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10. Freedmen's Cribs: Domestic Vulgarity on the Bay of Naples

Shelley Hales

Subject Classical Literature » Latin Literature

People Petronius

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405156875.2009.00015.x


Domestic space in the world of the Satyrica can be dangerous. As Encolpius discovers on his visit to Trimalchio's house, art can literally bite back. The end of the episode sees a slavering guard dog barking at them so ferociously that both Encolpius and Ascyltos end up in the fishpond. The painted dog they have encountered on the way in has metamorphosed into the snapping hound Scylax (§64). They have to be rescued by the hall porter, and the dog is pacified with some tasty morsels (§72), like Virgil's Cerberus, who guards the gates of Hades (Virgil Aen. 6.417–23). The allusion makes explicit that dining at Trimalchio's is a living hell. The home in which Trimalchio entertains his guests is often seen as the height of ostentation and bad taste. Freedmen are characterized as men who come from nothing, make a fortune, and exhibit their wealth in their gaudy homes. Trimalchio's fake Corinthian bronze (§50), latest diningroom gadgets (§60), and autobiographical frescoes (§29) are the equivalent of the plasma screens, chandeliers, and gigantic portraits that are paraded in the homes of footballers and celebrities who invite the audience to tour their homes in life-style TV programs and magazines. What wouldn't Trimalchio give to be paraded in this way? Another comparison might come from a documentary reviewed by Andrew Mueller, a Guardian journalist, in which the cameras instead ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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