Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 40.

Gottskálk Jensson, The Recollections of Encolpius: The Satyrica of Petronius as Milesian Fiction. Ancient Narrative: Supplementum 2. Groningen: Barkhuis Publishing, 2004. Pp. xii + 327. ISBN 90-807390-8-1. Euro65.00.

J. L. Hilton
Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban

This book is an addition to the impressively produced series of supplements to Ancient Narrative.[[1]] Jensson has three main objectives: to present a reading of the Satyrica as 'the mimetic performance of its fictional auctor Encolpius . . . an ancient "road novel" told from memory by a Greek exile'; to reconstruct the story; and to argue that it is a Roman rewriting of 'a lost Greek text of the same title' that belongs to the 'oldest type of Greco-Roman novel, known to antiquity as Milesian fiction' ('Abstract', p. 329, see also the prospectus to the book on pp. 26-28). The structure of the work reflects these aims and has three parts: 'Narrative' (pp. 1-83), 'Story' (pp. 87-187), and 'Genre' (pp. 189-301).

It is the last argument that will be most controversial. Jensson states his case in the preface (p. x) and in the final pages of this long book. He says (p. x) that the Satyrica is a 'palimpsest' and that it is 'most likely' that the Greek hypotext of the work was simply called Satyrika. He goes on to suggest (p. 299) that 'another possible title is Massiliotica, given the home city of the narrator and the tradition of naming such narratives after places.' As a result of this conclusion, for which there is no direct proof, Jensson argues that 'the Roman material in the Satyrica can no longer be adduced as evidence of Petronius' Romanitas or "originality"' (p. 292) and that 'Petronius' Satyrica is a derivative text' (p. x) -- a view that he acknowledges to be 'the polar opposite of the belief in Petronian originality which has been unshaken since Mommsen's days and held by German, Italian, French, British, and American scholars alike' (p. x). Indeed it is the sense that 'the ubiquitous exceptionalism of twentieth-century Petronian studies' was acting as a 'hermeneutic barrier in reading the Satyrica' (p. ix) that drives Jensson's analysis throughout the book. He argues further that if his argument is accepted, the Satyrica will emerge as both less and more than it had previously been thought to be -- less, because it would no longer be a work of great originality, more, because it 'can be thought of as a complicated literary game, informed by a sophistic reading of the Homeric Odyssey' (p. x). This attempt to find something positive in what is, for me at least, an exaggerated view of the Satyrica, does not bring much consolation, since literary virtuosity and the presence of Homer in the narrative have long been acknowledged. Also at stake, if Jensson's view is correct, is the validity of Perry's critique of the search for the generic origins of the ancient romance, which had preoccupied scholarship in the field in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[[2]] In Perry's view -- one that has been the starting point of many recent discussions of the ancient novel -- this is a futile exercise modeled on nineteenth-century theories of biological evolution and one that ignores the possibility that the creation of a genre is an original act in response to changing socio-economic and cultural conditions. With regard to Petronius specifically there is also the view of Auerbach that Petronius represents 'the ultimate limit to which realism attained in antiquity'.[[3]] But does Jensson's argument really stand up?

Jensson does not accept that the view that the Satyrica is an amalgam of heterogeneous genres, such as Menippean satire, Milesian tales, epic, and others (p. 191). Instead he seeks the 'distinctive character' of the work and its 'identifying signature' (p. 192). This he finds in the first person Milesian fiction narrated by Encolpius. In seeking to prove his point he adduces a number of rather irrelevant arguments, such as Mommsen's 1878 article on Trimalchio's home,[[4]] in which, Jensson argues, the distinguished philologist and Prussian nationalist expressed his sympathy for the Italian risorgimento by making Petronius the 'voice of the Italian nation' (p. 251). But whether Mommsen's view of Petronius was distorted by the nationalistic preoccupations of his day does not have much to do with the question of the originality of the work. Jensson is also compelled to argue (p. 287) that the language of the freedmen in the Cena Trimalchionis is not a realistic imitation of how these people would have spoken Latin. Instead he suggests that the language of the freedmen is 'a written imitation of code switching' that only indirectly 'resembles' spoken bilingualism (p. 288). However, it seems highly improbable that an author writing in Latin would imitate colloquial code-switching from a putative Greek hypotext. Moreover, non-standard forms of Latin are found throughout the Satyrica, not only in the Cena, and comparison with the language of inscriptions shows that these forms often include learned forms and hyperurbanisms rather than what is conventionally deemed colloquial Latin only.[[5]] On the other hand, a recent authoritative study of the language of the freedmen in the Cena shows that new evidence of non-literary Latin indicate that it corresponded closely to substandard features current in spoken Latin.[[6]]

It is a pity that Jensson overstates his case in this final section of his book, for it is otherwise very thoroughly researched. He deals very competently with the enormous scholarship on Petronius and his analysis of the evidence for Milesian tales and the varieties of narrative fiction in antiquity is generally very sound.

