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By Petronius Arbiter
Of the many masterpieces which classical antiquity has bequeathed to modern times, few have attained, at intervals, to such popularity; few have so gripped the interest of scholars and men of letters, as has this scintillating miscellany known as the Satyricon, ascribed by tradition to that Petronius who, at the court of Nero, acted as arbiter of elegance and dictator of fashion. The flashing, wit, the masterly touches which bring out the characters with all the detail of a fine old copper etching; the marvelous use of realism by this, its first prophet; the sure knowledge of the perspective and background best adapted to each episode; the racy style, so smooth, so elegant, so simple when the educated are speaking, beguile the reader and blind him, at first, to the many discrepancies and incoherences with which the text, as we have it, is marred. The more one concentrates upon this author, the more apparent these faults become and the more one regrets the lacunae in the text. Notwithstanding numerous articles which deal with this work, some from the pens of the most profound scholars, its author is still shrouded in the mists of uncertainty and conjecture. He is as impersonal as Shakespeare, as aloof as Flaubert, in the opinion of Charles Whibley, and, it may be added, as genial as Rabelais; an enigmatic genius whose secret will never be laid bare with the resources at our present command. As I am not writing for scholars, I do not intend going very deeply into the labyrinth of critical controversy which surrounds the author and the work, but I shall deal with a few of the questions which, if properly understood, will enhance the value of the Satyricon, and contribute, in some degree, to a better understanding of the author. For the sake of convenience the questions discussed in this introduction will be arranged in the following order:
(It has been so long; since I promised you the story of my adventures, that I have decided to make good my word today; and, seeing that we have thus fortunately met, not to discuss scientific matters alone, but also to enliven our jolly conversation with witty stories. Fabricius Veiento has already spoken very cleverly on the errors committed in the name of religion, and shown how priests, animated by an hypocritical mania for prophecy, boldly expound mysteries which are too often such to themselves. But) are our rhetoricians tormented by another species of Furies when they cry, "I received these wounds while fighting for the public liberty; I lost this eye in your defense: give me a guide who will lead me to my children, my limbs are hamstrung and will not hold me up!" Even these heroics could be endured if they made easier the road to eloquence; but as it is, their sole gain from this ferment of matter and empty discord of words is, that when they step into the Forum, they think they have been carried into another world. And it is my conviction that the schools are responsible for the gross foolishness of our young men, because, in them, they see or hear nothing at all of the affairs of every-day life, but only pirates standing in chains upon the shore, tyrants scribbling edicts in which sons are ordered to behead their own fathers; responses from oracles, delivered in time of pestilence, ordering the immolation of three or more virgins; every word a honied drop, every period sprinkled with poppy-seed and sesame.
Those who are brought up on such a diet can no more attain to wisdom than a kitchen scullion can attain to a keen sense of smell or avoid stinking of the grease. With your indulgence, I will speak out: you--teachers--are chiefly responsible for the decay of oratory. With your well modulated and empty tones you have so labored for rhetorical effect that the body of your speech has lost its vigor and died. Young men did not learn set speeches in the days when Sophocles and Euripides were searching for words in which to express themselves. In the days when Pindar and the nine lyric poets feared to attempt Homeric verse there was no private tutor to stifle budding genius. I need not cite the poets for evidence, for I do not find that either Plato or Demosthenes was given to this kind of exercise. A dignified and, if I may say it, a chaste, style, is neither elaborate nor loaded with ornament; it rises supreme by its own natural purity. This windy and high-sounding bombast, a recent immigrant to Athens, from Asia, touched with its breath the aspiring minds of youth, with the effect of some pestilential planet, and as soon as the tradition of the past was broken, eloquence halted and was stricken dumb. Since that, who has attained to the sublimity of Thucydides, who rivalled the fame of Hyperides? Not a single poem has glowed with a healthy color, but all of them, as though nourished on the same diet, lacked the strength to live to old age. Painting also suffered the same fate when the presumption of the Egyptians "commercialized" that incomparable art. (I was holding forth along these lines one day, when Agamemnon came up to us and scanned with a curious eye a person to whom the audience was listening so closely.)
