manuscript in Oxford (Bodleian Library, MS Canon. Class. Lat. 41). Once suspected to be spurious, these lines are now thought to be important because they predate the relative stability of the fourth-century revival of the text, and they may have been done by Juvenal himself or some other capable ancient editor. The lines are one of a number of major classical texts that owe their survival to the active scriptorium at Monte Cassino under Abbot Desiderius.

Juvenal and Humanism:
Juvenal was much-appreciated during the fifteenth century as is evident from the survival of manuscripts of this date and from the early printed editions. Noteworthy are the marginal and sometimes interlinear (see f. 28) notes in four different fine humanist hands that pepper the present fifteenth-century copy. The notes appear to be of four types: simple corrections made to the text (for example, f. 58, correcting “exprimitur” by “excipitur” et passim); mnemo-technical devices of some sort with capital letters in pale red ink disposed vertically to the left of the text (f. 27 “PECHIA”; ff. 54v-55 “SENECTA”); notes concerning sources or influences penned in the margin (for instance references to Cicero, Ausonius, Demosthenes (f. 53)); explanatory notes signaling out (often in pale red ink, ff. 2 v, 4, 12v, 56v, 57 etc.) or expanding on a proper name or obscure word (ff. 74: “Molossos [underlined] pp. pyrrum qui fuit rex molossorum...”; f. 75v: “Mithridates rex fuit ponti qui timens venena cotidie ante cibum sumebat...”). Although there are notes scattered throughout, one might signal that Satires 6 (on vicious women) and 14 (on parents as examples) are particularly annotated, as if they had been studied more in depth by a student or teacher. One also might note the odd note that contains some Greek (f. 24v).

Frequently taught in the humanist schools, editions with commentaries were of use to teachers in preparing their lectures. The editio princeps of Juvenal’s Satires together with those of Persius is Juvenalis satyrae et Flacci Persi Volaterrani, Romae, impressae per Uldericum Gallum, [c. 1469] (Hain 9661; IGI 5564). Two other important incunable editions include successful commentaries on Juvenal by Dominzio Calderini (1446-1478) and Giorgio Valla (1447-1500), published respectively in Venice, 1475 and Venice 1486, with subsequent re-editions. Antonio Mancinelli (c. 1425-1505) undertook a more thoroughgoing commentary on the Satires of Juvenal. Although it is respectful of existing commentaries, it represents a comprehensive approach to Juvenal as a school author. Appearing in December 1492, with a dedicatory letter dated June 1492, it was the first work of Mancinelli to issue from the Venetian press of Giovanni Tacuino (IGI 5575, 5581-5596). Mancinelli explicitly advertised the usefulness of his commentary in his letter dedicating it to his Venetian patron, Niccolò Rossi. He named four commentaries already available in print and said he will add a fifth because no matter how many learned things his predecessors had remarked, they nonetheless omitted many things which would be useful for adolescent students. With its extensive marginal notes—surely those of a teacher or student in one of the humanist schools—the present manuscript bears witness to Juvenal’s fifteenth-century popularity.

The Paris edition of 1585 was based on manuscript “P”: A. Persi Fl. sat. liber I, D. I. Iuvenalis sat. Libri V, Sulpiciae satyra I cum veteribus commentariis nunc primum editis ex bibliotheca p. Pithoei. This publication signals continued interest in Juvenal’s works through the sixteenth century and provides an important bridge to modern studies of the textual transmission of the Satires.


Editions (in order of publication):
Housman, A. E. D. Iunii Iuuenalis Saturae 'editorum in usum', Cambridge, 1905, 1931.

Ramsay, G. G. Juvenal and Persius with an English translation, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1918 (repr. 1996) (Loeb Classical Library, vol. 91).

Knoche, U. Iunius Iuvenalis Saturae, Munich, Hueber, 1950.

Courtney, E. Juvenal, The Satires, a text with brief critical notes (Instrumentum Litterarum 1), Rome, 1984.

Clausen, W. V. A. Persi Flacci et D. Iuni Iuuenalis Saturae (Oxford Classical Text), Oxford, 1959, 1992.

Martyn, J. R. C., D. Iuni Iuvenalis saturae, Amsterdam, 1987.

Willis, J. A., ed. Iuuenalis Saturae (Teubner), Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1997.

Green, Peter, tr. Juvenal. The Sixteen Satires, London, Penguin Books, 1982.

Rudd, Niall. Juvenal. The Satires. Oxford, Oxford University Press. 1992.

Ramsay, G. G. Juvenal and Persius, with an English translation. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1918 (repr. 1996) (Loeb Classical Library, vol. 91).

Selected Studies:
Courtney E. “The Tradition of Juvenal’s Text,” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 14 (1967), pp. 38-50.

Courtney, E. A Commentary of the Satires of Juvenal, London, Athlone Press, 1980.

Freudenburg, Kirk. Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Highet, Gilbert. Juvenal the Satirist. New York: Oxford University Press, 1961.

Tarrant, R. J. “Juvenal,” in L. D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmissions, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1983, pp. 200-203

Online resources

Juvenal’s Satires in Latin at The Latin Library

Juvenal’s Satires 1, 2, and 3 in Latin and English at the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook

The Manuscript Tradition with an English Online Edition of Juvenal’s Satires (1918 translation by Ramsay)

Latin edition of Juvenal’s Satires with notes on the manuscript tradition by M. Hendy

On Juvenal in the Schools in Fifteenth-Century Italy

Paleographical Study of Michigan Manuscript 147