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SA´TIRA or SA´TURA. The word, it would appear, originally meant a mixture or medley. Varro, quoted by Diomedes, p. 486 (Keil), defined satura as a dish or compound of various ingredients: “satura est uva passa et polenta et nuclei pinei mulso conspersi; farcimen . . . multis rebus refertum saturam dicit Varro vocitatum.” Festus, p. 314 (Muller), and Isidore, Orig. 20.2, 8, say much the same thing. The phrase per saturam thus meant “promiscuously,” “without distinction,” “in no definite order:” thus Lactantius says (Inst. 1.21, 13), “Pescennius Festus in libris historiarum per saturam refert,” ( “he says, among a number of other things, that,” &c.); Charisius, p. 194 (Keil), “adverbium . . . omnia in se capit quasi collata per saturam” ( “the adverb contains everything in a miscellaneous collection” ). As a technical term of law, per saturam or in saturam denoted a bill the various provisions of which were proposed and voted on, not separately, but in a lump. Thus at the close of a lex the words were added, “neve per saturam abrogato aut [p. 2.598]derogato” (Festus, p. 314); Fronto says (p. 212, Naber), “non sparsa nec sine discrimine aggerata, ut quae per saturam feruntur.” As applied to voting, per saturam seems to have meant “promiscuously;” in other words, that the voting was taken not individually, but by show of hands, acclamation, or some other rough and ready method. C. Laelius, quoted by Festus, p. 314, says, “quasi per saturam sententiis exquisitis.” A number of other passages might be quoted to the same effect.

In literature, satura perhaps meant satura fabula, a story or piece of writing of miscellaneous contents. If we may trust Livy, who is probably merely reproducing and abridging information derived from some older authority, the word was originally applied to a rude form of drama (perhaps merely a scene) without a plot, which dealt with a miscellaneous variety of subjects. When Livy describes the origin of dramatic performances at Rome (7.2, 4), he seems here to have meant by satura a simple scene without a plot, acted at first without, but afterwards (under Etruscan influence) with, a regular musical accompaniment and corresponding gestures. This scene or dialogue with musical accompaniment never developed into a play with a regular plot. Livius Andronicus was the first artist who gave up saturae, and, under Greek influence, introduced a regular drama: “ab saturis ausus est argumento fabulam serere.”

The fabula, or regular play, drove the satura from the sphere of acted drama, and the word was then applied to a literary composition not written for acting, dealing with a miscellaneous variety of subjects or characters, and composed sometimes in prose and verse, sometimes in verse only, but verse in a variety of metres. (Diomedes, p. 485, “olim carmen quod ex variis poematibus constabat satura vocabatur, quale scripserunt Pacuvius et Ennius;” cf. Isid. Orig. 5.16, 1, “saturas scribere est poemata varia condere.” )