He would not permit me to declaim longer in the portico than he himself had sweat in the school, but exclaimed, "Your sentiments do not reflect the public taste, young man, and you are a lover of common sense, which is still more unusual. For that reason, I will not deceive you as to the secrets of my profession. The teachers, who must gibber with lunatics, are by no means to blame for these exercises. Unless they spoke in accordance with the dictates of their young pupils, they would, as Cicero remarks, be left alone in the schools! And, as designing parasites, when they seek invitations to the tables of the rich, have in mind nothing except what will, in their opinion, be most acceptable to their audience --for in no other way can they secure their ends, save by setting snares for the ears--so it is with the teachers of rhetoric, they might be compared with the fisherman, who, unless he baits his hook with what he knows is most appetizing to the little fish, may wait all day upon some rock, without the hope of a catch."
What, then, is there to do? The parents who are unwilling to permit their children to undergo a course of training under strict discipline, are the ones who deserve the reproof. In the first place, everything they possess, including the children, is devoted to ambition. Then, that their wishes may the more quickly be realized, they drive these unripe scholars into the forum, and the profession of eloquence, than which none is considered nobler, devolves upon boys who are still in the act of being born! If, however, they would permit a graded course of study to be prescribed, in order that studious boys might ripen their minds by diligent reading; balance their judgment by precepts of wisdom, correct their compositions with an unsparing pen, hear at length what they ought to imitate, and be convinced that nothing can be sublime when it is designed to catch the fancy of boys, then the grand style of oratory would immediately recover the weight and splendor of its majesty. Now the boys play in the schools, the young men are laughed at in the forum, and, a worse symptom than either, no one, in his old age, will confess the errors he was taught in his school days. But that you may not imagine that I disapprove of a jingle in the Lucilian manner, I will deliver my opinions in verse,--
"The man who emerges with fame, from the school of stern art,
Whose mind gropes for lofty ideals, to bring them to light,
Must first, under rigid frugality, study his part;
Nor yearn for the courts of proud princes who frown in their might:
Nor scheme with the riff-raf, a client in order to dine,
Nor can he with evil companions his wit drown in wine
Nor sit, as a hireling, applauding an actor's grimace.
But, whether the fortress of arms-bearing Tritonis smile
Upon him, or land which the Spartan colonials grace,
Or home of the sirens, with poetry let him beguile
The years of young manhood, and at the Maeonian spring
His fortunate soul drink its fill: Then, when later, the lore
Of Socrates' school he has mastered, the reins let him fling,
And brandish the weapons that mighty Demosthenes bore.
Then, steeped in the culture and music of Greece, let his taste
Be ripened and mellowed by all the great writers of Rome.
At first, let him haunt not the courts; let his pages be graced
By ringing and rhythmic effusions composed in his home
Next, banquets and wars be his theme, sung in soul-stirring chant,
In eloquent words such as undaunted Cicero chose.
I was listening so attentively to this speech that I did not notice the flight of Ascyltos, and while I was pacing the gardens, engulfed in this flood-tide of rhetoric, a large crowd of students came out upon the portico, having, it would seem, just listened to an extemporaneous declamation, of I know not whom, the speaker of which had taken exceptions to the speech of Agamemnon. While, therefore, the young men were making fun of the sentiments of this last speaker, and criticizing the arrangement of the whole speech, I seized the opportunity and went after Ascyltos, on the run; but, as I neither held strictly to the road, nor knew where the inn was located, wherever I went, I kept coming back to the same place, until, worn out with running, and long since dripping with sweat, I approached a certain little old woman who sold country vegetables.
"Please, mother," I wheedled, "you don't know where I lodge, do you?" Delighted with such humorous affability, "What's the reason I don't" she replied, and getting upon her feet, she commenced to walk ahead of me. I took her for a prophetess until, when presently we came to a more obscure quarter, the affable old lady pushed aside a crazy-quilt and remarked, "Here's where you ought to live," and when I denied that I recognized the house, I saw some men prowling stealthily between the rows of name-boards and naked prostitutes. Too late I realized that I had been led into a brothel. After cursing the wiles of the little old hag, I covered my head and commenced to run through the middle of the night-house to the exit opposite, when, lo and behold! whom should I meet on the very threshold but Ascyltos himself, as tired as I was, and almost dead; you would have thought that he had been brought by the self-same little old hag! I smiled at that, greeted him cordially, and asked him what he was doing in such a scandalous place.
