Ondertexts
Petronius
Search

Petronius

Petronius Petronius[1†]

Gaius Petronius Arbiter, also known as Titus Petronius Niger, a Roman courtier in Nero's reign, authored the Satyricon, a satirical novel. Born around 27 AD in Massalia, he earned the title "judge of elegance" in Nero's court for his indulgent lifestyle. Despite this, he showed capacity as suffect consul in 62 AD. His association with Nero and eventual downfall due to Tigellinus' enmity reflect the political and social dynamics of the time[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

Gaius Petronius Arbiter, also known as Titus Petronius Niger, was born around 27 AD in Massalia (ancient Marseille)[1†][2†]. He belonged to a noble and wealthy family[1†][3†][4†]. Despite the expectations of his class to occupy important military and political posts, Petronius was known as a notorious idler who dedicated his life to pleasure and the arts[1†][3†].

His early life remains largely a mystery[1†][4†], but it is speculated that he might have been educated in Massalia[1†]. His education likely played a significant role in shaping his literary abilities and his keen eye for the nuances of Roman society, which he later satirized in his works[1†].

Despite his reputation for idleness, Petronius showed vigor and capacity for affairs when he served as the provincial governor of Bithynia and later held the high office of consul, or first magistrate of Rome, in 63 AD[1†][2†]. These roles demonstrated that he was fully equal to public responsibilities and capable of more than his lifestyle suggested[1†][2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Petronius’ career was marked by a blend of indulgence and responsibility[1†][2†]. Despite his reputation for idleness, he demonstrated vigor and capacity for affairs when appointed to official positions[1†][2†]. He served as the governor of the Asian province of Bithynia[1†][2†], and later held the high office of consul, or first magistrate of Rome, probably in AD 62 or 63[1†][2†]. These roles showed that he was fully equal to public responsibilities and capable of more than his lifestyle suggested[1†][2†].

After his term as consul, Petronius was received by Nero into his most intimate circle as his “director of elegance” (arbiter elegantiae), whose word on all matters of taste was law[1†][2†]. His association with Nero fell within the emperor’s later years, when Nero had embarked on a career of reckless extravagance[1†][2†]. Petronius’ role in Nero’s court was akin to that of a fashion advisor[1†]. His reckless freedom of speech, regarded as frankness, procured him popularity[1†].

As a writer, Petronius’ development of his characters in the Satyricon, namely Trimalchio, transcends the traditional style of writing of ancient literature[1†]. In the literature written during Petronius’ lifetime, the emphasis was always on the typical considerations of plot, which had been laid down by classical rules[1†]. Petronius went beyond these literary limitations in his exact portrayals of detailed speech, behavior, surroundings, and appearance of the characters[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Gaius Petronius Arbiter, often referred to as Petronius, is most notably recognized for his work “Satyricon”, a satirical novel believed to have been written during the Neronian era (54–68 AD)[1†][5†]. The manuscript tradition identifies the author as Titus Petronius[1†][5†]. The “Satyricon” is an example of Menippean satire, which is different from the formal verse satire of Juvenal or Horace[1†][5†]. The work contains a mixture of prose and verse (commonly known as prosimetrum); serious and comic elements; and erotic and decadent passages[1†][5†].

Here are some key details about “Satyricon”:

Petronius’ development of his characters in the “Satyricon”, namely Trimalchio, transcends the traditional style of writing of ancient literature[1†]. In the literature written during Petronius’ lifetime, the emphasis was always on the typical considerations of plot, which had been laid down by classical rules[1†].

While “Satyricon” is the most well-known work attributed to Petronius, it’s worth noting that he has been credited with other works as well[1†][6†]. However, the details of these works are not as well-documented or preserved as “Satyricon”.

Analysis and Evaluation

Petronius’s style is unique in ancient literature as it combines sophisticated literary allusiveness and symbolism with earthy, realistic situations, events, and characters[7†][8†]. His work unites a variety of literary genres and modes, and combines complex satiric denunciation with a humorous and humanistic perspective that effectively captures both the comic and tragic nature of human life[7†][8†].

