Satyricon, by Petronius

INTRODUCTION.

Of the many masterpieces which classical antiquity has bequeathed to modern times, few have attained, at intervals, to such popularity; few have so gripped the interest of scholars and men of letters, as has this scintillating miscellany known as the Satyricon, ascribed by tradition to that Petronius who, at the court of Nero, acted as arbiter of elegance and dictator of fashion. The flashing, wit, the masterly touches which bring out the characters with all the detail of a fine old copper etching; the marvelous use of realism by this, its first prophet; the sure knowledge of the perspective and background best adapted to each episode; the racy style, so smooth, so elegant, so simple when the educated are speaking, beguile the reader and blind him, at first, to the many discrepancies and incoherences with which the text, as we have it, is marred. The more one concentrates upon this author, the more apparent these faults become and the more one regrets the lacunae in the text. Notwithstanding numerous articles which deal with this work, some from the pens of the most profound scholars, its author is still shrouded in the mists of uncertainty and conjecture. He is as impersonal as Shakespeare, as aloof as Flaubert, in the opinion of Charles Whibley, and, it may be added, as genial as Rabelais; an enigmatic genius whose secret will never be laid bare with the resources at our present command. As I am not writing for scholars, I do not intend going very deeply into the labyrinth of critical controversy which surrounds the author and the work, but I shall deal with a few of the questions which, if properly understood, will enhance the value of the Satyricon, and contribute, in some degree, to a better understanding of the author. For the sake of convenience the questions discussed in this introduction will be arranged in the following order:

  1. THE SATYRICON.
  2. THE AUTHOR.
    1. His Character.
    2. His Purpose in Writing.
    3. Time in which the Action is placed.
    4. Localization of the Principal Episode.
  3. REALISM.
    1. Influence of the Satyricon upon the Literature of the World.
  4. FORGERIES OF PETRONIUS.

I

THE SATYRICON.

Heinsius and Scaliger derive the word from the Greek, whence comes our English word satyr, but Casaubon, Dacier and Spanheim derive it from the Latin 'satura,' a plate filled with different kinds of food, and they refer to Porphyrion's 'multis et variis rebus hoc carmen refertum est.'

The text, as we possess it, may be divided into three divisions: the first and last relate the adventures of Encolpius and his companions, the second, which is a digression, describes the Dinner of Trimalchio. That the work was originally divided into books, we had long known from ancient glossaries, and we learn, from the title of the Traguriensian manuscript, that the fragments therein contained are excerpts from the fifteenth and sixteenth books. An interpolation of Fulgentius (Paris 7975) attributes to Book Fourteen the scene related in Chapter 20 of the work as we have it, and the glossary of St. Benedict Floriacensis cites the passage 'sed video te totum in illa haerere, quae Troiae halosin ostendit (Chapter 89), as from Book Fifteen. As there is no reason to suppose that the chapters intervening between the end of the Cena (Chapter 79) and Chapter 89 are out of place, it follows that this passage may have belonged to Book Sixteen, or even Seventeen, but that it could not have belonged to Book Fifteen. From the interpolation of Fulgentius we may hazard the opinion that the beginning of the fragments, as we possess them (Chapters 1 to 26), form part of Book Fourteen. The Dinner of Trimalchio probably formed a complete book, fifteen, and the continuation of the adventures of Encolpius down to his meeting with Eumolpus (end of Chapter 140) Book Sixteen. The discomfiture of Eumolpus should have closed this book but not the entire work, as the exit of the two principal characters is not fixed at the time our fragments come to an end. The original work, then, would probably have exceeded Tom Jones in length.