Wiping away the sweat with his hands, he replied, "If you only knew what I have gone through!" "What was it?" I demanded. "A most respectable looking person came up to me," he made reply, "while I was wandering all over the town and could not find where I had left my inn, and very graciously offered to guide me. He led me through some very dark and crooked alleys, to this place, pulled out his tool, and commenced to beg me to comply with his appetite. A whore had already vacated her cell for an as, and he had laid hands upon me, and, but for the fact that I was the stronger, I would have been compelled to take my medicine." (While Ascyltos was telling me of his bad luck, who should come up again but this same very respectable looking person, in company with a woman not at all bad looking, and, looking at Ascyltos, he requested him to enter the house, assuring him that there was nothing to fear, and, since he was unwilling to take the passive part, he should have the active. The woman, on her part, urged me very persistently to accompany her, so we followed the couple, at last, and were conducted between the rows of name-boards, where we saw, in cells, many persons of each sex amusing themselves in such a manner) that it seemed to me that every one of them must have been drinking satyrion. (On catching sight of us, they attempted to seduce us with paederastic wantonness, and one wretch, with his clothes girded up, assaulted Ascyltos, and, having thrown him down upon a couch, attempted to gore him from above. I succored the sufferer immediately, however,) and having joined forces, we defied the troublesome wretch. (Ascyltos ran out of the house and took to his heels, leaving me as the object of their lewd attacks, but the crowd, finding me the stronger in body and purpose, let me go unharmed.)
(After having tramped nearly all over the city,) I caught sight of Giton, as though through a fog, standing at the end of the street, (on the very threshold of the inn,) and I hastened to the same place. When I inquired whether my "brother" had prepared anything for breakfast, the boy sat down upon the bed and wiped away the trickling tears with his thumb. I was greatly disturbed by such conduct on the part of my "brother," and demanded to be told what had happened. After I had mingled threats with entreaties, he answered slowly and against his will, "That brother or comrade of yours rushed into the room a little while ago and commenced to attempt my virtue by force. When I screamed, he pulled out his tool and gritted out--If you're a Lucretia, you've found your Tarquin!" When I heard this, I shook my fists in Ascyltos' face, "What have you to say for yourself," I snarled, "you rutting pathic harlot, whose very breath is infected?" Ascyltos pretended to bristle up and, shaking his fists more boldly still, he roared: "Won't you keep quiet, you filthy gladiator, you who escaped from the criminal's cage in the amphitheatre to which you were condemned (for the murder of your host?) Won't you hold your tongue, you nocturnal assassin, who, even when you swived it bravely, never entered the lists with a decent woman in your life? Was I not a 'brother' to you in the pleasure-garden, in the same sense as that in which this boy now is in this lodging-house?" "You sneaked away from the master's lecture," I objected.
"What should I have done, you triple fool, when I was dying of hunger? I suppose I should have listened to opinions as much to the purpose as the tinkle of broken glass or the interpretation of dreams. By Hercules, you are much more deserving of censure than I, you who will flatter a poet so as to get an invitation to dinner!" Then we laughed ourselves out of a most disgraceful quarrel, and approached more peaceably whatever remained to be done. But the remembrance of that injury recurred to my mind and, "Ascyltos," I said, "I know we shall not be able to agree, so let us divide our little packs of common stock and try to defeat our poverty by our individual efforts. Both you and I know letters, but that I may not stand in the way of any undertaking of yours, I will take up some other profession. Otherwise, a thousand trifles will bring us into daily collision and furnish cause for gossip through the whole town." Ascyltos made no objection to this, but merely remarked, "As we, in our capacity of scholars, have accepted an invitation to dinner, for this date, let us not lose our night. Since it seems to be the graceful thing to do, I will look out for another lodging and another 'brother,' tomorrow." "Deferred pleasures are a long time coming," I sighed. It was lust that made this separation so hasty, for I had, for a long time, wished to be rid of a troublesome chaperon, so that I could resume my old relations with my Giton. (Bearing this affront with difficulty, Ascyltos rushed from the room, without uttering a word. Such a headlong outburst augured badly, for I well knew his ungovernable temper and his unbridled passion. On this account, I followed him out, desirous of fathoming his designs and of preventing their consequences, but he hid himself skillfully from my eyes, and all in vain, I searched for him for a long time.)
