Top positive review
24 people found this helpful
on July 16, 2002
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.