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Petronius’ epigraphic habit1

Jocelyne Nelis-Clément et Damien Nelis


In this paper we attempt to offer a survey of the references to writing and inscribing texts in the 'Satyrica' of Petronius. We concentrate on inscriptions in order to relate them to the phenomenon known as the 'epigraphic habit' and the rapid rise of a culture of epigraphic self-representation in Roman society in the course of the first century BCE. We also explore the ways in which the reading of texts by characters in the novel and in particular Encolpius' reading of the inscriptions in the house of Trimalchio set up a process of mise en abyme which relates to the reading and interpretation of the novel as a whole.

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  • 1  We would like to thank John Bodel, Rachele de Felice, Nicholas Horsfall, Patrick Le Roux, Costas P (...)

1This paper comprises two parts: a discussion of inscriptions in the Satyrica and a list of references to writing in the novel as a whole. It is based on the fact that even a cursory reading of Petronius’ Satyrica reveals a remarkable number of references to the writing and inscribing of texts. Despite the fact that many of the individual passages are well known and have attracted a considerable amount of scholarly attention, we know of no complete collection of references to this phenomenon in the novel as a whole. Pending a complete study of the topic, therefore, a brief survey of the references to inscriptions and a complete list of references to writing in the Satyrica may be a useful contribution.

  • 2  See in general Harris (1989), Humphrey (1991), but especially Horsfall (1989a and b).
  • 3  To date the only work devoted entirely to inscriptions in Petronius is Tremoli (1960), who confine (...)
  • 4  On the phenomenon known as the ‘epigraphic habit’ see Macmullen (1982), Meyer (1990), Alföldi (199 (...)
  • 5  See Woolf (1996), (1998) 78.
  • 6  MacMullen (1982) 246.

2This aspect of the work has been most often discussed in reference to the question of levels of literacy in the ancient world,2 but it may also be of interest to relate a certain number of the passages in question to the phenomenon known as the ‘epigraphic habit’, and this will be one of the central concerns of this piece.3 It is well known, as a result of the now classic study by MacMullen, that the Julio-Claudian period witnessed the development of a culture of monumental writing in the form of inscribing texts, not only in terms of the ever-increasing number of inscriptions being produced, but also in terms of a new sense of epigraphic self-representation.4 Following the example of the imperial household and its own epigraphic culture, individuals use inscriptions to construct their social identity in a period of rapid change, one which saw the destabilization of the structures of the late Republican world and led to the gradual evolution of new social and cultural practices.5The increasing use of new forms of self-representation can be traced among all levels of society. They are well attested among the freedman class, both among the freedmen of the imperial household and among freedmen in general, who use inscriptions to express both publicly and permanently their pride in their new status and economic success. Inscriptions of all types, honorific, funerary, votive, whether on a monument or an object of almost any kind, have a strong ‘sense of audience’,6 as they deliberately present the reality which the author has chosen to represent to their audience of readers, be they friends, guests, visitors or passers-by.

  • 7  On the dating of work see Rose (1971), Courtney (2001) 5-11.
  • 8  See Horsfall (1989a and b); more generally Horsfall (2003).
  • 9  On this passage see Corbier (1987), (1991) 107, Horsfall (1989b) 203f.

3The development of the epigraphic habit is due in part to the problems and tensions which mark this troubled period of history. It is also the case that readers of the Satyrica, or at least those who accept its Neronian dating, have long searched in it for comment on the ills and excesses of Julio-Claudian society.7 These two facts suggests that it may be useful to confront the novel and the epigraphic habit. Issues of social class, cultural pretention and the perception of power structures and social differences are of course central to the understanding of the work. We find there scholastici apparently incapable of understanding the world in which they live, particularly in the Cena Trimalchionis, when they come face to face with freedmen whom they despise but whose economic success far exceeds their own. In their own way, the freedmen look down on the scholastici, as is clear when Hermeros says to Ascyltus, iam scies patrem tuum mercedes perdidisse, quamvis et rhetoricam scis (58.8), or when Echion describes the professor of rhetoric Agamemnon as molestus and adds, scimus te prae litteras fatuum esse (46.1), even as he admits that litterae thesaurum est (46.8). In the depiction of freedmen in the Satyrica, this theme of education is a recurrent theme.8 Hermeros again famously states, non didici geometrias, critica et alogas naenias, sed lapidarias litteras scio, partes centum dico ad aes, ad pondus, ad nummum (58.7).9 Since lapidariae litterae appear more than once in the surviving text, it may be of interest to review all references to inscriptions in order to attempt a brief survey of Petronius’ epigraphic habit.

  • 10  See Ulpien, Dig. and also Suppl. Ital. n. s. 4, (1988) 78-84: titulumque quicumque leger (...)
  • 11  See Suetonius, Nero 33-34; 39. Encolpius likewise sees Trimalchio as a tyrant producing decrees (4 (...)
  • 12  See McGinn (2004) 39 on this passage and in general on brothels and prostitution.

