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The Satyricon

By: Gaius Petronius Arbiter

The Satyricon, Satyricon liber (The Book of Satyrlike Adventures), or Satyrica, is a Latin work of fiction believed to have been written by Gaius Petronius, though the manuscript tradition identifies the author as Titus Petronius. The Satyricon is an example of Menippean satire, which is different from the formal verse satire of Juvenal or Horace. The work contains a mixture of prose and verse (commonly known as prosimetrum); serious and comic elements; and erotic and decadent passages. As with The Golden Ass by Apuleius (also called the Metamorphoses), classical scholars often describe it as a Roman novel, without necessarily implying continuity with the modern literary form.

The work is narrated by its central figure, Encolpius, a retired, famous gladiator of the era. The surviving sections of the novel begin with Encolpius traveling with a companion and former lover named Ascyltos, who has joined Encolpius on numerous escapades. Encolpius' slave, Giton, is at his owner's lodging when the story begins. 


In the first passage preserved, Encolpius is in a Greek town in Campania, perhaps Puteoli, where he is standing outside a school, railing against the Asiatic style and false taste in literature, which he blames on the prevailing system of declamatory education. His adversary in this debate is Agamemnon, a sophist, who shifts the blame from the teachers to the parents. Encolpius discovers that his companion Ascyltos has left and breaks away from Agamemnon when a group of students arrive. 


Encolpius then gets lost and asks an old woman for help returning home. She takes him to a brothel which she refers to as his home. There, Encolpius locates Ascyltos and then Giton, who claims that Ascyltos made a sexual attempt on him (9). After raising their voices against each other, the fight ends in laughter and the friends reconcile but still agree to split at a later date (9–10). Later, Encolpius tries to have sex with Giton, but he's interrupted by Ascyltos, who assaults him after catching the two in bed. The three go to the market, where they are involved in a convoluted dispute over stolen property. Returning to their lodgings, they are confronted by Quartilla, a devotee of Priapus, who condemns their attempts to pry into the cult's secrets. 


The companions are overpowered by Quartilla, her maids, and an aged male prostitute, who sexually torture them, then provide them with dinner and engage them in further sexual activity. An orgy ensues and the sequence ends with Encolpius and Quartilla exchanging kisses while they spy through a keyhole at Giton having sex with a seven-year-old virgin girl; and finally sleeping together. 

Book Details



Original Language


Published In

Late 1st Century AD


Gaius Petronius Arbiter was a Roman courtier during the reign of Nero. He is generally believed to be the author of the Satyricon, a satirical novel believed to...

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