Dinner With Trimalchio Satire Essays


1 PETRONIUS DINNER WITH TRIMALCHIO AND JUVENAL SATIRES 1, 6 AND 10 Peter Mountford These two texts are distinctly Roman. Petronius work is one of the earliest examples of a novel. Juvenal s Satires are the most vitriolic example of the Roman tradition of the composition of satirical verse. Satire is a genre which belongs to the Romans. It might be claimed that Petronius Satyricon, of which Dinner with Trimalchio is the most significant surviving portion, is satire too, but this article will argue that it is something different. We believe that the writer Petronius is the same Petronius who was known as arbiter elegantiae (judge of good taste) during the reign of Nero and committed suicide in A.D. 66, when accused of being involved in a conspiracy. 1 It is thought that he wrote the Satyricon in perhaps as many as twenty-four books somewhere around A.D. 65. His novel is often referred to as Menippean satire, a genre which originated with the Cynic philosopher Menippus of Gadarra who lived in the first part of the third century B.C., and was adopted in Italy by Varro in the first half of the first century B.C. Menippus and Varro wrote in a mixture of prose and verse. There is very little verse in the Dinner with Trimalchio, but much of the episode of the Satyricon known as The Road to Croton is in verse. Details about Juvenal s life are scanty too. 2 It is thought that he was perhaps born about A.D. 55 and died early in the 130s A.D. He lived through the unpleasant reign of Domitian [A.D ], but published his poems during the reigns of Trajan [98-117] and Hadrian [ ]. Though Ennius [ B.C.] is known to have written some books of Satires, Quintilian 3 claimed that Lucilius [c.180-c.102 B.C.] was the founder of the Roman genre of satire. Surviving fragments of both these authors suggest that their satire was gentler and much more like that of Horace [65-8 B.C.] than that of the waspish Juvenal. Warmington says of Lucilius: Posterity remarked on his satiric powers, how he lashed the city, tore away the mask of respectability, and scared the guilty; and called him variously harsh, bitter, agreeable, graceful, witty, learned, and so on. 4 Sharrock and Ash state that many of Horace s Satires hardly seem satirical at all, but that others are obviously satirical with targets such as luxury, excess, failure of self-control or to keep to proper Roman behaviour. 5 Though Juvenal is indebted to his predecessors for the invention and development of the genre, he brings to it a very different approach. He appears to be deeply embittered with life and brings this attitude to his poetry. The writing of both Petronius and Juvenal can be said to have been influenced by reactions to the repressive regimes of emperors. They come, however, from different places on the social scale. Petronius, an eques, was governor of Bithynia and consul suffectus under Nero. He clearly lived well and enjoyed the pleasures which such a life had to offer. Juvenal was born in Aquinum in Latium, where he was a town magistrate, which would give him the status of eques. It is possible that he was 1 See Tacitus Annals for information about his death and some details of his life. 2 There is an excellent and lengthy introduction to Green s translation which discusses Juvenal s life and his Satires. This paper has tried to avoid repeating what he says. 3 Quint. Inst Warmington, E.H. OCD 1st edition (1950), Sharrock and Ash (2002),

2 PETRONIUS AND JUVENAL exiled by Domitian for lampooning a court official. Such exile would deprive him of his property. Upon his return to Rome, he lived in comparative poverty. Feelings about the injustice of his exile and a life of poverty no doubt coloured his poetry. Arrowsmith seems to me to summarise best the mood of the Satyricon in the introduction to his translation. He states that it is this wonderful blending of satire and comedy that makes Petronius unique among Roman satirists and the Satyricon a genre of its own. 6 The central character of the novel is Encolpius, a poor but educated young man of good family, who lives by his wits. He is accompanied by a companion, Ascyltus, and a slave boy, Giton. They attend the school of rhetoric of Agamemnon, through whom they receive an invitation to have dinner with Trimalchio. Trimalchio is a wonderful comic character, a freedman who has made good and become one of the nouveaux riches. Commentators can see many features of others in Roman society in his portrayal. Many see similarities to Nasidienus in Horace Satires 2.8. Walsh, in the introduction to his translation, sees links to Nero in the fact that Trimalchio wears a golden bracelet on his right arm and a napkin round his neck. 7 He does not, however, consider him to be a caricature of Nero. It could, however, be argued that the tyrannical behaviour of Trimalchio within his own house is meant to be a parody of Nero. 8 Clearly Petronius amalgamated the characteristics of a wide range of people whom he had met and observed in Rome and the playground of the rich, the Bay of Naples. Walsh sums up his character as follows: From this synthesis of the literary and the observed, Petronius created his superb portrait of Trimalchio, underlining the four features which particularly offended him in the mores of the emergent capitalists with freedman status: the boorish behaviour of the dinner host, the arrogance of the master shown in his contemptuous treatment of his slaves, the pretence to learning which he does not possess, and the superstition and morbidity which dominate his thoughts and his life in spite of, or in consequence of, his fabulous wealth. 9 Examples of his treatment of his slaves can be seen in his wiping of his hands on a slave boy s hair (27, p.52) 10, the notice about possible punishment for slaves (28, p.52), when a slave s ears are boxed for picking up a dish that had fallen (34, p.55), when he tells a slave to go and hang himself for being so useless (52, p.69), the crucifixion of a slave for insulting Trimalchio s guardian spirit (53, p.70), when a servant is beaten for bandaging Trimalchio s arm with white instead of purple wool (54, p.71), and when he threatens to have Stichus burnt alive if he lets moths ruin his burial shroud (78, p.90). His pretence to be learned can be seen in 48 (p.67). Homer did not describe the labours of Hercules, nor did the Cyclops blind Odysseus. Hannibal did not capture Troy (50, p.68), Cassandra did not kill her sons as she had none (51, p.69), nor did Daedalus shut Niobe in the Trojan Horse (52, p.69). More inaccuracy about the mythology of Homer can be seen in 59 (p.75). 6 Arrowsmith (1994), viii. 7 Walsh (1997), xxxi. 8 I thank Dr Rhiannon Evans for this suggestion. 9 Walsh (1997), xxxi-xxxii. 10 References are to Sullivan s translation (1986 edition). 33

3 PETER MOUNTFORD Much of Trimalchio s behaviour is boorish. Some examples are urinating in a bottle (27, pp.51-2), his dress and entrance to the dinner (32, p.54), his swearing as he continues to play his game while his guests eat (33, p.55), his discussion of his visit to the toilet (47, pp.65-6), the fact that he is drunk and wants to dance (52, p.69), his behaviour with the boy Croesus (64. p.79), his drunken singing in the bath (73, p.86), and his behaviour with the boy which leads to an argument with Fortunata (74-5, pp.87-9). There are frequent examples of his superstition. The guests have to cross the threshold with their right foot first (30, p.53). Trimalchio discusses astrology in 39 (p.59) and witches in 63 (p.78). He reacts badly to the cock crow in 74 (p.87). He admits to relying upon an astrologer in 76 (pp.89-90). His morbidity is particularly displayed near the end of the dinner when he reads his will in 71-2 (pp.84-6) and he discusses how much life he has left and what will happen when he is dead in 77 and 78 (pp.90-1). The whole episode is filled with examples of the excessive form that wealth could take and the meal itself illustrates how that excessive wealth can lead to overindulgence in eating and drinking. Trimalchio s lifestyle is not that of an average man. This is clear from the very beginning of the episode where he is in the baths. He is dried with bath-robes of finest wool (28, p.52) and his return home is in grand style (28, p.52). The dishes and implements used in the banquet are the most expensive and his game board has gold and silver coins instead of the usual pieces (33, p.55). Trimalchio is so loaded that he doesn t know how much he has got (37, p.57), he s got estates it d take a kite to fly over he s worth millions of millions (37, p.58); his estates are so great that he has not even seen those from which the evening s wine comes (48, p.67). He claims that the whole of southern Italy, from Tarracina (about 100km south of Rome) to Tarentum on the heel of Italy, is his, and he would like to add the island of Sicily to my little bit of land, so that when I want to go to Africa, I could sail there without leaving my own property (48, p.67). The description of his house (77, p.90) makes it very grand. The meal itself is full of surprises, as very little of the food is what it first appears to be. Trimalchio obviously takes great delight in devising, with his cook, surprises for his guests. The number of courses and the amount of food would defeat all but a glutton. Many may feel sick when they read the description of the various courses. The amount of food provided would feed hundreds. It is worth remembering that many in Rome at this time had very little to eat. Yet the grossness of the meal and the ridiculous nature of Trimalchio s surprises are the source of much of the humour in Dinner with Trimalchio. The narrator, Encolpius, is naive and has clearly never experienced such a banquet, as he is an impecunious student. He wants, however, to know what is going on and his frequent questions of fellow guests elicit this information. Much of the episode consists of the conversation of Trimalchio and his guests. They discuss issues which concern them and throw light upon contemporary Roman society. The philosopher Agamemnon does not get very far in his attempt to tell the guests what he has been debating with his students, because he makes the mistake of using the term poor man (48, p.67), a term which is unfamiliar to Trimalchio. The guests tell stories, including the famous one of the werewolf (62, p.77). Trimalchio summarises his life story (75-77, pp.88-90). When the drunken Habinnas enters with his wife, he describes the banquet which he has already attended (65-66, pp.80-1). It should be noted that there is a marked difference in the original Latin between the cultured voice of Encolpius and the vernacular of Trimalchio and his fellow freedmen. It is not always easy to convey this in translation. 34

