Classics of Misogyny: Juvenal

The manosphere contains many fine writers expressing ideas that are popularly called misogynistic, but none to match the second century Roman poet Juvenal. In his sixth satire, Juvenal told his contemporaries all about the Roman female and why any man to marry one is a fool, all in savage and elegant Latin verse. Consider his matchless beginning:

In the days of Saturn, I believe, Chastity still lingered on the earth, and was to be seen for a time —-days when men were poorly housed in chilly caves, when one common shelter enclosed hearth and household gods, herds and their owners; when the hill-bred wife spread her silvan bed with leaves and straw and the skins of her neighbours the wild beasts—-a wife not like to thee, O Cynthia, nor to thee, Lesbia, whose bright eyes were clouded by a sparrow’s death, but one whose breasts gave suck to lusty babes, often more unkempt herself than her acorn-belching spouse. For in those days, when the world was young, and the skies were new, men born of the riven oak, or formed of dust, lived differently from now, and had no parents of their own. Under Jove, perchance, some few traces of ancient modesty may have survived; but that was before he had grown his beard, before the Greeks had learned to swear by someone else’s head, when men feared not thieves for their cabbages or apples, and lived with unwalled gardens. After that Astraea withdrew by degrees to heaven, with Chastity as her comrade, the two sisters taking flight together.

To set your neighbour’s bed a-shaking, Postumus, and to flout the Genius of the sacred couch, is now an ancient and long-established practice. All other sins came later, the products of the age of Iron; but it was the silver age that saw the first adulterers. Nevertheless, in these days of ours, you are preparing for a covenant, a marriage-contract and a betrothal; you are by now getting your hair cut by a master barber; you have also perhaps given a pledge to her finger. What! Postumus, are you, you who once had your wits, taking to yourself a wife? Tell me what Tisiphone, what snakes are driving you mad? Can you submit to a she-tyrant when there is so much rope to be had, so many dizzy heights of windows standing open, and when the Aemilian bridge offers itself to hand? Or if none of all these modes of exit hit your fancy, how much better to take some boy-bedfellow, who would never wrangle with you o’ nights, never ask presents of you when in bed, and never complain that you took your ease and were indifferent to his solicitations!

Here Juvenal has already expressed two commonplaces of the contemporary manosphere: that luxury and prosperity lead to a corruption of women’s morals, and that contemporary marriage is near madness for men.

Juvenal expostulates at length about the promiscuity of women, and asks

Can our arcades show you one woman worthy of your vows? Do all the tiers in all our theatres hold one whom you may love without misgiving, and pick out thence?

Rome’s women, it seems, are fond of actors and musicians. They have no interest in grave and serious men, in learned men, in the kind of man needed for the success of the state – in betas, in our language.

If you marry a wife, it will be that the lyrist Echion or Glaphyrus, or the flute player Ambrosius, may become a father. Adorn your doors and doorposts with wreaths of laurel, that your highborn son, O Lentulus, may exhibit, in his tortoiseshell cradle, the lineaments of a gladiator.

Juvenal recounts the story of a well born woman who ran off with a gladiator. That minx, though pampered and overdelicate her whole live, suddenly acquired courage when she threw away all honor:

For when danger comes in a right and honourable way, a woman’s heart grows chill with fear; she cannot stand upon her trembling feet: but if she be doing a bold, bad thing, her courage fails not. For a husband to order his wife on board ship is cruelty: the bilge-water then sickens her, the heavens go round and round. But if she is running away with a lover, she feels no qualms: then she vomits over her husband; now she messes with the sailors, she roams about the deck, and delights in hauling at the hard ropes.

Truly, women are brave only when being bad. Cheating woman are generally possessed with breathtaking boldness. Even the Emperors, Juvenal tells us, can’t avoid women’s shameful behaviour. Claudius’ wife enjoyed being used as a whore by common men.


About Pechorin

A Hero of Our Time
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