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5. Sex in the Satyrica: Outlaws in Literatureland

Amy Richlin

Subject Classical Literature » Latin Literature

People Petronius

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405156875.2009.00010.x


To a reader of the Satyrica , it can seem that one of the purposes of this novel is to run through all possible permutations of sexual behavior, a feature which certainly both appealed to and influenced pornographers in early modern Europe. Readers should bear in mind that we have only fragments, and that most manuscripts preserve just the material other than Trimalchio's dinner party, material particularly high in sexual content: is this a representative sample, or a collection of “good parts”? Moreover, this is a tricky text – not just a novel but a fiction about fiction – and plays with not just class and gender norms, but genre norms as well. Encolpius describes himself and his friends as “living outside the law” (§125.4): this applies to a lot of the sex and gender in the novel. Assuming the Satyrica was written in the first century ad (see introduction , p. 5), we can compare a range of contemporary depictions of sexuality both in texts and in material culture (see Clarke 1998 ; Kampen 1996 ; Richlin 1992a , 1992b , 1993) . Literary texts from Catullus (around 50 bc ) to Martial (around ad 100), almost all written by elite males, manifest desire both for women and for teenage boys. Boys, like women, are said to be conscious of themselves as sex objects. There are no extant texts by boys from this period; the two extant women writers, both named Sulpicia, talk ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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