4 PETRONIUS AND JUVENAL The main meal ends in slapstick when Ascyltus and Encolpius fall into the fishpond as they try to slip away. This forces them to join the other guests in the baths, another sign of the wealth of Trimalchio, as few houses had their own baths. The baths seem to help some of the guests to recover from their drunkenness, but the party is not over yet, as they move to another dining room (another sign of wealth) and more food and drink. Trimalchio, however, does not recover from his drunken state. When he kisses a young slave, a violent argument breaks out between him and Fortunata, his wife. Encolpius and Ascyltus finally escape, when the loud trumpet-playing of a slave brings the fire brigade. Sullivan summarises Petronius as follows: But Petronius, for all his acceptance of satiric themes and the satirist s view of life, is saved by his own irony and artistic ambivalence towards satire. He can accept the satiric themes, but he does not accept the moral premiss, either because of his Epicureanism or his own view of existence.... In Petronius we see the novelist taking over the satirist s task, while working with the satirist s themes and it is not the so-called realistic novelist who does what the satirist does even though he omits the more obvious moralizing, but rather the creative novelist who enlarges on life and reshapes it to his own artistic ends. 11 Smith sums up Dinner with Trimalchio : [T]he Cena deserves its pre-eminence [in the remains of the Satyricon]. As well as presenting on its own a fascinating microcosm of Roman life and manners, it amply illustrates Petronius versatility, his wide range of humour, his subtle characterization, his skilful interweaving of traditional literary motifs and techniques, and his unerring appreciation of the mentality of common people and the nuances of their speech. All these qualities combine to offer us something unique and refreshing in ancient literature. 12 There has been much debate over the nature of the Satyricon, but it seems best to take it for what it seems to be an amusing romp which follows the misadventures of its central character. It describes, in its surviving passages, the kinds of scrapes that an impecunious young man can get into. Sullivan states that the standard [in the Cena] is one of taste rather than any moral standard. 13 What, then, are the targets of Juvenal s barbed attack in Satires 1, 6 and 10? Satire 1 acts as an introduction to the first book of his Satires. The vices of Roman people are the stimulus for his poetry. He summarises the types of people who are a plague on society. He also bemoans the deterioration of the traditional patron/client relationship. In Satire 6, in an attempt to persuade his friend Postumus not to marry, he denounces women and depicts their vices. In Satire 10 he discusses the folly of praying to the gods. Juvenal would like to see traditional Roman values restored. Sullivan states: 11 Sullivan (1986), Smith (1975), xii. 13 Sullivan (1986),

5 PETER MOUNTFORD His is the art of the orator who prefers a dazzling display of pyrotechnics or the loud squibs that will rivet our attention rather than a steady light that will guide us through an undergrowth of knotty ethical argument. 14 Green sums him up by stating: Juvenal does not work out a coherent ethical critique of institutions or individuals: he simply hangs a series of moral portraits on the wall and forces us to look at them. 15 Juvenal begins Satire 1 by pouring out his frustration at having to endure the endless poetry readings that were so much a part of the Roman literary scene (1-18). 16 It is now his turn to speak, and he will do so through the medium of satire. He asks the reader (audience) to listen to him as he explains why he has chosen to follow the path of the great satirical poet Lucilius (19-21). Lines explain his choice of satire because he is morally outraged at what he sees around him in a catalogue of wickedness. Each vignette of vice is followed by an indignant exclamation (e.g followed by 30). 17 He cannot accept the fact that the comfortable, traditional life of the monied classes in Rome is being usurped by others who see ways to make money and to become the nouveaux riches. He targets eunuchs (22), women who perform in beast hunts in the amphitheatre (22-3), the nouveaux riches (24-30), informers (30-6), men who seek legacies by sleeping with wealthy women (37-44), the failure of courts to punish those who benefit from fraud (45-50). He thinks that these vices are worthy of both Horace s and his own poetry rather than more boring epic tales of mythology (51-4). He continues by attacking husbands who profit from and ignore their wives adultery (55-7), young men who gamble away family fortunes (58-62), fraudsters (63-8), women who poison their husbands (69-72). He ends this litany of vices with a general attack on the effects of obsession with money, sex and status, which justify his choice of satirical verse. In lines he again justifies his choice by saying that the wicked vices of humans have never been worse than they are now. In the second half of line 95 he turns to the patron/client relationship, a key feature of Roman society. He refers to the dole (sportula). This is not a state handout, but refers to whatever money a patron might give to his clients directly or might scatter in the street for them to fight over. The clients would also hope that they might be invited to dinner at the end of the day as repayment for the services which they performed for their patron during the day. It is important to note that the same person could be both a patron and a client. For example, a wealthy man might hope to be a client of the emperor, who was the highest level of the strata of Roman society, while he himself had a group of clients dependent on him. Juvenal states that money is the highest god in the Rome of his day and that greed has destroyed the patron/client relationship, as patrons have become selfish. He finishes this section by saying that a selfish patron who dies from a heart attack from bathing too soon after a huge meal is mourned by no-one, but that his death is greeted by cheers (142-6). He justifies his decision to write such satires now (147-9), but ends the poem with a conversation between the authorial persona and an interlocutor about the dangers of writing satire. The author ends by saying that he will perhaps only write about the dead (170-1), as writing about those alive can be danger- 14 Sullivan in Boyle and Sullivan (1991), Green (1998), The line numbering is that of the original Latin. 17 Braund (1996),

