The Reception and Use of Petronius: Petronian Pseudepigraphy and Imitation


  • Hugh McElroy


Petronius’ suicide nearly two thousand years ago does not seem to have killed his literary career. In the last thousand years forgeries purporting to be the lost portions of the Satyrica have been published and discredited. In addition to works purporting to be by the author of the Satyrica numerous works whose authors use the name Petronius or themes from his work to slander, moralize, satirize, or scandalize have been published each using some, often more than one, aspect of Petronius’ life and work as inspiration and motivation. From the twelfth-century Petronius Redivivus and the libelous Memoirs of the Present Countess of Derby of 1797 to the 1966 guide to ‘low-life’ New York, New York Unexpurgated, all of the imitations and forgeries explicitly or implicitly show their debt to Petronius through choice of subject matter and emphasis. This article examines how each imitation or forgery, whether convincing as the work of Nero's Arbiter Elegantiae or not, attempts to be ‘Petronian’ and on what criteria some of them stand or fall.