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  • Making a Spectacle: deviant men, invective, and pleasure
  • Jonathan Walters

This investigation begins with Juvenal’s second satire 1 in which the object of invective is males whose use of their bodies is displayed for stigmatization as inappropriate for Roman men. My aim is to elucidate the rhetoric of this poem by placing the text in a Roman social and cultural context and thus to throw light on the policing of what was the acceptable use of the male body in Roman culture, in particular by an examination of the rhetorical process of stigmatization of nonconformist behavior. More specifically, I will argue that this satiric “putting on stage” 2 of the deviant performing his reprehensible behavior can better be understood in the context of other formalized ways in which socially deviant behavior was marked out and stigmatized in Roman society and with an appreciation of the place of theater and spectacle in Roman culture.

I will also argue that the visual quality of these representations of deviant behavior, focussing on bodies and bodily activity, acts in two ways. First, and at the more obvious level, it defines precisely in what ways the objects of satire deviate from the norm and thus defines—or, perhaps more accurately, creates (since they are mutually reinforcing constructs)—this norm. More covertly, it enables the readership to implicate themselves pleasurably in the spectacle of deviancy while at the same time reaffirming [End Page 355] their own non-deviant status. 3 For this purpose, the exposure of the deviants’ bodies is of vital importance.

This is a satire in which the theme of secrecy and disclosure, of looking at what is or should be hidden, is central. At the start of the text, we are warned that outward appearance is unreliable. 4 We are in the world of dissimulation and deception, which, as Gleason points out, was also the world of physiognomists, who could read people’s bodies and proclaim the hidden inner truth of their character despite their often misleading outward appearance. 5 This text is permeated with language referring to the uncovering of hidden truth: “they pretend” (simulant, 3), “more truthful” (verius, 15), “admits” (fatetur, 17), “it is known” (notum est, 58), the assurance, however tendentious, in line 64 that what Laronia says is not merely vera, the truth, but manifesta, which means both “brought to light,” and, in legal terminology, “proved by evidence,” 6 and finally at line 129, ecce, a linguistic invitation to look.

Hidden from the community, but now being brought to light (“as the people stare,” populo mirante, 67), is the infringement, indeed reversal (more sinistro, 87), of gender and sexual norms deemed to be agreed upon within the community, specifically of the behavior expected and demanded of Roman men. The most notable instance in this poem is the male/male wedding described in lines 117 onward with its elaborate parody of Roman marriage rites. 7 This behavior is characterized, through the mouth of the “truth-telling Laronia,” 8 not simply as the deviant activity of one or more individual males, but, one might almost say, as the makings of a contestatory subculture of unmanly males: 9 “unmanly men all stick together” (magna [End Page 356] inter molles concordia, 48). The word which I have translated by “sticking together,” concordia, is frequently used in Latin of agreement on a course of political action: the implication is that there is a conspiracy under way, that these deviants are a danger to “normal” society.

This behavior is represented as not merely contravening community norms, but as dangerous because it is liable to “go public” in the wrong way, to move from secrecy to openness, as we see from line 132 onwards (especially “these things will be done openly,” fient ista palam, 136), to subvert and so become the norm (“they will be recorded in the official gazette,” et in acta referri, 136). The narrator’s bringing out of the closet of this hidden deviance, his exposure of it to the critical eye of the community, is, paradoxically, a pre-emptive strike, a prefiguring of what is to be prevented.

More specifically, what is being exposed, stripped of its covering, 10 and opened...

Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6504
Print ISSN
0004-0975
Pages
pp. 355-367
Launched on MUSE
1998-09-01
Open Access
No
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