The Satyricon, Complete
Petronius Arbiter

Part 6 out of 6

unfeeling; the imagination of her lover pictured her as falling before
his caresses, he led her by the hand over pressed flowers, through a
thick grove and along limpid streams; in that sweet reverie his life
slipped by.

Here icy cold fountains, here flower covered meadows, Lycoris;
Here shady groves; life itself here would I dream out with thee.

Virgil Bucol. Ecl. X, 41.

In the minds of the theologians pollution is synonymous with all
pleasures with persons of the opposite or the same sex, which result in a
waste of the elixir of life. In this sense, love between woman and woman
is pollution and Sappho is a sinner against the Holy Ghost.

(Notwithstanding), however (these caprices of the third person of the
trinity) I cannot see why pleasure should be regulated, or why a woman
who has surveyed all the charms of a young girl of eighteen years should
give herself up to the rude embraces of a man. What comparisons can be
made between those red lips, that mouth which breathes pleasure for the
first time, those snowy and purplous cheeks whose velvet smoothness is
like the Venus flower, half in bloom, that new-born flesh which
palpitates softly with desire and voluptuousness, that hand which you
press so delicately, those round thighs, those plastic buttocks, that
voice sweet and touching,--what comparison can be made between all this
and pronounced features, rough beard, hard breast, hairy body, and the
strong disagreeable voice of man? Juvenal has wonderfully expended all
his bile in depicting, as hideous scenes, these mysteries of the Bona
Dea, where the young and beautiful Roman women, far from the eyes of men,
give themselves up to mutual caresses. Juvenal has painted the eyes of
the Graces with colors which are proper to the Furies; his tableau,
moreover, revolts one instead of doing good.

The only work of Sappho's which remains to us is an ode written to one of
her loved ones and from it we may judge whether the poetess merited her
reputation. It has been translated into all languages; Catullus put it
into Latin and Boileau into French. Here follows an imitation of that of

Peer of a God meseemeth he,
Nay passing Gods (and that can be!)
Who all the while sits facing thee
Sees thee and hears
Thy low sweet laughs which (ah me!) daze
Mine every sense, and as I gaze
Upon thee (Lesbia!) o'er me strays

My tongue is dulled, limbs adown
Flows subtle flame; with sound its own
Rings either ear, and o'er are strown
Mine eyes with night.

(LI. Burton, tr.)

After that we should never again exhort the ministers and moralists to
inveigh against love of women for women; never was the interest of men
found to be so fully in accord with the precepts of divine law.

Here I should like to speak of the brides of the Lord; but I remember
"The Nun" of Diderot, and my pen falls from my hand. Oh, who would dare
to touch a subject handled by Diderot?


Giton venait de la deflorer, et de remporter une victoire sanglante.
Giton the victor had won a not bloodless victory.

All people have regarded virginity as something sacred, and God has so
honored it that he willed that his son be born of a virgin, fecundated,
however, by the Holy Ghost. Still, it appears problematical whether the
Virgin Mary, complete virgin that she was, did not have the same pleasure
as those who are not virgins, when she received the divine annunciation.
Father Sanchez has discussed the question very fully "whether the Virgin
Mary 'spent' in copulation with the Holy-Ghost," unhappily, he decided in
the negative, and I have too much veneration for Father Sanchez not to
submit to his decision; but because of it, I am vexed with the Virgin
Mary and the Holy Ghost.

Notwithstanding this, the daughters of the people of the Lord were not
content to remain virgins; a state of being which, at bottom has not much
to recommend it. The daughter of Jephtha before being immolated for the
sake of the Lord, demanded of her father a reprieve of two months in
which to weep for her virginity upon the mountains of Gelboe; it seems it
should not have taken so long had she had nothing to regret. Ruth had
recourse to the quickest method when she wished to cease being a virgin;
she simply went and lay down upon the bed with Boaz. The spirit of God
has deemed it worth while to transmit this story to us, for the
instruction of virgins from century to century.

The pagan Gods thought highly of maidenheads, they often took them and
always, they set aside the virgins for themselves. The Phtyian, from
whose organ Apollo was foreordained to come, proved to be only a virgin;
the spirit of God did not communicate itself to anyone who had ever been
sullied by contact with a mortal. It was to virgins that the sacred
fires of Vesta were entrusted, and the violation of their virginity was a
capital crime which all Rome regarded as a scourge from wrathful heaven.

The Sybils lived and died virgins; in addressing the Cumaean Sybil,
AEneas never failed to bestow that title upon her.

