Sunday, 29 July 2012

Petronius, Cena Trimalchionis c. 61 and 62. A were-wolf story....

This extract is from the Cena Trimalchionis  `Trimalchio’s Dinner’, which is a part of the Satyricon written by Petronius Arbiter (27-66). Petronius was a high official under Nero. He was Nero’s advisor (arbiter) in matters of taste. He was accused of  treason by the commander of the emperor’s guard and Nero, who was higly suspicious and trusted no one.ordered him to be arrested. On hearing this, Petronius did not wait for this arrest, but gave a party for his slaves in the evening and then commited suicide,  escaping the humilations and tortures Nero wanted to inflict on him. See:
The Satyricon has only been partly transmitted, but dispite this it had an enormous influence on Western literature  and is by many considered to be the first real novel.  The frame narrative is about the adventures of Encolpius, a former gladiator, who is the narrator of the work. Cena Trimalchionis it about a festive banquet given by the former slave and now nouveau riche Trimalchio. With unrestrained  sarcasm and humor Petronius describes the tastless and ostentatious display of wealth  by Trimalchio. In doing so, Petronius is showing how the Roman upperclass thought about the would be elite. Actually,  nothing has changed since then, as we can all imagine newly  rich people with a hilarious taste, They may be better off qua money, but our taste is superior!
In his description of the banquet, Petronius made use of lots of colloquialisms and Latin slang – often for the first or only time encountered here. This makes his work also highly interesting from the point of historical and social  linguistics.
For further information:
This site gives also some links to online translations other than the translation on Perseus,
In this part of the story Trimalchio asks one of his guests – Nicerotos - to entertain the other guests with what had happened to him and then Nicerotos tells about his encounter with a were-wolf….

Note: Fellini's Satyricon is loosely based on Petronius . Here is an extract:
[LXI] Postquam ergo omnes bonam mentem bonamque valitudinem sibi optarunt, Trimalchio ad Nicerotem respexit et: "Solebas, inquit, suavius esse in convictu; nescio quid nunc taces nec muttis. Oro te, sic felicem me videas, narra illud quod tibi usu venit." Niceros delectatus affabilitate amici: "Omne me, inquit, lucrum transeat, nisi iam dudum gaudimonio dissilio, quod te talem video. Itaque hilaria mera sint, etsi timeo istos scolasticos ne me rideant. Viderint: narrabo tamen, quid enim mihi aufert, qui ridet? satius est rideri quam derideri."
Haec ubi dicta dedit
talem fabulam exorsus est:
"Cum adhuc servirem, habitabamus in vico angusto; nunc Gavillae domus est. Ibi, quomodo dii volunt, amare coepi uxorem Terentii coponis: noveratis Melissam Tarentinam, pulcherrimum bacciballum. Sed ego non mehercules corporaliter aut propter res venerias curavi, sed magis quod benemoria fuit. Si quid ab illa petii, nunquam mihi negatum; fecit assem, semissem habui; in illius sinum demandavi, nec unquam fefellitus sum. Huius contubernalis ad villam supremum diem obiit. Itaque per scutum per ocream egi aginavi, quemadmodum ad illam pervenirem: nam, ut aiunt, in angustiis amici apparent.
bonam mentem bonamque valitudinem: `a good spirit and a good health’ An afterdinner toast
sibi: each other (the guests)
Niceros a greek name so `os’ in stead of `us’.
suavius: more cheerful
muttio: to mutter
quod tibi usu venit: what happened to you. (literally `came in use to you’)
affabilitas, -atis: friendliness
Omne me lucrum transeat: may all profit  pass me by
nisi iam dudum: if not for long already
gaudimonium = gaudium
dissilio: to leap or burst asunder (gaudimonio dissilo:I burst assunder from joy)
talem: `so well off”
merus:  pure, unmixed. hilaria mera = only merriment
timeo ne: I fear that
viderint: (fut ex ind) =  they will have seen it = Let them just be
quid enim mihi aufert, qui ridet? because what takes someone away from me, who laughs?
satius est rideri quam derideri:  better to be laughed at than to be laughed out
exordior -  exorsus sum: to begin, to start
servio:  to be a slave
vicus: narrow street
coepio coepi: to start
copo = caupo  -onis: petty tradesman, huckster, innkeeper
nosco novi: kennen (noveratis: 2 pl plsqm perf.)
Melissam Tarentinam Melissa from Tarentum. Melissa is a Greek name , meaning `honey-bee’. Tarentum (currently Taranto) was a Greek colony in the south of Italy, founded by Sparta in 706 BC. Even long after it fell under Roman rule, Greek was srtill spoken there and even up to this day there are still about 60.000 speakers of  a Greek dialect in Southern Italy.
bacciballum: Word of uncertain derivation and the only occurence of this word in Latin literature. Maybe related to bac(c)a `berry’. The meaning is however clear: `nice chick’ or whatever slang you can find for a pretty woman.
non corporaliter aut propter res venerias curavi:. I havent taken care of her in a bodely way or for love’s sake
benemoria: according to decent behaviour
fecit assem, semissem habui:  when she earned an as (little coin), I got half an as
sinus:here: purse.
demando: to intrust 
fefellitus:from  fallo,  to deceive (fefellitus is an archaic ppp. Classical Latic has falsus)
contubernalis: husband
ad villam: at the villa ( a villa is not only a house, but also includes the surrounding territory, often used for farming)
supremum diem obiit: he went to his final day = he died
per scutum per ocream: by shield, by greave (ocrea = greave, leggin of metal, to protect the legs). The expression is taken from gladiator fights, meaning: in every possible way.
egi aginavi: aginavi is vulgar Latin (= the Latin of the vulgus `people’, not necessarely `obscene’) agino has the same root as ago. It means `to hasten’ so `I acted, hastened’
quemadmodum; in whatever way
in angustiis: in difficulties

