Of the writers of antiquity, I like the works of several historians, playwrights, letter-writers, essayists, philosophers, orators, and what we might loosely call novelists. However, the period’s poets and satirists I typically detest.
That said… I did find myself enjoying the fairer portion of the Satires of Juvenal. His work contains some philosophy and pithy remarks upon the nature of life.
For instance, he sums-up the two foundational approaches to life– both legitimate– that knowledgable, observant, and thoughtful men may take… On one side is the philosopher who, knowing what he knows about the sufferings of life, cries each morning when he steps into the streets. The other type, possessing equal knowledge and wisdom, laughs.
When it comes to the motivations of men, Juvenal observes that “much stronger is the thirst for glory than goodness.” And he recognizes that all the sound and fury of our lives actually takes place within a circumference of activity that is miniscule when viewed with more perspective. We the living puff ourselves up with an importance that deflates immediately when our ego evaporates… “Only death reveals the tiny size of the human body,” he writes.
And why, asks Juvenal, since wealth brings as much sorrow as poverty– although through different avenues– do men struggle so hard to gain and maintain the property which weighs so heavily upon their backs and brains?
Juvenal writes a great passage on old age, too long to quote here but beautiful, and asks, “What crime has been committed to deserve so long a life?”
Lastly, speaking of how difficult it is for an artist to capture the beauty and desolation of life, Juvenal asks, “Where is the talent fit for the theme?”
Juvenal, unlike most other poets and satirists of Rome, I CAN recommend.