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drhyde (1683)

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Journal of drhyde (1683)

Tuesday May 12, 2009
09:43 AM

Book review: The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter

[ #38961 ]

This is rightly hailed as a classic, being one of the clearest accounts of day-to-day Roman life for those outside the nobility and political and military elite during the Empire. And of course it is a fine example of political satire, with many subtle and not-to-subtle digs at public figures and writers of the era. All of this makes it a great academic read. And as such, I enjoyed it.

Unfortunately, it's a lousy novel. That's not the author's fault, but is simply because large chunks of the text have been lost over the last 1900 years so there are jarring gaps. While we can, to a limited extent, reconstruct parts of it, all that tells us is what the broad arc of the story might have been. You could cut chunks out of any good story, and then largely rebuild the tale, but if you were to read it with those chunks missing (which is the case with my copy of the Satyricon, which lacks even the briefest of inline notes about the missing sections) it would still not be a good read. It's almost a pity that the practice of translators/editors filling in the blanks themselves hasn't taken off, at least for mass-market paperbacks. But then, I suppose, there isn't a mass-market because it's not about some ghastly footballer or pig-faced slag from Essex.

This is, unfortunately, one only for those with an academic interest in the era.

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  • Er, my cheapo (no wait, gave it away) copy had a certain amount of commentary and ... er you don't mention the sheer "bawdyness" of the thing. Not so sure about the 'clearness' of the account but the focus is certainly singleminded. What I like about this and others (Pliny the younger, say) is how it shows these 'ancients' as reasonable people. There's no sense that they were superstitious, god-ridden morons who believed Apollo was up there in a chariot bringing daylight as is often the way they're represe
    • Mine has a very limited amount of commentary, but it's not inline with the text (ie where it would best be placed to sketch in the missing sections), instead being in a rather dull introduction.

      But yes, M4D PR0PZ to Petronius for FILTH. If we'd had *this* as a set text in Latin lessons then I might have paid more attention.