4The first reference to an inscribed text in the Satyrica occurs right at the beginning of the surviving fragments of the work, when we encounter tyrants edictascribentes quibus imperent filiis ut patrum suorum capita praecidant (1.3). There is no explicit mention of inscriptions here, but use of the term edicta implies the diffusion of written texts.10 In this case also the image of tyrants producing edicta about patricide can only with some difficulty be divorced from Neronian reality.11 But in the Satyrica the question of reality is never simple, as becomes clear almost immediately. When Encolpius finds himself lost and unable to find his way back to his lodgings, he is led into a brothel by an old lady. There he describes what he sees (7.3): cum ego negarem me agnoscere domum, video quosdam inter titulos nudasque meretrices furtim spatiantes. It is difficult to decide exactly the nature of these tituli. They are probably painted posters of some kind acting as signs, either at the entrance of the brothel or perhaps on the individual booth (cella) of each prostitute, containing their name and the price of their services and perhaps accompanied by erotic scenes.12 One aspect of Petronius’ description is particularly interesting. Although he mentions nudae meretrices, Encolpius, tricked by the old lady (divinam ego putabam (7.2)), only slowly realizes that he is in a brothel: tarde, immo iam sero intellexi me in fornicem esse deductum. He does not seem to concentrate on the tituli and the prostitutes but on silhouettes, no doubt of clients, passing furtively in between them: video quosdam inter titulos nudasque meretrices furtim spatiantes. Do these nudae meretrices reveal to Encolpius that he is in a brothel or does he rely on the tituli to tell him where he is?Encolpius the scholasticus may be better at reading texts and images than at making sense of the reality in which he finds himself. He himself will later say (9.1): quasi per caliginem vidi.

  • 13  See esp. Horsfall (1989b) 202-3; on the placing of inscriptions and ancestral imagines in atria an (...)

5The first reference to an inscribed text in the CenaTrimalchionis occurs at the entrance to the house, and there follows a remarkable concentration of inscriptions in the early part of the subsequent narrative (28.6-7):13

sequimur nos admiratione iam saturi et cum Agamemnone ad ianuam pervenimus, in cuiuc poste libellus erat cum hac inscriptione fixus; ‘quisquis servus sine dominico iussu foras exierit, accipiet plagas centum’.

  • 14  See Meyer (2004) 23f, 67. In general on the placing of inscriptions see Corbier (1987), and on thi (...)
  • 15  See Courtney (2001) 75; on the relationship between Trimalchio and his slaves see e.g. Courtney (2 (...)
  • 16  For discussion see Ernout (1922) 24 n.3, Perrochat (1952) 9, Tremoli (1960) 6. Cf. Sat. 30.3; 44.1 (...)
  • 17  See Rivière (2002) 116f, n.5.
  • 18  On this aspect of the work see e.g. Bodel (1987), Horsfall (1989b) 199-201.

6Encolpius sees this inscription on the doorpost. Libelli were indeed fixed at the entrances of buildings, for example containing legal texts.14 Here, the detail contributes to the characterization of Trimalchio at this early stage of the encounter by suggesting his authority and control over every aspect of life in the household, and, in due course, even of his afterlife.15 The pleonasm foras exierit is attested in the sermo cotidianus.16 The expression suggests that Trimalchio has in mind slaves going outside without permission, rather than fugitivi, slaves intending to escape and never return, which seems to have been a regular phenomenon if we believe the evidence of legal sources.17 The theme of flight from the house will in fact become important near the end of the work when Encolpius and his companions attempt to escape from the house of Trimalchio (72.7-73.1); the final word of the surviving text of the Cena is fugimus. It is of course a key theme in the novel as a whole. As far as the placing of this libellus is concerned, there is no doubt humour in the fact that it seems to be intended for those in the process of entering. And it is only much later in the episode that the reader will fully understand its meaning, when Encolpius and his companions attempt to flee but fail and find themselves trapped. The atriensis warns them thus: erras, inquit, si putas te exire hac posse, qua venisti. nemo unquam convivarum per eandem ianuam emissus est; alia intrant, alia exeunt (72.10). As a result of their failure to get out, they find themselves novi generis labyrintho inclusi (73.1). The entry into Trimalchio’s house is the entrance to a kind of bizarre underworld from which escape seems impossible.18

7Immediately after seeing this intriguing libellus, Encolpius, already surprised by the unusual nature of so much of what he has seen (notavimus etiam res novas (27.3), cum has ergo miraremus lautitias (27.4), sequimur nos admiratione iam saturi (28.6), ceterum ego dum omnia stupeo (29.1)), encounters another inscription (29.1):

ad sinistram enim intrantibus non longe ab ostiarii cella canis ingens, catena vinctus, in pariete erat pictus superque quadrata littera scriptum ‘cave canem’.

  • 19  On this passage see Courtney (2001) 75f; more generally see Conte (1996).
  • 20  See Corbier (1995) 152f, noting Veyne’s idea that given the realism of the painting the words cave (...)

8The vivid quality of the painting catches out Encolpius and he falls to the ground, but the incident represents more than a piece of slapstick humour. The fact that he mistakes a painting for a real dog emphasizes a theme we have already encountered in the brothel, the narrator’s inability to makes sense of what he sees.19 Appearance, reality, fictionality, knowledge, perception and interpretation are constant themes within the action of the dinner party, just as they continually confront the reader of the Cena, and it seems obvious that Encolpius’ reading and misreading of the text acts as an example of mise en abyme, whereby the fictional character acts as an interpreting character and so a potential model of the reader of the Satyrica as a whole. This point must apply to all the inscriptions in the work, but the prominent placing of this scene at the beginning of the Cena surely gives it a special programmatic status. On this particular occasion also, word order helps surprise the reader by delaying the word pictus, further suggesting that the reader of the Cena may be in a similar situation to Encolpius, able to read (cf. Hermeros with his knowledge of litterae lapidariae?) but unable to interpret accurately. But Encolpius fails to interpret on yet another level, and the reader, at least on an initial reading, probably makes the same mistake. It transpires that there are in fact two real chained dogs in the house. At 64.7 a huge guard dog appears (canis catena vinctus) and creates havoc in the middle of the meal. More importantly, since the scene directly recalls their entrance into the house at 29.1 and takes place at exactly the same place, a real dog appears at 72.7, when Encolpius and his companions try to escape from the house, and they are frightened by a canis catenarius. Had they paid more attention on entering, they might have considered that the painting was in fact a depiction of a real dog as well as a realistic depiction of a dog, and that the cave canem was a joke on more than one level.20

  • 21  On this passage see especially Tremoli (1960) 10f, Corbier (1995) 150-52.

