Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Gaius Petronius Arbiter: 'The Satyricon' (circa 65 A.D.) / 'Fellini Satyricon' (1969 A.D.)

With The Satyricon, what we have available to read as of early 2017 A.D. is a fragment of a longer work completed about 65 A.D. by Gaius Petronius Arbiter (circa 25-65 A.D.) who lived and died in the time of the deranged Roman emperor Nero (37-68 A.D.), a moment not unlike our own. Federico Fellini, one of the word's great filmmakers, adapted the Roman text into a movie, with new scenes added and some of the original scenes kept off screen, calling his adaptation Fellini Satyricon (1969 A.D.). Both versions are in turn colorful, grotesque, philosophical, poetic, garish, freakish, lurid, ghastly and a little on the demented side, as befits those -- and our -- times. Stunning visuals, but overall not for the squeamish.
In both versions, the aging poet Eumolpus is a major character. He tends to break into recitations of poetry, much to the annoyance of most of the people who can hear him. A running joke has his audiences throwing food or rocks at him, such is their fear and loathing of poetry! When not pining after teenaged boys, he's either mocking the ultra-rich and powerful or philosophizing about the human condition.  
Foil to Eumolpus is Trimalchio, a man far too rich for anyone's good. Even worse, he fancies himself a great poet, plagiarizing freely. When Eumolpus calls him out on this, Trimalchio orders the old man to be hounded and thrown into the street (and in the Fellini version, threatens to throw him into the flames of a large furnace). Eumolpus has a Trumpian personality, abusive yet always seeking unfettered adoration. He builds great monuments to himself and stages a mock funeral for himself, so that he can witness his servants and sycophants weeping and mourning for him, even though everyone involved knows it's a great theatrical sham.

Fellini brings a lot of energy and dazzling visuals to his film version but even so, Fellini Satyricon is certainly not for many besides the adventurous.

Today's Rune: Initiation. 

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

Yeah, I'm not sure about this one.