Juvenal was a sharp and refined satirist who drew us upwards from our follies When he cut, he cut with the purpose of civilising. One path alone leads to a life of peace: The path of virtue, he said, and everything he wrote matched that goal. He also warned us, Fortune can, for her pleasure, fools advance, and toss them on the wheels of Chance.
How painful the difference is today. Ricky Gervais has certainly been advanced by Fortune and with his sharp and cutting tongue seems to rule the world just now. He does not lack intelligence, at times he does not lack wisdom, but oh how he lacks any kind of dignity. He cuts us down and draws us further downward.
He did not, it seems, as some allege, call all Catholics morons – but even to call “some” morons is hardly worthy of a practitioner of the art of satire. To explain the right to free expression of beliefs and opinions is a useful exercise in this bewildering day and age but to do so in terms like this is impoverishing our language and conversation: Everyone has the right to hold whatever beliefs they want. And everyone else has the right to find those beliefs f*****g ridiculous.
Have we come to the point in our civilisation to which the Romans arrived nineteen hundred years ago when Juvenal wrote: The people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now concerns itself no more, and longs eagerly for just two things – bread and circuses! With us, TV, Oscar nights, belly-laughs and sterile mockery?
He may not care what he leaves his children with as a heritage but perhaps some other words of Juvenal might be worth his consideration: Refrain from doing ill; for one all powerful reason, lest our children should copy our misdeeds; we are all too prone to imitate whatever is base and depraved.
Would it not be better for us all to observe the advice of that other great satirist, Jonathan Swift when he wrote, One of the best rules in conversation is, never to say a thing which any of the company can reasonably wish had been left unsaid.
Of course, to a great number of people these older expressions of wisdom to be found in utterances of the great satirists of the past might be “boring” – but beware, admission of boredom is very often evidence of ignorance, at best, and at worst, simple stupidity.