Saturday, November 6, 2010

Dr. David Larmour “In Numa’s Shadow: Umbricius and the Grove of Egeria in Juvenal 3”


Texas Tech University

“In Numa’s Shadow: Umbricius and the Grove of Egeria in Juvenal 3”


In Satire 3, Juvenal’s alter ego, Umbricius (“the shadowy one”) takes his leave of the narrator and of the city of Rome. He delivers his parting speech—explaining why there is, paradoxically, no longer any place for a Roman in Rome—in a location redolent with mythical and religious signficance: the grove where Numa used to meet the nymph Egeria. This is the only extended description of a specific location in the Juvenalian collection and this paper examines how the satirist redeploys key elements in the mythical tradition about Numa and Egeria, preserved in Livy and others, for his own purposes: for example, Numa’s demarcation of topographical and religious boundaries is transmuted into an attack on the infiltration of foreign, primarily eastern, peoples and customs into what was formerly a “purely” Roman space. The permeability of boundaries within the grove—particularly apparent in the description of the spring whosenumen would be “much more present” if the water was enclosed by “native tufa” rather than marble—stands synecdochically for the fading borderlines of Roman identity in the imperial age.

The fact that the Grove of Egeria has been abandoned by the Camenae, the Roman Muses, and occupied by recent arrivals from the east with their strange rituals, seems to be a confirmation of Numa’s anxieties about the Romans needing to protect themselves from external influences and non-native gods. At the same time, the Grove of Egeria is a sacred space into which the satirist himself can now step in order to make his own munus (offering) to his readers and to the long literary tradition stretching back to the founders of the satirical genre (one which Quintilian characterizes as tota nostra, “entirely our own”). In this connection, it is instructive to consider Varro’s suggestion in De Lingua Latina that munus is linked withmoenia, because, he says, the original building of the city walls was a kind of duty or offering. In this pivotal scene at the opening of Satire3, then, we have a complex interweaving of myth and language with topography and literary space, accompanied by a collapsing of temporal difference, dictated by the ideological underpinnings of Juvenalian satirical discourse.


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