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Pages (PDF): 257
Publication Date: This translation by W. C. Firebaugh, 1922
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The Satyricon is a work of fiction in a mixture of prose and poetry. It is believed to have been written by Gaius Petronius, though the manuscript tradition identifies the author as a certain Titus Petronius. It details the misadventures of the narrator, Encolpius, and his lover, a handsome sixteen-year-old boy named Giton. Throughout the novel, Encolpius has a hard time keeping his lover faithful to him as he is constantly being enticed away by others.
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CHAPTER THE FIRST.
(It has been so long; since I promised you the story of my adventures, that I have decided to make good my word today; and, seeing that we have thus fortunately met, not to discuss scientific matters alone, but also to enliven our jolly conversation with witty stories. Fabricius Veiento has already spoken very cleverly on the errors committed in the name of religion, and shown how priests, animated by an hypocritical mania for prophecy, boldly expound mysteries which are too often such to themselves. But) are our rhetoricians tormented by another species of Furies when they cry, "I received these wounds while fighting for the public liberty; I lost this eye in your defense: give me a guide who will lead me to my children, my limbs are hamstrung and will not hold me up!" Even these heroics could be endured if they made easier the road to eloquence; but as it is, their sole gain from this ferment of matter and empty discord of words is, that when they step into the Forum, they think they have been carried into another world. And it is my conviction that the schools are responsible for the gross foolishness of our young men, because, in them, they see or hear nothing at all of the affairs of every-day life, but only pirates standing in chains upon the shore, tyrants scribbling edicts in which sons are ordered to behead their own fathers; responses from oracles, delivered in time of pestilence, ordering the immolation of three or more virgins; every word a honied drop, every period sprinkled with poppy-seed and sesame.
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
Those who are brought up on such a diet can no more attain to wisdom than a kitchen scullion can attain to a keen sense of smell or avoid stinking of the grease. With your indulgence, I will speak out: you--teachers--are chiefly responsible for the decay of oratory. With your well modulated and empty tones you have so labored for rhetorical effect that the body of your speech has lost its vigor and died. Young men did not learn set speeches in the days when Sophocles and Euripides were searching for words in which to express themselves. In the days when Pindar and the nine lyric poets feared to attempt Homeric verse there was no private tutor to stifle budding genius. I need not cite the poets for evidence, for I do not find that either Plato or Demosthenes was given to this kind of exercise. A dignified and, if I may say it, a chaste, style, is neither elaborate nor loaded with ornament; it rises supreme by its own natural purity. This windy and high-sounding bombast, a recent immigrant to Athens, from Asia, touched with its breath the aspiring minds of youth, with the effect of some pestilential planet, and as soon as the tradition of the past was broken, eloquence halted and was stricken dumb. Since that, who has attained to the sublimity of Thucydides, who rivalled the fame of Hyperides? Not a single poem has glowed with a healthy color, but all of them, as though nourished on the same diet, lacked the strength to live to old age. Painting also suffered the same fate when the presumption of the Egyptians "commercialized" that incomparable art. (I was holding forth along these lines one day, when Agamemnon came up to us and scanned with a curious eye a person to whom the audience was listening so closely.)
CHAPTER THE THIRD.
He would not permit me to declaim longer in the portico than he himself had sweat in the school, but exclaimed, "Your sentiments do not reflect the public taste, young man, and you are a lover of common sense, which is still more unusual. For that reason, I will not deceive you as to the secrets of my profession. The teachers, who must gibber with lunatics, are by no means to blame for these exercises. Unless they spoke in accordance with the dictates of their young pupils, they would, as Cicero remarks, be left alone in the schools! And, as designing parasites, when they seek invitations to the tables of the rich, have in mind nothing except what will, in their opinion, be most acceptable to their audience --for in no other way can they secure their ends, save by setting snares for the ears--so it is with the teachers of rhetoric, they might be compared with the fisherman, who, unless he baits his hook with what he knows is most appetizing to the little fish, may wait all day upon some rock, without the hope of a catch."
CHAPTER THE FOURTH.
What, then, is there to do? The parents who are unwilling to permit their children to undergo a course of training under strict discipline, are the ones who deserve the reproof. In the first place, everything they possess, including the children, is devoted to ambition. Then, that their wishes may the more quickly be realized, they drive these unripe scholars into the forum, and the profession of eloquence, than which none is considered nobler, devolves upon boys who are still in the act of being born! If, however, they would permit a graded course of study to be prescribed, in order that studious boys might ripen their minds by diligent reading; balance their judgment by precepts of wisdom, correct their compositions with an unsparing pen, hear at length what they ought to imitate, and be convinced that nothing can be sublime when it is designed to catch the fancy of boys, then the grand style of oratory would immediately recover the weight and splendor of its majesty. Now the boys play in the schools, the young men are laughed at in the forum, and, a worse symptom than either, no one, in his old age, will confess the errors he was taught in his school days. But that you may not imagine that I disapprove of a jingle in the Lucilian manner, I will deliver my opinions in verse,--
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