9Further inscriptions and images accompany the dog. As his friends laugh at his fall, Encolpius studies the wall (29.2-5):21

et collegae quidem mei riserunt, ego autem collecto spiritu non destiti totum parietem persequi. erat autem venalicium cum titulis pictis, et ipse Trimalchio capillatus caduceum tenebat Minervaque ducente Romam intrabat. hinc quemadmodum ratiocinari didicisset, deinque dispensator factus esset, omnia diligenter curiosus pictor cum inscriptione reddiderat. in deficiente vero iam porticu levatum mento in tribunal excelsum Mercurius rapiebat. Praesto erat Fortuna cum cornu abundanti et tres Parcae aurea pensa torquentes. notavi etiam in porticu gregem cursorum cum magistro se exercentem. praeterea grande armarium in angulo vidi, in cuius aedicula erant Lares argentei positi Venerisque signum marmoreum et pyxis aurea non pusilla, in qua barbam ipsius conditam esse dicebant… interrogare ergo atriensem coepi, quas in medio picturas haberent. ‘Iliada et Odyssian’ inquit, ‘ac Laenatis gladiatorium munus’.

  • 22  See Smith (1975) on 29.3, Corbier (1995) 150f.
  • 23  On this aspect of the work see Panayotakis (1995), Rosati (1983) = (1999).

10These tituli included in a depiction of a slave market may actually be painted directly on the fresco, or they may take the form of depictions of placards around the necks of the slaves up for sale, perhaps, rather like the prostitutes earlier, containing such information as price, age, origin etc.22 As Encolpius’ investigation of the scene progresses he understands that it is in fact taken from the life of Trimalchio. Encolpius points out that the artist has accompanied every aspect of the scene with an inscription (omnia…cum inscriptione reddiderat), a certain gauche naiveté leading him into overdoing it. The point seems to be that Trimalchio, in an obvious example of epigraphic self-representation, has depicted his entry into Rome as a kind of mixture between a triumphal procession and his apotheosis. There is certainly humour also in the fact that such a personal scene occurs alongside scenes from Homer and gladiatorial games. But given Encolpius’ naiveté over the dog, it is not to be too easily assumed that he is the knowingly sarcastic critic of Trimalchio’s bad taste. We must also pay due attention to Trimalchio’s control over the scenes and images he has chosen to present to those entering his household and we must also think about the way in which he is thus manipulating his guests and gauging their reactions. The whole Cena may be thought of as a kind of theatrical mime, but Encolpius and his companions are also on stage.23 Paying attention to Trimalchio’s art of self-representation helps the reader to apppreciate that he is studying Encolpius and his reactions to the images just as much as Encolpius is studying him and his artwork.

  • 24  See Conte (1996) passim.

11The fact that Encolpius has to ask the doorkeeper about the scenes in the middle suggests perhaps that they were not accompanied by tituli, but it also draws attention to the act of perception itself. Why didn’t Encolpius recognise the Homeric scenes? The surprising collocation with gladiatorial images no doubt made an unusual combination which may have hindered immediate and accurate recognition, but two other explanations are possible. Either the artwork was of a poor standard, or the scholasticus Encolpius simply fails to recognise the scenes, just as he failed to make sense of the depiction of the dog. Petronius elsewhere suggests that for all their apparent learning the scholastici actually know nothing useful, that they are out of step with the real world in which they lead their mythomaniac lives (cf. esp. 1.3: et ideo ego adulescentos existimo in scholis stultissimos fieri, quia nihil ex his quae in usu habemus aut audiunt aut vident…).24

12Encolpius is unable to study any further this work of art, but he is called upon to continue his reading of Trimlachio’s household immediately after entering the triclinium (30.1-4):

et quod praecipue miratus sum, in postibus triclinii fasces erant cum securibus fixi, quorum imam partem quasi embolum navis aeneum finiebat, in quo erat scriptum: ‘C. Pompeio Trimalchioni seviro augustali Cinnamus dispensator’. sub eodem titulo et lucerna bilychnis de camera pendebat, errant et duae tabulae in utroque poste defixae, quarum altera, si bene memini, hoc habebat inscriptum: III et pridie kalendas Ianuarias C. noster foras cenat.

  • 25  See Smith (1975) ad loc. Tremoli (1960) 15 believes that the inscription is actually on the lamp a (...)
  • 26  On these lines see Tremoli (1960) 11-12, Courtney (2001) 79. Corbier (1991) 115-116, rightly under (...)
  • 27  Cf. Sat. 71.9: epulum dedi, and see Veyne (1991) 49.
  • 28  On which see Tremoli (1960) 12-16 (suggesting (16) that the note containing the date of Trimalchio (...)