History of the literary Satura.--Ennius (born 239 B.C.) is mentioned by Horace as the founder of this form of composition (Sat. 1.10, 66, “rudis et Graecis intacti carminis auctor” ). He wrote several books of saturae. Six are mentioned by the ancient grammarians, but in all probability there were more, as some are quoted not by their numbers but by their titles. Of the subjects of the first and second books nothing is known; of the fragments of the second, one is written in trochaic, the other in hexameter verse. The third book, entitled Scipio, may have been dedicated to the achievements of the younger Africanus. Some fragments of it remain, written in hexameters, iambics, and trochaics. The titles and fragments of some of the other saturae may give some clue to their contents. The Hedyphagetica must have treated of gastronomy; the Epicharmus and Euhemerus of philosophy and mythology. Aulus Gellius (Noctes Atticae, 2.29, 3) preserves a notice that Ennius, in one of his saturae, versified, with great success, the fable of the lark and its young ones; but in which book he did this is unknown. Scanty as they are, these fragments clearly show what the satura was in the hands of Ennius. It was a literary conversation composed in various metres, the epic hexameter as well as the ordinary metres of the comic drama--whether with an admixture of prose, we do not know. Its subjects might be serious or otherwise, according to the author's fancy. It was, in short, a talk with cultivated society at Rome on the topics of the hour. Pacuvius (about 220-132 B.C.) wrote saturae of which nothing remains, and we therefore pass on to the author whose name was inseparably associated with this form of composition, and who was generally accounted, in Latin antiquity, its greatest master. Lucilius (180 or 167-103 B.C.) appears to have devoted himself exclusively to the satura. He wrote at least thirty books of saturae, each of which, probably, contained several pieces. Of these books the first seems to have been written in hexameters, the rest partly in hexameters or elegiacs, partly in iambics or trochaics. Thus, in external form, the satura of Lucilius did not differ much, if at all, from that of Ennius. It was still a brief narrative or picture of life, with an element of dialogue. So much is clear, if only from the remains of the third book, from which Horace copies his Journey from Rome to Brundisium; from the scene in the fourth book between Aeserninus and Pacideianus, the rustic supper in the fifth book, and the convivial scenes of the fourteenth and twentieth. The range of his subjects is a very wide one: philosophy, philology, literary criticism, war, contemporary life in all its phases--all find a place in his saturae. But an important point of difference must be noticed between Lucilius and his predecessors, which had not escaped the notice of the ancients. Diomedes (p. 485) speaks of the satira which was “carmen maledicum et ad carpenda hominum vitia archaeae comoediae charactere compositum, quale scripserunt Lucilius et Horatius et Persius.” Lucilius was the first writer who impressed on the satura the character of invective which it to a great extent preserved in the hands of Albucius ( “cuius Luciliano charactere sunt libelli,” as Varro says, L. L. 3.2, 17), Horace, Persius, and Juvenal. With Lucilius the satura underwent a new Greek influence, that of the Old Attic Comedy, and became the instrument not only of personal reflection or advice or expostulation, but also of personal attack. The reason of this must be sought, no doubt, partly in the character of Lucilius himself, partly in the circumstances of his age. The period of corruption among the ruling classes at Rome had begun, and was to continue until the end of the Republic. There was plenty of room for a preacher or a satirist or a comedian; but Roman feeling would not allow the stage to be used for political attack, and the Roman Aristophanes was driven back to his ink and paper.

The remains of Lucilius's saturae, whatever else they bear witness to, attest beyond doubt an extraordinary vigour, which breathes in almost every surviving line. This was, probably, the main source of his popularity, which never waned so long as Latin literature was alive. Even in the time of Tacitus (Dial. de Orat. 23) there were readers who preferred him to Horace. He makes strong protestations of sincerity, nor does there seem any reason to doubt that he was sincere. Horace, in the fourth and tenth satires of his first book, finds [p. 2.599]fault with his style as slovenly and careless. But this defect was either not discovered or was passed over, not only by Cicero and Varro, but by Quintilian. To Cicero Lucilius is doctus and perurbanus (de Orat. 1.72); to Varro he was gracilis, or elegant (Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 6.14, 6). Quintilian altogether refuses to subscribe to the censures passed upon him by Horace (Inst. Or. 10.1, 93). Fronto (p. 62, Naber) calls him “elegans in cuiusque artis ac negotii propriis.” It is probable, then, that the hastiness and imperfection of his workmanship, which are undeniable, blinded Horace to his merits.

The original form of satura was adopted by Marcus Terentius Varro (116-27 B.C.) in his saturae Menippeae, or saturae in the style of the Cynic philosopher Menippus. Quintilian (10.1, 95) says, “alterum illud etiam prius saturae genus, sed non sola carminum varietate mixtum condidit Terentius Varro;” Probus, on Verg. Ecl. 6.31, “Varro . . . Menippeus, non a magistro . . . nominatus, sed a societate ingenii, quod in quoque omnigeno carmine saturas suas expoliverat.” Of the saturae there was a very large number, as Quintilian says (l.c.), “plurimos hic libros (i.e. saturarum) et doctissimos composuit, peritissimus linguae Latinae et omnis antiquitatis et rerum Graecarum nostrarumque.” To judge from the scanty fragments which remain, Varro's saturae seem to have been pictures of life and society, tinged with a dash of common-sense philosophy, and embracing almost every conceivable point of social, moral, religious, or literary interest. For the ninety titles which have survived, see the edition by Riese, or that by Bücheler, at the end of his Petronius. They give a striking idea of the variety of subjects over which Varro ranged. These pieces are mixtures of prose and verse. The fragments are very brief and inadequate, having been in most cases only preserved by grammarians as giving instances of rare words or forms of words; but, even so, they give a vivid idea of the immense loss which Latin literature has sustained in the disappearance of Varro's saturae.

