Petronius in Wikipedia
Gaius Petronius Arbiter (ca. 27–66 AD) was a Roman courtier during the reign of Nero. He is speculated to be the author of the Satyricon, a
satirical novel believed to have been written during the Neronian age.
Tacitus, Plutarch and Pliny the Elder describe Petronius as the elegantiae arbiter, "judge of elegance" in the court of the emperor Nero.
He served as consul in the year AD 62. Later, he became a member of the senatorial class who devoted themselves to a life of pleasure,
whose relationship to Nero was apparently akin to that of a fashion advisor. Tacitus gives this account of Petronius in his historical work
He spent his days in sleep, his nights in attending to his official duties or in amusement, that by his dissolute life he had become as
famous as other men by a life of energy, and that he was regarded as no ordinary profligate, but as an accomplished voluptuary. His
reckless freedom of speech, being regarded as frankness, procured him popularity. Yet during his provincial government, and later when he
held the office of consul, he had shown vigor and capacity for affairs. Afterwards returning to his life of vicious indulgence, he became
one of the chosen circle of Nero’s intimates, and was looked upon as an absolute authority on questions of taste (elegantiae arbiter) in
connection with the science of luxurious living.
None of the ancient sources give any further detail about his life, or mention that he was a writer. However a medieval manuscript, written
around 1450, of the Satyricon credited a "Titus Petronius" as the author of the original work. Traditionally this reference is linked with
Petronius Arbiter, since the novel appears to have been written or at least set during his lifetime. The link, however, remains speculative
As a writer -
Petronius’ development of his characters in the Satyricon, namely Trimalchio, transcends the traditional style of writing of ancient
literature. In the literature written during Petronius’ life the emphasis was always on the typical considerations of plot, which had been
laid down by classical rules. The character, which was hardly known in ancient literature, was secondary. Petronius goes beyond these
literary limitations in his exact portrayals of detailed speech, behavior, surroundings, and appearance of the characters.
Another literary device Petronius employs in his novel is a collection of specific allusions. The allusions to certain people and events
are evidence that the Satyricon was written during Nero’s time. These also suggest that it was aimed at a contemporary audience in which a
part consisted of Nero’s courtiers and even Nero himself.
One such allusion, found in Book IX, refers to the story of the good wife Lucretia which was well-known at the time:
"If you're a Lucretia," he said, "You've found a Tarquin".
The message Petronius tries to convey in his work is far from moral and does not intend to produce reform, but is written above all to
entertain and should be considered artistically. As the title implies the Satyricon is a satire, specifically a Menippean satire, in which
Petronius satirizes nearly anything, using his impeccable taste as the only standard. It is speculated that Petronius’ depiction of
Trimalchio mirrors that of Nero. Although we never know the author's own opinion, we see the opinions of the characters in the story and
how Encolpius criticizes Trimalchio.
Petronius’ high position soon made him the object of envy for those around him. Having attracted the jealousy of Tigellinus, the commander
of the emperor’s guard, he was accused of treason. He was arrested at Cumae in 66 AD but did not wait for a sentence. Instead he chose to
take his own life. Tacitus again records his elegant suicide in the sixteenth book of the Annals:
Yet he did not fling away life with precipitate haste, but having made an incision in his veins and then, according to his humour, bound
them up, he again opened them, while he conversed with his friends, not in a serious strain or on topics that might win for him the glory
of courage. And he listened to them as they repeated, not thoughts on the immortality of the soul or on the theories of philosophers, but
light poetry and playful verses. To some of his slaves he gave liberal presents, a flogging to others. He dined, indulged himself in sleep,
that death, though forced on him, might have a natural appearance. Even in his will he did not, as did many in their last moments, flatter
Nero or Tigellinus or any other of the men in power. On the contrary, he described fully the prince's shameful excesses, with the names of
his male and female companions and their novelties in debauchery, and sent the account under seal to Nero. Then he broke his signet-ring,
that it might not be subsequently available for imperiling others.
In fiction -
Petronius, usually assumed to be the author of the Satyricon, appears or is referenced in several works of fiction:
Henryk Sienkiewicz's novel Quo Vadis and its adaptations (but see below for the film), where C. Petronius is the preferred courtier of
Nero, using his wit to adulate and mock him at the same time. He is horrified at Nero's burning of Rome, and eventually commits suicide to
escape both Nero's antics and his anticipated execution.
Mika Waltari's novel The Roman.
in Robert A. Heinlein's novel The Door into Summer, in which the protagonist's cat is named "Petronius the Arbiter".
in Jesse Browner's novel The Uncertain Hour, which recounts Petronius' final banquet and suicide (as told by Tacitus, Annals 16 ).
in Anthony Burgess's novel The Kingdom of the Wicked, Gaius Petronius appears as a major character, an advisor to Nero.
In the 1951 film of Quo Vadis, Petronius is portrayed by Leo Genn, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting
In the 2001 film of Quo Vadis, Petronius is portrayed by Boguslaw Linda. It was the first Polish adaptation of Sienkiewicz's novel.
In the 1835 short story "A Tale of Roman Life" by Alexander Pushkin, Petronius' final days in Cumae are chronicled.
George Orwell in "Bookshop Memories" (1936): "Modern books for children are rather horrible things, especially when you see them in the
mass. Personally I would sooner give a child a copy of Petrenius Arbiter than PETER PAN, but even Barrie seems manly and wholesome compared
with some of his later imitators."
In recent times, a popular quote (reportedly by Charlton Ogburn, 1957) on reorganization is often (but spuriously) attributed to a
Gaius Petronius. In one version, it reads:
"We trained hard ... but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in
life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while
producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization."