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18 December 2008
... after Tacitus) Turning to Caius Petronius, there are a few things about him that deserve To be remembered: he liked to sleep all day, then devote his nights To business – or pleasure. Most have to work hard To become well known, but it was ...

Chaotic to the Core

James Davidson

6 June 1996
by Petronius, translated by Bracht Branham and Daniel Kinney.
Dent, 185 pp., £18.95, March 1996, 0 460 87766 6
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The Satyricon 
by Petronius and P.G. Walsh.
Oxford, 212 pp., £30, March 1996, 0 19 815012 1
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... in a genealogy of rogues ranging from Lazarillo de Tormes to Felix Krull. Exactly how he fitted into this family-tree was never quite clear. Classicists have always found it easier to demonstrate Petronius’ precedence than to illustrate his influence. In contrast to that other great Latin novelist, Apuleius, who managed to create in the Golden Ass a blend of burlesque and piety that was exactly to ...

Dead Eyes and Blank Faces

John Henderson: Expression under Nero

2 April 1998
Dissidence and Literature under Nero: The Price of Rhetoricisation 
by Vasily Rudich.
Routledge, 408 pp., £50, March 1997, 0 415 09501 8
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... and falls by its explication of three bodies of work from Nero’s reign: Seneca’s prose, a huge mass of moral essays and meditative epistles; Lucan’s ranting epic on civil war; and the Satyrica, Petronius’ mutilated experimental novel on sex, drugs and the whole sick crew. These are plotted along a graph of ‘(im)moralism’. ‘The Immoral Moralist’, ‘The Moral Immoralist’, and ‘The ...
18 October 1984
... expedition. I began to pity him. I could see now why he had chosen literary success. But I could also see why I had not chosen it. So I was grateful to him. Grateful to Martin Amis, the post-punk Petronius. Yes, Mart. I’ve heard of Petronius. You didn’t get all the education. There was some left over for the rest of us, right? Through the ostentatiously open door of the bathroom I had noticed that ...
18 April 1996
Ancient Greek Novels: The Fragments 
edited by Susan Stephens and John Winkler.
Princeton, 541 pp., £48, September 1995, 0 691 06941 7
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... survivors, and their Latin cousin, Apollonius King of Tyre, paint with the same brush; their colourful conventions are thrown into relief by the two Roman geniuses who parody and transcend them, Petronius and Apuleius. (New translations of the whole Greek corpus now come in a bumper volume, Collected Ancient Greek Novels, edited by Bryan Reardon.) This is teen-romance in its salad days. Fate separates ...

Glaucus and Ione

Hugh Lloyd-Jones

17 April 1980
The Last Days of Pompeii 
by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.
Sidgwick, 522 pp., £6.95, December 1979, 0 283 98587 9
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... tree, and each intermingled with the ivy and the amethyst – supposed preventives against the effect of wine.’ There is a good deal more of this. The various episodes contain reminiscences of Petronius, Juvenal, Plautus and other writers; but neither the dialogue nor the behaviour of the characters suggests a Roman atmosphere. The characters frequently exclaim ‘Tush’ or ‘Fie’; they often ...
20 August 1981
... head – and then only with the transient éclat of a dirty book. This century may be more propitious. The demerits of the Greek romances are clear (clearer still by contrast with the Latin novel – Petronius and Apuleius – which burlesques them). Cardboard lovers, buffeted by Fate, drift on a stream of sentimental rhetoric (now mock-naive, now real-orotund), through predictable perils, to a predictable ...


Emily Gowers

8 June 1995
Latin Literature: A History 
by Gian Biagio Conte, translated by Joseph Solodow.
Johns Hopkins, 827 pp., £45, June 1994, 0 8018 4638 2
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... a serious Ovid, a joky Tacitus, an obscene Horace, an ironic Juvenal. Silver Latin is no longer debased and comedy no longer read only for the laughs. Cicero and Livy, less fashionable now than Petronius or Lucan, still have their devotees, but they are likely to be more interested in cultural politics or the ideology of the ruling classes than in prose style or moral edification. How easy is it ...

Into Extra Time

Deborah Steiner: Living too long

23 February 2006
Mocked with Death: Tragic Overliving from Sophocles to Milton 
by Emily Wilson.
Johns Hopkins, 289 pp., £35.50, December 2004, 0 8018 7964 7
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... suggestion that the Cumaean sibyl supplies a ‘concentrated image of the longing for death that haunts the whole poem’. As a footnote indicates, Wilson has read the Aeneid through the lens of Petronius’ Satyricon, which offers us a prophetess longing for a death too long postponed. Virgil’s sibyl, very differently, tries to keep Aeneas on his forward track: don’t look at dead images, she ...

