Priapus and the Shipwreck (Petronius, Satyricon 100–114)
As both archaeology and the literary tradition show, the Romans connected Priapus with ships and sailors. Details of the shipwreck episode in Petronius’s Satyricon (100–114) suggest that Encolpius and Giton both function here as figures for Priapus himself, and their disguises foreshadow the destruction of the ship. The ship’s captain, Lichas, fears that the fugitives’ self-disfigurement, especially the shaving of their heads, embodies an offense against the ship. Given a potential identification of Encolpius and Giton with Priapus, a Roman reader might see a particular offense against this deity.
Niall W. Slater is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Latin and Greek at Emory University. His interests focus on the ancient theatre and prose fiction. His books include Plautus in Performance, Reading Petronius and Spectator Politics: Metatheatre and Performance in Aristophanes. Currently he is writing a book on Euripides’ Alcestis.