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(pĭtrō`nēəs), d. c.A.D. 66, Roman satirist, known as Petronius Arbiter because of his now generally accepted identity with Gaius Petronius, to whom Tacitus refers as arbiter elegantiae in the court of Nero. According to Tacitus, Petronius served first as proconsul, then as consul of Bithynia. He is remembered chiefly, however, as an indolent and profligate lover of luxury. When Tigellinus, a rival for the favor of Nero, caused the arrest of Petronius, the latter ended his own life, at Cumae, by slashing his veins. He made dying a leisurely procedure, attended by festivity among his associates. To him is accredited the authorship of a satirical work, Petronii arbitri satyricon, a romance with skillful delineation of characters, written in prose interspersed with verse. Parts of the 15th and 16th books have been preserved. Among the surviving fragments the most complete and valuable section is the Cena Trimalchionis (Trimalchio's Dinner), presenting a humorous episode of vulgar display on the part of a man whose great wealth is newly acquired. These satires furnish a vivid study of the life and manners of the time in a sustained, connected example of the colloquial language. The Latin style of Petronius is among the best of its period.


See translations by J. P. Sullivan (1986) and W. Arrowsmith (1987); study by N. Slater (1990).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Gaius Petronius Arbiter). Year of birth unknown; died A.D. 66, in Cumae. Roman writer.

Petronius was called the “arbiter of taste” at the court of Nero. Implicated in court intrigues, he committed suicide. He is considered as most probably the author of the Satyricon. Written in the form of a Menippean satire, the novel provides a truthful reflection of the moral degeneracy of Roman society. Vignettes

of the public squares, taverns, and dens give a realistic picture of the everyday life of the middle and lower strata of Roman society. The plot consists of the amorous and picaresque adventures of characters from the “lower depths” of society. The erotic theme is treated on a low comic level. Part of the novel, the “Banquet of Trimalchio,” which describes the everyday life and mores of freedmen, is especially interesting. Writing from the viewpoint of an aristocrat and aesthete, the author satirically portrayed pretentious social climbers. The narrative manner of the Satyricon combines elegance with burlesque. The examples of colloquial Latin in the dialogue are of particular literary and linguistic interest. The text has been poorly preserved, and the extant manuscripts represent only an insignificant part of the novel.


Satyricon: Cum apparatu critico. Edited by K. Müller. Munich, 1961.
In Russian translation:
“Satirikon.” Translated by B. Iarkho. In Akhill Tatii: Levkippa i klitofont.… Moscow, 1969.


Istoriia rimskoi literatury, vol. 2. Moscow, 1962.
Paratore, E. Il Satyricon di Petronio, parts 1-2. Florence, 1933.
Sullivan, J. P. The Satyricon of Petronius. London [1968].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


called by Roman historian Tacitus “a man of refined luxury,” and “the arbiter of elegance”; lived in the reign of the emperor Nero. [Rom. Hist.: EB (1963) XVII 681]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Gaius , known as Petronius Arbiter. died 66 ad, Roman satirist, supposed author of the Satyricon, a picaresque account of the licentiousness of contemporary society
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005