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(earlier form satura, from satur). A name which the Romans applied to a species of literature which they believed peculiarly their own ( “Graecis intacti carminis,Hor. S. i. 10.66 ; “satura quidem tota nostra est,Quint.x. 1.93 ). The names of all other kinds of poetry indicate their Greek origin. It is probable that satura originally expressed the idea of fulness, abundance, which by special application was extended to mean variety, miscellany, promiscuity, without order. This secondary meaning occurs occasionally in all periods of the literature in the phrase per saturam or in saturam: Sei quid in saturam feretur Lex Repetund. 72, C. I. L. i. p. 62); per saturam aedilem factum (Lucil. 1, 18M); non secundum edicti perpetui ordinationem, sed passim et quasi per saturam collectum, et utile cum inutilibus mixtum (Justin. Praef. Dig. p. xv.). The term satura was applied to a statute with separate provisions, a bill with “riders” (Fest. 314M; Gloss. Philox. ); to a kind of poetry treating of various subjects (Paulus, Excerpt. 315 M); to an intermingling of prose and verse (Quint.x. 1, 95); to a mixture of dried grapes, pearled barley and nuts, sprinkled with a preparation of wine (mulsum); to a kind of sausage (Varro ap. Diom. p. 486 K); and to a dish of various kinds of fruit offered to Ceres (Acro, on Hor. S. 1.1). It is also mentioned by the grammarians as coming from satyri (Diom. 485K). The idea of medley pervades the entire use of the word in the literature, and fittingly describes one of the chief characteristics of the satura in the various stages of development.

Keller and others ignore this, and meet with many difficulties in attempting to connect the dramatic satura with σάτυροι, satyrs, and the literary satura with σάτυροι, the works of a certain Timon of Phlius. Mommsen and Ribbeck would derive satura from satur, but explain the latter as coming from σάτυροι in a very roundabout way.

According to Livy 's condensed and somewhat confused account of the old dramatic satura (vii. 2), it would seem that the Romans were indebted to Etruria for certain of its elements. At the celebration of the harvest-home and other rural festivals, the light-hearted, merry people of Latium had long been accustomed to the jovial banter of the Fescennine verses, an entertainment consisting of dialogues of coarse jokes and personal abuse in metrical form, perhaps enlivened by the exhilarating tones of the pipe, or by the beating of time with the feet. In B.C. 364 the magistrates invited a band of Etrurian actors to Rome in the hope of staying the ravages of a terrible pestilence. These actors danced a sort of pantomime to the accompaniment of regularly composed music, and so pleased the people with their performance that the Roman youths—the same ones, no doubt, whose quick wit and dramatic power had made them the leaders in the merriment of their native entertainments—began to imitate the Etruscan actors and to combine the elements of the musical pantomime with the metrical dialogues of the Fescennine raillery, to which they applied the name satura, “medley,” from its composite nature. (Cf. Ital. farsa, Fr. farce, Arabic Quassîde as applied to poetry, and Juvenal's term farrago for his Satires.) As the satura developed under the control of the Roman youths and the acting became more and more an art, it finally passed into the hands of professional actors, and the young Romans contented themselves with the less exacting performances of afterplays (exodia), to which the Atellanae also were reduced after the introduction of the regular drama. Livy 's account covers a wide sweep in the development of the native drama.

If, as Mommsen and Wilamowitz (Hermes, ix. 331) maintain, the fabula Atellana, with its stock characters and rudimentary plot, developed in Latium long before the introduction of the regular drama under Greek influence, then the old dramatic satura was the intermediate step in the growth of the native Italian drama. As the Versus Fescennini were superseded by the satura as a dramatic entertainment, but lived on in the scurrilous verses of the marriage celebration and triumphal songs; so the satura, supplanted by the fabula Atellana and the regular drama, passed into that branch of poetry known as the literary satire.

Not a few recent scholars have questioned the very existence of an early dramatic satura, and, with Leo and Hendrickson, have regarded it a mere fiction of Livy in his attempt to construct for Roman literature what he learned from Aristotle ( Poet. 4-5) to have existed in Greece. Leo attempts to prove it a fictitious parallel to the Greek satyr-drama, and Hendrickson to the old Attic comedy. To agree with them, one must believe that the Roman genius was unequal to the task of perfecting the native drama beyond the stage of the rude Fescennine verses, though we know that it sprang up and thrived independently in various parts of Greece and under various conditions. The chief reason for questioning the account of Livy —repeated with slight additions by Valerius Maximus (xi. 4, 4)—is the resemblance to Aristotle's description of the origin of comedy. The obscure reference in Euanthius, De Com. (ante med.) to satire as aliud genus fabulae and quod genus comoediae shows that the dramatic satura was in his time a mere name, and its place in the growth of literature forgotten.

