Magic in the work of Petronius (I): General issues and characters


We are going to present some information about the author of the Satyricon. We know nothing with absolute certainty about Petronius and his work only has come down to us in part, and what this part could represent in the whole of the work when it was written is unknown. As for the novel, we know that it is incomplete because it is missing the beginning and the end, something that is understandable. However, what we have of this work has been found in different libraries and fragmentary due to chance.

From what we can say about him, he is found thanks to other authors such as Tacitus, who in his Annales cites several characters from his time or earlier with a certain Petronius:

<<As regards Petronius, I must insist on some background. He spent the day sleeping and spent the night in his chores and amusements; and he was not considered vicious, like the majority of those who squander their property, but rather a refined high-living man. In the dignity of proconsul, in Bithynia, and then in that of consul, he showed himself energetic and up to the task.>>
Tacitus, Annals, XVI

In 1663 the Traguriensis manuscript appeared in the library of Nicolás Cippio. Poems by Catullus, Tibullus and Propertius also appear, along with Trimalchio's dinner, whose first chapters are already known.
Lisardo Rubio Fdez. (1988), in the introduction to the work in the Gredos publishing house, gives us many other valuable data «In the Satyricon the name of Titus Petronius Niger appears, who was consul around the year 62». Then we have the origin of the word Satiricón: «Satyricom is a Greek form, in the genitive plural, which several Greek novels carry. It should be understood that these adjectives substantive in the genitive would, in principle, be governed by the noun 'libri', that is, "books with satirical, Ephesian, Ethiopian themes, etc.».

In these lines we find the objective pursued by its author, which is: «Some paragraphs from the Satyricon very clearly define Petronius' artistic ideal. Claims for the writer simplicity, naturalness and frankness in the description of human life. The Satyricon is a model and perhaps the most perfect of realism in Latin literature».

This work deals, therefore, with less than solemn themes, it is not an epic or a historical treatise, but an adventure story, with varied themes, travel issues, social ridicule, etc. For this reason they help us to know what was happening in real Roman society and not just the majestic image to which we are accustomed. It is precisely magic, superstition and esotericism that move through these "lower" classes that few people paid attention to in their literary works, so works like these are a very useful tool.
The main character is Encolpius, punished by the god Priapus with sexual impotence, but the work is very fragmented. The first part includes Ascyltus, Encolpius' love rival for the love of Giton, the second part is Trimalchio's famous dinner, and finally there is the third part that belongs to Eumolpos, a not very good poet who joins the group.

«The horrific figure of the witch that Petronius presents to us in his work, The Satyricon, one of the most outstanding figures to represent the dark world of magic and the occult arts in the first century AD. in the Rome of his time. The magic and the relationship with the sorcery of the witch Enotea will be the starting point to focus on an unknown social and cultural reality that completely coexisted with the official religion of the Roman Pantheon at the time of the author».
Donoso Johnson, P., Magic and Roman Society in the Times of Petronius, 2010

We see that there is a great knowledge of the different magical practices that are described in Petronius' novel and it would be because this and the Roman cultic religion could coexist without any problem.It is noteworthy that in Petronius the witches and magicians do not carry out the tasks on their own initiative, but have the role of priestesses of the god Priapus, who is a god who recovers sexual impotence and promotes fertility, therefore, the work of these magicians is secondary and subaltern. The reading of this magical episode is that neither religion nor the Roman state apparatus would be capable of solving the ailments and affectations of the citizens of the Empire and each individual, of their own accord, had the task of finding a way to solve their problems.

It is known that the laws contained in the XII Tables persecuted and sanctioned the malum carmen, the evil enchantment, considered a magical practice. Magical actions, from a practical-legal point of view, were considered crimes that appear listed as crimina magiae in the Lex Cornelia, from the 1st century BC; yet it was resorted to, practiced, and feared at the same time.
According to Nicola Turchi (1939) and together with tradition and sources, he tells us that the Romans used gold as amulets, coral branches (surculi) which, as it is red and pointy, throws off bad influences and eliminates them; amber (sucinum) for its distant and mysterious origin and its ability to be "enchanted" by rubbing (static electricity); the fascinum, and the cyprea, amulets for the reproduction of the genitals, to divert evil spirits, the oscillators, dolls and other amulets that were hung on trees for apotropaic purposes.

