The Classical Quarterly (New Series)


A sacred ceremony in honour of the buttocks: Petronius, Satyrica 140.1–11*

Costas Panayotakisa1

a1 University of Glasgow

The episode at Croton is the last series of events we possess from the surviving Satyrica, though not necessarily the last part of the novel in its original form. The action takes place in a town which no longer existed at the suggested time of the novel's composition. The plot is focused, mainly, on two themes: legacy-hunting and Encolpius' impotence. His unsuccessful relationship with the nymphomaniac Circe (126.1–130.8) and his painful experience with the witch-like priestesses Proselenos and Oenothea (131.1–139.5) are manifestations of the latter theme. Philomela's prostitution of her children (140.1–11) is a brief example of the former theme and shows the kind of gifts the Crotonians offered Eumolpus in order to win his favour and a share in his vast legacy (124.4). The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that the anecdote of the matron Philomela was composed by Petronius as a narrative equivalent of a theatrical farce. The paper is divided in two parts. The first aims to establish the theatrical (mimic) backcloth of the story, in front of which the ensuing action is going to take place. The second shows the theatrical nature of the anecdote itself, i.e. the structure, the characters, the staging, the language and the multiple levels of its description that demonstrate its theatricality.


* Earlier drafts of this paper were read at a graduate seminar at Glasgow University, in May 1991, and at the Classical Association's conference held at Magdalen College, Oxford, in April 1992. I gratefully acknowledge helpful comments made by the participants on these occasions. I am especially indebted to Prof. P. G. Walsh, Mr P. R. Jeffreys-Powell, Dr E. Urios-Aparisi, and the anonymous referee of the CQ for suggestions which improved the paper. Any remaining mistakes are, of course, mine. The edition used for references to Petronius' novel is K. Müller – W. Ehlers, Petronius. Satyrica 3(München, 1983).