The Satires of A. Persius Flaccus

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BASIL L. GILDERSLEEVE, Ph.D. (Göttingen), LL.D.,



publisher's device



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1875, by
Harper & Brothers,
In the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.


The text of this edition of Persius is in the main that of Jahn’s last recension (1868). The few changes are discussed in the Notes and recorded in the Critical Appendix.

In the preparation of the Notes I have made large use of Jahn’s standard edition, without neglecting the commentaries of Casaubon, König, and Heinrich, or the later editions by Macleane, Pretor, and Conington, or such recent monographs on Persius as I have been able to procure. Special obligations have received special acknowledgment.

My personal contributions to the elucidation of Persius are too slight to warrant me in following the prevalent fashion and cataloguing the merits of my work under the modest guise of aims and endeavors. I shall be contenf, if I have succeeded in making Persius less distasteful to the general student; more than content, if those who have devoted long and patient study to this difficult author shall accord me the credit of an honest effort to make myself acquainted with the poet himself as well as with his chief commentators.

In compliance with the wish of the distinguished scholar at whose instance I undertook this work, Professor Charles Short, of Columbia College, New York, I have inserted references to my Latin Grammar and to the Grammar of Allen and Greenough, here and there to Madvig.

B. L. Gildersleeve.

University of Virginia, February, 1875.


A. Persii Flacci Saturarum Liber39
Vita Persii65
Critical Appendix207

Quando cerco norme di gusto, vado ad Orazio, il più amabile; quando ho bisogno di bile contra le umane ribalderie, visito Giovenale, il più splendido; quando mi studio d’esser onesto, vivo con Persio, il più saggio, e con infinito piacere mescolato di vergogna bevo li dettati della ragione su le labbra di questo verecondo e santissimo giovanetto. Vincenzo Monti.

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Persius das rechte Ideal eines hoffärtigen und mattherzigen der Poesie beflissenen Jungen. Mommsen.


An ancient Vita Persii, of uncertain authorship, of evident authenticity, gives all that it is needful for us to know about our poet—much more than is vouchsafed to us for the rich individuality of Lucilius, much more than we can divine for the unsubstantial character of Juvenal.

Aulus Persius Flaccus was born on the day before the nones of December, A.U.C. 787, A.D. 34, at Volaterrae, in Etruria. That Luna in Liguria was his birthplace is a false inference of some scholars from the words meum mare in a passage of the sixth satire, where he describes his favorite resort on the Riviera.

The family of Persius belonged to the old Etruscan nobility, and more than one Persius appears in inscriptions found at Volaterrae. Other circumstances make for his Etruscan origin: the Etruscan form of his name, Aules, so written in most MSS. of his Life; the Etruscan name of his mother, Sisennia; the familiar spitefulness of his mention of Arretium, the allusions to the Tuscan haruspex, to the Tuscan pedigree; the sneering mention of the Umbrians—fat-witted folk, who lived across the Tuscan border. Most of these, it is true, are minute points, and would be of little weight in the case of an author of wider vision, but well-nigh conclusive in a writer like Persius, who tried to make up for the narrowness of his personal experience by a microscopic attention to details.

Persius belonged to the same sphere of society as Maecenas. Like Maecenas an Etruscan, he was, like Maecenas, an eques Romanus. The social class of which he was a member did much for Roman literature; Etruria’s contributions were far less valuable, and Mommsen is right when he recognizes in both these men, so unlike in life and in principle—the one a callous wordling, the other a callow philosopher—the stamp of their strange race, a race which is a puzzle rather than a mystery. Indeed, the would-be mysterious is one of the most salient points in the style of Persius as in the religion of the Etruscans, and Persius’s elaborate involution of the commonplace is parallel with the secret wisdom of his countrymen. The minute detail of the Etruscan ritual has its counterpart in the minute detail of Persius’s style, and the want of a due sense of proportion and a certain coarseness of language in our author remind us of the defects of Etruscan art and the harshness of the Etruscan tongue.

Persius was born, if not to great wealth, at least to an ample competence. His father died when the poet was but six years old, and his education was conducted at Volaterrae under the superintendence of his mother and her second husband, Fusius. For the proper appreciation of the career of Persius, it is a fact of great significance that he seems to have been very much under the influence of the women of his household. To this influence he owed the purity of his habits; but feminine training is not without its disadvantages for the conduct of life. For social refinement there is no better school; but the pet of the home circle is apt to make the grossest blunders when he ventures into the larger world of no manners, and attempts to use the language of outside sinners. And so, when Persius undertakes to rebuke the effeminacy of his time, he outbids the worst passages of Horace and rivals the most lurid indecencies of Juvenal.

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