13This short passage contains a remarkable concentration of inscriptions. A dedication of Cinnamus to honour Trimalchio’s accession to the status of sevir is engraved on an object which looks to Encolpius like the bronze beak of a ship and which seems to be part of each of the doorposts in some way. The same inscription also seems to be lit up by a lamp and so may have been above the door, or perhaps on the lintel.25 In addition, one of the doorposts also sports a notice giving a date on which Trimalchio will dine out. Again, the emphasis is on Trimalchio’s status and social relations. The guests can appreciate the evolution of Trimalchio’s career since his beginnings described in the images he chose to expose on the wall, where they saw him trained in accountancy and then promoted to the position of dispensator (29.4: hinc quemadmodum ratiocinari didicisset, deinque dispensator factus esse; see also 30.8-9). Now he is a freedman granted with honours and he wants to be seen as such through this inscription posted at the door of his triclinium, dedicated by another dispensator, Cinnamus, to commemorate his nomination as a sevir Augustalis. The same title of sevir will appear according to his wishes on his funerary inscription, with the mention that it was given to him in absentia (see 71.12: huic seviratus absenti decretus est). Several dispensatores are mentioned in the Satyrica (45.7: dispensatorem Glyconis ; 45.8: dispensatorem ad bestias dedit ; 53.10: iam reus factus dispensator) and two seviri are among Trimalchio’s guests: Hermeros (57.6: mille denarios pro capite solvi; sevir gratis factus sum) and Habinnas, the lapidarius (65.5), whose entrance into the triclinium is announced by a lictor, in the manner of a praetor, provoking the admiration of Encolpius (65.3-4; 6). Once again also the inscription, placed at the entrance of Trimalchio’s triclinium, is seen through its effect on its audience (praecipue miratus sum 30.1). The tria nomina (as in 71.12) are used here in contrast to the single name of the dedicant and in contrast also to the expression of Trimalchio’s name in the next inscription, where he is simply Gaius. The rods and axes and the beak of a ship seem pretentiously ridiculous on the monument of a mere sevir, and there is humour in the fact that the reader will discover later the importance of ships in Trimalchio’s business career (76).26 It is noteworthy also that a nomination as sevir would usually be followed by a show of liberalitas to the people of the city, perhaps in the form of an invitation to a meal,27 which brings us neatly to the other inscription, which announces a date on which Trimalchio will dine out.28 The comings and goings in this establishment are clearly regulated with great precision, evoking a vivid picture of social interactions and hierarchies.

14The next inscription occurs on silver plates (31.10):

allata est tamen gustatio valde lauta; nam iam omnes discubuerant praeter ipsum Trimachionem, cui locus novo more primus servabatur. ceterum in promulsidari asellus erat Corinthius cum bisaccio positus, qui habebat olivas in altera parte albas, in altera nigras. Tegebant asellum duae lances, in quarum marginibus nomen Trimalchionis inscriptum erat et argenti pondus.

  • 29  See Friedlaender (1960) ad loc., Tremoli (1960) 17, Smith (1975) ad loc., Horsfall (1989) 198.

15Golden and silver ware often had its weight and the name of its owner marked on it, such as for example among the Boscoreale treasures, where twelve items have their weight recorded on them.29 The central issue here is of course that of good taste and manners and Trimlachio’s use of élite social practices. Exactly the same is true of the Opimian wine which appears soon after (34.6):

statim allatae sunt amphorae vitreae diligenter gypsatae, quarum in cervicibus pittacia erant affixa cum hoc titulo: Falernum Opimianum annorum centum. dum titulos perlegimus, complosit Trimalchio manus et: ‘eheu, inquit, ergo diutius vivit vinum quam homuncio. quare tangomenas faciamus. vita vinum est. verum Opimianum praesto. heri non tam bonum posui, et multo honestiores cenabant.’

  • 30  See Tremoli (1960) 17, Smith (1975) ad loc., Courtney (2001) 84f.

16Wines were indeed thus marked, and it is noteworthy here that the guests seem to read them with some attention (dum titulos perlegimus). The point here is of course in pretentious consular dating and in the extreme age of the wine, which will have meant it was undrinkable, its only use being to fortify younger wines.30

  • 31  See also Tremoli (1960) 17f.

17The next two inscriptions relate to the activities of other freedmen as described by Hermeros.31 He emphasizes one man’s wealth but also criticizes him for being a braggart by announcing his purchase of a house thus (38.10):

itaque proxime cenaculum cum hoc titulo proscripsit: C. Pompeius Diogenes ex kalendis Iuliis cenaculum locat; ipse enim domum emit.

  • 32  See Smith (1975) ad loc.
  • 33  On money and prices in Petronius see Bodel (2003).

18There is evidence to suggest that July 1 was a regular starting-date for leases of properties,32 but a particular point here is the freedman’s obsession with property and wealth, which is evident at many points in the work.33 It is noteworthy also that this character has the same praenomen and nomen as Trimalchio and that he too uses tituli to represent himself to others. The next inscription also is erected by someone with an interesting name (38.16):

inclinatis quoque rebus suis, cum timeret ne creditores illum conturbare existimarent, hoc titulo auctionem proscripsit: ‘C. Iulius Proculus auctionem faciet rerum supervacuarum’.

  • 34  For the systematic recording of all the possessions of Trimalchio see 53.1-10 and Horsfall (1991) (...)

