Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 361
The Satyricon is not really the most "quotable" work in literature, partly because most of it, by our own standards, is a bit too "obscene" and doesn't exactly express what we would consider any great profundities of thought. It's difficult to know how much of the thought and action is being described either ironically, as a satire, or as straightforward reporting by the author. Here is a quote about education:
It is my conviction that schools are responsible for the foolishness of young men.
A major section of the novel describes a lavish dinner at the house of a man named Trimalchio, who makes the following observation after serving a 100-year-old wine, an Opmian Falernian:
To think that wine lives longer than poor little man!
Trimalchio seems to be a pompous fool, but he is also hilarious and has delusions of grandeur. In speaking of the land he owns (much of which he says he hasn't yet seen) he says,
I've got a notion to add Sicily to my other little holdings.
In other words, Trimalchio believes he can take over the island of Sicily by himself. Later, still at Trimalchio's house, the narrator Encolpius makes a literary observation when a servus (i.e., one of the many enslaved persons omnipresent at the time) recites incorrectly from the Aeneid:
For the first time in my life, Virgil grated on my nerves.
From our perspective it's difficult to tell if Encolpius is really the intellectual he thinks himself or if he is just a pretentious rascal like others in the story.
These quotes might be considered carefully in the context of the action, to answer the above question and also to resolve, if possible, the more general issue of the overall meaning or "message" (if there is one) of The Satyricon. Is Petronius really satirizing these people and the whole society of his time, or is he actually endorsing these activities, the orgies and gluttony, as healthy, free-spirited hedonism? One must be cautious about projecting our own views onto a time and place in which standards were quite different from our own.
All quotations are from the 1922 translation of W.C. Firebaugh.
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