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3. Petronius and the Roman Literary Tradition

Costas Panayotakis

Subject Classical Literature » Latin Literature

People Petronius

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405156875.2009.00008.x


For the elite Romans who grew up reading the canonical works of Virgil, Horace, and Ovid, and who were trained to speak in the rhetorical fashion exemplified in the moral tragedies of Seneca and the grand epic of Lucan, the Satyrica of Petronius was probably an amusing literary surprise situated in the periphery of what constituted “acceptable” creative writing. In what follows I offer general remarks on Petronius's complex literary texture – a popular scholarly topic since the end of the nineteenth century. I suggest that Petronius selects conservatively and exploits unconventionally the works of famous authors, from which he draws material to boost the melodramatic dimension of Encolpius's life, and that the indications deliberately planted in the text to signal the occurrence of learned jokes may be misleading. The hedonistic and dangerous escapades of the (occasionally impotent) bisexual anti-hero Encolpius, his unfaithful male concubine Giton, and his formidably well-endowed former lover Ascyltos are probably situated in the Bay of Naples and are a far cry from the stories set in the palaces of tragic kings and queens and the world of epic heroes and heroines, whose sufferings occur in the temporally and spatially remote sphere of Greek mythology and early Roman history. The theatrically and satirically embellished adventures of the main characters of the Satyrica give ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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