After having had the whole town under my eyes, I returned to the little room and, having claimed the kisses which were mine in good faith, I encircled the boy in the closest of embraces and enjoyed the effect of our happy vows to a point that might be envied. Nor had all the ceremonies been completed, when Ascyltos stole stealthily up to the outside of the door and, violently wrenching off the bars, burst in upon me, toying with my "brother." He filled the little room with his laughter and hand-clapping, pulled away the cloak which covered us, "What are you up to now, most sanctimonious 'brother'?" he jeered. "What's going on here, a blanket-wedding?" Nor did he confine himself to words, but, pulling the strap off his bag, he began to lash me very thoroughly, interjecting sarcasms the while, "This is the way you would share with your comrade, is it!" (The unexpectedness of the thing compelled me to endure the blows in silence and to put up with the abuse, so I smiled at my calamity, and very prudently, too, as otherwise I should have been put to the necessity of fighting with a rival. My pretended good humor soothed his anger, and at last, Ascyltos smiled as well. "See here, Encolpius," he said, "are you so engrossed with your debaucheries that you do not realize that our money is gone, and that what we have left is of no value? In the summer, times are bad in the city. The country is luckier, let's go and visit our friends." Necessity compelled the approval of this plan, and the repression of any sense of injury as well, so, loading Giton with our packs, we left the city and hastened to the country-seat of Lycurgus, a Roman knight. Inasmuch as Ascyltos has formerly served him in the capacity of "brother," he received us royally, and the company there assembled, rendered our stay still more delightful. In the first place, there was Tryphaena, a most beautiful woman, who had come in company with Lycas, the master of a vessel and owner of estates near the seashore. Although Lycurgus kept a frugal table, the pleasures we enjoyed in this most enchanting spot cannot be described in words. Of course you know that Venus joined us all up, as quickly as possible.
The lovely Tryphaena pleased my taste, and listened willingly to my vows, but hardly had I had time to enjoy her favors when Lycas, in a towering rage because his preserves had been secretly invaded, demanded that I indemnify him in her stead. She was an old flame of his, so he broached the subject of a mutual exchange of favors. Burning with lust, he pressed his suit, but Tryphaena possessed my heart, and I said Lycas nay. By refusal, however, he was only made more ardent, followed me everywhere, entered my room at night, and, after his entreaties had met with contempt, he had recourse to violence against me, at which I yelled so lustily that I aroused the entire household, and, by the help of Lycurgus, I was delivered from the troublesome assault and escaped. At last, perceiving that the house of Lycurgus was not suitable to the prosecution of his design, he attempted to persuade me to seek his hospitality, and when his suggestion was refused, he made use of Tryphaena's influence over me. She besought me to comply with Lycas' desires, and she did this all the more readily as by that she hoped to gain more liberty of action. With affairs in this posture, I follow my love, but Lycurgus, who had renewed his old relations with Ascyltos, would not permit him to leave, so it was decided that he should remain with Lycurgus, but that we would accompany Lycas. Nevertheless, we had it understood among ourselves that whenever the opportunity presented itself, we would each pilfer whatever we could lay hands upon, for the betterment of the common stock. Lycas was highly delighted with my acceptance of his invitation and hastened our departure, so, bidding our friends good-bye, we arrived at his place on the very same day. Lycas had so arranged matters that, on the journey, he sat beside me, while Tryphaena was next to Giton, the reason for this being his knowledge of the woman's notorious inconstancy; nor was he deceived, for she immediately fell in love with the boy, and I easily perceived it. In addition, Lycas took the trouble of calling my attention to the situation, and laid stress upon the truth of what we saw. On this account, I received his advances more graciously, at which he was overjoyed. He was certain that contempt would be engendered from the inconstancy of my "sister," with the result that, being piqued at Tryphaena, I would all the more freely receive his advances. Now this was the state of affairs at the house of Lycas, Tryphaena was desperately in love with Giton, Giton's