6 PETRONIUS AND JUVENAL ous. This may have been the result of exile under Domitian for lampooning an imperial official. The sixth Satire is by far the longest of the Satires. In lines 1-24 Juvenal claims that Chastity has abandoned earth, as she is disgusted by adultery. He uses as examples the mistresses of two poets: Cynthia (Hostia), the mistress of Propertius, and Lesbia (Clodia), the mistress of Catullus. In lines he thinks that Postumus must be insane for considering marriage and he believes that it is absurd to look for a chaste woman, as they are as rare as hen s teeth (38-59). He lists some of the men that Roman women fall for in lines 60-81: ballet dancers, actors, orators, musicians. He then gives two examples of unfaithful wives, Eppia who ran off with a gladiator (82-113), and the sex-crazed Messalina, wife of Claudius, who used a brothel to try to satisfy her desires ( ). Some women are only married for their money, others for their beauty, and this gives them the power to conduct adulterous relationships or engage in shopping sprees (136-60). Juvenal suggests that there is perhaps the perfect wife, a paragon of virtue (161-83), but asks who can stand a perfect wife, as minor habits will irritate (184-99). If Postumus is to marry her, he must love her, but the better you are as a man, the more desirable/your husbandly virtues, the less you get out of your wife (210-1). She will be in total control so that she will get everything she wants, and in due course will find a lover elsewhere with the connivance of her mother ( ). She may become involved in lawsuits (242-5) or go in for athletics or gladiatorial combat (246-67) [picking up some of the stereotypes mentioned in 60-81], and the bed will become a quarrelsome battleground (268-85). Juvenal sees the source of all these ills to be too-long peace (292) and the effects of luxury on women ( ). Since Roman poverty perished, no visitation of crime or lust has been spared us. (294-5) They go out to late night parties and return home drunk (300-13). He continues with another list of the vices of women. The all-female celebration of the Good Goddess (Bona Dea) becomes a drunken sexual orgy (314-45). Women like having sex with eunuchs (366-78). Even poor women spend all their money on athletes (349-65) or musicians (379-97) [again picking up on lines 60-81]. It is suggested that the only solution is to lock wives indoors, but Juvenal asks who will guard the guards, as they will be bribed by the wives (O31). 18 Juvenal attacks busybodies and gossips ( ), uncouth wives who vomit at their own dinners (413-33), intellectuals (434-56), the time spent beautifying themselves for their lovers (457-73), the pattern of a woman s day and especially her viciousness towards her slaves ( ), and their superstitiousness ( ). He ends with a series of much more serious accusations. He attacks abortion and the practice of adopting unwanted babies ( ), the use of potions to send their husbands mad or to kill step-children (610-33). He claims that their crimes are due to the lust for cash (645-6) rather than crimes of passion, as happened in the examples he gives of the likes of Medea and Phaedra (638-52). The poem finishes with a vision of a Rome populated by modern Clytemnestras women intent on killing their husbands ( ). 19 Sullivan sums up the satire as follows:...and all (and more) [of the list of evils] are used as whips to chastise the whole female sex in the infamous sixth satire, with particular vehemence being directed at Lady 18 The original Latin is the well-known quis custodiet ipsos custodes. 19 Braund (2004),

7 PETER MOUNTFORD Chatterlys who turn to the lower orders for their pleasures and so demonstrate not only their insatiable sexuality but also their contempt for social decorum. 20 Although Juvenal is ostensibly giving Postumus reasons for not marrying, he seems to be making it clear that he himself could not bear to be married. In this poem there is the voice of a misogynist. The poem is full of vulgarity, but the obscenity gives strength to the argument which he makes. No doubt his picture of the behaviour of the women of Rome is exaggerated, but at the same time there can be no smoke without a fire. If you read between the lines, there is much criticism of men in Roman society too. Satire 10 is more didactic than the other two. Juvenal asks what is rational about our fears or desires (4-5). He begins with another attack on the accumulation of wealth, as the most popular, urgent prayer, well-known in every temple,/is for wealth (23-5). The only person who can move safely through the streets of Rome at night is a man with no money (22). He ends his introduction by asking what we should ask the gods for since our current petitions are pointless (54-5). This leads him into a series of examples of pointless prayers to the gods. His first example is that of power (56-113). Some men are overthrown by the envy their great power/arouses (56-7). He uses as an example Sejanus, who rose to a position of great power under Tiberius and controlled Rome when the emperor withdrew to Capri. His plans to take over power from the emperor were revealed to Tiberius. Sejanus paid for his lust for power with his life. Sullivan points out how the vivid presentation of Sejanus is carefully sketched until the coup de grâce is delivered with a crisp deflating statement like air being let out of a balloon. 21 Juvenal also uses Pompey, Crassus and Julius Caesar as supporting examples of those who were driven by a lust for power, but also were killed in their pursuit of it. He believes that it is a pity that the common people (plebs) no longer have a role to play in choosing their leaders. Sadly the only interest of the plebs now is bread and circuses (panem et circenses, 81). His second topic is eloquence (114-32). Cicero and Demosthenes are used as examples of eloquent orators who paid for their eloquence with their lives. Demosthenes, who had attacked Philip of Macedon in his speeches, took poison when a price was put on his head: Cicero, who had attacked Mark Antony in his speeches, was killed on Antony s orders, and his head and hands were nailed to the rostra in Rome as an example to others. 22 His third topic is military success (133-87), where the thirst for glory by far outstrips the pursuit of virtue (140-1). He states that such thirst for military glory has often destroyed countries, which can be said to be true of his first example Hannibal (147-67), the Carthaginian general. Though Alexander the Great (168-73) conquered the Middle East, his premature death did not allow him to enjoy his triumph. His third example is based on Herodotus description of the invasion of Greece by Xerxes and the Persians in B.C. (173-86). The Greeks won famous victories at Salamis and Plataea. Xerxes went home with his tail between his legs. 20 Sullivan in Boyle and Sullivan (1991), Sullivan in Boyle and Sullivan (1991), Juvenal includes what is regarded by many as one of the worst hexameter lines ever written o fortunatam natam me consule Romam (122), which Cicero included in his poem about his own consulship. Cicero was claiming that his success in defeating the conspiracy of Catiline had saved Rome. 38

8 PETRONIUS AND JUVENAL The fourth topic is long life ( ). Juvenal describes the way in which old age makes us unattractive and runs through some of the physical and mental infirmities which can come with old age. Even if a man keeps his wits, his old age will be littered with funerals of relatives, especially his own sons. His final topic is the wish for beauty ( ). He gives Lucretia and Virginia as examples of those whose premature deaths were caused by their beauty, which aroused lust in men (293-4). He then warns of the problems that will lie in wait for a handsome son. His final example is that of Gaius Silius (329-45) who went through a marriage ceremony with the sex-obsessed Messalina, wife of the emperor Claudius. When Claudius found out, he had them both executed. Juvenal ends the satire by suggesting that it is best to let the gods decide what we need. If we must pray to the gods, he suggests that we should ask/for a sound mind in a sound body (mens sana in corpore sano), a valiant heart/ without fear of death, that reckons longevity/the least among Nature s gifts, that s strong to endure/all kinds of toil, that s untainted by lust and anger,/that prefers the sorrows and labours of Hercules to all/sardanapalus downy cushions and women and junketings. (356-62) He says that the only way to enjoy a peaceful life is to be virtuous (363-4). These three Satires present a very good example of the wide range of Juvenal s attacks on the failings of Roman society. Green writes that the prime quality of the Satires is their ability to project the splendour, squalor, and complexity of the Roman scene more vividly than the work of any other author. 23 He concludes: But it was not so much human endeavours that obsessed him he had always been rather hazy about what people actually did so much as humanity itself, that marvellous ant-hill which he hated and loved with equal fervour, and from which he never succeeded in tearing himself away. 24 To this point this paper has done exactly what students are advised not to do in their essays. It has discussed each of the texts separately. It has been easier to consider the two works in this way. Students, however, will have to draw comparisons between the two works by looking for similarities and differences. There are obvious differences. Dinner with Trimalchio is a novel written for the most part in prose and follows the misadventures of Encolpius. The chosen Satires are written in hexameter verse and deal with three unconnected topics. Petronius has no example to follow, but is pursuing a new path in literature. Juvenal is clearly using the established pattern of Roman satirical verse. The targets of his barbs are the foibles of his fellow members of Roman society at all levels. The Rome of his day was clearly a fertile soil for such targets. There is no doubt that Petronius too uses satire, but his work is not simply satire. It is a comic novel, farcical at times, which employs satire, but is primarily meant to amuse the reader. Each of us has a different sense of humour, but all of us will find something to laugh at in both works. Students should make a list of the things that make them laugh in each text. This may help them to find similarities and differences. Both authors are obsessed with status. 25 Petronius ridicules Trimalchio, a man who refuses to abide by social codes (ones which the arbiter elegantiae would approve of) and can get away with it because he is so rich. Juvenal s persona feels constantly slighted by those who 23 Green (1998), Green (1998), I thank Dr Rhiannon Evans for this helpful suggestion. 39

