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Watchmen and Juvenal
Transcript of Watchmen and Juvenal
The Empress Messalina
'But who is to keep guard over the guards themselves?'
Classics are embedded in the way we think about ourselves, and our own history, in a more complex way than we usually allow. They are not just from or about the distant past. They are also a cultural language that we have learned to speak, in dialogue with the idea of antiquity. And to state the obvious, in a way, if they are about anybody, Classics are, of course, course, about us as much as about the Greeks and Romans.
Women and Satire 6
Apolitical satire or dislocated history?
Juvenal warns: Your wife will commit adultery at any opportunity. Sure, you can try to lock her up. But ‘Who is to keep guard over the guards themselves?’
Not about the inherent grubbiness of authority figures
, but about the impossibility of keeping immoral women chaste
Friday, February 28th, 2014
Vol XCIII, No. 311
Thoughts on American Imperialism
Juvenal's dubious moral standpoint
Satire 2 warns us explicitly: "appearances are deceptive"
Exposes hypocrisy through hyper-masculine men who are closet homosexuals
Satire 6 ends with two women from Greek tragedy: Medea and Procne
They represent very worst of the tragic imagination
But Juvenal draws attention to the fact that they are fictional:
"Whatever the tragic poets
Tell us about Medea and Procne may well have happened:
I won't dispute that."
Can we take the satirist's vitriol at face value in light of this?
Who will watch the watchmen?
Who will watch the watchmen?
Juvenal writing 115 AD under Trajan (Second 'good emperor' after succession of despotic emperors)
Member of the Roman elite
Misogynistic, bigoted, xenophobic and yet hilarious
are long, angry, absurdist rants about everything Juvenal hates (pretty much everything)
Watchmen written 1986-7
Ronald Reagan US president; Margaret Thatcher Prime Minister
Escalation of Cold War between Soviet Union and West
1986 bombing of Libya
Set under Richard Nixon's presidency
Asks why anyone in their right mind would marry
Awfulness of women apparently particularly inspiring as this satire twice as long as any other
Includes women who have crushes on ugly mangled gladiators or gay dancers; greedy women; uneducated women; boring women
"Then, her black hair hidden
Under an ash-blond wig, she would make straight for her brothel,
With its odour of stale, warm bedclothes, its empty reserved cell.
Here she would strip off, showing her gilded nipples and
The belly that once housed a prince of blood. Her door sign
Bore a false name, Lycisca, 'The Wolf-girl'. A more than willing
Partner, she took on all comers, for cash, without a break.
Too soon, for her, the brothel-keeper dismissed
His girls. She stayed till the end, always the last to go,
Then trailed away sadly, still with a burning hard on,
Retiring exhausted, yet still far from satisfied, cheeks
Begrimed with lamp-smoke, filthy, carrying home
To her imperial couch the stink of the whorehouse." (6.120-32)
'Messalina' by Eugène Cyrille Brunet, Museum of Fine Arts, Rennes