Petronius : protest or sensationalism?

McLeish, Duncan Riddell Ruthven (2002). Petronius : protest or sensationalism? BPhil thesis The Open University.



This thesis examines the questions surrounding the Roman novelist Petronius and his work. Scholarship has over his aims: ranging from an attack on the moral standards of the day to being purely for entertainment. The introduction explores some of these, along with the basic details of Petronius' life, and sets out the basis for the thesis.

Much of Petronius' work seems affected by dissimulatio: the necessity to hide one's true aims and feelings in the time of Nero. The historical, social and political background of that situation is examined; particularly with regard to Petronius' possible relationship with the emperor and with society as a whole, and his protest thereat - both direct and indirect, serious and amusing.

Then the literary background to the novel is examined, especially with regard to Petronius' possible relationship with, and protest at his literary contemporaries, Seneca the Younger and Lucan; along with the alleged educational and literary decline of that age. Petronius' place in the field of Roman satire is also explored.

The historical and social background of the sensationalist nature of much of Petronius' work is next considered, mainly with regard to public entertainment. Its effect on other writers is noted along with its possible effect on Petronius and his audience. Consideration is given to the possible nature and extent of that audience.

Special attention is paid to the effect of the theatre on Petronius' work. The mime is closely studied because of its marked effect on the content and nature of the work.

The conclusion examines the problems that the above raises and summarises commentators' solutions to them. The final section balances the evidence and concludes that, while Petronius was a protester and, to a greater extent, a sensationalist, he was primarily an entertainer.

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