19Someone called Caius (if the praenomen restored in Müller’s text following Bücheler is correct) Iulius is probably a member of a family of imperial freedman. Here too the emphasis is on money and business and the use if libelli by freedmen to display their wealthy and status. Caius has lost a fortune, Encolpius is told by Hermeros, but is determined to keep up appearances.34

  • 35  See esp. Mommsen (1878), Tremoli (1960) 20-4, D’Arms (1981) 108-16, Purcell (1987), Courtney (2001 (...)

20Finally, it is the funerary monument of Trimalchio himself which provides the culmination of all these references to the erection of inscriptions in the Cena. This is the ultimate example of epigraphic self-representation, and as a result it has attracted by far the greatest amount of scholarly attention (71.12):35

inscriptio quoque vide diligenter si haec satis idonea tibi videtur: ‘C. Pompeius Trimalchio Maecenatianus hic requescit. huic seviratus absenti decretus est. cum posset in omnibus decuriis Romae esse, tamen noluit. pius, fortis, fidelis, ex parvo crevit; sestertium reliquit trecenties, nec umquam philosphum audivit. Vale: et tu’.

  • 36  See Conte (1996) 216 s.v. Cato, Courtney (2001) 115f comparing 56.7.
  • 37  Beard (1998) 97f.

21There are many noteworthy points to be made about this text: the collocation of the nomen Pompeius and the agnomen Maecenatianus; the decree of the sevirate in absentia and the use of nolui, more appropriate for a senatorial or even imperial career; the excellent (Catonian?)36 joke about never having listened to a philosopher and the easily paralleled vale: et tu. In particular, this passage has recently been the subject of an excellent study by Beard, whose remarks are well worth quoting:37

One of Petronius’ consistent games throughout the Cena is to present a Trimalchio who looks as if he is getting everything wrong, but in another sense is getting things just right. (Yes, it’s a really vulgar dinner party that shows Trimalchio up as just the kind of nouveau riche slob that we despise. But would we like to be invited? Yes, of course we would. So who wins…?). So Petronius is repeatedly challenging his reader to reflect on how they judge Trimalchio. Can we really be certain whether he has got it right or not? How do we make our minds up? And what does it say about ‘us’ (as Roman readers or Roman sophisticates) and about ‘our’ culture if we find we can’t decide so easily? … the last word of the epitaph lies with us. There is no escape from our obligation to interpret.

22As the reader tries to make sense of this inscription she/he finds her/himself in the same position as Encolpius in front of the cavecanem. He too was forced to interpret and found it very difficult to do so. In this highly sophisticated text the use of inscriptions must be seen in the light of contemporary social practices, but for all that their evaluation is rarely easy. They consistently provide a mise en abyme whereby the reader of the text watches Encolpius reading texts and trying to make sense of the world Trimalchio has decided to offer up to his eyes. Inscriptions of almost every known kind form a part of his complex art of self-representation, and we do a great injustice to the depth of Petronius’ art if we are happy to collude or be satisfied with the narrow-minded snobbery of Encolpius as an interpretation of it. Every reader of this work, like every reader of every Roman inscription, is faced with the challenge of decoding the communicative structures underpinning its author’s enunciation. As we read Petronius so Encolpius reads Trimalchio, and who is to say that instead of believing in a knowing complicity, based on the shifting sands of common sense and good taste, between the reader and the author Petronius, we should not be more aware of the knowing strategies of a Trimalchio who has certainly a sophisticated grasp of the possibilities offered his class by the rise of the epigraphic habit? Who are you to look down on and make fun of Trimalchio and his freedmen friends?

Part II

23References to writing in the Satyrica

  • 38  On the poems of Petronius see Courtney (1991), Connors (1998).

24This list does not contain all the poems, despite the fact that it can be assumed that some of them were texts.38 Nor does it contain the passages discussed above.

ut verba Attico stilo effoderent

interdum subducta foro det pagina cursum,

nos iam ad triclinium perveneramus, in cuius parte prima procurator rationes accipiebat.

ecce intra hos dies scripsit, ut illi ex India semen boletorum mitteretur.

scimus te prae litteras fatuum esse

nam quicquid illi vacat, caput de tabula non tollit.

ceterum iam Graeculis calcem impingit et Latinas coepit non male appetere, etiam si magister eius sibi placens sit nec uno loco consistit. scit quidem litteras, sed non vult laborare.

emi ergo nunc puero aliquot libra rubricata, quia volo illum ad domusionem aliquid de iure gustare. habet haec res panem. nam litteris satis inquinatus est.

litterae thesaurum est, et artificium nunquam moritur.

neutrum, inquit cocus, sed testamento Pansae tibi relictus sum.

ego etiam si causas non ago, in domusionem tamen litteras didici. Et ne me putes studia fastiditum, II bybliothecas habeo, unam Graecam, alteram Latinam.

solebam haec ego puer apud Homerum legere.

