(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Encolpius rails at the growth of artificiality in modern rhetoric and the ill-prepared students who come to the school. Agamemnon, the professor, agrees with him but places the blame entirely on parents who refuse to make their children study. Weary of the dispute and far gone in drink, Encolpius flees the school. An old woman, who makes indecent proposals to him, shows him the way back to his inn.

Gito, Encolpius’s sixteen-year-old slave, has prepared supper, but the comely boy is crying: Ascyltus has made violent love to him. Encolpius is soothing the boy with caresses and tender words when Ascyltus breaks in on them. A quarrel ensues between the two friends as to who should enjoy Gito’s favors. The dispute is settled only when all three agree to pay a visit to Lycurgus, a rich friend of Ascyltus. Lycurgus receives them most cordially and introduces them to Lichas, his friend. Lichas, completely taken with Encolpius, insists that Encolpius and Gito come home with him. On the way, Tryphaena, a beautiful woman attached to Lichas’s entourage, makes surreptitious love to Encolpius, who resolves to have little to do with Lichas. When the party arrives at Lichas’s villa, Tryphaena deserts Encolpius for the bewitching Gito. Smarting under her desertion, Encolpius makes love to Doris, Lichas’s attractive wife. All goes fairly well until Gito tires of Tryphaena—she then accuses both Gito and Encolpius of making improper advances, and the two return in haste to Lycurgus’s house.

Lycurgus at first supports the two adventurers, but as the jealous Lichas increases his complaints, Lycurgus turns against the pair. At the suggestion of Ascyltus, the three set out again to seek whatever love affairs and plunder they can find. They are well supplied with gold, for Encolpius plundered one of Lichas’s ships before leaving.

A fair is in progress at a nearby small town, where they come upon a groom who is saddling a rich man’s horse. When the groom leaves for a moment, Encolpius steals the rich man’s riding cloak. Soon afterward, Ascyltus finds a bag of coins on the ground. The two friends hide the gold by sewing it under the lining of Encolpius’s threadbare tunic. Just as they finish, the rich man’s retainers give chase to recover the riding cloak. Dashing through a wood, Encolpius is separated from his friend and loses the tunic. When they meet again later at a market, they see the tunic up for sale there, with the gold pieces still hidden in the lining. They offer to trade the riding cloak for the tunic, but the bystanders become suspicious and try to make the two friends appear before a judge. Dropping the riding cloak and seizing the tunic, they flee.

After telling Gito to follow later on, they set out for the next town. Seeing the dim forms of two comely women hurrying through the dusk, Encolpius and Ascyltus follow them, unobserved, into an underground temple. There the two men see a company of women in Bacchanalian garb, each with a phallic...

(The entire section is 1225 words.)