9 PETER MOUNTFORD should be lower on the social scale, who seem to be able to set the standards of behaviour in Roman society. This standard ought to be set by the two upper classes in Rome, the patricians and the equites, but he gives many examples of how they behave inappropriately in current society with scant regard for the established customs of their ancestors (mores maiorum). It could be argued that all the aberrations shown by the two authors in fact define what should be normal for Roman men and women. Satire is, however, also a common feature of the two works. Some of the targets of the two writers are the same. Some are obvious, such as the nouveaux riches [Trimalchio himself in Dinner, and Satire ], ill treatment of slaves [ Dinner 27, 28, 34, 52 et al., and Satire ], women with expensive tastes [Fortunata in Dinner, and Satire ], superstition [Trimalchio discusses astrologers in Dinner 39, Juvenal attacks them in Satire ], excessive wealth [ Dinner is littered with examples of excessive wealth; Juvenal attacks excessive wealth and its pursuit in the prescribed Satires], drunkenness [Petronius condemns the drunken behaviour of Trimalchio and Habinnas; Juvenal attacks the drunken behaviour of women in Satire ]. Both attack sexual misbehaviour. Such misbehaviour in Dinner with Trimalchio is, for the most part, directed at homosexual behaviour towards attractive slave-boys. Juvenal attacks all forms of sexual misbehaviour. He is blunt and in your face in the way in which he does so. Petronius is much less blunt and much of his criticism is in the form of innuendo. As both present a view of Roman society and life, though in different eras, it is natural that there will be many small similarities. 26 For example, both draw attention to the existence of eunuchs in Rome [ Dinner 27, and Satire ]. Both deride women who involve themselves in activities more appropriate for gladiators [ Dinner 22-3, and Satire ]. If one were to use the whole of the Satyricon and the Sixteen Satires, there would be more similarities. For example, Petronius condemns legacy-hunters in the section known as The Road to Croton, as Juvenal does in Satire In Satire 5 Juvenal presents a bad host similar to Trimalchio. We are restrained, however, by the limits of the texts prescribed for study. Most of the texts prescribed for Classical Studies are of a serious nature. Among Greek texts Aristophanes offers a chance to be entertained and to laugh. These two very Roman texts provide students with many reasons to laugh, and they certainly entertain. Students should, however, be aware that there are usually serious messages contained within all comedy. They should be looking for these messages as they read the texts. How do these two writers use their humour and their satire to comment upon Roman society? University of Melbourne 26 It should be noted that although Juvenal is writing in the second century A.D. the examples which he uses are often taken from the same period as Petronius. 40

10 PETRONIUS AND JUVENAL Bibliography Arrowsmith, W (1994) (tr.), Petronius: The Satyricon (New York: Meridian). Braund, S.H. (1996) (ed.), Juvenal Satires Book 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). (2004) (ed. and tr.), Juvenal and Persius (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press). Boyle, A.J. and J.P. Sullivan (1991) (eds.), Roman Poets of the Early Empire (London: Penguin). Green, P (1998) (tr.), The Sixteen Satires (London: Penguin). Sharrock, A and Ash, R (2002), Fifty Key Classical Authors (London: Routledge). Smith, M.S. (1975) (ed.), Petronius: Cena Trimalchionis (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Sullivan, J.P. (1986) (tr.), Petronius: The Satyricon (London: Penguin). Walsh, P.G. (1997) (tr.), Petronius: The Satyricon (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Suggested reading Anderson, W.S. (1982) Essays on Roman Satire (Princeton: Princeton University Press). Braund, S.H. (1989), Satire and Society in Ancient Rome (Exeter: University of Exeter Press). (1996), The Roman Satirists and their Masks (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press). Coffey, M. (1989), Roman Satire (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press). Conte, G.B. (1996), The Hidden Author: An Interpretation of Petronius Satyricon (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press). Freudenburg, K. (2001), Satires of Rome: Threatening Poses from Lucilius to Juvenal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Highet, G. (1954), Juvenal the Satirist (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Hofmann, H. (2004), Latin Fiction: The Latin Novel in Context (London: Routledge). Plaza, M (2008), The Function of Humour in Roman Verse Satire (Oxford: Oxford University Press). Prag, J., and I. Repath (2009) (eds.), Petronius: A Handbook (Chichester and Malden: Wiley- Blackwell). Rimell, V. (2002), Petronius and the Anatomy of Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). Slater, N.W. (1990), Reading Petronius (Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press). Sullivan, J.P. (1963) (ed.), Critical Essays on Roman Literature, Vol. II: Satire (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul). (1968), The Satyricon of Petronius. A Literary Study (London: Faber). Walsh, P.G. (1970) The Roman Novel: The Satyricon of Petronius and the Metamorphoses of Apuleius (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). 41

GLBT Literature: Satyricon

PLEASE NOTE: This Satyricon background material was originally compiled for a Fiction & Film Group event in 2002 — please do not distribute it.

Satyricon – Petronius & Fellini

There are multiple translations of Petronius's Satyricon online — the best is perhaps Firebaugh's (he claims it is "[c]omplete and unexpurgated") — as well as the original Latin fragments.

There is also a comparative version, with links between the Latin and the Allinson translation.

Introduction to Petronius

(Focusing on the author and his world)

by Prof. H.W. Haskell, of Southwestern University

Gaius Petronius (c. 27–66 A.D.), the author of the Satyricon, was the emperor Nero's advisor in matters of luxury and extravagance (his unofficial title was arbiter elegantiae [Arbiter of Elegance]). As befitted his office, he slept days and partied nights. He was a lover of style, manners, and literature, and his personality was characterized by freedom, a lack of self-consciousness, a loose tongue, and an attitude. A rival's jealousy turned Nero agains Petronius, and he was forced to commit suicide. However, before his death, he lampooned Nero in his will and sent the emperor a copy.

The emperor Nero was interested in literature and art, especially theater. He fancied himself as a sort of reincarnation of Apollo, and liked to display his talents and be praised. His artistic obsessions and extravagant buildings brought him ridicule. Nero's court was distinguished by its immorality and extravagance. Everyone's primary goal was making lots of money. Because there was so much leisure for the very rich, strong ambition and responsibility were required for almost anything at all to be accomplished. Life at court was uncertain because Nero was capricious. Literature was used for flattery, personal advancement, advocacy of your own position, and destruction of your opponent's position. The literary arms of the establishment included censorship, prosecution, libel suits, and that old standby, physical attacks.

Unconventional and unique, the Satyricon stands almost alone in literature. It touches on everything, especially small-town life and ordinary people. Its characters are mostly of Greek or Near Eastern origin and are probably based on real people; Trimalchio's house has a lot in common with Nero's court. Some of the characters' names have given rise to much interesting etymological speculation: the name of Encolpius, our narrator, means "in the fold," or more explicitly here, "in the crotch"; his friend is named Ascyltos, or "unwearied," and they fight over the affections of the boy Giton ("neighbor").

The Satyricon was probably written around 61 A.D. and first printed in 1664. It is a very long work, of which we only have fragments. Petronius probably read it in installments to his friends, and possibly to the court of Nero. [The "Trimalchio's Feast" section] is one of the longer fragments; its survival in its entirety suggests that people have been enjoying it as a separable story for a long time. A banquet is the traditional setting for the kind of light conversation that is featured in the Cena.