Between Marcus Varro and Horace comes Publius Varro of Atax, whose works are lost, but who, according to Horace, attempted something in the same style as himself, but did not succeed (Sat. 1.10, 46, “hoc erat, experto frustra Varrone Atacino Atque quibusdam allis, melius quod scribere possem” ).

The satura or sermo (for so he calls it) is treated by Horace in a way of his own. He does not like the rudeness, as he thinks it, of Lucilius; he looks for more polish of style, more flexibility, more softness of tone, to suit the complexity of life. But, like Lucilius, he writes in hexameters, though often preserving the form of a dialogue. This, so far as it goes, is a mistake, for the hexameter is the metre least of all suited to dialogue. In all other respects the satura or sermo of Horace seems to be true to the sound tradition; it is a conversation with the age on the topics that interest it.

We now come to the age of Nero, in which the satura is represented by two writers of a very different character, Persius (34-62 A.D.) and Petronius (died perhaps 66 A.D.). Persius is a devoted admirer of Horace, but he has not Horace's geniality or lightness of hand. Like his master, he attempts to write saturae in hexameters; but he only succeeds in making his natural slowness and obscurity of utterance still more conspicuous. His subjects, too, are exclusively serious: he is not at home out of the region of philosophy and religion; and he is a young student, ignorant of the world. Petronius is a man of the world and a writer of genius. His satura, of which unfortunately only fragments remain, is constructed in the manner of Varro, and is a narrative of adventures in a town of Southern Italy, so contrived as to introduce a number of leading types of character--a poet, a freedman, a ship's captain, and others. Each character is so conceived, and represented in a manner so lifelike, as to make Petronius's book something unique of its kind in classical literature. The dramatis personae all speak in appropriate style and idiom. The body of the narrative is in prose, but it is interspersed with verse, put mainly into the mouth of the poet Eumolpus, and intended, it is nearly certain, as a parody of Lucan and Seneca.

In the hands of Juvenal (about 47-130 A.D.) the satura almost loses its original character; indeed, his satires might with more propriety be called epistles, as the element of dialogue has vanished except in. the third and ninth satires. Juvenal. writes in hexameters of the most conventional form, and treats his themes in the stone of rhetorical invective. He is entirely dominated by the angry spirit of Lucilius, and in the monotony of indignation forgets that humour and play of sympathy were an essential element of the genuine satura; yet, far as he is removed from Ennius, Varro, and Petronius, nay even from Horace, his moral force and mastery of his chosen style are so commanding that he has come to be regarded in literature as the prince of Roman satirists; and it is no doubt largely owing to his influence that the words satire and satirical have come in English to imply severe, if not illnatured raillery.

The proper form of the satura, a mixture of prose and verse, was adopted in the 4th century by Martianus Capella and in the 6th by Boetius (died 525 A.D.) in his de Consolatione Philosophiae, of which an ancient biography (p. xxxi., Peiper) says: “Hos libros per saturam edidit, imitatus scilicet Martianum Capellam, qui prius libros de Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii eadem specie poematis conscripserat.”

(See Anton Funck, Satur und die davon abgeleiteten Wörter, Kiel, 1888; H. Nettleship, The Roman Satura, Oxford, 1878; Leo, Varro und die Satire, in the Hermes, Berlin, 1889. The author of the latter essay is very sceptical as to the independent value of the evidence given by Livy and the Latin authorities.)


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