et plane interpellavit saltationis libidinem actuarius, qui tanquam urbis acta recitavit: “VII kalendas Sextiles: in praedio Cumano, quod est Trimalchionis nati sunt pueri XXX, puellae XL; sublata in horreum ex area tritici milia modium quingenta; boves domiti quingenti. eodem die: Mithridates servus in crucem actus est, quia Gai nostri genio male dixerat. eodem die: in arcam relatum est, quod collocari non potuit, sestertium centies. eodem die: incendium factum est in hortis Pompeianis, ortum ex aedibus Nastae vilici. ‘quid?’, inquit Trimalchio, ‘quando mihi Pompeiani horti empti sunt? anno priore, inquit actuarius, et ideo in rationem nondum venerunt.’ excanduit Trimalchio et: ‘quicunque, inquit, mihi fundi empti fuerint, nisi intra sextum mensem sciero, in rationes meas inferri vetuo.’ iam etiam edicta aedilium recitabantur et saltuariorum testamenta, quibus Trimalchio cum elogio exheredabatur; iam nomina vilicorum et repudiata a circumitore liberta in balneatoris contubernio deprehensa, et atriensis Baias relegatus; iam reus factus dispensator, et iudicium inter cubicularios actum.

in vicem enim poenae venit decretum Trimalchionis, quo puerum iussit liberum esse, ne quis posset dicere tantum virum esse a servo vulneratum.

ita, inquit Trimalchio, non oportet hunc casum sine inscriptione transire; statimque codicillos poposcit et non diu cogitatione distorta haec recitavit:
‘quod non expectes, ex transverso fit
et supra nos Fortuna negotia curat:
quare da nobis vina Falerna puer.’

quod autem, inquit, putamus secundum litteras difficillimum esse artificium?

iam etiam philosophos de negotio deiciebat, cum pittacia in scypho circumferri coeperunt, puerque super hoc positus officium apophoreta recitavit. ‘argentum sceleratum’: allata est perna, supra quam acetabula erant posita. ‘cervical: offla collaris allata est. ‘serisapia et contumelia’: xerophagiae e sale datae sunt et contus cum malo. ‘porri et persica’: flagellum et cultrum accepit. ‘passeres et muscarium’: uvam passam et mel Atticum. ‘cenatoria et forensia: offlam et tabulas accepit. ‘canale et pedale: lepus et solea est allata. ‘muraena et littera’: murem cum rana alligatum fascemque betae accepit. diu risimus. Sexcenta huiusmodi fuerunt, quae iam exciderunt memoriae meae.

non didici geometrias, critica et alogas naenias, sed lapidarias litteras scio, partes centum dico ad aes, ad pondus, ad nummum.

venimus inter monimenta: homo meus coepit ad stelas facere; sedeo ego cantabundus et stelas numero.

Habinnas sevir est idemque lapidarius, qui videtur monumenta optime facere.

4569.1? cf.103.2, 106.1.
at curabo stigmam habeat.

‘ad summam, omnes illos in testamento meo manu mitto. Philargyro etiam fundum lego et contubernalem suam, Carioni quoque insulam et vicesimam et lectum stratum. nam Fortunatam meam heredem facio, et commendo illam omnibus amicis meis. et haec ideo omnia publico, ut familia mea iam nunc sic me amet tanquam mortuum.’ gratias agere omnes indulgentiae coeperant domini, cum ille oblitus nugarum exemplar testamenti iussit afferri et totum a primo ad ultimum ingemescente familia recitavit.

decem partes dicit, librum ab oculo legit.

ecce autem, ego dum cum ventis litigo, intravit pinacothecam senex canus, exercitati vultus et qui videretur nescio quid magnum promittere, sed cultu non proinde speciosus, ut facile appareret eum ex hac nota litteratorum esse, quos odisse divites solent.

insectantur itaque, quacunque ratione possunt, litterarum amatores, ut videantur illi quoque infra pecuniam positi.

nec longe a praecone Ascyltos stabat amictus discoloria veste, atque in lance argentea indicium et fidem praeferebat.

vestes quoque diutius vinctas ruga consumit, et chartae alligatae mutant figuram.

Eumolpus tanquam litterarum studiosus utique atramentum habet. hoc ergo remedio mutemus colores a capillis usque ad ungues.

‘mercennarius meus, ut ex novacula comperistis, tonsor est: hic continuo radat utriusque non solum capita, sed etiam supercilia. sequar ego frontes notans inscriptione sollerti, ut videamini stigmate esse puniti. ita eaedem litterae et suspicionem declinabunt quaerentium et vultus umbra supplicii tegent.’ non est dilata fallacia, sed ad latus navigii furtim processimus, capitaque cum superciliis denudanda tonsori praebuimus. implevit Eumolpus frontes utriusque ingentibus litteris, et notum fugitivorum epigramma per totam faciem liberali manu duxit.

nec in eodem futurus navigio auspicium mihi feci, sed quia horridos longosque habebant capillos, ne viderer de nave carcerem facere, iussi squalorem damnatis auferri; simul ut notae quoque litterarum non adumbratae comarum praesidio totae ad oculos legentium acciderent.

Tryphaena lacrimas effudit decepta supplicio - vera enim stigmata credebat captivorum frontibus impressa - sciscitarique summissius coepit quod ergastulum intercepisset errantes, aut cuius iam crudeles manus in hoc supplicium durassent.

concitatus iracundia prosiliit Lichas, et: ‘o te’ inquit, feminam simplicem, tanquam vulnera ferro praeparata litteras biberint. utinam quidem hac se inscriptione frontis maculassent: haberemus nos extremum solacium. nunc mimicis artibus petiti sumus et adumbrata inscriptione derisi’.

ut vero spongia uda facies plorantis detersa est et liquefactum per totum os atramentum omnia scilicet lineamenta fuliginea nube confudit, in odium se ira convertit.

audimus murmur insolitum et sub diaeta magistri quasi cupientis exire beluae gemitum. persecuti igitur sonum invenimus Eumolpum sedentem membranaeque ingenti versus ingerentem. mirati ergo quod illi vacaret in vicinia mortis poema facere, extrahimus clamantem, iubemusque bonam habere mentem. at ille interpellatus excanduit et: ‘sinite me, inquit, sententiam explere; laborat carmen in fine’.

nempe hic proxima luce patrimonii sui rationes inspexit, nempe diem etiam, quo venturus esset in patriam, animo suo fixit.

