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The Death of Petronius

Mark Ford, 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 idleness that propelled Petronius to fame ...

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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... 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 the taste of the Early Modern European, ...

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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... 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 Immoral Immoralist’ – Seneca, Lucan, ...

N.V. Rampant meets Martin Amis

N.V. Rampant, 18 October 1984

... 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 the bidet was full ...

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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... 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 swear by Pollux or by Hercules; and their speeches are ...

How do Babylonians boil eggs?

Peter Parsons, 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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... 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 young lovers; they travel through hostile ...

Ancient Greek Romances

Peter Parsons, 20 August 1981

... 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 happy ending. The categories are those of the ...

A Very Bad Man

Michael Kulikowski: Julius Caesar, Génocidaire, 18 June 2020

The War for Gaul: A New Translation 
by Julius Caesar, translated by James J. O’Donnell.
Princeton, 324 pp., £22, September 2019, 978 0 691 17492 1
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... in the text, but I have taken 7.50.3-6, the Boy’s Own scene in which the brave centurion Marcus Petronius sacrifices himself in the disastrous battle at Gergovia. First, the Landmark edition: Marcus Petronius, a centurion of the same legion, was trying to hack out a gate when a large number of fighters overwhelmed ...

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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... 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 urges him. Nor, as Wilson goes on to suggest, is ...


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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... 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, then, to rewrite the history of Latin literature in this ...

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 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 superiority the uneducated faced. Bloomer has in mind a ...

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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... 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 briskly disposing of all the clues Connolly himself had ...

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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... 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 narrative sophistication. And she enlists them all in ...

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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... 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 about social levels, especially in a society where ...

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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... 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 status differentiation as a matter of law rather than ...

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