II

THE AUTHOR.

a--"Not often," says Studer (Rheinisches Museum, 1843), "has there been so much dispute about the author, the times, the character and the purpose of a writing of antiquity as about the fragments of the Satyricon of Petronius." The discovery and publication of the Trau manuscript brought about a literary controversy which has had few parallels, and which has not entirely died out to this day, although the best authorities ascribe the work to Caius Petronius, the Arbiter Elegantiarum at the court of Nero. "The question as to the date of the narrative of the adventures of Encolpius and his boon companions must be regarded as settled," says Theodor Mommsen (Hermes, 1878); "this narrative is unsurpassed in originality and mastery of treatment among the writings of Roman literature. Nor does anyone doubt the identity of its author and the Arbiter Elegantiarum of Nero, whose end Tacitus relates."

In any case, the author of this work, if it be the work of one brain, must have been a profound psychologist, a master of realism, a natural-born story teller, and a gentleman.

b--His principal object in writing the work was to amuse but, in amusing, he also intended to pillory the aristocracy and his wit is as keen as the point of a rapier; but, when we bear in mind the fact that he was an ancient, we will find that his cynicism is not cruel, in him there is none of the malignity of Aristophanes; there is rather the attitude of the refined patrician who is always under the necessity of facing those things which he holds most in contempt, the supreme artist who suffers from the multitude of bill-boards, so to speak, who lashes the posters but holds in pitying contempt those who know so little of true art that they mistake those posters for the genuine article. Niebuhr's estimate of his character is so just and free from prejudice, and proceeds from a mind which, in itself, was so pure and wholesome, that I will quote it:

"All great dramatic poets are endowed with the power of creating beings who seem to act and speak with perfect independence, so that the poet is nothing more than the relator of what takes place. When Goethe had conceived Faust and Margarete, Mephistopheles and Wagner, they moved and had their being without any exercise of his will. But in the peculiar power which Petronius exercises, in its application to every scene, to every individual character, in everything, noble or mean, which he undertakes, I know of but one who is fully equal to the Roman, and that is Diderot. Trimalchio and Agamemnon might have spoken for Petronius, and the nephew Rameau and the parson Papin for Diderot, in every condition and on every occasion inexhaustibly, out of their own nature; just so the purest and noblest souls, whose kind was, after all, not entirely extinct in their day.

"Diderot and a contemporary, related to him in spirit, Count Gaspar Gozzi, are marked with the same cynicism which disfigures the Roman; their age, like his, had become shameless. But as the two former were in their heart noble, upright, and benevolent men, and as in the writings of Diderot genuine virtue and a tenderness unknown to his contemporaries breathe, so the peculiarity of such a genius can, as it seems, be given to a noble and elevated being only. The deep contempt for prevailing immorality which naturally leads to cynicism, and a heart which beats for everything great and glorious,--virtues which then had no existence,--speak from the pages of the Roman in a language intelligible to every susceptible heart."

c--Beck, in his paper, "The Age of Petronius Arbiter," concluded that the author lived and wrote between the years 6 A.D. and 34 A.D., but he overlooked the possibility that the author might have lived a few years later, written of conditions as they were in his own times, and yet laid the action of his novel a few years before. Mommsen and Haley place the time under Augustus, Buecheler, about 36-7 A.D., and Friedlaender under Nero.

d--La Porte du Theil places the scene at Naples because of the fact the city in which our heroes met Agamemnon must have been of some considerable size because neither Encolpius nor Asclytos could find their way back to their inn, when once they had left it, because both were tired out from tramping around in search of it and because Giton had been so impressed with this danger that he took the precaution to mark the pillars with chalk in order that they might not be lost a second time. The Gulf of Naples is the only bit of coastline which fits the needs of the novel, hence the city must be Naples. The fact that neither of the characters knew the city proves that they had been recent arrivals, and this furnishes a clue, vague though it is, to what may have gone before.