Eumolpus autem dum epigramma facit, oculos ad arcessendos sensus longius mittit.

61116. 6
in hac enim urbe non litterarum studia celebrantur, non eloquentia locum habet.

itaque ut duraret inter omnes tutum mendacium, in verba Eumolpi sacramentum iuravimus: uri, vinciri, verberari ferroque necari, et quicquid aliud Eumolpus iussisset.

sedeat praeterea quotidie ad rationes tabulasque testamenti omnibus mensibus renovet.

cubiculum autem meum Chrysis intravit, codicillosque mihi dominae suae reddidit, in quibus haec erant scripta: ‘Circe Polyaeno salutem. si libidinosa essem, quererer decepta; nunc etiam languori tuo gratias ago. in umbra voluptatis diutius lusi. quid tamen agas quaero, et an tuis pedibus perveneris domum; negant enim medici sine nervis homines ambulare posse. narrabo tibi, adulescens, paralysin cave. nunquam ego aegrum tam magno periculo vidi; medius iam peristi. quod si idem frigus genua manusque temptaverit tuas, licet ad tubicines mittas. quid ergo est? etiam si gravem iniuriam accepi, homini tamen misero non invideo medicinam. si vis sanus esse, Gitonem roga. recipies, inquam, nervos tuos, si triduo sine fratre dormieris. nam quod ad me attinet, non timeo ne quis inveniatur cui minus placeam. nec speculum mihi nec fama mentitur. vale, si potes.’

65ut intellexit Chrysis perlegisse me totum convicium: ‘solent, inquit, haec fieri, et praecipue in hac civitate, in qua mulieres etiam lunam deducunt * itaque huius quoque rei cura agetur. rescribe modo blandius dominae, animumque eius candida humanitate restitue. verum enim fatendum: ex qua hora iniuriam accepit, apud se non est’. libenter quidem parui ancillae, verbaque codicillis talia imposui: ‘Polyaenos Circae salutem. fateor me, domina, saepe peccasse; nam et homo sum et adhuc iuvenis. numquam tamen ante hunc diem usque ad mortem deliqui. habes confitentem reum: quicquid iusseris, merui. proditionem feci, hominem occidi, templum violavi: in haec facinora quaere supplicium. sive occidere placet, ferro meo venio; sive verberibus contenta es, curro nudus ad dominam. illud unum memento, non me sed instrumenta peccasse. Paratus miles arma non habui. quis hoc turbaverit nescio. forsitan animus antecessit corporis moram, forsitan dum omnia concupisco, voluptatem tempore consumpsi. non invenio quod feci. paralysin tamen cavere iubes: tanquam iam maior fieri possit, quae abstulit mihi per quod etiam te habere potui. summa tamen excusationis meae haec est: placebo tibi, si me culpam emendare permiseris.’

quid me constricta spectatis fronte Catone,
damnatisque novae simplicitatis opus?

omnes, qui in testamento meo legata habent, praeter libertos meos hac condicione percipient quae dedi, si corpus meum in partes conciderint et astante populo comederint.

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1  We would like to thank John Bodel, Rachele de Felice, Nicholas Horsfall, Patrick Le Roux, Costas Panayotakis and Tony Woodman for help and encouragement of various kinds. They did not read this piece before publication, however, and all its errors and weaknesses are the work of its authors.

2  See in general Harris (1989), Humphrey (1991), but especially Horsfall (1989a and b).

3  To date the only work devoted entirely to inscriptions in Petronius is Tremoli (1960), who confines his study to the Cena Trimalchionis. Daheim and Blänsdorf (2003) use the evidence of inscriptions to study the language of Petronius. Important contributions are Horsfall (1989b) 202, Bodel (1994). See also Fabre-Serris (1998), Dupont (1977) and Slater (1990). For a survey of inscriptions in literary texts see Sandys (19692) 1-19 and esp. 9 on Petronius.

4  On the phenomenon known as the ‘epigraphic habit’ see Macmullen (1982), Meyer (1990), Alföldi (1991), Woolf (1996), (1998) 77-105. On epigraphic self-representation see Eck (1984), (1995), Beard (1998), Alföldi and Panciera (2001).

5  See Woolf (1996), (1998) 78.

6  MacMullen (1982) 246.

7  On the dating of work see Rose (1971), Courtney (2001) 5-11.

8  See Horsfall (1989a and b); more generally Horsfall (2003).

9  On this passage see Corbier (1987), (1991) 107, Horsfall (1989b) 203f.

10  See Ulpien, Dig. and also Suppl. Ital. n. s. 4, (1988) 78-84: titulumque quicumque legerit, aut lege[ntem] ausculta(ve)rit...

11  See Suetonius, Nero 33-34; 39. Encolpius likewise sees Trimalchio as a tyrant producing decrees (41.9).

12  See McGinn (2004) 39 on this passage and in general on brothels and prostitution.

13  See esp. Horsfall (1989b) 202-3; on the placing of inscriptions and ancestral imagines in atria and vestibula, Erkelenz (2003) 163f. Trimalchio of course has no such grand past to draw upon and so depicts himself for those entering his house to see; see Bodel (1994) 243-48.

