Maecenas and Petronius' Trimalchio Maecenatianus


  • Shannon N. Byrne


In filling out his portrait of Trimalchio, Petronius parodied Seneca’s hostile portrait of Maecenas as found in the Epistles, thereby amusing his immediate Neronian audience with allusions to recent Senecan imagery. Hence, both Seneca’s Maecenas and Trimalchio share among other things a desire for bizarre dress, fondness for eunuchs, fear of death, and a shaky marriage. However, once Petronius decided to enhance his freedman host with qualities Seneca had criticized, he would have had access to a wealth of information about Maecenas that Seneca did not see fit to mention but which his sophisticated audience would have known. Hence, both Trimalchio and Maecenas avoid high honor, build massive homes, share an interest in wine, own vast estates and countless slaves, and write bad poetry. In filling out Trimalchio with more Maecenas-like qualities than Seneca had mentioned, Petronius gave his audience more to think about and smile at.

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, literary patronage, and the image of Maecenas as ideal 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 co-editor of The Classical Bulletin and book review editor for the Petronian Society Newsletter.