Haley, "Harvard Studies in Classical Philology," vol. II, makes out a very strong case for Puteoli, and his theory of the old town and the new town is as ingenious as it is able. Haley also has Trimalchio in his favor, as has also La Porte du Theil. "I saw the Sibyl at Cumae," says Trimalchio. Now if the scene of the dinner is actually at Cumae this sounds very peculiar; it might even be a gloss added by some copyist whose knowledge was not equal to his industry. On the other hand, suppose Trimalchio is speaking of something so commonplace in his locality that the second term has become a generic, then the difficulty disappears. We today, even though standing upon the very spot in Melos where the Venus was unearthed, would still refer to her as the Venus de Melos. Friedlaender, in bracketing Cumis, has not taken this sufficiently into consideration. Mommsen, in an excellent paper (Hermes, 1878), has laid the scene at Cumae. His logic is almost unanswerable, and the consensus of opinion is in favor of the latter town.

III

REALISM.

Realism, as we are concerned with it, may be defined as the literary effect produced by the marshaling of details in their exactitude for the purpose of bringing out character. The fact that they may be ugly and vulgar the reverse, makes not the slightest difference. The modern realist contemplates the inanimate things which surround us with peculiar complaisance, and it is right that he should as these things exert upon us a constant and secret influence. The workings of the human mind, in complex civilizations, are by no means simple; they are involved and varied: our thoughts, our feelings, our wills, associate themselves with an infinite number of sensations and images which play one upon the other, and which individualize, in some measure, every action we commit, and stamp it. The merit of our modern realists lies in the fact that they have studied the things which surround us and our relations to them, and thus have they been able to make their creations conform to human experience. The ancients gave little attention to this; the man, with them, was the important thing; the environment the unimportant. There are, of course, exceptions; the interview between Ulysses and Nausiskaa is probably the most striking. From the standpoint of environment, Petronius, in the greater portion of his work, is an ancient; but one exception there is, and it is as brilliant as it is important. The entire episode, in which Trimalchio figures, offers an incredible abundance of details. The descriptions are exhaustive and minute, but the author's prime purpose was not description, it was to bring out the characters, it was to pillory the Roman aristocracy, it was to amuse! Cicero, in his prosecution of Verres, had shown up this aristocracy in all its brutality and greed, it remained for the author of the Cena to hold its absurdity up to the light of day, to lash an extravagance which, though utterly unbridled, was yet unable to exhaust the looted accumulations of years of political double dealing and malfeasance in office. Trimalchio's introduction is a masterstroke, the porter at the door is another, the effect of the wine upon the women, their jealousy lest either's husband should seem more liberal, their appraisal of each other's jewelry, Scintilla's remark anent the finesse of Habinnas' servant in the mere matter of pandering, the blear-eyed and black-toothed slave, teasing a little bitch disgustingly fat, offering her pieces of bread and when, from sheer inability, she refuses to eat, cramming it down her throat, the effect of the alcohol upon Trimalchio, the little old lady girded round with a filthy apron, wearing clogs which were not mates, dragging in a huge dog on a chain, the incomparable humor in the passage in which Hesus, desperately seasick, sees that which makes him believe that even worse misfortunes are in store for him: these details are masterpieces of realism. The description of the night-prowling shyster lawyer, whose forehead is covered with sebaceous wens, is the very acme of propriety; our first meeting; with the poet Eumolpus is a beautiful study in background and perspective. Nineteen centuries have gone their way since this novel was written, but if we look about us we will be able to recognize, under the veneer of civilization, the originals of the Satyricon and we will find that here, in a little corner of the Roman world, all humanity was held in miniature. Petronius must be credited with the great merit of having introduced realism into the novel. By an inspiration of genius, he saw that the framework of frivolous and licentious novels could be enlarged until it took in contemporary custom and environment. It is that which assures for him an eminent place, not in Roman literature alone, but in the literature of the world.