14  See Meyer (2004) 23f, 67. In general on the placing of inscriptions see Corbier (1987), and on this passage (1991) 115. On the posting of laws see Williamson (1995). For examples of warnings and interdictions of this kind see ILS 5.860 (index). For the most part they are on funerary monuments and relate to forbidding violation of tombs; see Tremoli (1960) 19f, Giovannini and Hirt (1999).

15  See Courtney (2001) 75; on the relationship between Trimalchio and his slaves see e.g. Courtney (2001) 81f, 98f. In general on the freedmen in Petronius see Bodel (1984).

16  For discussion see Ernout (1922) 24 n.3, Perrochat (1952) 9, Tremoli (1960) 6. Cf. Sat. 30.3; 44.14; 47.5; 52.7; 94,6 with the comment of Smith (1975) on 28.7: ‘pleonasms like this ... are not uncommon in ordinary language.’

17  See Rivière (2002) 116f, n.5.

18  On this aspect of the work see e.g. Bodel (1987), Horsfall (1989b) 199-201.

19  On this passage see Courtney (2001) 75f; more generally see Conte (1996).

20  See Corbier (1995) 152f, noting Veyne’s idea that given the realism of the painting the words cave canem are quite redundant and so illustrative of Trimalchio’s bad taste.

21  On this passage see especially Tremoli (1960) 10f, Corbier (1995) 150-52.

22  See Smith (1975) on 29.3, Corbier (1995) 150f.

23  On this aspect of the work see Panayotakis (1995), Rosati (1983) = (1999).

24  See Conte (1996) passim.

25  See Smith (1975) ad loc. Tremoli (1960) 15 believes that the inscription is actually on the lamp as well as the doorposts, and that the lamp will also have been a gift of Cinnamus. There seems to be no writing on the image of the moon and planets. For the suggestion that Cinnamus is the dispensator of Trimalchio see Ernout (1922) 26, Horsfall (1989b) 202; the ex-dispensator now has his own dispensator. He also has a procurator receiving rationes (30.1). On the great number of epigraphical attestations of seviri and their almost total absence from literary texts apart from the Satyrica see Bodel (2001) 133.

26  On these lines see Tremoli (1960) 11-12, Courtney (2001) 79. Corbier (1991) 115-116, rightly underlines the absence of any separation by Trimalchio between public and private; she sees in the embolum navis a possible relation with Pompey and his domus rostrata; cf. esp. Sat. 71.9 for ships on Trimalchio’s funerary monument. Courtney (2001) 78 writes of: “the fictional character Trimalchio’s attempt to elevate his household to imperial scale.” For the confusion of the public and private spheres see for example Nero using Rome as his private house: see e.g. Tacitus Ann. 15.37. On the dispensatores in the Satyrica: Veyne (1991) 18, 21-22 and for epigraphical testimonies of dispensatores, particularly imperial dispensatores, in the financial administration of Gaul and Germany: France (2000)  esp. 201-209 and 215-217.

27  Cf. Sat. 71.9: epulum dedi, and see Veyne (1991) 49.

28  On which see Tremoli (1960) 12-16 (suggesting (16) that the note containing the date of Trimalchio’s invitation will have been put up by the cook), Corbier (1991) 116, Courtney (2001) 79f.

29  See Friedlaender (1960) ad loc., Tremoli (1960) 17, Smith (1975) ad loc., Horsfall (1989) 198.

30  See Tremoli (1960) 17, Smith (1975) ad loc., Courtney (2001) 84f.

31  See also Tremoli (1960) 17f.

32  See Smith (1975) ad loc.

33  On money and prices in Petronius see Bodel (2003).

34  For the systematic recording of all the possessions of Trimalchio see 53.1-10 and Horsfall (1991) 68, Bodel (2003).

35  See esp. Mommsen (1878), Tremoli (1960) 20-4, D’Arms (1981) 108-16, Purcell (1987), Courtney (2001) 114-15. See also Woolf (1996) 25f discussing Pliny Ep. 6.10.3-5, 7.29.2 and 8.6.14 as examples of the Roman reception of funerary monuments. The remarkable detail with which the whole monument is described illustrates how important the this aspect was for Romans, whose interest in monuments was not restricted only to the texts they carried; see Corbier (1995). Note also the inscription which he orders to accompany his funerary monument (71.7): hoc monumentum heredem non sequatur, on which see Tremoli (1960) 19f for parallels and its abbreviation: ‘un’ iscrizione comunissima tanto che nelle lapidi troviamo assai più frequente la sigla H.M.H.N.S.’. Note also that the Cena begins with an epigraphic interdiction.

36  See Conte (1996) 216 s.v. Cato, Courtney (2001) 115f comparing 56.7.

37  Beard (1998) 97f.

38  On the poems of Petronius see Courtney (1991), Connors (1998).

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Jocelyne Nelis-Clément et Damien Nelis, « Petronius’ epigraphic habit », Dictynna [En ligne], 2 | 2005, mis en ligne le 30 novembre 2010, consulté le 20 avril 2019. URL :

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Jocelyne Nelis-Clément

CNRS, Ausonius, University Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux III

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Damien Nelis

University of Dublin, Trinity College

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