What children are for

Tim Whitmarsh: Roman Education

7 June 2012
The School of Rome: Latin Studies and the Origins of Liberal Education 
by Martin Bloomer.
California, 281 pp., £34.95, April 2012, 978 0 520 25576 0
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... of social distinction. It wasn’t just a matter of having a few literary quotations to hand. A bit of civilised banter could demonstrate class, as much as its absence demonstrated vulgarity, and Petronius’ scathing portrait of the freedman Trimalchio (the model for Fitzgerald’s Gatsby), who confused Cassandra with Medea and mangled the story of Ajax’s madness, tells us a lot about the sneering ...

Young Marvin

Frank Kermode

24 January 1991
A Tenured Professor 
by John Kenneth Galbraith.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 197 pp., £12.95, November 1990, 1 85619 018 8
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Shade those laurels 
by Cyril Connolly and Peter Levi.
Bellew, 174 pp., £12.95, October 1990, 0 947792 37 6
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... silvery prose and high-spirited parody rather than for sustained narrative. He uneasily adapted methods proper to the detective story and tried to unite them with a more congenial inheritance from Petronius Arbiter, Peacock and Aldous Huxley, with a soupçon of Firbank. Peter Levi, who was a friend of Connolly’s and married his widow, has brought the tale to an ending, making his task possible by ...

Marshy Margins

Frank Kermode

1 August 1996
The True Story of the Novel 
by Margaret Anne Doody.
Rutgers, 580 pp., $44.95, May 1996, 0 8135 2168 8
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... its long span, finding its origins in Egypt and Italy, and spending many pages on ancient novels, especially on Apollonius of Tyre, the Aithiopika of Heliodorus, and the Latin novels of Apuleius and Petronius Arbiter. She finds in these books many qualities that the arrogant English claim as their own later inventions: enough realism, enough ambiguity, enough personality – altogether a high degree of ...

Old Flames

Peter Parsons

10 January 1983
The Latin Sexual Vocabulary 
by J.N. Adams.
Duckworth, 272 pp., £24, September 1982, 9780715616482
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Ovid: The Erotic Poems 
translated by Peter Green.
Penguin, 450 pp., £2.95, November 1982, 0 14 044360 6
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Women’s Life in Greece and Rome 
by Mary Lefkowitz and Maureen Fant.
Duckworth, 294 pp., £24, September 1982, 0 7156 1434 7
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Heroines and Hysterics 
by Mary Lefkowitz.
Duckworth, 96 pp., £8.95, September 1982, 0 7156 1518 1
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... which wears the mask of public conscience, cannot use gutter language to reproach gutter doings; and in any case, sophisticated rhetoric can create more picturesque disgust. Similarly with the novel: Petronius and Apuleius both maintain, in this narrow sense, verbal decency for indecent descriptions: cool ingenuousness in the one, and slangy euphuism in the other, do much better as foils. Less can be said ...

One Kidnapping Away

Tim Whitmarsh: ‘How to Manage Your Slaves’

3 December 2015
How to Manage Your Slaves 
by Marcus Sidonius Falx, with Jerry Toner.
Profile, 224 pp., £8.99, May 2015, 978 1 78125 251 2
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... unlike the Greek). Freedmen, who became citizens with full rights and whose children would also be free, were a significant class. There might be some sneering at their parvenu ways, as there is in Petronius’ portrait of Trimalchio, the pretentious, ostentatious but befuddled host in The Satyricon. But many rose to positions of great influence, particularly as government bureaucrats. Because Romans saw ...

‘Atimetus got me pregnant’

Emma Dench: Roman Popular Culture

17 February 2011
Popular Culture in Ancient Rome 
by Jerry Toner.
Polity, 253 pp., £17.99, July 2009, 978 0 7456 4310 6
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... a hearing. The Roman novel, with the studied realism that makes it so attractive, could give pride of place to ordinary characters. Trimalchio, the freedman host of a lavishly vulgar dinner party in Petronius’ Satyricon, written during the reign of Nero, is a figure we think we recognise: The Great Gatsby started out as ‘Trimalchio in West Egg’. Through the eyes of the Satyricon’s narrator, we see ...

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