... or at least the Latin equivalent, one of those great Latin adjectives that are being dumped from English and replaced by raw slang. Scurrilous means roughly 'raunchy' or 'sleazy', but with a sharply disapproving tone to it. "Shameful' might also be a near synonym. The Satyricon is a scurrilous book - a collection of fragments, actually - a depiction of gluttony, pretentiousness, vulgarity, and sexual decadence: sodomy, pederasty, public intercourse, scatophilia, sadism, rape, all subjects to be laughed at uproariously. The challenges to any modern reader will be to decide whether Petronius meant his work as satire or pornography... or both... and whether he intended to censorious. Clearly the extravagance portrayed was perceived as "shameful", as scurrilous, or else it wouldn't have been funny. Another and greater challenge to the modern historian is to decipher just how realistic such a portrayal of bizarre perversion and vulgarity might be. The Roman Empire was unquestionably a marvel of administration and efficiency. It had to be, to survive the insanity at the center ... if even a tenth of the center were as corrupt as Petronius and Suetonius describe. With no means of transportation or communication faster than a man on foot or a ship with rowers, the Roman Empire was so much more secure and luxurious than any lands around it that every barbarian with a sharp stick was ready to fight his way in.
Yet Nero was real. We know that. We have archaeological as well as literary evidence of the scale of his excesses. Making sense of how an administrative empire with high internal security and general satisfaction could survive Nero, and the dozens of mini-Neros implied by Petronius, is half the fun of being a historian. And if you, dear reader, have any ambition of appreciating ancient Rome historically, you must see it through the obscene descriptions of Petronius.
The young Nero's personal tutor was none other than the austere stoic philosopher Seneca, and Seneca was capable of scurrility as shameful as Petronius, though never as lurid. The Apocolocyntosis (a title translated by Robert Graves as the "Pumkinification of Claudius") is a scurrilous semi-dramatic account of the efforts of the dead Emperor Claudius to claim his rights as a demi-god, with a place on Olympus. Like several of the plays attributed to Seneca, it was obviously written to amuse and to curry favor with Nero, Claudius's successor. We all know that Seneca's boot-licking failed in the end; Nero ordered him to commit suicide.
These two translations were done in the 1960s, a time when the late Victorian conventions of language still prevailed. The vocabulary of sexuality and body functions is a good deal less blunt here in English than in the original Latin, but perhaps our modern imaginations are more attuned to euphemisms.
This society of rich slaves, imperious freedmen, opulent prostitute priestesses, and the unchallengeable privilege of the super rich was the substrate of Christianity, and of Islam, and of the modern world. Get to know it. From Petronius's Trimalchio to the Renaissance Popes and to the Saudi Kings is a direct historical progression.