It is a fair inference from Livy (vii. 2, 8), that Andronicus, qui ab saturis ausus est primus argumento fabulum serere, had been in the habit of writing saturae before he turned to the regular drama; and in all probability the satura of Naevius, mentioned by Festus, 257 (M), is one of the last examples of the old dramatic satura rather than the beginning of the new literary satire. The conservative spirit of Naevius, his plebeian sympathies, and his adherence to the old Saturnian verse, in which the early saturae were probably written (the verse from Naevius's satura is apparently Saturnian), render this all the more probable.

With Ennius, an originator in so many lines, satura took on a new form. The success of the new drama with regular plot killed the demand for the old dramatic medley. The new plays, however, were moulded on the type of the New Attic Comedy, the comedy of manners, and gave little opportunity for the display of satire and ridicule which were so characteristic a part of the Roman genius, and which formerly found free play in the old-time burlesques. Ennius, therefore, remodelled the old satura, retaining the name, the spirit, and the essential features. The whole body of literary satire exhibits in varying degrees certain definite characteristics. The language does not rise to the height of the other styles of poetry; Horace speaks of his Satires as sermones, “conversations,” and his muse as pedestris. It exhibits everywhere the peculiarities of the sermo familiaris. There is a strong tendency to dramatic form. Dialogue is an important feature in all satura down to Juvenal, and traces occur even in his bold declamatory style. Unusual laxity in structural arrangement, easy change of topic, and variety of metres are noticeable in the early writers. In some authors—e. g. Varro, Petronius, and Seneca— a mixture of prose and verse appears; and in all there is a great deal of obscenity, characteristic of its peculiar origin. The satirical spirit, in the modern sense of the word, varies in different authors according to their natural disposition, and to their political, social, and moral environment. The Romans recognized two kinds of satire: Satira dicitur carmen apud Romanos nunc quidem maledictum et ad carpenda hominum vitia archeae comoediae charactere compositum, quale scripserunt Lucilius et Horatius et Persius, et olim carmen quod ex variis poematibus constabat satira vocabatur, quale scripserunt Pacuvius et Ennius, Diom. (Suet.), i. 485 (K). This classification has been accepted too literally by modern scholars. Ennius was preëminently an epic poet, tragedian, and scholar, but the subjects of some of his saturae, the Greek writers who influenced him (the Sillographi, etc.), and his own known rationalistic tendencies, assure us that there was at least subtle satire lurking in many of his poems, if there were not also open ridicule. He was more influential perhaps than any other writer in moulding Roman thought on Greek lines, in introducing Greek culture, in awakening scepticism in religion, and in dispelling superstition. It is more than probable that this was accomplished somewhat by the spirit of satire and ridicule in his poem Epicharmus, which apparently reduced the gods of mythology to the elements of nature, and in the rationalistic poem, Euhemerus, or Sacra Historia. The indecencies of Sotades were, no doubt, ridiculed in the Sota; and the only reason for supposing that the Heduphagetica was not a parody of epic grandeur on the subject of high living was that Ennius is said to have died of the gout. The Scipio can be shown to be a part of his saturae, and it is probable that the Ambracia celebrated the deeds of his patron Fulvius Nobilior in the east, as the Scipio did those of Africanus in Africa. All the minor poems were perhaps collected under the title Saturae, and formed four and perhaps six or more books. See Ennius.

Lucilius, a Roman knight of influence, living at a time of great social and political unrest, that of the Gracchi, narrowed the scope of satire and stamped it so deeply with the spirit of invective that he was sometimes spoken of as its very founder (Hor. S. i. 10.40). His criticism of men and affairs, instead of being vindictive and personal, like the lampoons of the Greek iambic writers, was ethical and partisan in tone, and animated by the spirit of the Old Attic Comedy (Hor. S. i. 4.6), or of the editorial page of the modern newspaper. His “Miscellanies” included the greatest variety of subjects: avarice, gluttony, literature, grammar, friendship, philosophy, religion, superstition, public men, a journey to Sicily, a country dinner, his mistress, contentment with his own lot, his fame, etc., and gave, no doubt, a faithful picture of his times. He employed fables, tales, and dialogue, as did Ennius before him, and spoke either in his own person or in the words of another, as best suited his purpose. We have but fragments of his thirty books, some 1100 in number, too brief to discover the “keen wit and great versatility,” the “wonderful learning and freedom” attributed to him by ancient critics. He began writing in trochaic septenarii, essayed other metres, and finally decided upon hexameters, which comprised twenty-one out of the thirty books, and became the usual form for later satire. See Lucilius.