a--INFLUENCE OF THE SATYRICON UPON LITERATURE. The vagrant heroes of Petronius are the originals from whom directly, or indirectly, later authors drew that inspiration which resulted in the great mass of picaresque fiction; but, great as this is, it is not to this that the Satyricon owes its powerful influence upon the literature of the world. It is to the author's recognition of the importance of environment, of the vital role of inanimate surroundings as a means for bringing out character and imbuing his episodes and the actions of his characters with an air of reality and with those impulses and actions which are common to human experience, that his influence is due. By this, the Roman created a new style of writing and inaugurated a class of literature which was without parallel until the time of Apuleius and, in a lesser degree, of Lucian. This class of literature, though modified essentially from age to age, in keeping with the dictates of moral purity or bigotry, innocent or otherwise, has come to be the very stuff of which literary success in fiction is made. One may write a successful book without a thread of romance; one cannot write a successful romance without some knowledge of realism; the more intimate the knowledge the better the book, and it is frequently to this that the failure of a novel is due, although the critic might be at a loss to explain it. Petronius lies behind Tristram Shandy, his influence can be detected in Smollett, and even Fielding paid tribute to him.

IV

FORGERIES OF PETRONIUS.

From the very nature of the writings of such an author as Petronius, it is evident that the gaps in the text would have a marked tendency to stimulate the curiosity of literary forgers and to tempt their sagacity, literary or otherwise. The recovery of the Trimalchionian episode, and the subsequent pamphleteering would by no means eradicate this "cacoethes emendandi."

When, circa 1650, the library of the unfortunate Nicolas Cippico yielded up the Trau fragment, the news of this discovery spread far and wide and about twelve years later, Statileo, in response to the repeated requests of the Venetian ambassador, Pietro Basadonna, made with his own hand a copy of the MS., which he sent to Basadonna. The ambassador, in turn, permitted this MS. to be printed by one Frambotti, a printer endowed with more industry than critical acumen, and the resultant textual conflation had much to do with the pamphlet war which followed. Had this Paduan printer followed the explicit directions which he received, and printed exactly what was given him much good paper might have been saved and a very interesting chapter in the history of literary forgery would probably never have been written. The pamphlet war did not die out until Bleau, in 1670-71, printed his exact reproduction of the Trau manuscript and the corrections introduced by that licentiousness of emendation of which we have spoken.

In October, 1690, Francois Nodot, a French soldier of fortune, a commissary officer who combined belles lettres and philosophy with his official duties, wrote to Charpentier, President of the Academy of France, calling, his attention to a copy of a manuscript which he (Nodot) possessed, and which came into his hands in the following manner: one Du Pin, a French officer detailed to service with Austria, had been present at the sack of Belgrade in 1688. That this Du Pin had, while there, made the acquaintance of a certain Greek renegade, having, as a matter of fact, stayed in the house of this renegade. The Greek's father, a man of some learning, had by some means come into possession of the MS., and Du Pin, in going through some of the books in the house, had come across it. He had experienced the utmost difficulty in deciphering the letters, and finally, driven by curiosity, had retained a copyist and had it copied out. That this Du Pin had this copy in his house at Frankfort, and that he had given Nodot to understand that if he (Nodot) came to Frankfort, he would be permitted to see this copy. Owing to the exigencies of military service, Nodot had been unable to go in person to Frankfort, and that he had therefore availed himself of the friendly interest and services of a certain merchant of Frankfort, who had volunteered to find an amanuensis, have a copy made, and send it to Nodot. This was done, and Nodot concludes his letter to Charpentier by requesting the latter to lay the result before the Academy and ask for their blessing and approval. These Nodotian Supplements were accepted as authentic by the Academics of Arles and Nimes, as well as by Charpentier. In a short time, however, the voices of scholarly skeptics began to be heard in the land, and accurate and unbiased criticism laid bare the fraud. The Latinity was attacked and exception taken to Silver Age prose in which was found a French police regulation which required newly arrived travellers to register their names in the book of a police officer of an Italian village of the first century. Although they are still retained in the text by some editors, this is done to give some measure of continuity to an otherwise interrupted narrative, but they can only serve to distort the author and obscure whatever view of him the reader might otherwise have reached. They are generally printed between brackets or in different type.