whole soul was aflame for her, neither of them was a pleasing sight to my eyes, and Lycas, studying to please me, arranged novel entertainments each day, which Doris, his lovely wife, seconded to the best of her ability, and so gracefully that she soon expelled Tryphaena from my heart. A wink of the eye acquainted Doris of my passion, a coquettish glance informed me of the state of her heart, and this silent language, anticipating the office of the tongue, secretly expressed that longing of our souls which we had both experienced at the same instant. The jealousy of Lycas, already well known to me, was the cause of my silence, but love itself revealed to the wife the designs which Lycas had upon me. At our first opportunity of exchanging confidences, she revealed to me what she had discovered and I candidly confessed, telling her of the coldness with which I had always met his advances. The far-sighted woman remarked that it would be necessary for us to use our wits. It turned out that her advice was sound, for I soon found out that complacency to the one meant possession of the other. Giton, in the meantime, was recruiting his exhausted strength, and Tryphaena turned her attention to me, but, meeting with a repulse, she flounced out in a rage. The next thing this burning harlot did was to discover my commerce with both husband and wife. As for his wantonness with me, she flung that aside, as by it she lost nothing, but she fell upon the secret gratifications of Doris and made them known to Lycas, who, his jealousy proving stronger than his lust, took steps to get revenge. Doris, however, forewarned by Tryphaena's maid, looked out for squalls and held aloof from any secret assignations. When I became aware of all this, I heartily cursed the perfidy of Tryphaena and the ungrateful soul of Lycas, and made up my mind to be gone. Fortune favored me, as it turned out, for a vessel sacred to Isis and laden with prize-money had, only the day before, run upon the rocks in the vicinity. After holding a consultation with Giton, at which he gladly gave consent to my plan, as Tryphaena visibly neglected him after having sapped his virility, we hastened to the sea-shore early on the following morning, and boarded the wreck, a thing easy of accomplishment as the watchmen, who were in the pay of Lycas, knew us well. But they were so attentive to us that there was no opportunity of stealing a thing until, having left Giton with them, I craftily slipped out of sight and sneaked aft where the statue of Isis stood, and despoiled it of a valuable mantle and a silver sistrum. From the master's cabin, I also pilfered other valuable trifles and, stealthily sliding down a rope, went ashore. Giton was the only one who saw me and he evaded the watchmen and slipped away after me. I showed him the plunder, when he joined me, and we decided to post with all speed to Ascyltos, but we did not arrive at the home of Lycurgus until the following day. In a few words I told Ascyltos of the robbery, when he joined us, and of our unfortunate love-affairs as well. He was for prepossessing the mind of Lycurgus in our favor, naming the increasing wantonness of Lycas as the cause of our secret and sudden change of habitation. When Lycurgus had heard everything, he swore that he would always be a tower of strength between us and our enemies. Until Tryphaena and Doris were awake and out of bed, our flight remained undiscovered, for we paid them the homage of a daily attendance at the morning toilette. When our unwonted absence was noted, Lycas sent out runners to comb the sea-shore, for he suspected that we had been to the wreck, but he was still unaware of the robbery, which was yet unknown because the stern of the wreck was lying away from the beach, and the master had not, as yet, gone back aboard. Lycas flew into a towering rage when our flight was established for certain, and railed bitterly at Doris, whom he considered as the moving factor in it. Of the hard words and the beating he gave her I will say nothing, for the particulars are not known to me, but I will affirm that Tryphaena, who was the sole cause of the unpleasantness, persuaded Lycas to hunt for his fugitives in the house of Lycurgus, which was our most probable sanctuary. She volunteered to accompany him in person, so that she could load us with the abuse which we deserved at her hands. They set out on the following day and arrived at the estate of Lycurgus, but we were not there, for he had taken us to a neighboring town to attend the feast of Hercules, which was there being celebrated. As soon as they found out about this, they hastened to take to the road and ran right into us in the portico of the