Gaius Lucilius was a Latin satirist, considered by some to be the father of satire. He was born in 180 BCE in Campania at Suessa Aurunca. He served under Scipio Africanus during the siege of Numantia, and was a close friend to him. He died in 102, and was buried at Naples.
Lucilius was a prolific author, though he was best known for his Satires in 30 books, of which only around 1100 remain, though none from book 21.
The satires lampoon public figures and parody the nameless. To him, society has become corrupt, and sophism is to blame (book 1), though also luxury (book 13), vice (book 4), greed (book 6), and immoral lust (book 7). Other books, like book 10 on orthography and book 17 on Stoicism, did not really discuss corruption at all, though all books had their fair share of scathing attacks scattered throughout.
Love and problems with loving also played a prominent theme throughout Lucilius’ works, which Horace would later pick up and write about.
Lucilius was (and still is) best known for defining the Roman satire, which seem to be of a very different nature than what his predecessors wrote. While Ennius and Pacuvius also wrote satires, Lucilius’ were less moralizing, more vituperative attacks. As satire early on likely indicated a mix-bag of poems (from satura lanx, a type of mixed salad), and Lucilius’ collection certainly embodies that, it is with his satires in particular that we come to associate it with our derivative. Many famous attacks—such as the one on Accius for his ego or on Romans too eager to speak too much Greek—are found in his pages.
Lucilius also defined the genre metrically. The bulk of his satires are in hexameters, and thereafter Horace, Persius, and Juvenal, the three great Roman satirists whose works we have in full, all use hexameters for their satires.
Latin: PHI Latin Texts
- Michael Coffey 1989. Roman Satire. Bristol Classical Press.
- Kirk Freudenburg 2001. Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal. Cambridge University Press.