Petronius (pĭtrōˈnēəs) [key], d. c.A.D. 66, Roman satirist, known as Petronius Arbiter because of his now generally accepted identity with Gaius Petronius, to whom Tacitus refers as arbiter elegantiae in the court of Nero. According to Tacitus, Petronius served first as proconsul, then as consul of Bithynia. He is remembered chiefly, however, as an indolent and profligate lover of luxury. When Tigellinus, a rival for the favor of Nero, caused the arrest of Petronius, the latter ended his own life, at Cumae, by slashing his veins. He made dying a leisurely procedure, attended by festivity among his associates. To him is accredited the authorship of a satirical work, Petronii arbitri satyricon, a romance with skillful delineation of characters, written in prose interspersed with verse. Parts of the 15th and 16th books have been preserved. Among the surviving fragments the most complete and valuable section is the Cena Trimalchionis ( Trimalchio's Dinner ), presenting a humorous episode of vulgar display on the part of a man whose great wealth is newly acquired. These satires furnish a vivid study of the life and manners of the time in a sustained, connected example of the colloquial language. The Latin style of Petronius is among the best of its period.
See translations by J. P. Sullivan (1986) and W. Arrowsmith (1987); study by N. Slater (1990).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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