During the party, things between me and the Captain were starting to look up.  Jewel and Buddy were giggling over wine in the corner.  Riff, definitely drunk, decided it was time to make some jokes about baldness (ouch), and after some killer one-liners, he composed a little poem entitled “Hair:”


Most marvelous of features, hair is doomed.

That gloomy winter kills soft locks in bloom.

A naked forehead grieves the lack of shade.

All hair rubbed off just like a withered glade.

O faithless gods who once gave gifts in truth, 

You take away the happiness of youth.

Unlucky one, your hair once shone so bright,

More lovely than Rapunzel’s in moonlight.

Your head as smooth as silk or petal’s dew

Away, with fear of ridicule you flew.

So that you learn what lies not far ahead,

this part of you lives on, already dead.


He wanted to keep going, I think, with some more (even worse) verses, when Jewel’s friend whisked Buddy below deck and dolled him up in a curly wig. Taking some fake eyebrows out of a package, she used them to cover up where his eyebrows had been shaved off, making him look like his old self again. When he revealed his makeover to Jewel, she burst into tears and showered him with kisses. I was happy to see him looking great again, of course, but then I felt terribly self-conscious and tried to hide my face. I knew I looked worse than ugly when the Captain wouldn’t even talk to me. The same woman now approached me and freed me from my despair, presenting me with a stunning, wavy wig to wear. Good thing I looked even better as a blonde!


Then Riff, our dear savior, wanted to keep the party going with some good stories. He began to joke around about how shallow relationships are these days…how easily people fall in love…how all responsibility is thrown out the window…how quickly everyone moves on to the next best thing. He wasn’t thinking of any old soap opera or romance novel, but of an affair that he himself witnessed. He would dish it all— if we wanted to hear it.  Every eye and ear was focused on him as he began:


“Okay, so, there was a married man in Los Angeles—a celebrity known far and wide for being extremely virtuous. When the time came to bury his wife—the one who mysteriously died right before their high-profile divorce case was settled—he felt far above the “mainstream” practices of going to the funeral with disheveled hair and beating his naked breast in public (very typical these days). Instead, he followed her all the way into her lavish mausoleum and began to bawl his eyes out over her body. He watched over her every day and every night without taking a single break.


Neither his agents nor his lawyers could get him to stop this “torture.” Even the police tried to get involved, but they too had no luck. Everyone mourned for the loss of such a special soul, thinking it inevitable—now that he had gone five full days without food. His best friend sat by his side, sobbing with him, while at the same time, never failing to make sure the electricity stayed on. The celeb was the talk of the town, and everyone had the exact same thought: he was—no competition—the one true example of virtue and love. Meanwhile, the paparazzi got wind of his location, so a security team was stationed next to the mausoleum where the famous guy was still excessively wailing. 


The very next night, one of the guards, who was supposed to be watching out for paparazzi, saw a light shining brightly from the mausoleum and heard someone weeping. He was naturally curious to know who it was and what he was doing. The guard went into the mausoleum and he was starstruck, as if he’d seen a ghost, when he first saw the hunky man. Then, he saw the woman’s body and noticed the man’s puffy eyes. At last, he came to this very insightful conclusion: the man was unable to bear the loss of his dear, dear wife. The guard brought a little snack into the tomb and started trying to cheer him up. He said things like, “all men die and end up in the ground,” and the rest of those sayings that always help ease a distraught mind. He completely ignored this sympathy and instead beat his breast even harder and (slightly) ruffled his hair some more. The guard didn’t give up and kept trying to persuade him with food, until his friend, who was definitely eyeing the wine, finally accepted his offer. After enjoying a few bites (and many sips), the friend proceeded to attack the, er, determination of the famous guy, saying things like “What’s the point of all this? Do you really want to bury yourself alive? There’s no need to burn, pine, or perish! Man up and enjoy this life while you can! Don’t you want to just live again? Even your wife would have wanted to live.” Typically, people are pretty willing when they are told to eat or live. 


So, the celebrity, being particularly hungry at this point, broke down and devoured the food and wine as quickly as his friend had. You can guess what happened next, I’m sure. The guard started hitting on him! From his very modest point of view, the guard seemed young, witty, and not bad looking at all. His friend told him to play it cool, saying “You should go for it, man.” 


