Victor Davis Hanson // American Greatness
Sometime around A.D. 60, in the age of Emperor Nero, a Roman court insider named Gaius Petronius wrote a satirical Latin novel, “The Satyricon,” about moral corruption in Imperial Rome. The novel’s general landscape was Rome’s transition from an agrarian republic to a globalized multicultural superpower.
The novel survives only in a series of extended fragments. But there are enough chapters for critics to agree that the high-living Petronius, nicknamed the “Judge of Elegance,” was a brilliant cynic. He often mocked the cultural consequences of the sudden and disruptive influx of money and strangers from elsewhere in the Mediterranean region into a once-traditional Roman society.
The novel plots the wandering odyssey of three lazy, overeducated and mostly underemployed single young Greeks: Encolpius, Ascyltos and Giton. They aimlessly mosey around southern Italy. They panhandle and mooch off the nouveau riche. They mock traditional Roman customs. The three and their friends live it up amid the culinary, cultural and sexual excesses in the age of Nero.
Certain themes in “The Satyricon” are timeless and still resonate today.