Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Roman Studies


Alexander G. McKay


The purpose of this dissertation is to provide a critical analysis and evaluation of the Satyricon of Petronius, by placing it in its historical, literary, and artistic context. Neronian taste therefore becomes the unifying theme around which the chapters are organized. Chapter One immerses Petronius within the cultural pursuits of Nero's aula, while Chapter Two pursues the question of court literary taste. Chapter Three consists of a Campanian Commentary to the Cena Trimalchionis and thus explications the Neronian arts of etiquette and leisure. The Appendix re-evaluates the strong evidence for a Neronian dating of the work and for the identification of the consular T. Petronius Niger as both author of the Satyricon and Nero's elegantiate arbiter.

This dissertation reflects the position that the Satyricon is an example arbiter Satyricon is an example of literary παίϒνια, a non-serious court amusement, which takes as its central theme the παιδιχὸς ἔρωζ motif so typical of ancient symposium literature and likewise appropriate to the emperor's own predilections. The work fits well within the tastes of Roman σατυριχοί, the unbroken line of aristocrats, who, from the period of the late Republic, left the Capitol to pursue pleasures both cultural and physical in the resort cities of Campania.

The thesis is advanced that Petronius came to prominence as Seneca faded from favour, and that the Satyricon replaced Seneca's worthier tragedies and treatises as a court entertainment. Evidence from the Epistulae Morales of Seneca, written after his retirement, indicates that the former tutor of Nero made plaintive criticisms against the low habits both of language and lifestyle in which the aula indulged under the influence of Tigellinus and Petronius.

The nature of the Neronian literary Renaissance is surveyed with special emphasis upon the impact of Nero's personal taste upon letters. Neronian literature, regardless of the author or genre in question, strives to achieve the effect of pathos, nostalgie de la boue, theatrical exaggeration, and naturalism naive to the point of embarrassment. Petronius displays all of these characteristics as he narrates his tale of the graeclus, Encolpius, who, like the artist-emperor, finds himself trapped within the constraints of the Roman cultural climate. Petronius combines the genres of Roman Menippean satire and Greek prose fiction into a graphic melange of the foibles of his age.

Chapter three comprises a social commentary to the Cena Trimalchionis in which the Cena is described against the backdrop of its Campanian locale. The many homely details of his life, his house and its furnishings, which Trimalchio relates, are compared to the extant archaeological evidence for life at Pompeii, Herculanetm, Puteoli, and the other towns of the Phlegraean Fields. The commentary is intended for use in the classroom at the university level.

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