Few surviving works of classical literature have cast the haunting, hilarious, insightful, and eerie spell conjured by the Satyricon of the Neronian courtier and eventual victim Petronius. Fragmentary, opaque, and enigmatic, at times it seems that deception and obfuscation are the favorite tricks of its author. A Reading of Petronius’ Satyricon offers a fresh look at this genre-defying masterpiece, proceeding episode by episode and scene by scene through a vision of the hell that humanity has fashioned for itself. Petronius mercilessly and exactingly appraises Rome’s embrace of the Golden Age dreams of the Augustan principate, judging his fellow citizens and himself by the yardstick of the Neronian reign that broods over them like an avenging specter. Petronius' Satyricon offers medicine for ambulatory corpses, a prescription that consists of notifying the dead of the diagnosis, and of pointing out the inevitable and eminently logical antidote for those consumed by insatiable hunger and unfulfillable longing. Bitterly sardonic and preternaturally serene, Lee Fratantuono’s reading reveals Petronius to be nothing less than the ultimate literary voice of a dying dynasty, a prose and poetic verbal magician of serious intention, a virtuoso in the art of unmasking the ghoulish horror and inconsolable sadness that lurk often just below the surface of the comic.
Lee Fratantuono is adjunct professor in the Department of Classics at the National University of Ireland-Maynooth.
Chapter 1: School and Brothel
Chapter 2: Dinner at Trimalchio’s
Chapter 3: Pictures in a Gallery
Chapter 4: Shipwreck, and the Matron of Ephesus
Chapter 5: Civil War
Chapter 6: Sorceresses
Chapter 7: Cannibalism
Appendix A: Fragments
Appendix B: Poems
Fratantuono has provided a learned guide to the fragmentary labyrinth of Petronius’s Satyrica. First-time readers will benefit greatly from this book. Those more familiar with the novel will be encouraged to reconsider some of their assumptions.
Dr. Fratantuono serves up a reading of Petronius’ Satyricon seasoned to its author’s own taste: a fine blend of erudition, wit, and intelligent interpretation. Fratantuono’s clear explications, closely following the structure of the text, will engage both new and experienced readers. Especially useful for the former, this book immediately elucidates the main questions of authorial identity, genre, theme, and style; then offers a consistently piquant section-by-section interpretive guide. With an artful eye for detail and big-picture together, Fratantuono ushers readers through the Satyricon’s twisty narrative, textual problems, and long history of scholarship, demonstrating the political and literary significance of this text in its own era and ours. Fratantuono’s own narrative voice, direct yet distinctly scampish, delighting in trope, nuance, and intertextual richesse, is a fitting companion to the text it elaborates. Through his book, readers will discover or re-discover Petronius as both critic of, and antidote to, an age unaware of the difference between reality and fiction.