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4. Letting the Page Run On: Poetics, Rhetoric, and Noise in the Satyrica

Victoria Rimell

Subject Classical Literature » Latin Literature

People Petronius

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405156875.2009.00009.x


The Satyrica is a difficult text to read, and to listen to. As one history of Latin literature puts it, “No classical narrative that we know of even remotely approaches the literary complexity of Petronius” ( Conte 1994 : 460). The first person narrator Encolpius often seems disoriented, his commentary and notorious lapses tricky to judge. As we (struggle to) follow his adventures, made all the madder by a broken and cut-off manuscript, we encounter a dazzling symphony (or some would say cacophony) of literary references, voices, and sounds. Much has been written on the Satyrica 's “rhetoricity,” and the idea that rhetoric and rhetorical education play a huge role in the development of novelistic discourse is on show everywhere in this text. At the same time, Petronius mixes epic, elegiac, theatrical, and satirical modes, verse and prose, the lofty and mundane, the fantastic and the vulgar. Characters knock out their own poems, or quote bits of the classics, between low-life chat, courtroom style speeches, or random philosophizing; we find folklore, fable, and mime alongside tragedy and epic, dignified senarii alongside Priapic hendecasyllables and naughty sotadeans (see Panayotakis, petronius and the roman literary tradition , p. 57), odd Latin words not seen elsewhere mingling with cliches, archaisms, and bits of Greek. In the Cena the polyphony or clash of discourses that ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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