The Satyricon itself, as its name implies, is a satire. The origin of the word "satire" has been a subject for academic debate: some say it comes from satura, or medley, while others theorize that it refers to something which is goat-like, like a satyr (smelly, rude, unkempt, and hairy?). Petronius satirizes anything and everything, using taste as the only standard. This is NOT a moralistic story intended to produce reform, as we often imagine a satire to be. We never know Petronius's own opinion (although he warns prudes not to criticize his story), because he doesn't give it to us directly. The only opinions we have are those of the characters in the story. Encolpius, as we shall see, criticizes Trimalchio, but Encolpius is no great prize either, so what is his criticism worth?

More specifically, the Satyricon is a Menippean satire. This genre, originally a humorous discussion of philosophy in alternating prose and verse, is characterized by the use of many different styles. In the Satyricon, accordingly, we find proverbs, verse, interpolated stories, and varied levels of language (from the very vulgar to the very elegant).

Some of the stories told by Trimalchio's guests are part of the genre called Milesian tales. These are funny, often questionable, stories characterized by a great deal of variety and incongruity in their plots, and by lots of digressions....

The Satyricon is set in Campania, which is the region around Naples and Mt. Vesuvius, in the middle of Italy. The advantage of this setting for us, paradoxically, is the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Two nearby towns, Pompeii and Herculaneum, were completely destroyed but in such a way that an unusual number of antiquities of this date were preserved by being covered with ash or mud. We have many resources at our disposal to help us learn about life in Mediterranean countries at this time, which enables us to visualize what life was like for Petronius and the characters of the Satyricon.

Pompeii was a walled town, densely built up with little wasted space. In the center of town was the Forum, an open space off-limits to wheeled vehicles. The Forum had three functions: religious, civic/governmental, and commercial. There were buildings around the perimeter of the Forum for each function. Gladiator contests were held in the open center. [Early in the Satyricon] Encolpius and his friends will be discussing an upcoming contest in which the combatants will fight to the death. This was a rare and special treat; animals and people were too expensive to sacrifice in that way very often.

Houses and baths made up the rest of Pompeii. As we shall see, the baths were a vitally important aspect of Roman social life. The city streets did double duty as sewers also; there were stepping stones to make crossing easier. Often the owner of a house would rent out the first floor to a small shopkeeper.

The houses had no exterior windows (why would they want to look out into the sewer?); all the windows looked inward to the atrium. On the walls were paintings which allowed you to imagine you were looking out into an unreal world. Fake columns, perspectives, historical or religious scenes, sacred landscapes, and abstract designs all ornamented the walls of a Roman house. What you didn't paint on the walls was your life story, as we shall see that Trimalchio has done. Holes in the roof let in light and air, but, as you can imagine, the light inside was very dim. At the entrance to the house was the lararium, a shrine to your ancestors and protecting genii.

Trimalchio probably has a house outside the city walls, unrestricted in size and with actual windows, not unlike that of the emperor Tiberius. This emperor, who was old and paranoid, lived in a country villa on the island of Capri and used to dump people he considered suspicious over the cliffs.

Introduction to Petronius's SATYRICON

(Focusing on literary aspects)

Excerpted from Encyclopaedia Britannica: The Satyricon, or Satyricon liber ("Book of Satyrlike Adventures"), is a comic, picaresque novel that is related to several ancient literary genres. In style it ranges between the highly realistic and the self-consciously literary, and its form is episodic. It relates the wanderings and escapades of a disreputable trio of adventurers, the narrator Encolpius ("Embracer" [or "in the crotch"]), his friend Ascyltos (["unwearied" or "lasts all night"]), and the boy Giton ("Neighbour").

The surviving portions of the Satyricon (parts of Books XV and XVI) probably represent about one-tenth of the complete work, which was evidently very long. The loose narrative framework encloses a number of independent tales, a classic instance being the famous "Widow of Ephesus" (Satyricon, ch. 111-112). Other features, however, recall the "Menippean" satire; these features include the mixture of prose and verse in which the work is composed; and the digressions in which the author airs his own views on various topics having no connection with the plot.

The longest and the best episode in the surviving portions of the Satyricon is the Cena Trimalchionis, or "Banquet of Trimalchio" (ch. 26-78). This is a description of a dinner party given by Trimalchio, an immensely rich and vulgar freedman (former slave), to a group of friends and hangers-on. This episode's length appears disproportionate even to the presumed original size of the Satyricon, and it has little or no apparent connection with the plot. The scene is a Greco-Roman town in Campania, and the guests, mostly freedmen like their host, are drawn from what corresponded to the petit bourgeois class. Trimalchio is the quintessence of the parvenu, a figure familiar enough in ancient satirical literature, but especially so in the 1st century AD, when freedmen as a class were at their most influential.

Two features distinguish Petronius' "Banquet" from other ancient examples: its extraordinary realism and the figure of Trimalchio. It is obvious that the table talk of the guests in the "Banquet" is based on the author's personal observation of provincial societies. The speakers are beautifully and exactly characterized and their dialogue, quite apart from the invaluable evidence for colloquial Latin afforded by the vulgarisms and solecisms in which it abounds, is a humorous masterpiece. Trimalchio himself, with his vast wealth, his tasteless ostentation, his affectation of culture, his superstition, and his maudlin lapses into his natural vulgarity, is more than a typical satirist's figure. As depicted by Petronius he is one of the great comic figures of literature and is fit company for Shakespeare's Falstaff. The development of character for its own sake was hardly known in ancient literature: the emphasis was always on the typical, and the classical rules laid down that character was secondary to more important considerations such as plot. Petronius, in his treatment of Trimalchio, transcended this almost universal limitation in a way that irresistibly recalls Dickens, and much else in the "Banquet" is Dickensian - its exuberance, its boisterous humour (rare in ancient literature, where wit predominates), and its loving profusion of detail.

The rest of the Satyricon is hardly to be compared to the "Banquet." Insofar as any moral attitude at all is perceptible in the work as a whole, it is a trivial and debased brand of hedonism. The aim of the Satyricon was evidently above all to entertain by portraying certain aspects of contemporary society, and when considered as such, the book is of immense value: superficial details of the speech, behaviour, appearance, and surroundings of the characters are exactly observed and vividly communicated. The wealth of specific allusions to persons and events of Nero's time shows that the work was aimed at a contemporary audience, and certain features suggest that the audience in fact consisted of Nero and his courtiers. The realistic descriptions of low life recall the emperor's relish for slumming expeditions; and the combination of literary sophistication with polished obscenity is consistent with the wish to titillate the jaded palates of a debauched court.

If Petronius' book has a message, it is aesthetic rather than moral. The emphasis throughout the account of Trimalchio's dinner party is on the contrast between taste and tastelessness. Stylistically, too, the Satyricon is what Tacitus' account of the author would lead one to expect. The language of the narrative and the educated speakers is pure, easy, and elegant, and the wit of the best comic passages is brilliant; but the general impression, even when allowance is made for the fragmentary state of the text, is that of a book written quickly and somewhat carelessly by a writer who would not take the necessary trouble to discipline his astonishing powers of invention. In his book, as in his life, Petronius achieved fame by indolence.

Summary of Petronius's SATYRICON

(Compare this to Fellini's adaptation - item (5) below)

SUMMARY IN BRIEF: SATYRICON tells the story of the young freeman and scholar Encolpius's odyssey through the Mediterranean world of the first century A.D. He, his lover Ascyltos, and their shrewd "boy toy" Giton undergo a series of amazing adventures, both natural and supernatural, in these few surviving fragments of the vast original novel.

NOTE: "Chapters" refers to what we would call "paragraphs;" some are only a couple of sentences long. The entire surviving SATYRICON is relatively brief, and can comfortably be read in one or two sittings.

TIP: You can easily download the entire file to your computer by using your browser's File menu (top left of the screen), and choose Save As. You can also open the file in your favorite word processor and adjust the font and size so that it's easier to read.

