Petronius and the Anatomy of Fiction

Petronius and the Anatomy of Fiction

Petronius and the Anatomy of Fiction

Petronius and the Anatomy of Fiction

Synopsis

Metaphors of the body form an important feature of Petronius' Satyricon. This book claims that the text can be read as a unified whole rather than as episodic jumble, despite its fragmentation. Presented as disturbing as well as comic, intricately structured as well as chaotic, the study asserts that the Satyricon's imagery constantly mirrors apparent paradoxes. Thus corporeality is explored as a metaphor rather than just as an index of the "low" genre of the novel.

Excerpt

Encolpius and his gang escape the shady confines of the labyrinthine cena in complete darkness (neque faxulla in praesidio erat, quae iter aperiret errantibus, nec silentium noctis iam mediae promittebat occurrentium lumen / 'There was no guiding light to show us the way as we wandered, nor did the midnight silence give us any hope of running into someone with a lamp', 79.1). As we saw in the marketplace scene at Sat. 12–15, darkness is a metaphorical device which sets the stage for obscurity and concealment. the cena has been a lengthy drama of misrecognition, imposture and disguise played out in the interactions of the characters but importantly also in the ongoing image of Trimalchio's house as a windowless kitchen, an underworld, a labyrinth, a dungeon permanently shrouded in darkness whatever the time of day. Moreover Trimalchio's party tricks of concealment and revelation are only sustained, it seems, because of the ongoing 'blindness' of our prime witness and narrator Encolpius: thus when he exits the dark cena and is still in darkness, his inability to see or find his way appears to be merely an externalisation of his intellectual myopia. Like a troop of stand-ins for the part of Oedipus, the ever-blind gourmands drag their bleeding feet over flints and broken pots they cannot see in the road (per omnes scrupos gastrarumque eminentium fragmenta traxissemus cruentos pedes, Sat. 79.3), before following Giton's chalk marks like mock-heroic Theseuses running from Trimalchio the minotaur. in the following chapter (Sat. 80), Encolpius cloaks himself for a 'Theban duel' with Ascyltos over Giton: they act now as Oedipus' sons and half-brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, competing for the throne of Thebes (infelicissimus puer tangebat utriusque genua cum fletu petebatque suppliciter, ne Thebanum par humilis taberna spectaret neve sanguine mutuo pollueremus familiaritatis clarissimae sacra / 'The poor boy touched our knees and begged us in tears not to let this humble inn be the site of a Theban duel, and not to let the sanctity of our friendship be polluted by our own blood', 80.3).

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