(also known as Saturica). Written by Titus Petronius Niger, courtier to Nero. Menippean satire somewhat similar to the European picaresque novels, it concerns the journey of the narrator Enclopius through the social strata of Rome.

The Satyricon is a satire written in the first century CE by Petronius. Petronius pokes fun at the excesses of the upper class ala Oscar Wilde, and his jests are sometimes downright hysterical. Consider the following excerpt from a conversation about the late Chrysanthus (translated from the Latin by William Arrowsmith):

"And you know how old he was when he died? Seventy and then some. But he carried it beautifully, hard as nails and his hair as black as a crow. I knew him for ages, and he was horny, right to the end. By god, I'll bet he even pestered the dog. Boys were what he really liked, but he wasn't choosy: he'd jump anything with legs. I don't blame him a bit, you understand. He won't have any fun where he's gone now."
And made into a fabulous film by the Italian writer-director, Federico Fellini, the Fellini Satyricon.

Admitedly it is not an accurate transposition of the work by Petronius, it is, nevertheless, Encolpius' journey through the night and various undergrounds. In one hilarious scene, Encolpius is shown mercy by the Minotaur because he cries,"I'm only a student!"

And apparant sister film to Fellini Roma, these two extravagances are probes into the, what can I call it, mind, psyche, self, imagination, whatever of one of the greatest film makers of the 20th century, who made use of whatever was at hand, even his own creative block (see the film 81/2).

Satyricon is a Scandinavian black metal band consisting currently of Satyr (lead vocals, guitar, bass), Kvelduv (guitar), and Frost (drums). They have released a number of albums, including:

Anyone wanting to check something out by them should first check Nemesis Divina, and follow that to their other albums.

Satyricon was a great club in Portland, OR operated by George Touhouliotis from 1983 to 2003. It was at 125 SW 6th, between Couch and Davis if my PDX geography is still working. Satyricon featured a wide-ranging mix of all kinds of rock and roll. The first show I can remember seeing there was the Miracle Workers in 1984, I think. The place soon became a regular hang out for me, don't ask me why -- I guess I didn't have anything better to do. Oh, the lost days of my misspent youth! Anyway, some of the great shows I remember seeing there were True West (1985), the Vibrasonics (1984-1986), Hardcore Hoedown (July 10, 1985 iirc) featuring Western Front (Fred Cole's band at the time), the Vibrasonics, and a couple of other bands, Black Flag (1984), the Vipers (June 1985), the Catheads (1988?), and boatloads of others. There was a great show January 2, 1986 featuring the Tennesseans opening for Western Front.

Did I mention the Vibrasonics? They were a rockabilly band modeled on the the Ventures -- they even played Gretch guitars just like the Ventures. The Vibrasonics was formed by Dave Scott after the breakup of Youth for Buckley in 1984 -- what a great name for a band, they actually got Wm. F.'s autograph once. They always put on a great show, featuring crowd-pleasers such as Walk, Don't Run, Perfidia, and Who Slapped Joe?. I can remember one show in the summer of 1985 that was just a religious experience. Perfidia has pretty sappy words but of course the Vibrasonics played it as an instrumental, lyrical and yet moving forward with lots of energy.

Well, the fact is that Portland in the 80's was a slacker's paradise. Gentrification had yet to hit in any serious way. Rents were cheap and everybody was doing their own thing, as they say. I still love Portland, it's awesome. I haven't been to the Satyricon since sometime in the late eighties. I'm sorry to read that it's closed now. Well, with any luck there is already another legendary club in the making.

Marshall McLuhan once said "The Medium is the Message", oft quoted by people who don't understand what he meant by either. 

By "medium", McLuhan meant "technology" and by "message" he meant some kind of social effect, or change in how things are done. One classic example is that the electric light bulb allowed eye surgery or open heart surgery to be performed, a task unsuited to lighting methods that produced too much heat, and/or soot.

