Oops… Petronius Broke the Triangle of Roman Satire

I apologize that this post is late. I thought that Petronius was a pretty cut-and-dry case and that his work did simultaneously attack, entertain, and preach, as Niall Rudd believes Roman satire does. However, upon further investigation that delayed me a bit, I discovered that Petronius is not truly preaching in his work: his main character Encolpius, who serves as the narrator, is not a hero, but an anti-hero. The reader then must question everything seen through Encolpius’s point of view. In many cases when Encolpius expresses a view on something, he is in fact being hypocritical. For example, he complains that standards of education have declined due to the emphasis placed on declamation. However, by making a speech in the way he does and in his use of rhetorical devices, he is attacking declamation with declamation! No one in the work escapes attack or ridicule; there are no characters in the work that serve as models of morality.

One thing I learned about doing research is the danger of approaching it with preconceived ideas of what you will find. By expecting to find a didactic element to Petronius’s work, it was all the easier for me to find one when it was not truly there. It was only when I investigated another author’s argument, that there is no moral tone in Petronius’s work, and re-examined the text that I realized the true nature of the Satyricon and its most infamous excerpt, the Dinner of Trimalchio.