In Praise of the Pusio: Echoes of Petronius in Juvenal 6. 34-37

Heather Vincent

Southern Illinois University

"Nonne putas melius, quod tecum pusio dormit?/ pusio, qui noctu non litigat, exigit a te/ nulla iacens illic munuscula, nec queritur quod/ et lateri parcas nec quantum iussit anheles." Thus Juvenal extols the benefits of a boy lover (pusio) over a wife.  In his hyperbolic indictment of marriage in Satire 6, Juvenal advises the would-be groom to find a noose, take a flying leap from a window, or even from the Aemulian bridge (Sat. 6. 30-32), and failing that, as the above lines demonstrate, he concludes that one is far better off with a boy-lover than with a wife.  Although Juvenal's final suggestion of a pederastic love affair seems to have less of the rhetoric and hyperbole than his former injunctions toward suicide, and thus may seem to disappoint the reader's expectations, the lines serve as a comic crescendo, nonetheless, and provide a final sardonic twist, or punch line for the haranguing narrative that precedes it.  In this paper, I argue that Juvenal's praise of the boy-lover alludes playfully to the Petronian vignette at Satyricon 85-87 in which a young boy grants to Eumolpus successive nights of sexual favors in exchange for gifts of ever-increasing magnitude. 

Juvenal's allusion to Eumolpus' tale of the petulant lover, as yet unnoticed in critical scholarship, is productive in several ways.  Most significantly, the allusion illuminates Juvenal's use of mock-epic and mock-elegiac words and motifs (munuscula, queritur, lateri parcas, anheles).  Using the Petronian vignette as a backdrop, we can easily observe how the satirist contrasts his ideal relationship between lover and beloved with the traditional literary models; Juvenal's lover will not shower his beloved with gifts (munera), nor listen to a lover's complaints, nor play the role of miles amator, the lover-soldier who battles heroically for his beloved.  For each of these motifs, we find direct verbal resonances between the Juvenalian and Petronian passages.  The two passages, however, present diametrically opposed messages about the relative merits of a boy-lover; in fact, the relationship between Eumolpus and his young beloved is plagued with all the disadvantages that Juvenal claims a boy-lover will avoid.  It seems that Juvenal has not only adapted elements from the Petronian narrative, but has also subverted them for his own satiric purposes. 

For the reader, the incongruity between the satirist's advice and the narrative to which he alludes provides an ironic climax or punch line for this segment of the narrative. 


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