Perhaps the strangest - and most strikingly modern - work to survive from the ancient world, The Satyricon relates the hilarious mock epic adventures of the impotent Encolpius, and his struggle to regain virility. Here Petronius brilliantly brings to life the courtesans, legacy-hunters, pompous professors and dissolute priestesses of the age - and, above all, Trimalchio, the archetypal self-made millionaire whose pretentious vulgarity on an insanely grand scale makes him one of the great comic characters in literature. Seneca's The Apocolocyntosis, a malicious skit on 'the deification of Claudius the Clod', was designed by the author to ingratiate himself with Nero, who was Claudius' successor. Together, the two provide a powerful insight into a darkly fascinating period of Roman history.
Petronius' Satyricon, probably written between 54 and 68 CE, presents in lurid detail the disreputable adventures of Encolpius, including his attendance at Trimalchio's wildly extravagant dinner party. The Apocolocyntosis (Pumpkinification), a satire on the death and apotheosis of the emperor Claudius, is attributed to Seneca (c. 4 BCE-54 CE). Petronius (C. or T. Petronius Arbiter), who is reasonably identified with the author of this famous satyric and satiric novel, was a man of pleasure and of good literary taste who flourished in the times of Claudius (41-54 CE) and Nero (54-68). As Tacitus describes him, he used to sleep by day, and attend to official duties or to his amusements by night. At one time he was governor of the province of Bithynia in Asia Minor and was also a consul, showing himself a man of vigour when this was required. Later he lapsed into indulgence (or assumed the mask of vice) and became a close friend of Nero. Accused by jealous Tigellinus of disloyalty and condemned, with self-opened veins he conversed lightly with friends, dined, drowsed, sent to Nero a survey of Nero's sexual deeds, and so died, 66 CE. The surviving parts of Petronius's romance Satyricon mix philosophy and real life, prose and verse, in a tale of the disreputable adventures of Encolpius and two companions, Ascyltus and Giton. In the course of their wanderings they attend a showy and wildly extravagant dinner given by a rich freedman, Trimalchio, whose guests talk about themselves and life in general. Other incidents are a shipwreck and somewhat lurid proceedings in South Italy. The work is written partly in pure Latin, but sometimes purposely in a more vulgar style. It parodies and otherwise attacks bad taste in literature, pedantry and hollow society. Apocolocyntosis, Pumpkinification (instead of deification), is probably by Seneca the wealthy philosopher and courtier (ca. 4 BCE-65 CE). It is a medley of prose and verse and a political satire on the Emperor Claudius written soon after he died in 54 CE and was deified.
Author: Christopher Star
Publisher: JHU Press
Release Date: 2012-09-07
In The Empire of the Self, Christopher Star studies the question of how political reality affects the concepts of body, soul, and self. Star argues that during the early Roman Empire the establishment of autocracy and the development of a universal ideal of individual autonomy were mutually enhancing phenomena. The Stoic ideal of individual empire or complete self-command is a major theme of Seneca’s philosophical works. The problematic consequences of this ideal are explored in Seneca’s dramatic and satirical works, as well as in the novel of his contemporary Petronius. Star examines the rhetorical links between these diverse texts. He also demonstrates a significant point of contact between two writers generally thought to be antagonists—the idea that imperial speech structures reveal the self. -- James Ker, University of Pennsylvania
An emblematic figure of the 'bourgeois century,' the parvenu represents the Other on which a society depends. This drama of exclusion is symptomatic of nineteenth-century society: ambivalent about social mobility, oscillating between a new sense of opportunity for all and a backward-looking retrenchment to rigid social structures.