The next important writer of saturae was Marcus Terentius Varro, a man of good social standing, prominent in affairs of state, a prolific writer, and the greatest of Roman scholars (Quintil. x. 1, 95). He wrote 150 books of satire like those of Ennius in form, except that prose was intermingled with a great variety of metres—more than twenty different kinds of verse occur in the 591 fragments. He was an old-fashioned man, with a strong sense of humour and real poetic genius. Thoroughly familiar with the spirit of the good old times and conscious of the rapid degeneration about him, he attempted to attract and instruct the young and unlearned with his mass of wise and good-humoured sketches, which treat of almost every conceivable subject, from philosophy down to the common-places of daily life (Acad. i. 2, 8). He imitated Menippus, the Cynic philosopher and satirist, whose style and manner may be seen in the works of Lucian; and no doubt the same gentle irony and mild satire pervaded the Saturae Menippeae. See Varro.

Horace admired the rough vigour and caustic wit of Lucilius's satires, and made them the models of his own; but his humble social position and his former republican alliance prevented him from attacking, in a direct personal way, the evils of society and the State. The less personal subjects of Lucilius's verse—avarice, luxury, philosophy, superstition, the follies of men, etc.—he reviewed in a spirit of gentle irony or mild satire. It would appear from some of his satires—so close is the resemblance, even in details—that the only merit he claimed in his earlier poems was to reproduce his master's thoughts in a more polished and refined style. See Horatius.

Persius, a young Stoic of noble birth and high ideals, wrote six satires in strained and obscure language. On every page there are reminiscences of Horace, though there was little in common between the circumspect man of society and the callow, unsophisticated philosopher. In form and spirit his satires conform to the standard type. See Persius.

The Satira of Petronius resembles Varro's in the medley of prose and various kinds of verse, but it is in reality a sort of satirical romance written in a masterly manner. Only about 100 pages from the fifteenth and sixteenth books remain, full of realistic pictures of society, literary criticism, ghost stories, anecdotes, adventures, all rich in wit and humour, but exceedingly obscene. The fine biographical details are, of course, all fiction. See Petronius.

Juvenal is the last of the well-known satirists whose works are extant, and his writings exhibit in a more limited degree than any others the characteristic features of the literary satire. Dialogue has almost vanished; the dramatic element is nearly supplanted by the rhetorical; fables, tales, and anecdotes are lacking; the personal, autobiographical feature is not to be found; the peculiarities of the sermo familiaris are chiefly limited to the choice of words; the thought often rises to the heights of true poetry; the structure of the individual satires shows an advance in the more artistic relation of unity and variety; hexameter is the only metre. On the other hand, the remaining characteristics are unusually intensified. The spirit of raillery and mild satire of the preceding poets has become bitter invective. The inordinate amount of obscenity is somewhat mitigated in effect by the tone of denunciation, but he so parades this in some satires that we question whether he was not really infatuated by it. His pictures of later Rome are drawn in the terribly realistic manner of Hogarth. See Iuvenalis.

The history of satire presents a regular and organic structural development, while the spirit varies with the character of the author and his environment. Its scope is narrowed in its descent from writer to writer, but broadened when its growth is considered by periods. At all times it was one of the most effective instruments of reform; and our knowledge of Roman civilization would be vastly enriched if we had the works of all the twenty-eight or thirty writers who we know cultivated this branch of literature.

Some of the more important articles on the general subject of satire are: Casaubon, De Satyr. Graec. Poesi et Rom. Sat. (Paris, 1605, and Halle, 1774); Scheibe, De Sat. Rom. Orig. et Progressu (Zittau, 1849); O. Jahn, Satura, in Hermes, 2, p. 225; Nettleship, The Roman Satura (Oxford, 1878, reprinted in his Lectures and Essays, ii.); Grubel, De Sat. Rom. Orig. et Progressu (Posen, 1883); Keller, Ueber d. Wort Satura, in Philol. 45, p. 389; Funck, Satur u. die davon abgeleiteten Wörter (Kiel, 1888); ibid., Wölfflin's Archiv, v. p. 32; Leo, Varro und die Satira, in Hermes, 24, p. 67; Hendrickson, The Dramatic Satura and the Old Comedy at Rome, in the American Journal of Philology, xv. 1, p. 1.

hide References (6 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (6):
    • Aristotle, Poetics, 1448b
    • Horace, Satires, 1.1
    • Horace, Satires, 1.10.48
    • Horace, Satires, 1.10.66
    • Horace, Satires, 1.4.6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 2
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