From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Satyricon (or Satyrica) is a Latin novel, believed to have been written by Gaius Petronius, though the manuscript text of the Satyricon calls him Titus Petronius. This bawdy text was later made into a film by Fellini. The text best-known passage is the "Dinner with Trimalchio".
The surviving text, a mixture of prose and poetry, details the misadventures of the narrator, Encolpius, and his lover, a handsome sixteen year old boy named Giton. Throughout the novel, Encolpius has a hard time keeping his lover faithful to him as he is constantly being enticed away by others. Encolpius' friend Ascyltus (who seems to have previously been in a relationship with Encolpius) is another major character but he disappears from the narrative half way through the surviving text. It is a rare example of a Roman novel, the only other surviving example (quite different in style and plot) being Metamorphoses written by Lucius Apuleius. It is also extremely important evidence for the reconstruction of what everyday life must have been like for the lower classes during the early Roman Empire.
The Satyricon is considered one of the gems of Western literature, and may be the earliest extant work classifiable as a novel, although some would give that honour to Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe. Unlike Fellini’s film discussed below, the caricature of the Satyricon does not deform the everyday life of the Roman people. Petronius uses real names for all his characters, most of them laypeople, who talk about the theatre of ancient Rome, the amphitheatre (of which the most famous was the Colloseum) and the circus with the same enthusiasm of today’s fans of football and other team sports. If there is parody in the Satyricon it is not about the main characters —Encolpius, Giton and Ascyltos—, but of the described social reality, and the literary genres of certain famous poets and writers, Homer, Plato, Virgil and Cicero included. Petronius’ realism has a Greek antecedent in Aristophanes, who also abandoned the epical tone to focus on ordinary subjects. The Satyricon was widely read in the first centuries of the Common Era. Through poetry and philosophy, Greco-Roman literature had pretended to distance itself from everyday life, or to contemplate it loftily as in history or oratory. Petronius rebelled against this trend: “Nihil est hominum inepta persuasione falsius nec ficta severitate ineptius” (“There is nothing about man more false than his foolish convictions and there is nothing more stupid than hypocrite severity” —section 132).
The name “satyricon” implies that the work belongs to the type to which Varro, imitating the Greek Menippus, had given the character of a medley of prose and verse composition. But the string of fictitious narrative by which the medley is held together is something quite new in Roman literature. The author was happily inspired in his devices for amusing himself and thereby transmit to modern times a text based on the ordinary experience of contemporary life; the precursor of such novels as Gil Blas and Roderick Random.
In 1969 Federico Fellini made a film, Fellini Satyricon, that was loosely based upon the book. The film is deliberately fragmented and surreal though the androgynous Giton (Max Born) gives the graphic picture of Petronius’ character. Among the chief narrative changes Fellini makes to the Satyricon text is the addition of a hermaphroditic priestess, who does not exist in the Petronian version. In Fellini's adaptation, the fact that Ascyltos abducts this hermaphrodite, who later dies a miserable death in a desert landscape, is posed as an ill-omened event, and leads to the death of Ascyltos later in the film (none of which is to be found in the Petronian version). Other additions Fellini makes in his filmic adaptation: the appearance of a minotaur in a labyrinth (who first tries to club Encolpius to death, and then attempts to kiss him), and the appearance of a nymphomaniac whose husband hires Ascyltos to enter her caravan and have sex with her.
The year before another film had already been made, hence the addition of the name Fellini to the title.
Ciao Federico - Fellini directs Satyricon, shot by Gideon Bachman, is a making-of feature.
- Paris, 1902. Published by Charles Carrington, and ascribed by the publisher to Sebastian Melmoth (a pseudonym used by Oscar Wilde). Includes the Nodot supplements; these are not marked off.