PART 2.– TRIMALCHIO'S FEAST (Chapters 27–78)
PART 5.– AFFAIRS AT CROTONA (Chapters 125–141)


ENCOLPIUS, the narrator, a young freeman and scholar
ASCYLTOS, his sometime lover and rival for...
GITON, their shrewd attendant
EUMOLPUS, a lousy poet
TRIMALCHIO, a wealthy and debauched freeman


PLEASE NOTE that the following summary is from an anonymous source: I don't use adjectives like "comely"!


Encolpius railed at the growth of artificiality in modern rhetoric and the ill-prepared students who came to the school. Agamemnon, the professor, agreed with him, but placed the blame entirely on parents who refused to make their children study. Weary of the dispute and far gone in drink, Encolpius fled the school. An old woman, who made indecent proposals to him, showed him the way back to his inn.

Giton, his sixteen-year-old slave, had prepared supper, but the comely boy was crying: Ascyltos had made violent love to him. Encolpius was soothing the boy with caresses and tender words when Ascyltos broke in on them. A quarrel ensued between the two friends as to who should enjoy Giton's favors. The dispute was settled only when all three agreed to pay a visit to Lycurgus, a rich friend of Ascyltos.

Lycurgus received them most cordially and introduced them to Lichas, his friend. Lichas, completely taken with Encolpius, insisted that Encolpius and Giton come home with him. On the way, Tryphaena, a beautiful woman attached to Lichas' entourage, made surreptitious love to Encolpius, who resolved to have little to do with Lichas. But, when the party arrived at Lichas' villa, Tryphaena deserted Encolpius for the bewitching Giton. Smarting under her desertion, Encolpius made love to Doris, Lichas' attractive wife. All went fairly well until Giton tired of Tryphaena. Then she accused both Giton and Encolpius of making improper advances, and the two returned in haste to Lycurgus' house.

Lycurgus at first supported the two adventurers, but as the jealous Lichas increased his complaints, Lycurgus turned against the pair. At the suggestion of Ascyltos, the three set out again to seek what love affairs and plunder they could find. They were well supplied with gold, for Encolpius had thoughtfully plundered one of Lichas' ships before leaving.

At a nearby small town a fair was in progress. There they came upon a groom who was saddling a rich man's horse. When the groom left for a moment, Encolpius stole the rich man's riding cloak. Soon afterward Ascyltos found a bag of coins on the ground. The two friends hid the gold by sewing it under the lining of Encolpius' threadbare tunic. Just as they finished, the rich man's retainers gave chase to recover the riding cloak. Dashing through a wood, Encolpius was separated from his friend and lost the tunic.

They met again at a market. There they saw the tunic up for sale with the gold pieces still hidden in the lining. When they offered to trade the riding cloak for the tunic, the bystanders became suspicious and tried to make the two friends appear before a judge. Dropping the riding cloak and seizing the tunic, they fled.

After telling Giton to follow later on, they set out for the next town. Seeing the dim forms of two comely women hurrying through the dusk, they followed them unobserved into an underground temple. There the two men saw a company of women in Bacchanalian garb, each with a phallic emblem in her hand, preparing to worship Priapus. They were discovered by the horrified women and chased back to their inn.

As they were dining with Giton in their rooms, the maid of one of the women whom they had followed to the sacred rites came in and begged them to listen to her mistress, who was a respectable matron. Even though Encolpius swore never to tell of the forbidden rites, the matron had the three seized and taken to her villa. The men were bound and given powerful love potions, and then all the women of the household made love to them. After escaping from the love-maddened ladies, Encolpius had to rest for three days; Giton seemed little affected.

PART 2.– TRIMALCHIO'S FEAST (Chapters 27–78)

Next the three attended a huge banquet given by Trimalchio, a rich and vulgar freedman. Every dish served was disguised as something else. After hours of eating and drinking, they were glad even for the respite of story telling. Trimalchio started off with a boring elucidation of the signs of the zodiac, and many of the guests told pointless anecdotes. From Niceros, however, they heard an absorbing tale.

Niceros was staying, while he was still a slave, at an inn where he was in love with the landlord's complaisant wife, Melissa. One day he induced a soldier to go for a walk with him. When they came to a graveyard, the soldier took off his clothes and threw them beside the path. Making a magic circle around the clothes, he straightway turned into a wolf and went howling away. When Niceros saw to his horror that the clothes had turned to stone, he hurried home to Melissa. She told him that a wolf had just come into the yard and killed some sheep. A servant drove a spear through the animal's neck but the wolf got away.

Niceros ran back to the cemetery where he found that the stone clothes had dissolved in blood. In the morning he went to the soldier's room. There a physician was stanching the blood from a wound in the soldier's neck.

Encolpius, Ascyltos, and Giton were finally so stuffed and bored they could stand no more. To their relief, the company moved outdoors to exercise. From the conversation they learned that another banquet was to follow, this one given by Trimalchio's wife. They left hurriedly.


Following another quarrel over Giton, Encolpius and Ascyltos parted company. To the distress of Encolpius, Giton elected to go with Ascyltos.

After sorrowing uselessly for days, Encolpius fell in with an old man, the poet Eumolpus. When the two went to the baths to cement their friendship, Encolpius was overjoyed to find Giton acting as attendant for Ascyltos, who was in another room. Gitonn confessed that he really liked Encolpius better, and the latter, in a happy mood, took the boy back to his apartment.

Matters would have been smoother for Encolpius if he had not tried to make love to Circe. Because of his past tribulations and hardships, he had no strength for her ardors. Suspecting him of trifling with her, she raised such an outcry that Encolpius judged it wise to leave town.


On Eumolpus' advice, the comrades embarked secretly at night on a ship lying in the harbor. In the morning Encolpius discovered to his chagrin that they were aboard Lichas' ship. The owner and Tryphaena were aboard. Eumolpus tried to disguise Encolpius and Giton with burnt cork. Their subterfuge was discovered, however, and for a while it looked as though they would be flogged. But Lichas remembered his old attraction to Encolpius and Tryphaena was smitten anew with Gitonn; so they were spared.

PART 5.– AFFAIRS AT CROTONA (Chapters 125–141)

When Lichas' ship was wrecked in a storm, the three comrades got ashore at Crotona. Eumolpus posed as a rich landowner and Encolpius and Giton passed as his slaves. By cleverly deluding the inhabitants, they lived luxuriously as guests of the town. After a year suspicion grew as to Eumolpus' supposed wealth. Seeing an end to their pleasant stay, Encolpius and Giton escaped just in time. The aroused townspeople used Eumolpus as a scapegoat. They decked him out with boughs and sacred vestments, led him through the city, and finally hurled him down a cliff. [This is where the surviving fragments end, but the original novel continued with many more adventures for the intrepid Encolpius.]

Introduction to Fellini

Federico Fellini
(1920 - 1993)
from Baseline's Encyclopedia of Film [with additional information on Fellini's private life]

Occupation: Director, screenwriter, actor
Born: January 20, 1920, Rimini, Italy
Died: October 31, 1993, Rome, Italy

Italian humanist director Federico Fellini was among the most intensely autobiographical film directors the cinema has known. "If I were to make a film about the life of a soul," said Fellini, "it would end up being about me." Born in Rimini, a resort city on the Adriatic, Fellini was fascinated by the circuses and vaudeville performers that his town attracted. His education in Catholic schools also profoundly affected his later work, which, while critical of the Church, is infused with a strong spiritual dimension. After jobs as a crime reporter and artist specializing in caricature, Fellini began his film career as a gag writer for actor Aldo Fabrizi.

In 1943, Fellini met and married actress Giulietta Masina, who appeared in several of his films and whom Fellini called the greatest influence on his work. In 1945, he got his first important break in film, when he was invited to collaborate on the script of OPEN CITY, Roberto Rossellini's seminal work of the neorealist movement. In 1948, Rossellini directed WAYS OF LOVE/L'AMORE, one part of which was based on Fellini's original story "Il Miracolo/The Miracle" about a peasant woman (Anna Magnani) who thinks that the tramp (played by Fellini) who has impregnated her is St. Joseph and that she is about to give birth to Christ.

