Roman satire confronts readers with a complex picture of contemporary Roman society. Yet despite whatever distortions, exaggerations, or other techniques of satire that are utilized in the text, a satirist uses his medium to engage with issues, events, and persons that are of a present and very real concern to him. In the case of Juvenal, a Roman satirist of the late first and early second centuries CE, an issue of primary importance in his Satires is that of the state of libertas, a sociopolitical concept that stood for both freedom and freedom of speech. Lacking `true,' Republican libertas, Juvenal must tackle the problem of how to write satire in the mold of the genre's inventor, Lucilius, who did possess libertas some two hundred years previously under the Roman Republic.
Therefore, Juvenal takes hold of the requisite libertas by exploiting and developing excess: the indulgence that he satirizes in fellow Romans also allows him to indulge his corpus, to go beyond the lex operis of Roman satire, so that with this excessiveness he can point to what is missing: libertas. As a corollary of this lack, Juvenal is thus able to make a case about decayed Romanitas - free, elite, male Roman identity - that has transpired as a result of Rome's sociopolitical strife and transformation into the Empire.
After placing Juvenal within the larger tradition of Roman satire, his serious impetus is restored to him through comparison with other contemporary texts that highlight the reality of Roman morals and libertas in the first century CE (Paul, Tacitus, Quintilian). With this done, a close examination of Juvenal's Satires reveals the persistent focus on the issue of libertas. To gain new perspective on libertas, Isaiah Berlin's two concepts of freedom are introduced to expand the conception of libertas and thus demonstrate the nuances of Juvenal's argument for and production of libertas.
What we read then in the Satires is a discourse about libertas and Romanitas in the first and second centuries CE: Juvenal's intricate and rhetorical satire is at odds with the institution of the principate and what it has consequently done to free, elite Roman men.