The Sublime and the Bovine: Petronius' Satyricon and Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary


  • Nikolai Endres


Madame Bovary has been compared to the great classics of world literature, past and present. In his epistolary correspondence, Flaubert mentions several excited references to Petronius and the Satyricon; we also know that the adolescent Flaubert’s favorite figure was the Emperor Nero, whom he admired for his ‘aesthetic cruelty.’ In light of Flaubert’s enthusiasm, it seems strange that a study of Petronius’ legacy is virtually absent from Madame Bovary criticism. I want to fill this gap by suggesting Petronian points d'appui for Flaubert’s use of reality and ideality, the sublime and the bovine (with special emphasis on Menippean satire), fragmentation and consumption, food and drink, sex and religion. Once again, the literature of the Early Empire amazes by its modernity.

Nikolai Endres, Ph.D. Comparative Literature from UNC Chapel Hill, is an associate professor at Western Kentucky University. He teaches Great Books, classics, mythology, critical theory, and gay and lesbian studies. He has published on Plato, Petronius, Oscar Wilde, André Gide, E. M. Forster, Mary Renault, and Gore Vidal. He is working on a study of Platonic love as a homoerotic code in gay novels, as well as an investigation of Petronius’ Nachleben in modern literature, especially in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Recently he has also become interested in the myth and music of Richard Wagner.