Who is Gaius Petronius?
Gaius Petronius Titus Niger was a Roman Courtier who was born in 27 A.D in the province of Gaul. Very little is known of his personal life, including his full name and even the full span of his life. He is generally thought to be the author of Satyricon, and other works based on the legislation passed in the Neronian era. Having been apart of the senatorial class and court of Nero, he attracted the jealousy of Tigellinus, the commander of the emperor's guard, and was arrested for treason. He is thought to have died in approximately 66 A.D. at the age of 39 by suicide.
Why is the time period that Petronius lives significant?
Petronius lived under the terrorizing reign of Nero. Nero’s period of power was characterized by tyranny, ruthlessness, and extravagance. However, this cruel oppression did not affect Petronius because Nero invited him into his inner circle. He acted as a “director of elegance” and usually had the last word on matters of both taste and style. Since Petronius also served as a consul of Rome, he was well-known around the court. Nero thought that between his influence in court as well as the fact that he preferred the party life, he would make a great friend. The idea of living a moral life as well as showing dedication to one’s duties were not things that were valued during the time period Petronius lived in. The idea of frequently partying and indulging one’s self in materialistic pleasures plagued the time period. This ultimately influenced Petronius in writing the Satyricon, which is chock full of solicitous and provocative scenes.
How did Petronius die?
The style of writing used by Gaius Petronius was one that transcended the typical style used by the authors during the "golden age" of Nero. Through the use of his character Trimalchio, he portrayed his satirical opinions of nearly every element of Roman life from Nero, to the tax system. It is said that enigmas breed prominence, and Petronius is no exception. Due to his unique style, he rose to the top of the Roman literary class and the Satyricon was widely read by almost every literate citizen. This new found prestige that Petronius adopted bred a deep form of envy in his upper class subjects. At the time Ofonius Tigellinus was corruptly promoted to the position of praetorian guard. Probably because of his friendship with Nero, he quickly gained a reputation around Rome for being cruel and licentious. On account of Tigellinus's attitude, one can easily see that he quickly became jealous of Petronius. Being a close friend of Nero, Tigellinus accused Petronius of treason and he was arrested in Cumae (65 AD). Knowing Tigellinus's close relationship with Nero, Petronius was confident he would be tried as guilty. In order to "win" over Tigellinus, he decided suicide was his best option and killed himself by slitting wrists.
Why is this form of death significant?
This is one of the most iconic suicides, not for the act, but for the significance. The story of Petronius is essentially one of corruption versus freedom. The corruption is that of Tigellinus and his influence over Nero, and the freedom is the freedom of speech that Petronius valued. The fact that Tigellinus was able to simply accuse a man of a crime that he did not commit for the sole reason that he was jealous of his is a corrupt and evil thing to do. Petrionus, as a last act of "courage", decided to spite Tigellinus such that he (Tigellinus) would not be afforded the chance to kill Petronius. "Courage" is in quotes because suicide should never be honored, but that being said, in the circumstances surrounding Petronius at the time, suicide was the most practical and impactful option of death. It is said he died a very elegant death surrounded by his friends. The suicide of Petronius will always be remembered due to his masterful work, and struggle against corruption.
What is unusual about the Satyricon compared to all the other works we have read so far?
The Satyricon, unlike all works we have read previously, is satirical. Satire is a literary device in which the author uses witty language to convey the his message. Additionally, this means that everything stated should not be taken seriously or as the author’s true opinion. Matter of fact, in satire the author often means the complete opposite of what is said. The Satyricon utilizes Menippean Satire, which is a form of satire which typically utilizes prose, although the Satyricon uses both prose and poetry, to attack a mentality rather than actual physical person or thing. One tool often used in Menippean Satire is overdramatized parodies. Through this the author can show the absurdity of an attitude by displaying it on a larger scale. The Satyricon in particular displays the prevalence of diverse sexual experiences and extraneous violence in the Roman society of his time while mixing serious and comedic elements. During the story of Trimalchio’s banquet, Petronius uses grotesque images and displays to portray his opinion. The Satyricon is also often considered the first work of fiction among Roman literature.
Who is Tramalchio?
Trimalchio is a character in the Roman work, Satyricon, published in the first century by Petronius. He plays a leading role in the portion titled, Cena Trimalchionis, or Dinner with Trimalchio. Trimalchio is an arrogant former slave, who has gained wealth. Trimalchio is known for throwing lavish dinner parties, with meals of exotic delicacies. Trimalchio describes the preparations for his own death, is an example of self characterization.
Why is his account different from what we have experienced thus far?What is his double vision?
Petronius’ account on Trimalchio, as do all other stories in the Satyricon, still falls under the category of satire. In the past we haven’t seen much of this literary device used in the literature we have read. His account demonstrates the pride that Trimalchio seemed to be plagued with. Petronius showed us a side of literature that was particularly new. He allowed us to eavesdrop on the side conversations at the dinner party, giving insight to the habits of speech of an ordinary Roman citizen.
Trimalchio’s double vision is, in the simplest of terms, the way that he sees himself vs the way others see him. Trimalchio thinks that the way other see him is that they venerate him, but in reality others see the true side of Trimalchio. In this double vision we see most of the humor and humanity of the dinner.
Who does it portray more clearly than we have seen before?
Trimalchio’s account really portrays the life and attitude of the powerful in Rome. In this story, we see undiluted opinions of his guests and a true picture of what Roman life really was, minus the satire. We get an insight, from the side conversations implemented by Petronius into the story, into the language and dialect spoken at that time, rather than the poetic language that was used in speeches and such.