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Penguin Classics Satyricon And The Apocolocyntosis [Paperback]

P Petronius , P Seneca , J Sullivan
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 2005 0140444890 978-0140444896 Revised
Perhaps the strangest and most strikingly modern work to survive from the ancient world, The Satyricon relates the hilarious mock epic adventures of the impotent Encolpius, and his struggle to regain virility. Here Petronius brilliantly brings to life the courtesans, legacy-hunters, pompous professors and dissolute priestesses of the age and, above all, Trimalchio, the archetypal self-made millionaire whose pretentious vulgarity on an insanely grand scale makes him one of the great comic characters in literature. Seneca's The Apocolocyntosis, a malicious skit on the deification of Claudius the Clod', was designed by the author to ingratiate himself with Nero, who was Claudius' successor. Together, the two provide a powerful insight into a darkly fascinating period of Roman history.

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About the Author

J.P. Sullivan has held appointments in Classics or Arts and Letters at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Texas, Buffalo, Minnesota, ad Hawaii. He is the author of The Satyricon of Petronius: A Literary Study, Propertius: A Critical Introduction, Literature and Plitics in the Age of Nero and Martial: The Unexpected Classic.

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First Sentence
The Satyricon has been traditionally, and rightly, attributed to the courtier of Nero whose downfall and death in A.D. 66 are described by Tacitus (Annals 16.17-20): 17. So the space of a few days saw the fall, in the same bloody action, of Annaeus Mela, Cerialis Anicius, Rufrius Crispinus, and Petronius, Mela and Crispinus being Roman knights of senatorial status... Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.0 out of 5 stars Darkly Fascinating July 16 2002
Format:Paperback
It was not easy being a poet and scholar in Nero's day. Since the Emperor regarded himself as the poet par excellence, everyone else was ultimately disposable. Both Petronius and Seneca were ultimately requested to commit suicide and did so, lest the Praetorian Guard were called in to "assist" them.
In the earlier days of Nero's rule, when there was some possibility that his would be one of the rare enlightened reigns, Petronius and Seneca joined Nero in a regular after-dinner literary society where the humor was frequently raunchy and the sex more often than not perverted.
The SATYRICON was originally a fairly long episodic spoof of the ODYSSEY: its hero offends the God Priapus by ransacking his temple and is stricken with impotence. He and his friends and bedmates wander through Italy recounting their adventures. The only fairly intact sequence tells of a dinner by a nouveau-riche merchant named Trimalchio who holds an elegant banquet but whose base-born origins are always showing. All the rest of the episodes are fragmentary, though not without interest.
Seneca takes the recently poisoned Emperor Claudius down a peg by spoofing his deification. Starting with Julius Caesar, the Romans turned many of their leaders into gods upon their demise. Claudius -- who was by no means the nice guy portrayed in the Robert Graves books -- gets short shrift in the underworld. A clue: The title is usually translated as "The Pumpkinification of Claudius." Seneca was treading carefully here, as Nero's mother was Claudius' wife and is generally considered to have been the one who poisoned him.
These are not works that you can sit down and read as if they were novels. The introductions are not only helpful, but mandatory to understanding what follows. Both works, along with the works of Lucan, are essential to understanding this darkly fascinating period of Roman history.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A classic that should still be read.... March 26 2001
Format:Paperback
This book, when, as here it is translated well (i.e. in a fashion that renders it valid to a modern reader as opposed to one in which it is more a word-for-word translation from the Latin), is one of the funniest books of which I know. Roman literature typically seems derivative-- less real, less well-thought out than Greek stuff-- this book is one of the major exceptions to this rule.
If you know of this book and want to read it, this translation here is a good place to start. This is the first novel (whatever that means!), and just an all-around good time....
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5.0 out of 5 stars Book for class June 20 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was required for a university class I was taking. I was pleased to find it on amazon for a good price.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Darkly Fascinating July 16 2002
By James Paris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It was not easy being a poet and scholar in Nero's day. Since the Emperor regarded himself as the poet par excellence, everyone else was ultimately disposable. Both Petronius and Seneca were ultimately requested to commit suicide and did so, lest the Praetorian Guard were called in to "assist" them.
In the earlier days of Nero's rule, when there was some possibility that his would be one of the rare enlightened reigns, Petronius and Seneca joined Nero in a regular after-dinner literary society where the humor was frequently raunchy and the sex more often than not perverted.
The SATYRICON was originally a fairly long episodic spoof of the ODYSSEY: its hero offends the God Priapus by ransacking his temple and is stricken with impotence. He and his friends and bedmates wander through Italy recounting their adventures. The only fairly intact sequence tells of a dinner by a nouveau-riche merchant named Trimalchio who holds an elegant banquet but whose base-born origins are always showing. All the rest of the episodes are fragmentary, though not without interest.
Seneca takes the recently poisoned Emperor Claudius down a peg by spoofing his deification. Starting with Julius Caesar, the Romans turned many of their leaders into gods upon their demise. Claudius -- who was by no means the nice guy portrayed in the Robert Graves books -- gets short shrift in the underworld. A clue: The title is usually translated as "The Pumpkinification of Claudius." Seneca was treading carefully here, as Nero's mother was Claudius' wife and is generally considered to have been the one who poisoned him.
These are not works that you can sit down and read as if they were novels. The introductions are not only helpful, but mandatory to understanding what follows. Both works, along with the works of Lucan, are essential to understanding this darkly fascinating period of Roman history.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient fun June 22 2010
By krebsman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
How much you appreciate THE SATYRICON depends on why you're reading it. If you're reading for a good story, look elsewhere. This is a fragment. The missing parts are gone forever. We can only imagine what the missing parts contained. But if you're reading for a glimpse into Roman life in first century AD, this is a treat. It's a very readable translation that is also very funny. I laughed out loud a couple of times. The introduction explains that it is a spoof of THE ODYSSEY. Odysseus gets blown around the Mediterranean as a result of having offended Poseidon. In THE SATYRICON the protagonist has offended Priapus and must suffer his wrath as the bounces around the Bay of Naples.