temple. At sight of them, we were greatly put out, and Lycas held forth violently to Lycurgus, upon the subject of our flight, but he was met with raised eyebrows and such a scowling forehead that I plucked up courage and, in a loud voice, passed judgment upon his lewd and base attempts and assaults upon me, not in the house of Lycurgus alone, but even under his own roof: and as for the meddling Tryphaena, she received her just deserts, for, at great length, I described her moral turpitude to the crowd, our altercation had caused a mob to collect, and, to give weight to my argument, I pointed to limber-hamed Giton, drained dry, as it were, and to myself, reduced almost to skin and bones by the raging lust of that nymphomaniac harlot. So humiliated were our enemies by the guffaws of the mob, that in gloomy ill-humor they beat a retreat to plot revenge. As they perceived that we had prepossessed the mind of Lycurgus in our favor, they decided to await his return, at his estate, in order that they might wean him away from his misapprehension. As the solemnities did not draw to a close until late at night, we could not reach Lycurgus' country place, so he conducted us to a villa of his, situated near the halfway point of the journey, and, leaving us to sleep there until the next day, he set off for his estate for the purpose of transacting some business. Upon his arrival, he found Lycas and Tryphaena awaiting him, and they stated their case so diplomatically that they prevailed upon him to deliver us into their hands. Lycurgus, cruel by nature and incapable of keeping his word, was by this time striving to hit upon the best method of betraying us, and to that end, he persuaded Lycas to go for help, while he himself returned to the villa and had us put under guard. To the villa he came, and greeted us with a scowl as black as any Lycas himself had ever achieved, clenching his fists again and again, he charged us with having lied about Lycas, and, turning Ascyltos out, he gave orders that we were to be kept confined to the room in which we had retired to rest. Nor would he hear a word in our defense, from Ascyltos, but, taking the latter with him, he returned to his estate, reiterating his orders relative to our confinement, which was to last until his return. On the way back, Ascyltos vainly essayed to break down Lycurgus' determination, but neither prayers nor caresses, nor even tears could move him. Thereupon my "brother" conceived the design of freeing us from our chains, and, antagonized by the stubbornness of Lycurgus, he positively refused to sleep with him, and through this he was in a better position to carry out the plan which he had thought out. When the entire household was buried in its first sleep, Ascyltos loaded our little packs upon his back and slipped out through a breach in the wall, which he had previously noted, arriving at the villa with the dawn. He gained entrance without opposition and found his way to our room, which the guards had taken the precaution to bar. It was easy to force an entrance, as the fastening was made of wood, which same he pried off with a piece of iron. The fall of the lock roused us, for we were snoring away, in spite of our unfortunate situation. On account of the long vigil, the guard was in such a deep sleep that we alone were wakened by the crashing fall of the lock, and Ascyltos, coming in, told us in a few words what he had done for us; but as far as that goes, not many were necessary. We were hurriedly dressing, when I was seized with the notion of killing the guard and stripping the place. This plan I confided to Ascyltos, who approved of the looting, but pointed out a more desirable solution without bloodshed: knowing all the crooks and turns, as he did, he led us to a store-room which he opened. We gathered up all that was of value and sallied forth while it was yet early in the morning. Shunning the public roads; we could not rest until we believed ourselves safe from pursuit. Ascyltos, when he had caught his breath, gloatingly exulted of the pleasure which the looting of a villa belonging to Lycurgus, a superlatively avaricious man, afforded him: he complained, with justice of his parsimony, affirming that he himself had received no reward for his k-nightly services, that he had been kept at a dry table and on a skimpy ration of food. This Lycurgus was so stingy that he denied himself even the necessities of life, his immense wealth to the contrary notwithstanding.)
The tortured Tantalus still stands, to parch in his shifting pool,
And starve, when fruit sways just beyond his grasp:
The image of the miser rich, when his avaricious soul
Robs him of food and drink, in Plenty's clasp.