Status and Virility in Juvenal's Ninth Satire
University of Minnesota
viewed as a satire about homosexuality, Juvenal 9 is now regularly seen as
an attack on corrupt patrons and clients (by, e.g., Bellandi, Braund, Tennant).
This reading of the poem is undoubtedly useful, and indeed patronage is at
the heart of the poem. Still, more can be done to unravel the net of associations
that the satire weaves among patronage, sex, masculinity and social class.
The dramatic scenario represents Juvenal's conversation with an embittered cliens named
Naevolus who inveighs against mistreatment by his effeminate patron, usually
identified with the Virro of Satire 5. The services that Virro requires of
his client are not those traditionally associated with legitimate patronage;
instead, Naevolus plays the active role in sex with Virro and provides related
services. He even impregnates his patron's wife since Virro is unwilling
or unable to do so.
It is easy to see these actions as a parody of patronage that speaks badly
for both patron and client, but more is going on in this poem. Naevolus is
required to impregnate Virro's wife so that Virro, by producing legitimate
children, will be eligible for the financial privileges granted to fathers
by the Leges Iuliae and Papia
Poppaea. The poem characterizes him as
effeminate in that he enjoys being penetrated by other men but it also shows
that fatherhood, viewed as proof of masculinity, is profitable under the
law in a way that encourages deceptions like that which he uses Naevolus
to perpetrate. If patronage can be seen as an economic arrangement in which
patron and client exchange services, then we can see Virro "purchasing" virility
from Naevolus, both in the form of a male lover for himself and in the valuable
status conveyed by fatherhood.
Naevolus too has a stake in this exchange of virility. Like Umbricius in
the third satire, Naevolus wants to live the life of a client, and the end
of the poem suggests that he desires wealth rather than modest means as a
result of his services. Naevolus too needs a way to prove virility, and he
does so in the only way he can: by penetrating his own patronus, he graphically asserts his masculinity. Naevolus
makes it clear that he envies and resents Virro's great wealth and status;
by asserting that he fathered Virro's children, he lays claim to some of
that status. At the same time, however, Naevolus admits to fearing Virro
and his power. The aggressive masculinity implied by his role as penetrator
is undercut by his dependent status and his fear.
The ninth satire, then, represents two men engaged in a kind of negotiation.
By displaying his virility in an obvious, physical way, Naevolus tries to
compensate for his lack of status vis-à-vis the Roman elite. By using his
client to produce children for which he will receive benefits, Virro tries
to purchase visible signs of masculine identity and social status. Patronage
is subverted because it is used to make up for what is essentially lacking
in both patron and client.