This work is famous for its depiction of the uber-freedman, Trimalchio, and his excessively vulgar banquet, and it lived up to my expectations. Oh how I wish that someone would miraculously discover the missing parts. What there is of this is great.

The APOCOLOCYNTOSIS is an amusing brief work (once again fragmentary) by Seneca that gives some insight into the sensibilities of the time. Also included are several chunks of text that were perhaps part of the SATYRICON at one time. There are detailed notes and introductions for everything. I can't imagine anything better, other than complete texts. Five stars.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful bawdy July 28 2005
By wiredweird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Petronius, according to the translator's notes, was a person of unidentified occupation and member of Emperor Nero's court. Chances are that Petronius got by ingratiating himself with the rich and famous, perhaps by amusing them with his stories. It's also fair to guess that he joined some of their debuaches - perhaps some of this is drawn from experience - and that the tales grew in the telling.

The story starts with the narrator Encolpius, with his friend Asclytus, and with the toyboy they share, Giton. What follows is a wandering series of encounters. They split and reunite a number of times, usually around some improbable scheme. Later on, the aging poet Eumolpus takes Asclytus' place in the story, in Giton's intimacy, and in the petty schemes with Encolpius.

At one point, Encolpius is found spying on the ecstasies offered up to one of the gods. The punishment for that lewd interlude is in kind, to have ecstasy thrust upon (and into) him beyond bearing. That's an early passage, and sets the tone for all the other adventures and escapes in this book.

Towards the end, his dissolute ways make him the Cialis poster boy. He seeks an aged witch for aphrodisiac treatment, and she gives it to him all different ways. To his dismay, many ways involve her own aged body in the treatment. A reader with a vivid imagination will see lots more humor than this 1965 translation would have dared put on paper.

But I wonder, is this really the best translation? Yes, it has some integrity - Sullivan has been careful to note breaks in the manuscript. He even adds a chapter of "fragments," too broken and disjoint to guess at. The reader doesn't get a false sense of continuity caused by the translator's patches. On the other hand, the reader doesn't get a full sense of continuity, either. On the scale from academic rendering to storytelling, I wish this were a bit more in the storytelling direction. No matter, it's a great story anyway.

//wiredweird
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political and literary satires Feb. 17 2010
By Christopher R. Travers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Satyricon is an interesting story on many levels. It includes a fascinating look into concepts of friendship and love in Rome, and is one important source we have for views of magic and witchcraft in Rome. The work has a great deal to tell us about Roman society, and perceptions of Roman society despite its satirical nature. Secondly, just as Livy and Virgil tend to draw a great deal from the Illiad, this work draws from the Odyssey but does so in what seems to be intended to be a humorous way. It is also an enjoyable read.

The Apocolocyntosis is a humorous skit mocking the late emperor Claudius's ascent into godhood. The title includes a play on words (if Apotheosis is turning a person into a god, then Apocolocyntosis is turning a person into a gourd or pumpkin). The message seems to be that Claudius was a gambler who was more fit to be remembered for his gambling tools (made of gourd?) than honored as a god. There are subtle elements to this metaphor which are dependent on a good knowledge of the Hellenistic world (such as the widespread cult of Tyche, the goddess of luck).

The translations are easy to read and well put together. This edition also adds insightful introductions and copious end-notes to help the serious student get more out of these works. I would highly recommend it.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scurrilous is a Four-Letter Word... Dec 27 2008
By Giordano Bruno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
... 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.
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