Nero's oblectamenta regia and Petronius' narrative technique: Tacitus Annals XIV.16 and the Satyricon

Abraham Alayón

            I intend to argue that Tacitus offers a description and literary analysis of Petronius' Satyricon in the Annales at book 14.16, thus offering both insight into the artistic and political contexts in which the work was composed as well as a description of some of the Satyricon's inherent rules of composition.  For example, Tacitus relates the following:   hi considere simul, et adlatos vel ibidem repertos versus conectere atque ipsius verba quoquo modo prolata supplere.  In Nero's literary circle, participants used to try to adapt prose or poems to fit in or around the emperor's poetic outbursts and declamations.  When analyzed in the light of contemporary and older literature, the Satryicon yields clues as to what passages were being recited in the court.  I will consider passages from Seneca's De Vita Beata, 17.1-2, which influences the content of the Cena Trimalchionis;   in additon, De Clementia 1.1 and Epistularum Moralium ad Lucilium 17.6 contribute greatly to the characterization of Encolpius and the narrative structure of the Satyricon.  Petronius, however, does not merely continue to play along with Nero's game, but rather uses his influence over the emperor (cf. Tacitus 16.18)  to subvert his self-aggrandizing ambitions and maintain control of the purpose of the narrative.  Sat. 3 offers a description of this subversive technique, in the reply of Agamemnon to the speech of  Encolpius.  Usually, apostrophes such as Plautus, Mercator 313-315 and Catullus' Poem 25 are used by Petronius as subversive content.  Indeed, Catullus may have a very great influence over the author of the Satyricon.  In conclusion, I demonstrate that  Petronius' novel is best understood in the context of Nero's literary experiment, and when this is taken into account the work can be interpreted as a consistent, well organized whole.

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