Okay, let me get on with it. Our celebrity did not play it cool for long, my friends, and the guard got lucky once again. Not only did they spend that night together, their wedding night, but the next night, and the one after that! They closed the mausoleum door (of course!) so that any fan or stranger who passed by would think that the most virtuous man had breathed his last next to his dear, dear wife …”

109.8. iam Lichas redire mecum in gratiam coeperat, iam Tryphaena Gitona extrema parte potionis spargebat, cum Eumolpus et ipse vino solutus dicta voluit in calvos stigmososque iaculari, donec consumpta frigidissima urbanitate rediit ad carmina sua coepitque capillorum elegidarion dicere: |


“quod solum formae decus est, cecidere capilli,

vernantesque comas tristis abegit hiemps.

nunc umbra nudata sua iam tempora maerent,

areaque attritis ridet adusta pilis.

o fallax natura deum: quae prima dedisti

aetati nostrae gaudia, prima rapis.” |


“infelix, modo crinibus nitebas

Phoebo pulchrior et sorore Phoebi.

at nunc levior aere vel rotundo

horti tubere, quod creavit imber,

ridentes fugis et times puellas.

ut mortem citius venire credas,

scito iam capitis perisse partem.”


110. plura volebat proferre, credo, et ineptiora praeteritis, cum ancilla Tryphaenae Gitona in partem navis inferiorem ducit corymbioque dominae pueri adornat caput. | immo supercilia etiam profert de pyxide sciteque iacturae lineamenta secuta totam illi formam suam reddidit. | agnovit Tryphaena verum Gitona, lacrimisque turbata tunc primum bona fide puero basium dedit. | ego etiam si repositum in pristinum decorem puerum gaudebam, abscondebam tamen frequentius vultum intellegebamque me non tralaticia deformitate esse insignitum, quem alloquio dignum ne Lichas quidem crederet. | sed huic tristitiae eadem illa succurrit ancilla, sevocatumque me non minus decoro exornavit capillamento; immo commendatior vultus enituit, quia flavum corymbion erat. | 


ceterum Eumolpos, et periclitantium advocatus et praesentis concordiae auctor, ne sileret sine fabulis hilaritas, multa in muliebrem levitatem coepit iactare: | quam facile adamarent, quam cito etiam filiorum obliviscerentur, nullamque esse feminam tam pudicam, quae non peregrina libidine usque ad furorem averteretur. | nec se tragoedias veteres curare aut nomina saeculis nota, sed rem sua memoria factam, quam expositurum se esse, si vellemus audire. conversis igitur omnium in se vultibus auribusque sic orsus est:


111. “matrona quaedam Ephesi tam notae erat pudicitiae, ut vicinarum quoque gentium feminas ad spectaculum sui evocaret. | haec ergo cum virum extulisset, non contenta vulgari more funus passis prosequi crinibus aut nudatum pectus in conspectu frequentiae plangere, in conditorium etiam prosecuta est defunctum, positumque in hypogaeo Graeco more corpus custodire ac flere totis noctibus diebusque coepit. | sic afflictantem se ac mortem inedia persequentem non parentes potuerunt abducere, non propinqui; magistratus ultimo repulsi abierunt, complorataque singularis exempli femina ab omnibus quintum iam diem sine alimento trahebat. | assidebat aegrae fidissima ancilla, simulque et lacrimas commodabat lugenti, et quotienscumque defecerat positum in monumento lumen renovabat. | una igitur in tota civitate fabula erat, solum illud affulsisse verum pudicitiae amorisque exemplum omnis ordinis homines confitebantur, cum interim imperator provinciae latrones iussit crucibus affigi secundum illam casulam, in qua recens cadaver matrona deflebat. | proxima ergo nocte, cum miles, qui cruces asservabat, ne quis ad sepulturam corpus detraheret, notasset sibi [et] lumen inter monumenta clarius fulgens et gemitum lugentis audisset, vitio gentis humanae concupiit scire, quis aut quid faceret. | descendit igitur in conditorium, visaque pulcherrima muliere primo quasi quodam monstro infernisque imaginibus turbatus substitit. | deinde ut et corpus iacentis conspexit et lacrimas consideravit faciemque unguibus sectam, ratus scilicet id quod erat, desiderium extincti non posse feminam pati, attulit in monumentum cenulam suam coepitque hortari lugentem, ne perseveraret in dolore supervacuo ac nihil profuturo gemitu pectus diduceret: omnium eundem esse exitum [sed] et idem domicilium, et cetera quibus exulceratae mentes ad sanitatem revocantur. | at illa ignota consolatione percussa laceravit vehementius pectus ruptosque crines super corpus iacentis imposuit. | non recessit tamen miles, sed eadem exhortatione temptavit dare mulierculae cibum, donec ancilla vini certum habeo odore corrupta primum ipsa porrexit ad humanitatem invitantis victam manum, deinde refecta potione et cibo expugnare dominae pertinaciam coepit et | ‘quid proderit’ inquit ‘hoc tibi, si soluta inedia fueris, si te vivam sepelieris, si antequam fata poscant, indemnatum spiritum effuderis? | “id cinerem aut manes credis sentire sepultos?” vis tu reviviscere? vis discusso muliebri errore, quam diu licuerit, lucis commodis frui? ipsum te iacentis corpus commonere debet, ut vivas.’ | nemo invitus audit, cum cogitur aut cibum sumere aut vivere. itaque mulier aliquot dierum abstinentia sicca passa est frangi pertinaciam suam, nec minus avide replevit se cibo quam ancilla, quae prior victa est.


