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1. Reading the Satyrica

Niall W. Slater


Subject Classical Literature » Latin Literature

People Petronius

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405156875.2009.00006.x


Extract

No Roman in Petronius's original audience read the Satyrica as you are now reading this book. Unless you have a Xerox or screen copy before your eyes, you are holding in your hands the form of book the Romans called a codex, a volume of pages folded or sewn together. This remarkable technological innovation of the late Hellenistic age only gradually replaced the papyrus scroll ( Reynolds and Wilson 1991 : 1–5, 34–6). Although the codex is attested before Petronius's time, we have no reason to believe it was yet used for such literary works. Even more importantly, the Satyrica that comes down to us is a fragment of a much larger work. Notes in the much later copies that have survived suggest that what we can read today are parts of Books 14, 15, and 16 of the whole – originally, therefore, three separate scrolls out of a group of at least 16, and perhaps as many as even 20 or 24, if Petronius lived to finish whatever plan he had for the Satyrica. Nor is it necessarily the case that a first-century Roman who wanted to know the Satyrica pulled a scroll from a shelf or a box in order to read it. Elite Romans often had slaves read to them, alone or in gatherings, as the polymathic elder Pliny did (Pliny the Younger, Ep. 3.5.7–17). Trimalchio does both: he listens to his clerk read news from his estates at dinner (§53), but when a troop of performers enters to recite in Greek, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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