Tuesday, November 04, 2014


Adversus Senes Severiores

Petronius, Satyricon 132.15 (Encolpius speaking; tr. Kenneth Rexroth):
Why do you frown on me, you puritans,
And condemn the honesty of my latest poems?
Be thankful for fine writing
That makes you laugh instead of weep.
What people do, an honest tongue can talk about.
Do you know anybody who doesn't enjoy
Feasting and venery?
Who forbad my member to grow hot in a warm bed?
Father Epicurus himself commanded us
To become really sophisticated in this art.
Furthermore, he said this was the life of the gods.
A more literal rendering, by Michael Heseltine:
Why do ye, Cato's disciples, look at me with wrinkled foreheads, and condemn a work of fresh simplicity? A cheerful kindness laughs through my pure speech, and my clean mouth reports whatever the people do. All men born know of mating and the joys of love; all men are free to let their limbs glow in a warm bed. Epicurus, the true father of truth, bade wise men be lovers, and said that therein lay the crown of life.
Text and apparatus from Petronius, Satyricon Reliquiae, ed. Konrad Müller (Munich: K.G. Saur, 2003), p. 160:
quid me constricta spectatis fronte Catones,
    damnatisque novae simplicitatis opus?
sermonis puri non tristis gratia ridet,
    quodque facit populus, candida lingua refert.
nam quis concubitus, Veneris quis gaudia nescit?        5
    quis vetat in tepido membra calere toro?
ipse pater veri doctos Epicurus in arte
    iussit, et hoc vitam dixit habere τέλος.

6 uetat Dousa: petat
7 doctos Canterus: doctus | amare Canterus: in arte
8 telos B: deos libri plerique
J. P. Sullivan, "Petronius: Artist or Moralist?" Arion 6.1 (Spring, 1967) 71-88 (at 74):
A translation of this would not be very helpful, but the following paraphrase perhaps brings out Petronius' meaning:
The work you are now hearing no doubt provokes the usual strictures from the more censorious who believe that, in accordance with Stoic principles and literary theories, a work of art should be instructive and moral, not least in the narrowest sense of that term. Such critics will condemn this work, which is a reaction against our present modes of writing and old-fashioned puritanism, and has its own literary and stylistic intentions. Its pure Latinity has one end: to charm you, not to instruct you. My subject is human behavior and the narrative is realistic, although honest might be a better way of describing it. No one is unaware of the important place sex has in ordinary life. Does anyone take a moral stand against harmless and natural sexual enjoyment and comfort? As an Epicurean, I could even invoke philosophical principles in their defense and point to Epicurus' doctrines about its supreme importance.
I don't have access to Edward Courtney, The Poems of Petronius (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991).

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