Likewise, the "message" of the printing press wasn't so much the pages printed thereon, but the fact that control of what works were copied was no longer in the hands of a class who had ample free time and tons of literate folks. At one point, literacy was such a prized skill that having it would literally get you excused from capital punishment for many crimes - and a main reason for this was that copying works was done by hand. A literate person with a book on one side and a blank one on the other would painstakingly write out, longhand, the work in question. It was a time consuming process and again, one that required a literate hierarchy - and the biggest one going was the Church. So the message of the printing press is that you can get books on evolution. And the works of the Marquis de Sade. And given it was written prior to the printing press, finding folks to preserve what was left just didn't happen.

The Satyricon has a connotation, both from Fellini's pornographic film that had nothing to do with the work in question - and more than one Satanic metal band thinking it a watchword for debauchery and wickedness - of being something to do with the wicked, the evil. The immoral. 

On the surface, it's a parody - the Scary Movie to Scream or the Airplane! to Flight into Danger - of the epic poem The Odyssey. Only instead of angering Poseidon, our hero is a literate slave who ends up offending Priapus, and therefore having all kinds of problems in an intimate area. Given that the Classics was one way that literate and cultured people could excuse erotic paintings of nymphs and satyrs - they didn't really approve of a gutter pastiche compete with fart jokes.

But to dismiss the work as merely a smutty romp about a boy-smitten slave, Encolpius - having problems in the leading of the pencil department - would be a mistake. The first few pages has the hero, and by extension the author of the work give a lengthy and cutting critique of the state of academia and rhetoric. The hero reprimands the teachers and lecturers of the death of eloquent speech by complaining that all they're teaching is the Cliffs Notes of set pieces: "Friends, I lost this hand for you in the war!!!" (while waving said hand in the air), that sort of thing. But the rebuttal is even more depressing. Yes we know, but if we don't dumb it down, we won't have students. Nobody wants to learn, they just want the piece of paper, the quick fix, the diploma that promises a good job..

Petronius Arbiter was the advisor on many subjects, especially style and taste - to the Emperor Nero. He died throwing himself a party, (upon hearing that he was on the outs with Nero and therefore probably headed for beheading at best and various other gruesome ends at worst) opening and closing the wounds on his wrists so he died on his schedule, pausing his self-inflicted exsanguination so as to not miss a good conversation with friends before the soldiers got to the gates.

One of the most surviving pieces of the work is "Dinner with Trimalchio" - a sad tale about the two adventurers trying very hard to get in to a society party held by a slave done good... who has taken his low birth and station in life and turned himself not only into a man of extreme wealth but also a major patron of the arts. Encolpius and his philosopher friend (Encolpius is a teacher of rhetoric) bone up on poetry and the other intellectual arts because the evening will be full of heavy hitters. To their horror they find out that their host is a boor of the lowest order, a cross between Dom Deluise's portrayal of Caesar in History of the World Part 1 and Larry the Cable Guy. He greets the assembly by farting loudly and granting everyone else permission to do the same. It just gets worse from there.

But during the party, the narrative of which would have been just fine as it was - a scathing portrait of a money-worshipping culture who will whore out its values for the price of a fancy meal - we hear a joke about a woman nailing her dead husband to a cross to help out the centurion who has sex with her at the gravesite (abandoning his watch of a nearby execution) and a ghost story about a werewolf. Petronius isn't content with simply writing a straight ahead narrative and laces everything with witty dialogue, poetry, anecdotes and philosophy.

Precious little of it remains, which is a tragedy. Not only because the book deals with so much subject matter the other books left out, but because Petronius is a fantastic author and what we have of it is so amazing. It's a portrait of a civilization in decline and fall (even though it actually lasted many centuries more) and the words he wrote are just as valid today as when a character in the baths spits that what we'd call McMansions today are so prevalent that any house that doesn't have three baths and an art gallery is considered a cockroach culvert. 

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