Purchasing Manhood:
Status and Virility in Juvenal's Ninth Satire

Christopher Nappa

University of Minnesota

Once 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.

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