Most of the immortals have preserved their virginity, Diana, Minerva, et
cet. But what is the most astonishing is that the companions of Venus
and Amor, the most lovable of all divinities, the Graces, were also
virgins. Juno became a virgin again every year, by bathing in the waters
of a magic fountain; that must have rendered Jupiter's duties rather

There are some reasons for this passion of mankind for maidenheads. It
is so wonderful to give the first lessons of voluptuousness to a pure and
innocent heart, to feel under one's hand the first palpitations of the
virginal breasts which arouses unknown delights, to dry the first tears
of tenderness, to inspire that first mixture of fear and hope, of vague
desires and expectant inquietude; whoever has never had that satisfaction
has missed the most pleasurable of all the delights of love. But taken
in that sense, virginity is rather a moral inclination, as Buffon says,
than a physical matter, and nothing can justify the barbarous precautions
against amorous theft which were taken by unnatural fathers and jealous

In those unhappy countries which are bent under oppression, in those
countries where heaven shows its heat in the beauty of the sex, and
where beauty is only an object of speculation for avid parents; in such
countries, I say, they resort to the most odious methods for preserving
the virginity of the young and beautiful daughters who are destined to be
sold like common cattle. They put a lock over the organ of pleasure and
never permit it to be opened except when it is strictly necessary for
carrying out those animal functions for which nature destined them.

The locks of chastity were long known in Europe; the Italians are accused
with this terrible invention. Nevertheless, it is certain that they were
used upon men, at least, in the time of the first Roman emperors.
Juvenal, in his satire against women, VI, says: "If the singers please
them there is no need for locks of chastity for those who have sold their
voices to the praetors, who keep them."

Si gaudet cantu, nullius fibula durat
Vocem vendentis praetoribus.
Sat. VI, 379.

If pleased by the song of the singer employed by the praetor
No fibula long will hold out, free, the actor will greet her.

Christianity, most spiritual, most mystical of ancient religions,
attempts to make out a great case for celibacy. Its founder never
married, although the Pharisees reproached him for frequenting gay women,
and had, perhaps, some reason for so doing. Jesus showed a particular
affection for Mary Magdalen, to the point of exciting the jealousy of
Martha, who complained that her sister passed her time in conversation
with Jesus and left her with all the housework to do. "Mary has chosen
the better part," said the Savior. A good Christian must not doubt that
the colloquies were always spiritual.

St. Paul counseled virginity and most of the apostolic fathers practiced
it. Among others, St. Jerome lived his whole life among women and never
lost his purity. He answered his enemies who reproached him with his
very great intimacy with the Saintly Sisters, that the irrefutable proof
of his chastity was that he stank. That stinking of St. Jerome, which is
not a veritable article of faith in the Church, is, however, an object of
pious belief; and my readers will very gladly assent to it.

When the Christian clergy wishes to form a body of doctrines to be
submitted to by all the common people it thinks that by separating its
interests and those of the common people as far as possible it must
tighten those ropes by which it binds its fellow citizens. Also the Pope
who was the most jealous of ecclesiastical power and the one who abused
it most, Hildebrand, rigorously prohibited the marriage of priests and
enunciated the most terrible warnings against those who did not retain
their celibacy. However, although neither priests nor monks were
permitted to marry, the epithet "virgins" cannot be justly applied to all
priests and all monks without exception. Nor shall I repeat here the
naughty pleasantries of Erasmus, of Boccaccio, and all the others,
against the monks; without doubt maliciousness has developed more
"satyrical" traits that they have brought out; beyond that, I have
nothing to say.


Alors une vielle. . . .
Finally an old woman . . .

The question here has to do with a procurers or go-between. That
profession has gradually fallen into discredit by I know not what
fatality, which befalls the most worthy things. Cervantes the only
philosophic author Spain has produced, wanted that calling to be
venerated in cities above all others. And truly, when one thinks how
much finesse is necessary to pursue that profession with success, when
one considers that those who practice that truly liberal art are the
repositories of the most important as well as the most sacred secrets,
one would never fail to have the greatest respect for them. The
tranquillity of homes, the civil state of persons they hold at their
discretion, and still, though they drink in insults, though they endure
abuse, very rarely do these beings, true stoics, compromise those who
have confided in them.

In their Mercury, the ancients realized their beau ideal or archetype
of go-between which they called; in vulgar language "pimp". That God,
as go-between for Jupiter, was often involved in the most hazardous
enterprises, such as abducting Io, who was guarded by Argus of the
hundred eyes; Mercury I say, was the God of concord, or eloquence,
and of mystery. Except to inspire them with friendly feeling and kind
affections, Mercury never went among mortals. Touched by his wand,
venomous serpents closely embraced him. Listening to him, Achilles
forgot his pride, extended hospitality to Priam and permitted him to take
away the body of Hector. The ferocious Carthaginians were softened
through the influence of this God of peace, and received the Trojans in
friendship. Mercury it was who gathered men into society and substituted
social customs for barbarism. He invented the lyre and was the master of
Amphion, who opened the walls of Thebes by the charm of his singing.
Mercury or Hermes gave the first man knowledge; but it was enveloped in a
mysterious veil which it was never permitted the profane to penetrate,
which signifies that all that he learned from God, concerning amorous
adventures, should be wrapped in profound silence. How beautiful all
these allegories are! And how true! How insipid life would be without
these mysterious liaisons, by which Nature carries out her designs,
eluding the social ties, without breaking them! Disciples of Mercury, I
salute you, whatever be your sex; to your discretion, to your persuasive
arts are confided our dearest interests, the peace of mind of husbands,
the happiness of lovers, the reputation of women, the legitimacy of
children. Without you, this desolated earth would prove to be, in
reality, a vale of tears; the young and beautiful wife united to decrepit
husband, would languish and grow weak, like the lonely flower which the
sun's rays never touch. Thus did Mexence bind in thine indissoluble
bands the living and the dead.