«The same author (Turchi), assures that the best-known derivatives of magic are theurgy and alchemy, tells us that the "divine achievements" of theurgy are poorly distinguished, in principle, from those of magic: from divination by water, by the mirror (hydromancy, catoptromancy), we move on to the momentary resurrection of the dead to know the future of them (necromancy); the "creation of wonders" (thaumaturgy), to the evocation of the god».
Donoso Johnson, 2010

In other words, even for the Romans themselves it was difficult to distinguish what was magic and what was a complex religious ritual, giving rise to the possibility of paying attention to both. Even Giordano Bruno, a Renaissance esoteric monk, recognized that in antiquity divine magic was also that of archaic divine oracles.
Here we have seen that some practices were already known among the people of the time. In other articles we have dealt with tasks such as hydromancy, necromancy or the transformation of humans into mythical beings or werewolves. But everything seen in Petronio corresponds to the spells dedicated to the god Priapus by the priestesses who know the different tasks to be carried out. So we can think that it was something that was done together with the cultic rituals of the divinities of the Roman Pantheon and even others that were known in certain levels of Roman society.

First, two priestesses of Priapus appear, which is the divinity to which the different magical practices that are shown later are dedicated. The magicians called Quartilla and Enotea put Encolpius under the ropes because he will be the character in which they will direct the different spells. Despite being a man, he cannot do anything to remedy it. As representatives of the god Priapus, and intermediaries of the same, they exert their will on the protagonist.
Quartilla, through trickery, gets Encolpius, his friend Ascyltos and his lover Giton to go to his house to repair the damage they had caused when they were celebrating a sacrifice in honor of Priapus. He subjects them to a whole series of orgiastic rites, where they are forced to drink, to be groped, kissed, mistreated, to have unwanted sexual relations. In the case of Enotea, the objective is very different, but the humiliation procedures are very similar. She is a healer, a sorceress with supernatural powers. The measure that she takes first is that Encolpius must sleep with her, she is a rather disgusting old woman, followed by others such as kissing her over and over again, drinking potions and reading the future by looking at the liver of a sacred goose. In the end he manages to escape but there is not even a hint of the manly strength and resistance that Encolpius could have shown, to face so much humiliation. This "satyrical" vision can also make us doubt whether it is a realistic ritual, whether it is an exaggeration or criticism, etc.

The most singular episode that is narrated to us is that of Circe and Polyenus, a name used by Encolpius. In this case, Petronius describes this behavior realistically. The magician is without a doubt one of those ladies of Roman antiquity who was infatuated with slaves, gladiators or comedy actors. He considers the protagonist one of these and to establish contact with Hi, he sends his servant, Crisis. As soon as she sees herself in the agreed place, Circe with sweet words and without caring that he has a lover, shows her desire to give herself to him, something she does without any consideration. This meeting did not take place because Encolpio was impotent and the aristocrat invites him to heal. The servant is in charge of carrying out this task through an old Proselenos who subjects him to a whole series of enchantments. This is what we will see later in the practices.
So let's see what is said about magic in Magic in the work of Petronius II: Magical Practices and Beliefs.

Ignacio Povedano Selfa -

-Donoso Johnson, P., La Magia y Sociedad Romana en Tiempos de Petronio, 2010
-Ramiro, J.B. Un retrato social de las mujeres en el Satiricón de Petronio, UJI, 2014
-Rubio Fernández, L. (introd.) Petronio, El Satiricón. Gredos, 2010
-Turchi, N. La Religione di Roma Antica, Instituto di Studi Romani, Licinio Cappelli Editore, Bologna, Italia, 1939.

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