Petronius and Maecenas: Seneca's Calculated Criticism

  • Shannon N. Byrne


Seneca's hatred for Maecenas has yet to be adequately explained. This examination shows that Seneca's hostility best makes sense as concealed contempt for a contemporary and personal rival, not Augustus' long-dead minister. Petronius, Nero's new arbiter elegantiae, was in many ways like Maecenas and replaced Seneca in influence shortly after the death of Burrus, precisely the time Seneca starts to lambaste Maecenas. Seneca used a figure from the past to avoid naming the living in keeping with ancient literary polemic. Other men at the time of Nero would have understood the real victim of this abuse, but the point has been lost on subsequent generations of readers who tend to take Seneca's criticism of Maecenas at face value.

Shannon N. Byrne is an Associate Professor of Classics at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her research interests include late republican and early imperial literature, in particular the status of poets and the image of Maecenas as the ideal Roman patron. She has published on Cicero's epic for Caesar, Horace Odes 2.12, Tacitus' description of Maecenas and Sallustius Crispus, and Martial's use of Maecenas in his pleas for patronage. She is also managing co-editor of The Classical Bulletin.