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Juvenal And Petronius Notes

Classics Notes > Latin Literature of the 1st Century AD Notes

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In what sense are both Juvenal and Petronius satirists?
The modern dictionary definition of satire says that it is, "a literary composition, in verse or prose, in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision or ridicule." Satire in Rome, like all ancient genres, had more tightly controlled limits than its modern equivalent. However Diomedes still defines it as, "the Roman form of poetry that is nowadays abusive and composed to criticize the vices of men in the manner of old comedy." Therefore since the two definitions are so similar, it is possible to judge Petronius and Juvenal in terms of both the modern and ancient views of satire simultaneously. Indeed the techniques used by both authors reflect very heavily the techniques used by modern satirists. The main objective of the satire in the Cena Trimalchionis of Petronius is the parody of the freedman Tricmalchio and his friends. However Petronius is not just satirising one man or even a real person, but rather society. Archaeological evidence in the form of funerary monuments reveals that freedmen of such high standings existed, as does the existence of Calvisius Sabinus, who is revealed by Seneca's letters. He shows that Trimalchio's feast was not just a totally fictionalised caricature, especially after his notorius funeral feast, which was the inspiration for the Cena1. The lack of real structure in the Satyricon as a whole shows he is hitting out against the highly institutionalised Roman society and the sense of disorder he creates is representative of the reality of the times he is living in2. The particular part of society he attacks in the Cena is of course freedmen and he uses a number of literary devices which are highly typical of the satiric genre to do this. The way Petronius characterises Trimalchio must have been stereotypical, albeit in exaggerated form, of freedmen in his time, otherwise the essence of the satire is lost because the audience would not find it funny. Trimalchio is ridiculous but probably not ridiculous enough to be an exercise in humour in himself, so there must have been some grounding in truth for the Cena to work. One aspect of this characterisation is the inevitable view of the well born members of society that wealthy freedmen have pretensions beyond their low status. Petronius naturally takes this to the extreme. Trimalchio pretends to be far more educated than he really is and when he tries to show off he exposes himself in amusing ways. For example when he tries to recall famous events from mythology, claiming to have read Homer as a boy, and gets them very wrong, "Agamemnon carried her off and took in Diana by sacrificing a deer to her instead" (Sat 59) He also asserts that Cassandra was the one that killed her own children and that Niobe was locked in the Trojan horse by Daedalus. He even turns his hand to astrology and offers risible interpretations of the Zodiac's influence 3, "under Libra butchers, and perfumers, and any people who weigh something out"(Sat 39) Furthermore his lack of learning is revealed by the way he cannot sustain any conversation for more than a couple of lines. After offering some bizarre take on the orators Cicero and Publilius, "In my opinion the first has more eloquence, the second more beauty" (Sat 55), Walsh, page 136 Harrison, page 6 3 Walsh, page 125 1 2

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