[ADDITIONAL NOTE ON FELLINI'S PRIVATE LIFE: Fellini's biographer John Baxter has written: "Though Fellini and Masina shared a house, they occupied separate floors and had very different friends. Fellini flirted overtly with women but made his closest relationships with a succession of young gay assistants, among them Pier Paolo Pasolini...." [Pasolini (1922-75) became an acclaimed poet, novelist, theorist, and screenwriter/director whose films include Accatone, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Medea, Arabian Nights (1974), and Salo.] The above quotation is taken from John Baxter's essay on Fellini's JULIET OF THE SPIRITS in the Criterion Collection DVD of that film; he has written biographies of such filmmakers as Fellini, Kubrick, Bunuel, and Spielberg. PLEASE NOTE that "rumors" of Fellini's same-sex orientation are not confined to Mr. Baxter; and although an artist's sexual orientation is never their sole defining characteristic, it can certainly shed considerable light on their creations, including, perhaps, FELLINI SATYRICON.]

VARIETY LIGHTS (1950), detailing the intrigues of a group of travelling entertainers, was Fellini's directorial debut, in collaboration with the established Alberto Lattuada. THE WHITE SHEIK (1951) and I VITELLONI (1953) followed; the former was a comedy about a woman's affair with a comic strip hero, the latter a comedy-drama about the aimless lives of a group of young men. Though Fellini's earliest films were clearly in the neorealist tradition, from the start his interest in and sympathy for characters' eccentricities and his penchant for absurdist, sometimes clownish humor, makes them distinguished. Fellini's international breakthrough came with LA STRADA (1954). One of the most memorable and moving films of world cinema, it is the story of an innocent, simple young woman (Masina) who is sold by her family to a brutish strongman in a traveling circus. Because Fellini infused his film with surreal scenes, he was accused of violating the precepts of neorealism. Ultimately, LA STRADA, Fellini's first unquestioned masterpiece, is a poetic and expressive parable of two unlikely souls journeying toward salvation. The film's impact is bolstered immeasurably by Nino Rota's unforgettable music, marking the beginning of a collaboration between the two men that would end only with Rota's death in 1979. A luminous performance by Masina, and the moving Jungian imagery of earth, air, fire and water, are also memorable elements of LA STRADA.

After THE SWINDLE (1955)/IL BIDONE and NIGHTS OF CABIRIA (1957), the latter providing Masina with a hallmark role as a hapless prostitute, Fellini directed his two most influential masterworks: LA DOLCE VITA (1960) and 8-1/2 (1963). LA DOLCE VITA was a three-hour, panoramic view of contemporary Italian society as seen from the perspective of a journalist, played by Fellini's alter ego, actor Marcello Mastroianni. A savage if subtle satire that exposes the worthless hedonism of Italian society, LA DOLCE VITA provides a wealth of unforgettable images, from its opening - a parody of the Ascension as a helicopter transports a suspended statue of Christ over rooftops with sunbathing women in bikinis - to its signature scene of bosomy Anita Ekberg bathing in the Trevi Fountain. The film was a scandalous success, a worldwide box-office hit that was condemned by both the Catholic Church for its casual depiction of suicide and sexual themes and by the Italian government for its scathing criticism of Italy.

Celebrated as a brilliant social critic, Fellini now found himself under careful scrutiny by the international community, which anxiously awaited his next film. 8-1/2 (1963) represented a brilliant gamble: as a filmmaker who did not know what film to make next, Fellini decided to make a film about an internationally acclaimed director who does not know what film to make next, thus confronting his personal confusions head-on; Mastroianni played the director's alter ego. Having directed six features, co-directed another (counting as one half) and helmed episodes of two anthology films (each one also counting for a half), one of which was BOCCACCIO '70 (1962), Fellini realized he had made 7-1/2 films and hence chose 8-1/2 for his most reflexive film. For the first time, surreal dream imagery clearly dominated, with no clear demarcation between fantasy and reality in this groundbreaking and exceptionally influential film.

Fellini's next film, JULIET OF THE SPIRITS (1965), was his first in color. Again starring Masina, whose career was at a low ebb and with whom Fellini had been having personal problems, JULIET applied the methods of his previous two films to examine the psyche of a troubled upperclass housewife. For the first time, the voices of those critics who attacked Fellini for self-indulgence were louder than those who praised him for his perceptive vision. A feminist film ahead of its time, which complicates dismissals of Fellini as a "dirty old man," JULIET OF THE SPIRITS seems today even stronger than when it was released; one sequence, Juliet's memory of a religious pageant of school girls directed by unknowingly sadistic nuns, certainly stands among the most memorable and terrifying scenes in world cinema.

Many critics called Fellini's next film his "ne plus ultra." FELLINI SATYRICON (1970), loosely based on extant parts of Petronius's Satyricon, is the most phantasmagorical of all Fellini's work, following the bawdy adventures of bisexual characters in the pre-Christian world. Fellini himself described the film as science fiction of the past; and indeed the whole film moves with the logic of a dream - fragmentary, at times incomprehensible, and ending, literally, in the middle of a sentence. The abandonment of relatively conventional narrative, which had increased over the course of JULIET as its protagonist's psychic world took over, came completely to the fore, and much of Fellini's subsequent work did not reverse the pattern. FELLINI SATYRICON is also unusually sensuous, more so than his other works; there is a constant tension between the film's sense-pleasing surface and its often disturbing elements, which include sex and nudity, dwarfs, an earthquake, a hermaphrodite, a decapitation, an erotic feast and orgy, suicides, mythological creatures, violence and hundreds of the most grotesque extras ever assembled. SATYRICON polarized critics - some attacked the film as proof that Fellini's self-indulgence had run amuck, and others praised it as a great fountainhead of a new kind of non-linear cinema, a head-trip (not unlike Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY) representing the aesthetic culmination of the 1960s and the ultimate comment, through an examination of the imaginary past, on the present. [Fellini received an Oscar nomination for Best Director for SATYRICON.]

Fellini's work since SATYRICON was seen by many as less focused, and his international acclaim less consistent. Retreating from the splendid excess of SATYRICON, he created several very fine, more modest films, all marked by striking imagery, which diminished the distinctions between fiction film and documentary: THE CLOWNS (1971), which deals with Fellini's lifelong love of circuses; FELLINI'S ROMA (1972), centering on his love/hate relationship with the Eternal City which recurs in many of his films; and the critical and potent but little-seen ORCHESTRA REHEARSAL (1979), portraying the orchestra as a metaphor for Italian politics. Perhaps Fellini's most acclaimed post-SATYRICON film was AMARCORD (1974), an accessible work which can be seen as a summation to that point of his autobiographical impulse (the title means "I remember"). Lovingly describing Fellini's Rimini boyhood, peppered with offbeat but gentle humor, AMARCORD organizes its images through a strong emphasis on the natural cycle and a coherent narrative, though it also contained such memorable flights of fancy as the peacock that appears during the winter snow.

AMARCORD was the fourth Fellini film to win an Oscar as Best Foreign-Language Film, but as he continued making films in the 80s he found it increasingly difficult to find financial backing and distributors. The downturn in his critical reputation and the inaccessibility of several key films led many to dismiss the latter as unimportant or as further signs of his "self-indulgence." FELLINI'S CASANOVA (1976), while perhaps not one of his most important films, was unusually - indeed strikingly - cold, filled with stunning imagery which cannot be easily dismissed. AND THE SHIP SAILS ON (1984), meanwhile, proved that his flair for flamboyant characterization had not lost its comic or satiric prowess in its commentary on self-absorbed artists and motley others (including a homesick rhinoceros). GINGER AND FRED (1986), though heavily criticized by many upon its release (it was the last Fellini to get a full art-house run in the US), has more than its share of touching and amusing moments as his two most important actors, Masina and Mastroianni, play a dance team reunited for what can only be described as "Fellini TV."

