Petronius', Apollonius', Theocritus' and Moschus' Visit to the Ekphrasis

Eleni Bozia

University of Florida

In this paper I am going to elaborate on the episode of the Satyricon where Encolpius visits the Art Gallery (83). Petronius draws his material from a variety of literary sources. Encolpius' visit to the art gallery bears resemblance to Aeneas' visit to the temple at Carthage. Petronius 'borrows' stylistic and verbal elements from Virgil intending to parody his character, Encolpius.  The second part of the paper is going to be about the introduction and handling of the mythological exempla, the story of Ganymedes, Hylas and Hyacinthus and how Petronius deals with them in conjunction with his literary predecessors, Homer, Theocritus, Apollonius and Ovid. Petronius manipulates the traditional myths. He plays with the words, the characters and their attitude. He manages to blur the line between what is good and what is bad. In that way, he ridicules Encolpius and slurs his stature, especially when Encolpius identifies himself with Heracles, or when he believes that his eromenos was abducted, just like in the aforementioned myths. Finally, I am going to refer to some characteristics which Petronius' ekphrasis shares with the traditional technique of ekphrasis. My study on the subject will be based on the basket in Moschus' Europa, the cup in the First Idyll of Theocritus and Jason's cloak in the Argonautica.  Petronius seems to have been amazingly familiar with the literary tradition. In fact, he is so familiar that he plays with the ekphrasis and does not keep it in its traditional context. Ekphrasis is used usually as a means of foretelling. Petronius, however, refers, with his ekphrasis, both to facts that have already taken place and to facts that will take place. Furthermore, ekphrases describe self-contained worlds; the same is true about the ekphrasis in the Satyricon, up to a certain extent. Encolpius, however, intervenes so frequently in the narration, that the reader cannot but relate the myths and the story of Encolpius. Petronius shows also other aspects of the ekphrasis as a literary technique.

Petronius did not imitate his literary predecessors bluntly. On the contrary, he borrowed only the elements he needed and incorporated them brilliantly into his own text to attribute characteristics to his own characters. He employed the traditional literary technique of ekphrasis, while he viewed it from every possible perspective. He interwove it also with modern and deviatory techniques of his. The main deviation is that he employed the ekphrasis in order to ridicule Encolpius. The result of this handling of the ekphrasis by Petronius is that he revealed its mechanisms.


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