The Satyricon (or Satyrica) is a work of fiction that is generally attributed to Gaius Petronius Arbiter, one of Nero's courtiers. It follows the criminal misadventures of three vagabonds: Encolpius, his lover Giton, and his friend Asciltos; as they wander the earth; getting into all kinds of bizarre sexual situations and running afoul of the law. Only fragments of The Satryicon survive, so the plot is incomplete. Scholars believe that Encolpius is forced to wander the earth after offending Priapus—a Roman fertility god—or possibly that he was ritually expelled from his home city to prevent a plague. From there, the fragmented narrative follows the trio's escapades before ending abruptly.
While The Satyricon is infamous for its grotesque sexual content, it does have literary merit. It is a satire of the Neronian court, a possible early example of the novel, and an insight into the lives of ordinary Romans and its class structure.
While most Latin text are serious works of oratory or poetry, The Satyricon provides a rare example of more ordinary prose written about ordinary subjects. Despite its sordid reputation, The Satyricon has inspired many famous authors. F. Scott Fitzgerald references The Satyricon in The Great Gatsby, and originally planned to name it "Trimalchio in West Egg", after a character. It is also referenced in The Waste Land, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Tropes in the work include:
- Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Lots. Although it is usually very unsexy.
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: Encolpius has this problem at one point.
- Nouveau Riche: Trimalchio is a wealthy freedman who spends his money on ridiculous extravagance, like purple napkins and elaborate mosaics of himself.
- Walking the Earth: The main trio spend the book wandering around Rome, possibly after Encolpius angered the god Priapus, or because Encolpius was ritually expelled from his home city.