Fate, however, has often avenged the go-betweens on account of the
misunderstandings from which they suffer at the hands of the vulgar.
Otho opened the way to the empire of the world by his services as a
go-between for Nero. And the go-betweens of princes, and even of
princesses, are always found in the finest situations. Even Otho did not
lose all his rights; Nero exiled him with a commission of honor, "because
he was caught in adultery with his own wife, Poppaea." "Uxoris moechus
coeperate esse suae" (Suet. Otho, chap. 111), said malicious gossip at


To the scholar contemplating an exhaustive study of Petronius, the
masterly bibliography compiled by Gaselee is indispensable, and those
of my readers who desire to pursue the subject are referred to it.
The following is a list of editions, translations, criticisms and
miscellaneous publications and authors from which I have derived benefit
in the long and pleasant hours devoted to Petronius.

EDITIONS, Opera Omnia.

Frellon Lyons 1615.
Hadrianides Amsterdam 1669.
Bourdelot Paris 1677.
Boschius Amsterdam 1677.
Burmann Utrecht 1709.
Anton Leipzig 1781.
Buecheler Berlin 1862.
Herxus (Buecheler) Berlin 1911.

Amsterdam 1670.
Containing Frambotti's
Gaselee Cambridge 1915.


Cardinals prejudiced in favor of Greek love
Fierce morality, inimical to all the pleasures of life
Hardouin on homosexuality in priests
Religions responsible for the most abominable actions
Remarkable resemblance to each other are the Bible and Homer
Stinking of St. Jerome
Wars were as much enterprises for ravishing women


Affairs start to go wrong, your friends will stand from under
Believes, on the spot, every tale
Boys play in the schools, the young men are laughed at
Cardinals prejudiced in favor of Greek love
Death is never far from those who seek him
Death levels caste and sufferers unites
Deferred pleasures are a long time coming
Desire no possession unless the world envies me for possessing
Doctor's not good for anything except for a consolation
Double capacity of masseurs and prostitutes
Egyptians "commercialized" that incomparable art
Either 'take-in,' or else they are 'taken-in'
Empress Theodora belonged to this class
Errors committed in the name of religion
Esteeming nothing except what is rare
Everybody's business is nobody's business
Everything including the children, is devoted to ambition
Face, rouged and covered with cosmetics
Fierce morality, inimical to all the pleasures of life
For one hour of nausea you promise it a plethora of good things
Hardouin on homosexuality in priests
He can teach you more than he knows himself
High fortune may rather master us, than we master it
In the arrogance of success, had put on the manner of the master
Laughed ourselves out of a most disgraceful quarrel
Learning's a fine thing, and a trade won't starve
Legislation has never proved a success in repressing vice
Live coals are more readily held in men's mouths than a secret
Love or art never yet made anyone rich
Man is hated when he declares himself an enemy to all vice
Men are lions at home and foxes abroad
No one will confess the errors he was taught in his school days
No one can show a dead man a good time
One could do a man no graver injury than to call him a dancer
Platitudes by which anguished minds are recalled to sanity
Priests, animated by an hypocritical mania for prophecy
Propensity of pouring one's personal troubles into another's ear
Putting as good a face upon the matter as I could
Religions responsible for the most abominable actions
Remarkable resemblance to each other are the Bible and Homer
Rumor but grows in the telling and strives to embellish
Russia there is a sect called the skoptzi
See or hear nothing at all of the affairs of every-day life
She is chaste whom no man has solicited--Ovid
Something in the way of hope at which to nibble
Stained by the lifeblood of the God of Wine
Stinking of St. Jerome
Tax on bachelors
The loser's always the winner in arguments
The teachers, who must gibber with lunatics
They secure their ends, save by setting snares for the ears
They seize what they dread to lose most
To follow all paths; but a road can discover by none
Too many doctors did away with him
Wars were as much enterprises for ravishing women
We know that you're only a fool with a lot of learning
Whatever we have, we despise
Whatever you talk of at home will fly forth in an instant
Whenever you learn a thing, it's yours
While we live, let us live
You can spot a louse on someone else


Back to Full Books