Fellini's INTERVISTA (1987) carried the reflectiveness of his later years full circle. A fitting companion piece to 8-1/2 and a revisitation (with Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg) of that other landmark, LA DOLCE VITA, Fellini again directly confronted his own position and status as a filmmaker, this time with a sadder, more wistful nostalgia than he had as a younger man. Now the aging "Il Mago" ("the magician," as he was sometimes called in Italy) and his aging actors watch clips of their earlier triumphs in scenes that are extremely moving. His last completed film, VOICE OF THE MOON (1990), considered by some critics his most surreal picture, was, like INTERVISTA, a small film chock-full of references and last minute thoughts, alternately strange and sad, an appropriate postscript to a film career filled with with laughter and wonder at the bizarre circus of life.

Fellini continued to pursue other projects in semi-retirement. At the Academy Awards ceremony in March of 1993, Fellini received a special Oscar for lifetime achievement in filmmaking, which he dedicated to Masina in his acceptance speech. In August of that year, Fellini suffered a stroke, and went into a coma following a heart attack in October. After his death at age 73 on October 31st - one day after Masina (who was to die of cancer less than five months later) observed their 50th wedding anniversary - tens of thousands of people packed the narrow streets of Fellini's hometown of Rimini, applauding as the director's casket was carried from the main piazza to the cinema where Fellini had watched his first films as a child (and which he featured in AMARCORD). It was a fitting tribute to one of the cinema's greatest artists, who had become a national treasure for Italy and a respected master the world over.


(Does NOT contain "spoilers" of major plot points, so you can read it with impunity)

I am very fortunate to own a copy of Fellini's rare published screenplay of his SATYRICON (which includes scenes never filmed). The following descriptions of all the film's major scenes are taken from it. Some viewers have problems with the (seemingly) fragmentary structure Fellini employs (suggested by the fragmentary nature of Petronius's novel as it has survived); so I hope this outline is of use (it certainly helps me!). You might want to compare this to the summary of Petronius - item (3) above.

* The Suburra quarter of Rome - the baths, a theatre, and the...
* Insula Felicles (a towering apartment complex, where Encolpio lives)
* Art gallery
* Trimalchio's Feast, then his tomb [interpolation: the male prostitute's story about the widow of Ephesus]
* A plowed field
* Lichas's ship
* Villa of the patrician Roman couple
* Cave of the hermaphrodite oracle
* Wastelands, including the nymphomaniac's wagon
* "The Magic City" (how Fellini always referred to this location), including the arena, the Minotaur's labyrinth, and the "garden of delights" [interpolation: the dwarf's story about the sorceress Enotea]
* Enotea's island in the marshlands
* Beach


(Revised from the version included in the Reading Group Newsletter Vol. IV, Issue 9 — update: here is my Satyricon review at Jim's Film Website)

FELLINI SATYRICON (Federico Fellini, 1969, Italy - 129 mins., color, 2.35 aspect ratio [widescreen / anamorphic])

One of the most wildly original, gorgeous, and unsettling films ever made, Fellini Satyricon (1969) - "freely adapted from Petronius's classic" (as the credits proclaim) - is perhaps best viewed not as a historical "sword and sandal" epic (like Ben-Hur, Spartacus, or the recent Gladiator), but as what its director called "my science fiction film of the past." You can also see it as a phantasmagorical fever dream, or a drug-induced hallucination, not to mention a satirical, yet nail-biting, adventure set in a dozen exotic locales. It shifts between massive, fantastically detailed studio sets and jaw-dropping Mediterranean locations, while focusing on the odyssey of Encolpio, a "hot" and hard-living young gay man - a scholar, thief, and adventurer - during the gaudy decline of the Roman Empire. (Astonishingly, this opulent film was made for just $3 million, compared to an average of $40 million for a typical 1960s Hollywood epic.)

Fellini spins the few surviving fragments of Petronius's Satyricon (written two thousand years ago, it was possibly the world's first novel) into a riot of alternately grotesque and rapturously beautiful images, moving from minimalism - such as the opening shot in which Encolpio, in close-up, spews out a lengthy Shakespearean-style monologue against a starkly textured blank wall - to massive crowd scenes, like Trimalchio's feast, bursting with color and life and weirdness, worthy of comparison to Bosch, Brueghel, and Hogarth. (All of those artists, including Fellini, are both social satirists and epic visionaries.) On every level - narrative, visual and sound design, emotion - Fellini Satyricon catapults between extremes, from comedy to action to beauty to terror to pathos, and back again.

Writer/director Fellini turns the necessarily fragmentary Petronius (only a minuscule part of his vast original novel remains) into his own purposefully fragmentary film. As he told novelist Alberto Moravia at the time of filming, "I am insistent on the dreamlike character of the film. Everything will be disconnected, fragmentary. And at the same time mysteriously homogenous. Every detail will stand out on its own account, isolated, dilated, absurd, monstrous - as in dreams." The film's jarring elliptical structure perfectly meshes with its surreal visual and sound pyrotechnics (which have influenced many pictures, from dreck like Caligula to notable films like Clive Barker's underrated Nightbreed and Terry Gilliam's extraordinary Brazil). Fellini Satyricon is not only one of the most sensuous - and exciting - films ever made, it is also an evocative dramatization of Encolpio's evolving psychological state, using imagery which would have had both Freud and Jung grinning with appreciation.

With Encolpio at its center, the film tells a unique, and in its day unprecedented, gay coming of age story. Made in Italy at about the same time as the 1969 Stonewall Riots, I think Fellini Satyricon is a - and perhaps the - landmark gay film, although it is rarely discussed as such. In a world filled with grotesquerie, the gay/bi lead characters - Encolpio, as well as his sometime lover Ascilto and their shrewd "boy toy" Gitone - are revealed as fully developed and complex people. And Fellini makes us understand why they do such sometimes horrific things: How else could they survive in a world gone completely mad? (Fellini stated clearly that Satyricon's Rome was a parallel to the modern-day one, which he had skewered in his 1960 film, La Dolce Vita.) Unlike any previous GLBT film, Fellini Satyricon explores a world with the full range of same-sex - as well as opposite-sex - relationships, from the most tender and heartfelt to the most brutal and debauched. All without flinching.

Intriguingly, Fellini's biographer John Baxter hints that the director - whose films are conspicuously filled with images of women (8-1/2, Amarcord, City of Women) - may have been bisexual or gay. If so, Fellini Satyricon offers a possible glimpse into this great director's psyche, where the view of same-sex relations constantly twists between beauty and horror and farce... and emotional growth. Perhaps it is significant that after Fellini poured his genius into this most deeply personal picture (which was financially and, to a lesser extent, critically successful), he never again explored same-sex themes. Many filmgoers and critics see his later works, despite some awards, as slowly spiraling downwards into self-imitation, merely echoing such earlier masterpieces as La Strada (1954), Nights of Cabiria (1957), 8-1/2 (1963) and, of course, Satyricon.

NOTE: To see my film resources, for both general and GLBT cinema, please visit: Jim's Film Website.

Some possible discussion questions for FELLINI SATYRICON

(Of course, we will generate many more for our discussion!)

by Prof. H.W. Haskell, of Southwestern University

* Lighting: How does it contribute to showing us the story, introducing us to the characters or developing them, integrating the beginning and end of the film, etc.?

* Decor: Where is the story filmed? What do these settings add to or take away from the story's interest?

* Costumes: What do the characters look like? How are they dressed? How does their appearance influence your reaction to the film?

* Characters: How can you identify them? What roles do the minor characters play in showing us the story?

* Plot: What happens before and after [Trimalchio's feast]? How is the party itself different from what we have read?

* What do you think will happen [after the film's final scene]?...

* Your reaction: How do you like/dislike the film? Why? If you were directing the film, what would you do differently?... Would you make it a comedy? a "serious" film critiquing contemporary society? a love story? a success story? a story about male bonding? something else? Why would you choose that sort of story, and how would you tell it?

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