Juvenal: Satire on Women (d. 130)

Why tell of love potions and incantations, of poisons brewed and administered to a stepson, or of the grosser crimes to which women are driven by the imperious power of sex? Their sins of lust are the least of all their sins.

"But tell me why is Censennia, on her husband's testimony, the best of wives?" She brought him a million sesterces; that is the price at which he calls her chaste. He has not pined under the arrows of Venus' quiver; he was never burnt by her torch. It was the dowry that lighted his fires, the dowry that shot those arrows! That dowry bought liberty for her: she may make what signals, and write what love letters she pleases, before her husband's face; the rich woman who marries a money-loving husband is as good as unmarried.

"Why does Sertorius burn with love for Bibula?" If you shake out the truth, it is the face that he loves, not the wife. Let three wrinkles make their appearance; let her skin become dry and flabby ; let her teeth turn black, and her eyes lose their lustre: then will his freedman give her the order, "Pack up your traps and be off! you've become a nuisance; you are for ever blowing your nose; be off, and quick about it! There's another wife coming who will not sniffle." But till that day comes, the Lady rules the roast, asking her husband for shepherds and Canusian sheep, and elms for her Falernian vines. But that's a mere nothing: she asks for all his slave-boys, all his prison-gangs; everything that her neighbour possesses, and that she does not possess, must be bought. . . .

"Do you say no worthy wife is to be found among all these crowds?" Well, let her be handsome, charming, rich and fertile; let her have ancient ancestors ranged about her halls; let her be more chaste than all the dishevelled Sabine maidens who stopped the war--a prodigy as rare upon the earth as a black swan! yet who could endure a wife that possessed all perfections? I would rather have a Venusian wench for my wife than you, O Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi, if, with all your virtues, you bring me a hanghty brow, and reckon up Triumphs as part of your marriage portion. . . . And who was ever so enamoured as not to shrink from the woman whom he praises to the skies, and to hate her for seven hours out of every twelve?

Some small faults are intolerable to husbands. What can be more offensive than this, that no woman believes in her own beauty unless she has converted herself from a Tuscan into a Greekling (Greeks were considered lustful) , or from a maid of Sulmo (birthplace of Ovid) into a true maid of Athens? They talk nothing but Greek, though it is a greater shame for our people to be ignorant of Latin. Their fears and their wrath, their joys and their troubles--all the secrets of their souls--are poured forth in Greek; their very loves are carried on in Greek fashion. All this might be pardoned in a girl; but will you, who are hard on your eighty-sixth year, still talk in Greek? That tongue is not decent in an old woman's mouth. When you come out with the wanton words [Greek], you are using in public the language of the bed-chamber. Carressing and naughty words like these incite to love; but though you say them more tenderly than a Haemus or a Carpophorus (famous actors at the time) , they will cause no fluttering of the heart--your years are counted upon your face!

. . . If you are honestly uxorious, and devoted to one woman, then bow your head and submit your neck ready to bear the yoke. Never will you find a woman who spares the man who loves her; for though she be herself aflame, she delights to torment and plunder him. So the better the man, the more desirable he be as a husband, the less good by far will he get out of his wife. No present will you ever make if your wife forbids; nothing will you ever sell if she objects; nothing will you buy without her consent. She will arrange your friendships for you; she will turn your now-aged friend from the door which saw the beginnings of his beard. Panders and trainers can make their wills as they please, as also can the gentlemen of the arena; but you will have to write down among your heirs more than one rival of your own.

"Crucify that slave!" says the wife. "But what crime worthy of death has he committed?" asks the husband; "where are the witnesses? who informed against him? Give him a hearing at least; no delay can be too long when a man's life is at stake!" "What, you numbskull? you call a slave a man, do you? He has done no wrong, you say? Be it so; this is my will and my command: let my will be the voucher for the deed."

Thus does she lord it over her husband. But before long she vacates her kingdom; she flits from one home to another, wearing out her bridal veil; then back she flies again and returns to her own imprints in the bed that she has abandoned, leaving behind her the newly decorated door, the festal hangings on the walls, and the branches green still over the threshold. Thus does the tale of her husbands grow; there will be eight of them in the course of five autumns--a fact worthy of commemoration on her tomb!

Give up all hope of peace so long as your mother-in-law is alive. It is she that teaches her daughter to revel in stripping and despoiling her husband; it is she that teaches her to reply to a seducer's love-letters in no unskilled and innocent fashion; she eludes or bribes your guards; it is she that calls in Archigenes (a famous doctor) when your daughter has nothing the matter with her, and tosses about the heavy blankets; the lover meanwhile is in secret and silent hiding, trembling with impatience and expectation. Do you really expect the mother to teach her daughter honest ways--ways different from her own? Nay, the vile old woman finds a profit in bringing up her daughter to be vile.

There never was a case in court in which the quarrel was not started by a woman. . . .


What does this passage tell you about Roman women and men?