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7. Freedmen in the Satyrica

Jean Andreau


Subject Classical Literature » Latin Literature

People Petronius

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405156875.2009.00012.x


Extract

Translated by Paul Dilley Although Trimalchio's dinner, the Cena Trimalchionis , represents only about a third of the Satyrica (50 paragraphs out of 140 in total), to many it is what comes to mind when one thinks of Petronius's work. And when one thinks about this dinner it is the freedmen who stand out. But can the adventures of these freedmen, who are the characters of a novel, and what is more, of a satura , a Menippean satire, that is to say a story dependent upon other works and other literary genres, be taken as evidence for social history? This is clearly the central question, constantly posed and at the same time constantly frustrated: because there is no definitive solution. Such an author of fiction chooses the elements he needs as a function of his literary project, in the context of his period; he interprets them, he presents them according to his own ideas and preferences, and he can even distort them voluntarily – for example, in order to parody or caricature ( Dupont 1977) . But, among his literary objectives there is also the desire to make the reader feel a strong effet de réel (“sense of reality”): the author avails himself of settings taken from everyday life, and the freedmen form part of these settings. The descriptions of city life in the Satyrica , of tombs and funerary rites, of cuisine, of sexuality, and of ships and life at sea, bear witness to this ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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