Juvenal, Satire V: Don’t Have Dinner with Virro

Frontispiece from John Dryden, “The
Satires of Decimus Junius Juvenalis: And of Aulus Persius Flaccus”

One of the most charming ancient genres is the Roman dinner invitation poem. “You will dine well if you bring your own,” writes the poet Catullus (13), adding humorously that “his purse is full of cobwebs.” And Horace (Epistle I.5) writes, “If you don’t mind reclining on a scruffy couch and eating a dinner of cheap greens, I will wait for you at home at sunset.”

The impoverished poets love to entertain. If only all of our dinner invitations could be metrical!  How about a poem where, as a modern poet, you offer only spaghetti and charming company because your food was spoiled in the power outage?

Juvenal spins the trope differently from his predecessors.  He is cranky, mordant, and so politically incorrect you will either laugh or slam the book shut. (I advise you to avoid Satire II and Satire VI, both of which are obscene and offensive.) His good satires are great:  in Satire I, he lists a catalogue of immoral and crass practices in Rome. Then he justifies his lampoon by saying, “It is difficult not to write satire.”

He skewers everything from bad poetry to unfaithful wives to gay marriage to the impossibility of making a living in Rome (he, for one, refuses to write good reviews of bad books) to the entire female sex (I sighed, but read it) to the myth of heredity making a difference.

In Satire V, which is my favorite, Juvenal warns Trebius, an impoverished man who lives from hand to mouth, not to dine with Virro, a sadistic boor who invites his dependents if he needs an extra guest. The rich will eat game, fish, truffles, mushrooms, and fruit while the poor gnaw on hard bread and spoiled food. Even the water is different for the rich, and the poor can’t even get the slaves to pour them a glass of murky liquid.

Begging, Juvenal says, is preferable to accepting this pointless invitation.

Is there no sidewalk to beg on? No bridge or scrap of a mat too small by half? Is the insult of this dinner of such value, is your hunger so gnawing, that a man couldn’t more honorably shudder at and eat filthy dog food?

Virro’s dinner party is the reverse of the nouveau riche Trimalchio’s feast  (Petronius’s Satyricon): instead of the guests enjoying the most extravagant entertainment, watching in horror the host shit in a gold chamber pot, and dining on dishes almost too fantastic for a modern chef to imagine, Virro and the rich enjoy watching the  poor starve while they scarf down so much food it upsets their stomachs.

The translations from the Latin are my own. Here are the Latin lines from Juvenal.

nulla crepido uacat? nusquam pons et tegetis pars
dimidia breuior? tantine iniuria cenae,
tam ieiuna fames, cum possit honestius illic               10
et tremere et sordes farris mordere canini?

And you can read my post on Horace’s poem here

What Is a Derecho? Tales of a Power Outage

derecho

We were reading our books when the derecho (a word I’d never heard) hit. First, the sirens went off. “Is that a tornado?” Then the sky turned low and pitch-black.  Later, we heard that 100-MPH winds had ripped across the sky.

“What IS that?”  I asked, looking out the window.  On TV, the meteorologist assured us this storm with high winds was not a tornado. He seemed quite cheerful and fascinated by it.  Then his image flickered on the screen and the power went out.

Trees down (one blocked our street), branches down, wires down, some roofs blown off. Interstates closed, semi-trucks toppled by winds on the highway. On the second day of the power outage, 800,000 midwesterners were still without power.

Every time there is a  power outage, almost every comfort disappears.   How can we take things for granted, I mused, as I tried to read my book in inadequate light.

The radio newscaster said the power would be back by 1 p.m. We waited…waited…waited…. Nope.  Tea time (sun tea). Dinner hour (sandwiches thrown together in a dim kitchen). Sunset (sat in the back yard and laughingly outlined a movie script that was half Serpico, half Community) .

dercho why-grain-bins-were-so-heavily-damaged-by-the-derecho

We hoped the power would return in the night.  No luck.  The next day we were still living like pioneers.  I have never enjoyed Little House on the Prairie, Little House in the Big Woods, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, or any other book about robust prairie-related survival.  I’m quite sure I would have flunked as a pioneer and hied it back to the city.

lantern aldrichhardvoverI actually felt mellower on the second day without power, beccause my expectations were lowered.  I rambled around the house in a long Miss Havisham-style sleeveless t-shirt nightgown made in China of some mysterious substance that is certainly not organic. Who can be picky when the fans don’t work?

Hurray, we got our power back this morning at 5:00. Oh. thank God! I’ve never been as courageous as Abbie in Bess Streeter Aldrich’s A Lantern in Her Hand, though I love the book! And as for surviving without fans and AC…