The Ancient Library
 

Scanned text contains errors.

216

PETRONIUS,

the whole of his household was arrested. Believ­ing that destruction was inevitable, and impatient of delay or suspense, he resolved to die as he had lived, and to excite admiration by the frivolous eccentricity of his end. Having caused his veins to be opened, he from time to time arrested the flow of blood by the application of bandages. During the intervals he conversed with his friends, not upon the solemn themes which the occasion might have suggested, but upon the news and light gossip of the day ; he bestowed rewards upon some of his slaves, and ordered others to be scourged: he lay down to sleep, and even showed himself in the public streets of Cumae, where these events took place ; so that at last, when he sunk from exhaustion, his death (a. d. 66), although compulsory, appeared to be the result of natural and gradual decay. He is said to have despatched in his last moments a sealed document to the prince, taunting him with his brutal excesses (flagitia Principis ****** perscripsit atque obsignata misit Neroni\ and to have broken in pieces a murrhine vessel of vast price, in order that it might not fall into the hands of the tyrant. This last anecdote has been recorded by Pliny (H. N. xxxvii. 2), who, as well as Plutarch (De Adulat. et Amicit Discrim. p. 60), give to the person in question the name of Titus Petronius. We find it generally assumed that he belonged to the equestrian order, but the words of Tacitus (Ann. xvi. 17) would lead to an opposite inference, " Paucos quippe intra dies eodem agmine Annaeus Mella, Cerealis Anicius, Rufius Crispinus ac C. Petronius cecidere. Mella et Crispinus Equites Romani dignitate senatDria." Now, since Petronius, in virtue of having been consul, must have enjoyed the dignitas senatoria, the above sen­tence seems to imply that Mella and Crispinus alone of the individuals mentioned were Equites Romani.

A very singular production consisting of a prose narrative interspersed with numerous pieces of poetry, and thus resembling in form the Varronian Satire, has come down to us in a sadly mutilated state. In the oldest MSS. and the earliest editions it bears the title Petronii Arbitri Satyrieon, and, as it now exists, is composed of a series of fragments, the continuity of the piece being frequently inter­rupted by blanks, and the whole forming but a very small portion of the original, which, when entire, contained at least sixteen books, and probably many more. It is a sort of comic romance, in which the adventures of a certain Encolpius and his companions in the south of Italy, chiefly in Naples or its environs, are made a vehicle for ex­posing the false taste which prevailed upon all matters connected with literature and the fine arts, and for holding up to ridicule and detestation the folly, luxury, impurity, and dishonesty of all classes of the community in the age and country in which the scene is laid. A great variety of cha­racters connected for the most part with the lower ranks of life are brought upon the stage, and sup­port their parts with the greatest liveliness and dramatic propriety, while every page overflows with ironical wit and broad humour. Unfortunately the vices of the personages introduced are depicted with such minute fidelity that we are perpetually disgusted by the coarseness and ob-Bcenity of, the descriptions. Indeed, if we can believe that such a book was ever widely circulated and generally admired, that fact alone would afford

PETRONIUS.

the most convincing proof of the pollution of tlie epoch to which it belongs. Without feeling any inclination to pass too severe a sentence on the col­lector of so much garbage, the most expansive charity will not permit us to join with Burmann in regarding him as a very holy man (virum sanc-tissimum\ a model of all the austere virtues of the olden time, who filled with pious horror on behold­ing the monstrous corruption of his contemporaries, was irresistibly impelled to arrest, if possible, the rapid progress of their degradation by holding up the crimes which they practised to view in all the loathsomeness of their native deformity.

The longest and most important section is gene­rally known as the Supper of Trimalchio, present­ing us with a detailed and very amusing account of a fantastic banquet, such as the most luxurious and extravagant gourmands of the empire were wont to exhibit on their tables. Next in interest is the well-known tale of the Ephesian Matron, which here appears for the first time among the popular fictions of the Western world, although current from a very early period in the remote re­gions of the East. In the middle ages it was cir­culated in the " Seven Wise Masters," the oldest collection of Oriental stories, and has been intro­duced by Jeremy Taylor into his " Holy Dying," in the chapter " On the Contingencies of Death, &c." The longest of the effusions in verse is a descriptive poem on the Civil Wars, extending to 295 hexameter lines, affording a good example of that declamatory tone of which the Pharsalia is the type. We have also sixty-five iambic trime­ters, depicting the capture of Troy (Troiae Halosis)9 and besides these several shorter morsels are inter­spersed replete with grace and beauty.

A great number of conflicting opinions have been formed by scholars with regard to the author of the Satyricon. Many have confidently maintained that he must be identified with the Caius (or Titus) Petronius, of whose career we have given a sketch above, and this view of the question, after having been to a certain extent abandoned, has been revived and supported with great earnestness and learning by Studer in the Rheinisclies Museum. By Ignarra he is supposed to be the Petronius Turpilianus who was consul a. d. 61. [turpi-lianus.] Hadrianus Valesius places him under the Antonines ; his brother Henricus Valesius and Sambucus under Gallienus. Niebuhr, led away by ingenious but most fanciful inferences derived from a metrical epitaph, discovered in the vicinity of Naples, imagines that he lived under Alexander Severus ; Statilius would bring him down as low as the age of Constantirie the Great; while Burmann holds that he flourished under Ti­berius, Caius, and Claudius, and thinks it probable that he may have seen the last days of Augustus. The greater number of these hypotheses are mere flimsy conjectures, unsupported by any thing that deserves to be called evidence, and altogether un­worthy of serious examination or discussion ; but the first, although too often ignorantly assumed as a self-evident and unquestionable fact, is deserving of some attention, both because it has been more widely adopted than any of the others, and because it appeals with confidence to an array of proofs both external and internal, which may be reduced to the following propositions :—

1: We can trace the origin of the name Arbiter to the expression " elegantiae arbiter," in Tacitus.

Pages
About | First

214

215

216
letter/word  
volume
page #  
Search this site
Google


ancientlibrary.com
WWW
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of Isidore-of-Seville.com.