In 1768 another and far abler forger saw the light of day. Jose Marchena, a Spaniard of Jewish extraction, was destined for an ecclesiastical career. He received an excellent education which served to fortify a natural bent toward languages and historical criticism. In his early youth he showed a marked preference for uncanonical pursuits and heretical doctrines and before he had reached his thirtieth year prudence counseled him to prevent the consequences of his heresy and avoid the too pressing Inquisition by a timely flight into France. He arrived there in time to throw himself into the fight for liberty, and in 1800 we find him at Basle attached to the staff of General Moreau. While there he is said to have amused himself and some of his cronies by writing notes on what Davenport would have called "Forbidden Subjects," and, as a means of publishing his erotic lucubrations, he constructed this fragment, which brings in those topics on which he had enlarged. He translated the fragment into French, attached his notes, and issued the book. There is another story to the effect that he had been reprimanded by Moreau for having written a loose song and that he exculpated himself by assuring the general that it was but a new fragment of Petronius which he had translated. Two days later he had the fragment ready to prove his contention.

This is the account given by his Spanish biographer. In his preface, dedicated to the Army of the Rhine, he states that he found the fragment in a manuscript of the work of St. Gennadius on the Duties of Priests, probably of the XI Century. A close examination revealed the fact that it was a palimpsest which, after treatment, permitted the restoration of this fragment. It is supposed to supply the gap in Chapter 26 after the word "verberabant."

Its obscenity outrivals that of the preceding text, and the grammar, style, and curiosa felicitas Petroniana make it an almost perfect imitation. There is no internal evidence of forgery. If the text is closely scrutinized it will be seen that it is composed of words and expressions taken from various parts of the Satyricon, "and that in every line it has exactly the Petronian turn of phrase."

"Not only is the original edition unprocurable," to quote again from Mr. Gaselee's invaluable bibliography, "but the reprint at Soleure (Brussels), 1865, consisted of only 120 copies, and is hard to find. The most accessible place for English readers is in Bohn's translation, in which, however, only the Latin text is given; and the notes were a most important part of the original work."

These notes, humorously and perhaps sarcastically ascribed to Lallemand, Sanctae Theologiae Doctor, "are six in number (all on various forms of vice); and show great knowledge, classical and sociological, of unsavory subjects. Now that the book is too rare to do us any harm, we may admit that the pastiche was not only highly amusing, but showed a perverse cleverness amounting almost to genius."

Marchena died at Madrid in great poverty in 1821. A contemporary has described him as being rather short and heavy set in figure, of great frontal development, and vain beyond belief. He considered himself invincible where women were concerned. He had a peculiar predilection in the choice of animal pets and was an object of fear and curiosity to the towns people. His forgery might have been completely successful had he not acknowledged it himself within two or three years after the publication of his brochure. The fragment will remain a permanent tribute to the excellence of his scholarship, but it is his Ode to Christ Crucified which has made him more generally known, and it is one of the ironies of fate that caused this deformed giant of sarcasm to compose a poem of such tender and touching piety.

Very little is known about Don Joe Antonio Gonzalez de Salas, whose connecting passages, with the exception of one which is irrelevant, are here included.

The learned editors of the Spanish encyclopedia naively preface their brief sketch with the following assertion: "no tenemos noticias de su vida." De Salas was born in 1588 and died in 1654. His edition of Petronius was first issued in 1629 and re-issued in 1643 with a copper plate of the Editor. The Paris edition, from which he says he supplied certain deficiencies in the text, is unknown to bibliographers and is supposed to be fictitious.

To distinguish the spurious passages, as a point of interest, in the present edition, the forgeries of Nodot are printed within round brackets, the forgery of Marchena within square brackets, and the additions of De Salas in italics.

The work is also accompanied by a translation of the six notes, the composition of which led Marchena to forge the fragment which first appeared in the year 1800. These have never before been translated.

Thanks are due Ralph Straus, Esq., and Professor Stephen Gaselee.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/petronius/satyricon/introduction.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24