112. ceterum scitis, quid plerumque soleat temptare humanam satietatem. quibus blanditiis impetraverat miles, ut matrona vellet vivere, isdem etiam pudicitiam eius aggressus est. | nec deformis aut infacundus iuvenis castae videbatur, conciliante gratiam ancilla ac subinde dicente: ‘placitone etiam pugnabis amori? [nec venit in mentem, quorum consederis arvis?]’ quid diutius moror? ne hanc quidem partem corporis mulier abstinuit, victorque miles utrumque persuasit. | iacuerunt ergo una non tantum illa nocte, qua nuptias fecerunt, sed postero etiam ac tertio die, praeclusis videlicet conditorii foribus, ut quisquis ex notis ignotisque ad monumentum venisset, putaret expirasse super corpus viri pudicissimam uxorem…


Latin text adapted from the Loeb Classical Library, edited by Gareth Schmeling (2020).

Translator's Note

The Satyricon is a fragmentary ancient novel written in Latin during the 1st century CE by a certain Petronius. We think. The air of mystery surrounding the Satyricon and its author only heightens one’s experience of the outlandish, racy, and bewildering world of the narrator, Encolpius, and his companions as we travel with them around Italy, encountering adventures and misfortunes at every turn. I was first introduced to Latin literature, like many, through painstaking memorization of forms in the hopes that one day I would be able to unlock the brilliance of authors like Cicero or Vergil or Tacitus. When I first read the Satyricon in my sophomore year of college, my reverent opinion of the Romans was turned on its head. Something like this exists? From so long ago? This is crazy. And so much fun. 

The Satyricon stands out among works of Greek and Roman literature due to the many shocking and outrageous characters who participate in endless erotic and rebellious activities. The Latin text is  lively, funny, and full of references to (and subversions of) other ancient works, genres, and authors such as Homer and Vergil. The Satyricon is also uncomfortably dark and sinister. Slavery, physical brutality, and sexual violence are inextricable from the story. It is this combination of humor and violence, however, that makes the text all the more interesting, and reading the Satyricon feels both unsettlingly remote and tantalizingly modern at the same time. 

This translation is a reimagining of the tales of Satyricon as taking place in the most garish, party-fueled world I could think of: Old Hollywood. Indeed, the Satyricon and its larger than life adventures, parties, and characters have lent themselves well to the big screen. The iconic Fellini Satyricon (1969), however, is a film I would recommend only to the most open-minded. While the centerpiece of the film and of the original work is the novel’s longest episode, known in Latin as the Cena Trimalchionis, or “Trimalchio’s Dinner Party,” I have selected a smaller party scene to translate here, which includes a laughably bad poetic recitation and part of the famous embedded tale known as the “Widow of Ephesus,” which involves a woman of celebrity status and fits in well with the Hollywood theme. This episode in the Satyricon takes place after the characters Encolpius, Giton, and Eumolpus board a ship that belongs to a couple, Lichas and Tryphaena, whom Encolpius and Giton have previously offended. Although they try to disguise themselves, their identities are revealed and, in the aftermath, a dramatic battle devolves into a party. 

This whirlwind scene provides a peek into the prosimetric randomness that is this fragmentary novel. In my own version, Rapunzel fits into a poem about hair, and a reference to Vergil becomes a call back to Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. A woman famous for her modesty becomes a male celebrity, and the townspeople become lawyers, paparazzi, and security guards. The characters in the Satyricon have names with funny Latin meanings, so I have decided to translate them, both to capture the effect in the original and situate the characters in their new setting. Lichas becomes The Captain, Tryphaena, a high-class prostitute whose name means “woman living a luxurious and dissolute life” becomes Jewel, Encolpius’ much younger love interest whose name means “neighbor” becomes Buddy, and Eumolpus or “sweet singer” becomes Riff.1 Because there have been excellent, recent translations of the novel, such as Sarah Ruden’s Satyricon (2000), I felt that I had the opportunity to take more liberties with this translation. I follow the Latin closely while, in the hopes of capturing this over-the-top, playful, and very Roman world, adding a little bit of Hollywood sparkle.

So, without further ado…Lights, camera, action!

Works cited

1 Schmeling, G. 2011. A Commentary on The Satyrica of Petronius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Margaret Danaher


In the Classroom