She found this charming, and laughed. She looked so sweet—like the moon emerging from behind a cloud and showing her full face. Before long her words expressed what her wandering fingers were already demonstrating.
—Petronius, translated by Andrew Brown, Satyricon (122).
Considering the fragmentary nature of Satyricon, with its myriad lacunae, absence of a clear narrative, compounded by seemingly jumping into the story mid-stream—it is quite fun to read.
And I think bees are divine little creatures; they puke honey…even though people do say they get it from Jupiter. And if they sting, well, that’s because there’s no sweet without sour (44)
The print I made above was partially inspired by the feast scene at Trimalchio’s in which the endnotes say that “damsons with pomegranate seeds” in the original Latin was “Syrian plums with Punic apple seeds.” In a long round-about way, having to do with an annoying print I had made of apples, which I hated, and a lovely drawing my daughter had made for me of a pomegranate—the words “punic apple” simply solved all my frustration and lit a minor fire under me until I ended up with the above.
Quite the astrologer. And witty with it! We applauded (30).
Of course I am hardly the first to be inspired (however loosely) by Satyricon. After I finished the book I decided to watch Fellini’s Satyricon. If I did see it in my youth all that was left in my head were still-images, which may have been all I had seen in the first place. But seeing it, perhaps again, I’ll just say—Fellini didn’t become an adjective for nothing. He takes the surreal aspects of the book and just runs with it. Unfortunately, in my opinion, he leaves the humor in the dust. The thing that I liked about the book was the youthful view of the hoity toities, those bitchy-shallow-people who one is so immaturely excited to be deigned an invitation to dinner with, but which turns into a wacky bender that doesn’t end. All the bits and pieces of the book have a hilarious ridiculously-bad-night-should-have-stayed-home quality to the thing.
115. We heard a strange low noise and a stifled roar, like a wild animal trying to escape, from under the master’s cabin. We followed the sound—and found Eumolpus sitting there, filling a huge piece of parchment with line after line of poetry. so, amazed to see him able to find time to compose poetry with death so close, we dragged him him off, in spite of his vehement protests, and begged him to be a sensible chap. But he flew into a rage at being interrupted.
“Let me finish my piece!” he shouted. “I’m having a bit of trouble with the last lines!”
What a maniac! I grabbed hold of him and Giton to help me drag the petulant poet ashore (103)
The recent 2013 Italian film La Grande Belleza is very much a Satyricon-influenced film, it retains the ridiculous humor but it adds an element of modern angst bemoaning the ultimate emptiness of it all. There is none of that in the original Satyricon, nor does Fellini bother with that sort of moralizing either, but Fellini’s over the top surrealistic film is so heavy in a way…the tedium of these sorts of people is never lifted in the way that Petronius and Paolo Sorrentino’s La Grande Belleza manage, even when truly awful things are happening.
The sun shines on everyone. The moon, with countless stars in attendance, even shows wild beasts the way to their food. Can anything be considered more beautiful than water? And yet it flows for everybody. So shall love alone be something to be stolen rather than openly prized? (86)
Petronius (if that is who really wrote this vulgar epic tale—by which I mean both senses of the word “vulgar”) captures a swirling world, that doesn’t seem that different from some of the circles people race about in this day and age. That is the truly remarkable thing—very little changes.
*Title from page 3: “It’s great globs of verbosity, smeared with honey: every word, every deed sprinkled with poppy and sesame seeds.”