Week 2: The Satyricon
Here's some help for
assignment. If you have questions as you read, write them down so
you can remember to ask them in class.
Also, review the study questions on pages 1, 5, 5a, and 5b of our
XP, as well as the Introduction in the book
. You don't have to turn in written work for this assignment,
but you do need to have your specific example (with page reference) prepared for discussion next week.
Petronius (27-66 AD) was a first-century Roman writer, former senator, consul, and provincial
governor. He was an aristocrat, a member of the power elite of Rome, and an influential style-setter &
courtier in Emperor Nero's court – until Nero turned against him.
He was critical of “newly-rich” (nouveau riche) people like the character Trimalchio, who rose to the
top of Roman society because of their wealth, but who lacked the education, culture, tradition, & taste
that the traditional "blue-blood" aristocracy had. We have a record of Petronius' seriousness as a senator
and provincial governor from the Roman historian Tacitus (~55-120 AD), whose standards were high.
(Details of the court intrigue against Petronius, his suicide, and his revenge on Nero from Tacitus'
are in the introduction to our edition.)
Here we see a social conflict between newly-rich social climbers and older, long-established aristocrats.
People like Petronius feared the dying of Roman culture (literary culture, moral & philosophical
traditions, and other high standards). They considered Roman Culture distinctive virtues of the
aristocracy because one result of the Pax Romana and the "Golden Age" it brought was social mobility:
the ability of people who struck it rich to rise in society purely on the basis of wealth. Cases like
Trimalchio were rare, but they did occur. Manumission (freeing) of slaves as they and their masters
grew old was quite common. However, wealth like Trimalchio's and a drastic rise in social status were
The newly rich were not accepted as equals by long-established aristocrats with education and high
The "nouveau riche" were scorned & despised for their ignorance & degrading of this distinctive
culture of the aristocracy.
2. Education in the Classics (Greek & Latin) and mastery of rhetoric & eloquence were viewed by
Romans as a sign of high status, fitness to lead society, and even the fulfillment the highest, most
Roman philosophers believed in a single divine power – divine reason (logos) – which ordered the
universe. They also sometimes referred to this divine reason as God. Philosophers tended to take
God (divine reason) more seriously than the whole collection of traditional gods. They worshipped
the traditional gods to keep with Roman tradition, as well as for solidarity with the emperor and the