The “Satyricon” satirized Roman social mores and parodied a variety of Greek literary works, including Homer’s Odyssey[7†]. Although the work was relatively unacknowledged in ancient times, its rediscovery in the Renaissance was met with great interest[7†]. Modern investigation of the text has revealed much information about colloquial Latin and about the development of the Roman novel as a genre[7†].

Petronius’s work is also uniquely a combination of literary genres and modes. Functioning overall as a fictitious travel narrative, “The Satyricon” also includes elements of Greek romance, epic poetry, and declamatory rhetoric[7†][8†]. Much of the humor of “The Satyricon” derives from its mock-epic aspects, particularly those instances in which the heroic travels and adventures of Odysseus are parodied by the much less heroic misadventures of the narrator, Encolpius[7†][8†].

By an original, inventive combination of elements from a multitude of literary genres and modes, Petronius effectively both depicts and satirizes Roman life under Emperor Nero[7†][9†]. He does so with such compassionate, earthy, and tragicomic humanism that “The Satyricon” richly deserves its recently acquired status as one of the greatest works of literature of the ancient world[7†][9†].

Personal Life

Gaius Petronius Arbiter, known for his life of pleasure and the arts, was a prominent figure in Roman society[1†][2†][3†]. Despite his reputation as an idler, he demonstrated significant capabilities when he served as the provincial governor of Bithynia and consul in 63 AD[1†][3†]. After his term as consul, Petronius was received by Nero into his most intimate circle as his “director of elegance” (arbiter elegantiae), whose word on all matters of taste was law[1†][2†].

Petronius’ association with Nero fell within the emperor’s later years, when Nero had embarked on a career of reckless extravagance[1†][2†]. Petronius’ high position soon made him the object of envy for those around him[1†]. Having attracted the jealousy of Tigellinus, the commander of the emperor’s guard, he was accused of treason[1†]. He was arrested at Cumae in 65 AD but did not wait for a sentence. Instead, he chose to take his own life[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Gaius Petronius Arbiter, also known as Titus Petronius Niger, has left an indelible mark on the literary world[1†][10†][11†]. He is widely recognized as the author of the Satyricon, a satirical novel that is believed to have been written during the Neronian era (54–68 AD)[1†]. This work is considered one of the earliest forms of the novel in Western literature[1†][10†][11†].

Petronius’ development of his characters in the Satyricon, particularly Trimalchio, transcends the traditional style of writing of ancient literature[1†]. In the literature written during Petronius’ lifetime, the emphasis was always on the typical considerations of plot, which had been laid down by classical rules[1†]. The character, which was hardly known in ancient literature, was secondary[1†]. Petronius goes beyond these literary limitations in his exact portrayals of detailed speech, behavior, surroundings, and appearance of the characters[1†].

The Satyricon has influenced the development of European and American prose fiction and remains indispensable as a source book of Roman civilization[1†][10†]. Despite the fragmentary nature of the Satyricon and the indecent character of some of its episodes, Petronius has been firmly established as an author worth discussing at a scholarly level[1†][10†].

Petronius’ legacy extends beyond his literary contributions. His life, particularly his association with Nero and his role as the emperor’s “director of elegance”, provides a unique insight into the social and cultural dynamics of the Roman court[1†][10†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Petronius [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Gaius Petronius Arbiter: Roman author [website] - link
  3. Classical Wisdom Weekly - Petronius – one of the first novelists and a victim of Nero [website] - link
  4. PBS - The Roman Empire: in the First Century. The Roman Empire. Writers. Petronius [website] - link
  5. Wikipedia (English) - Satyricon [website] - link
  6. Goodreads - Author: Books by Petronius (Author of The Satyricon) [website] - link
  7. eNotes - Petronius Analysis [website] - link
  8. eNotes - Petronius World Literature Analysis [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Petronius Summary [website] - link
  10. Oxford Bibliographies - Petronius - Classics [website] - link
  11. Cambridge University Press - Petronius and the Anatomy of Fiction [website] - link
  12. Infoplease - Petronius [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.