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Every Friday, my school hosts a speaker to come and speak to about 60 local residents at the AWBC (the breakfast is amazing by the way). As part of this blog I am going to review these speakers (this may not be every week as sometimes the breakfast club is cancelled). I feel so fortunate to work somewhere that has this kind of programme, and take full advantage – especially as I have 1st period on a Friday free so can stay for the whole talk. So far this academic year we have had James Moorwood, Peter Jones and a fascinating talk on libraries by Dr Matthew Nicholls who has a book out soon which, if the talk is anything to go by, will be amazing. I could go on and on about previous breakfast clubs but I will start anew this term.

This week – Petronius’ Satyricon

This week’s talk was by Dr Costas Panayotakis from the University of Glasgow. He was a great speaker: very funny – particularly his spelling out of the word an-ach-ro-ni-s-tic-a-ly (maybe you had to be there…) and the way he had arguments with himself during the speech. He is also very kind to his audience, particularly when he finished by saying that we were all Petronian scholars by the end of his talk!

Costas began by telling us his background, and how 20ish years ago he approached his PhD tutor telling him he wanted to study sexuality in the Satyricon but this was a far too risqué subject at that time and had to settle on the theatre instead.

He explained the concept of the word ‘novel’ and how we have had to apply the term to the Satyricon because the Romans themselves did not have a term for it. Whilst this is fairly common knowledge, his references to ancient discussions on Petronius were very interesting to see as they had trouble placing his work in any genre, or even acknowledging who the author was. There is also a theory that this is a Greek satire translated into Latin by Petronius.

I particularly enjoyed the allusions to other works of literature in the Satyricon that he pointed out. My favourite was the reference to when Encolpius is ‘telling off’ his penis, and the penis turns away and  looks down to the ground (or words to that effect) – the Latin recalls the moment in book 6 of the Aeneid when Dido turns away from Aeneas and fixes her eyes to the ground. What I loved most about this was the way Costas said that Petronius wants us to see this reference, but not for some lofty purpose, just because it’s funny!

I will never read this scene in the same way again

Other links to the Iliad were pointed out and Costas made my view of the Satyricon change from what can at times be a confusing mass of events to an amusing…mass of events. Particularly the nicknames he gave to certain characters: can you guess who Mr Groin and Captain BJ might be?

I taught part of the Cena Trimalchionis section to a group of lower sixth students at the Latin Summer school around 5 years ago, so revisiting the Satyricon after all that time was a real treat. I have a feeling that Costas could get anyone interested in anything that he said, and he certainly had us entertained.

Next week’s talk: Justinian and the flowering of Byzantium, given by Dr Fiona Haarer of KCL.

interesting side-note: there are usually lots of sixth-formers in attendance, but only one showed up this week, who is writing her IB extended essay on the Roman novel. The cynical side of me wonders whether this is because Oxbridge acceptance letters are in already…or maybe they didn’t realise it was on after such an hiatus. Yes, let’s be positive! They missed a goody.