Irritatus Scribbulus Juvenilus, better known as Juvenile, is a lesser known Roman historian whose surviving work has only reached us this century after two thousand years of justified neglect. He was also the founder of the Urinal School of Poetry and Philosophy.
The Writing Is On the Bathroom Wall
Juvenile who was the only son the respected bore Juvenal, a Roman writer of questionable value and bad body hygiene. Young 'Juve' had been brought up in Egypt where his father had been exiled for writing a rude biography of the Roman Emperor Hadrian which had claimed the emperor had been too busy with his male lover Antoninus to have the state properly. Juvenal could have been thrown to the lions for that but was allowed to leave the capital and relocate to a fly blown (now thankfully lost) city of Latrinus.
It was in that city that Juvenile first exercised his skill for scribbling gang messages and writing lewd comments. So impressed were his contemporaries at Juvenile's erudition and mastery of all the correct Latin tenses involving genitalia that they also signed their work as his too. By modern standards, Juvenile's work is cheap hackery but perhaps that was result of having plenty of imitators spoiling the scene and make it hard to distinguish between the genius and the bogus. He was later to allege that all his best work was stolen by his Greek friend Plagiarius (who gave us the verb 'to plagiarise') - a comment that was preserved for years on a lavatory wall in Rome until it was vandalised by the Vandals in 455 A.D.
Latin and Latrines
It wasn't long before Juvenile ran out of toilet cubicles, urinals and other places to write his pithy comments. He even employed his sister Juvenilia to help to continue the work in places where he, as an irritating spotty youth could not go. Soon Juvenile's work became known around the Roman world where it was given the name of 'Latrinal Humour' by the Greek speaking philosophical bore called Epidermalus . This so upset Juvenile's father that he died 'the Roman Way' by laying down in the path of a chariot race in Alexandria.
Fame, Fortune and Farting
Juvenilus was invited to Rome by the otherwise very bearded and serious Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Perhaps unware of some of Juvenile's habits - he gave him his son Commodus as a pupil and soon the pair were writing their lurid comments all over the city. Surprised Roman citizens were therefore able to read a lot of what were called 'Fartorial' jokes about the best way to make a noise at a banquet and that vestal virgins wore no underwear when they performed their sacred rituals. In no time, these jokes had become so widespread around Rome that were labelled Juvenile's which over time got changed to simply Juvenile. Many were surprised at the young man's inexhaustable efforts to write on anything with a flat surface but even then it was suggested Juvenile was perhaps not the author of everything subscribed to him.
Me and My Mate Commode
When Juvenile's chum Commodus became the new Roman Emperor in 180.AD - he promoted his old friend to the post of 'Primus Inter Fartus', first amongst bottom belchers in other words. This allowed Juvenile to write all his best works on tiled bathrooms in the Roman Empire. In fact he got so used to this method of writing that Juvenile found that once presented with a blank roll of papyrus, he said all his penis jokes,pendulous breasts puns and crude language humour would just empty out of his head.
It was very disturbing so he was to write in his autobiography ( a fragmentary work found in ruined loo in Carthage), that once I sat down to be funny I just totally lost it and started to be serious. I knew this wouldn't do as Commodus didn't do 'serious' at all.
You're Not Funny Anymore Irritatus Scribbulus Juvenilus
Like many before him ,Juvenile's fortunes suddenly dipped when Commodus appeared to lose interest in his imperial jester. When the emperor refused to laugh at Juvenile's joke about the coprological habits of the German tribes, the scribbler's day as Rome's top comic was on the turn. Despite Juvenile expelling air from his bum all night to add to the story , Commodus sat stony faced throughout the performance. He had grown bored of stand-ups, taken against 'Fartorialism' and 'Faecalism' jokes and now preferred now to get his kicks by torturing his opponents and gutting wild animals in the Colosseum. It seemed to make Commodus happy, Juvenile less so. We know how he felt, thanks to a chance survival of some writing.
As Juvenile relates (on a wall in Londinium): -
The emperor made a gesture to the guards which I knew meant my instant death in the audience chamber. I tried to think of something that would it at least make the tyrant laugh...then i remembered the joke about his sister Cruella having the fattest arse in Rome. I saw the flicker of a smile on Commodus's face and then he said that 'in memory of the fun we had before as kids' I was to be banished to a disused legionary lavatory on the Rhine frontier. There he said I would have plenty of Germans to keep amused , as long as I didn't tell them that joke.
Juvenile's reaction to his punishment is nearly the last we actually hear of him. Judging by the evidence we have, Juvenile at least visited London after his banishment. Whether he died there or in a wooden loo on the Romano-German border can't be proved. However his fame remained and many years later when Juvenile must have been dead, his name re-appeared on walls again. These later works purporting to be from Juvenile's stylus quill are now listed were the writings by later imitators.  Juvenile's sister Juvenilia as records relate, became a Christian and died a martyr.Her childish written works were hailed as inspired by God and - with an unexpected irony - she became the patron saint of toilet cleaners. Saint Juvenilia's day used to be kept as a feast celebrated at her Church of the Holy Convenience in Rome by both the Catholic and Orthodox dominations - until the Vatican ran a 'saint inventory ' and discovered that her martyrdom was bogus In fact it seemed Juvenilia had really died in 'full sin mode' whilst sharing a couch with Commodus.
Despite the loss of most of Juvenile's works - a number of examples were written down in the margins of a number of subsequent medieval manuscripts by Monks - and even Nuns). It seems the holy brothers and sisters enjoyed Juvenile's work which probably came as a welcome break from making endless copies of illustrated bibles for psychopathic princes and bombastic bishops.
- * The best summary of Juvenile's pitiful works can be found in the 'HarperCollins Edited Collection of Roman Filth ' (2004) . Otherwise you can wade through the word for word translation in Loeb's 'Latrinal Poetica' series.
- Plagiarius went on to copy a lot of other people's work and passing if off as his until he was undone by a piece that led to a rapid removal of the head.
- Sniffy historians say this spread of Juvenile's infamy later inspired the Germanic tribes to trash the Roman Empire in the fifth century.
- See 'Pseudo Juvenile' and the anonymous Italian author Graffiticus.
- Juvenilia's supposed martyrdom saw her suffering tortures from the Romans including boiling her ears and hanging her from a picture rail. Dante said Juvenilia's story inspired him to become a pre-Renaissance stalker after he met Beatrice.
- Traditionally in the Roman Catholic when a Saint was 'degraded' (Sanctus Degradus) their statues , icons, written works or 'lives' as recorded were burnt as deceptions of the devil. In Juvenilia's case - all her statues are now kept in a cupboard in the Vatican along with bits and pieces belonging to Pope Joan..