Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Satyricon by Petronius.


The Satyricon (Satyricon liber) is classed as a Roman novel (as is Apuleius' Golden Ass) and was written by Gaius Petronius in the late 1st Century A.D. It is, as one would expect from Roman comedies, quite insane.

It tells the story of Encolpius, the narrator, once a gladiator who is now travelling with his former lover Ascyltos, leaving behind his current lover and slave Giton. It begins in Campania where we find Encolpius arguing with Agamemnon about literature, Encolpis railing against education and bad literature (and Agamemnon disagreeing with him). He realising Ascyltos isn't with him and eventually finds him with Giton, the latter claiming Ascyltos has made advances towards him. An argument ensues, but eventually is settled and they go on their way. What follows is their series of bizarre adventures: cults, orgies, a feast at Trimalchio's (in which there is a fairly detailed description of the everyday life of the Romans, very interesting indeed, and stories of the supernatural are told), a journey on a ship and the inevitable shipwreck, and a sex-crazed priestess.

I'll be honest, it really wasn't to my taste and I didn't enjoy it much, but I can well see why some people find it so much fun. It's a satire of Roman life and customs, their values and tastes (particularly their taste in literature), and their sex lives. It's largely inspired by Homer's Odyssey, and follows a similar path to that, though it's far more bawdy, 'low brow', and often quite shocking. I can't say I got much more out of it that that, but all the same definitely worth a read. For mad escapades, though, I much prefer Voltaire's Candide.

2 comments:

  1. i wonder what audience it was aimed at: if the upper classes, they must have been a riotous collection... well, remembering, i guess they were; making them human and a lot like us... hmmm... hard to think of Seneca approving of Petronius...

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    1. Indeed. And my edition was actually lumped together with Seneca, which was a bit odd.

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