Satyricon, By Petronius trs Andrew Brown

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The Independent Culture

Classics enthusiasts may hate me for saying so but, astonishingly ancient surviving fragment of a text though it is, a little of the ribaldry in Petronius's Satyricon goes a very long way.

Reputed to have been an adviser to Nero, and on the committee for every kind of pleasure, every which way, Petronius satirised those around him and their way of life, with this work full of endless feasts, the molesting of young slave boys, the complaints of the middle-classes about the decline in the standards of young people's education and manners (no change there, then), and the boasts of those on the make ("I build myself a house, I buy slaves, pack mules: whatever I touched just grew and grew like a honeycomb").

It's easy to imagine that excess was what brought about this society's downfall, when those at the top of it are too busy sleeping off hangovers or cavorting with slaves – willing or otherwise. Andrew Brown's translation, appropriately modern and full of contemporary slang expressions, could be read as a warning against the era's often sadistic and generally reckless behaviour. It was not the best time to be a woman. Or a slave.

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