In Part 2.1, 'Sorting the Fragments' (pp. 87-135), Jensson addresses the problem of making sense of the fragmentary text of the Satyrica. His reconstruction of the plot draws on the conventional structure of ancient romances as 'comparison texts' (p. 89), especially the story of Hippothous in Xenophon's Ephesiaca (3.1-2). He also draws on a wide range of sources in this section from Servius (ad Aen. 3.57), Sidonius Apollinaris (Carm. 28.145-147), and Greek travelogues as well as the internal evidence of the work itself, especially the poem of Encolpius (139.2: gravis ira Priapi), to build a picture of Encolpius as a citizen of Massalia who voluntarily assumed the role of scapegoat, was expelled from the city, and led the life of an exile in the towns of southern Italy, encountering Lichas and Tryphaena on a voyage. Part 2.2, 'Retrospective Soliloquies and Dialogues' (pp. 136-173) analyses the quarrel between Encolpius and Ascyltos (9.6-10.3), Encolpius' lament (81.3-6), the discourse on love in a picture gallery (83), Encolpius's short love letter (130.1-6) and prayer to Priapus (133.3) as recapitulatory narratives that reveal threads of the overall plot of a work which is 'no less of an organizational whole than the plots of the fully extant ancient fictions' (p. 172). Part 2.3, 'Rewriting the Satyrica (My Turn)' (pp. 174-187) provides an interpretive summary of the plot.

Part 1.1, 'Text, Context, and Identity' (pp. 3-28) begins with a discussion of textual problems. Jensson is critical of previous 'unbalanced responses to the text of the Satyrica (p. 14). He goes on to identify three readings of the work as previously dominant in its interpretation: Tacitus' account of the death of Petronius (Ann. 16.17-19); the poetic fragments and other sections such as the Cena that have become detached from it; and the Metamorphoses of Apuleius with its 'seemingly realistic and satirical descriptions of low life in regions of the Roman Empire' (p. 16). Rather than rely on these master texts, Jensson proposes to 'treat the whole text of the Satyrica as it's own privileged context' (p. 18). In particular, his focus falls on how Encolpius, as opposed to Petronius, presents his narrative. In Part 1.2, 'The Desultory Voice of Encolpius' (pp. 29-83), Jensson attempts 'the re-integration of the fragments . . . through recognizing the source of the whole in a single . . mimetic and desultory voice' (p. 27).[[7]]

In conclusion, this is a well-researched study of the Satyrica that generally conservative in its treatment of the text and its organisation and in its discussion of the sources relating to the importance of the Milesian tales and other ancient narrative genres for the interpretation of the work. It is a pity that the author has attempted to argue a rather forced case with regard to the Greek hypotext that Petronius is supposed to have rewritten.


[[1]] See also recently W. H. Keulen, R. R. Nauta and S. Panayotakis (edd.), Lectiones Scrupulosae: Essays on the Text and Interpretation of Apuleius' Metamophoses in Honour of Maaike Zimmerman (Groningen 2006); Shannon N. Byrne, Edmund P. Cueva and Jean Alvarez (edd.), Authors, Authority, and Interpreters in the Ancient Novel (Groningen 2006).

[[2]] B. E. Perry, The Ancient Romances: A Literary-Historical Account of Their Origins (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1967) 8-17, 149-180, and esp. p. 175.

[[3]] E. Auerbach (tr. W. Trask), Mimesis (Princeton 1953) 31.

[[4]] T. Mommsen, 'Trimalchios Heimath und Grabschrift', Hermes 13 (1878) 106-121.

[[5]] See the discussion of the comparative work of Arminius von Guericke in Bret Boyce, The Language of the Freedmen in Petronius' Cena Trimalchionis (Leiden 1991).

[[6]] See J. N. Adams, 'Petronius and New Non-Literary Latin', in J. Herman and H. Rosén (edd.), Petroniana (Heidelberg 2003) 11-24: 'As more non-literary Latin comes to light it becomes more obvious that Petronius was a competent linguistic observer whose portrayal of the speech of the freedmen made use of substandard features which were genuinely current in spoken varieties of the language' (p. 22).

[[7]] On the complications in Encolpius' narrative and his unreliable account of events due to the 'background noise', however, see now Gareth Schmeling, 'No one listens: Narrative and Background Noise in the Satyrica' in József Herman and Hannah Rosén (edd.), Petroniana (Heidelberg 2003) 183-191.