[LXII] "Forte dominus Capuae exierat ad scruta scita expedienda. Nactus ego occasionem persuadeo hospitem nostrum, ut mecum ad quintum miliarium veniat. Erat autem miles, fortis tanquam Orcus. Apoculamus nos circa gallicinia; luna lucebat tanquam meridie. Venimus inter monimenta: homo meus coepit ad stelas facere; sedeo ego cantabundus et stelas numero. Deinde ut respexi ad comitem, ille exuit se et omnia vestimenta secundum viam posuit. Mihi anima in naso esse; stabam tanquam mortuus. At ille circumminxit vestimenta sua, et subito lupus factus est. Nolite me iocari putare; ut mentiar, nullius patrimonium tanti facio. Sed, quod coeperam dicere, postquam lupus factus est, ululare coepit et in silvas fugit. Ego primitus nesciebam ubi essem; deinde accessi, ut vestimenta eius tollerem: illa autem lapidea facta sunt. Qui mori timore nisi ego? Gladium tamen strinxi et <in tota via> umbras cecidi, donec ad villam amicae meae pervenirem. In larvam intravi, paene animam ebullivi, sudor mihi per bifurcum volabat, oculi mortui; vix unquam refectus sum. Melissa mea mirari coepit, quod tam sero ambularem, et: 'Si ante, inquit, venisses, saltem nobis adiutasses; lupus enim villam intravit et omnia pecora tanquam lanius sanguinem illis misit. Nec tamen derisit, etiamsi fugit; senius enim noster lancea collum eius traiecit'. Haec ut audivi, operire oculos amplius non potui, sed luce clara Gai nostri domum fugi tanquam copo compilatus; et postquam veni in illum locum, in quo lapidea vestimenta erant facta, nihil inveni nisi sanguinem. Vt vero domum veni, iacebat miles meus in lecto tanquam bovis, et collum illius medicus curabat. Intellexi illum versipellem esse, nec postea cum illo panem gustare potui, non si me occidisses. Viderint quid de hoc alii exopinissent; ego si mentior, genios vestros iratos habeam."

forte: by  chance
Capuae: so the manuscript. Some editors of the Satyricon have changed it to Capuam, which is classical Latin, but probably Capuae is a locative form. The meaning is anyway clear `he went to Capua’.
ad scruta scita expedianda scruta – orum `trash’,  scita here `suitable items’. so `odds and ends’
expedio:  `to set free’ , either for selling or for buying. As this is the only passage in Latin literature where ad scruta scita expedianda occurs, it is impossible to say what ia meant
nanciscor nactus sum: to gain
hospes,  - it is: guest
millliarium: milestone
Orcus:god of the underworld, Death. . fortis tanquam Orcus `very strong’
apoculo: `to toddle off’ (Latin slang)
gallicinium: cock-crowing, used only transf. as a specification of time, for the last watch of the night, the break of day, early dawn.
monimentum: grave-monument
ad stelas facere:  for going to the grave steles. But for doing what? Commentators suspect that a word is missing. For counting the steles? Reading the inscriptions? Or to piss? The last possebilety was put forward by Franz Bücheler (1837-1908). Indeed, there is an epitaph asking: `Hospes, ad hunc tumulum ne meias ossa precantur’(Stranger, my bones beg not to piss against this grave). Within the context of this story this seems to me to most likely solution.
cantabundus = cantans (canto: to sing)
exuo, -ui, -utus: zich ontkleden
vestimenta: clothing
secundum: next
Mihi anima in naso esse:  My breath is in my nose ( esse is a historic infinitive)`my heart was in my mouth’’
circummingo:   to make water around something. i.e. to piss around
subito: immediately
iocari: to make jokes, jest
mentior: to cheat (depending on tanti facio)
patrimonium: inheritance
ut mentiar, nullius patrimonium tanti facio =  `for no money in the world I would lie’  ululo: howl
primitus: aanvankelijk
accedo accessi accessum: to approach
lapideus: made of stone
Qui mori timore nisi ego? Who died more out of fear, than I? (mori historic infinitive)
gladium stringo - strinxi – strictum: to draw the sword
caedo –cecidi – caesus:  to strike down
in larvam = ut larva ( larva: ghost, spectre)
ebullio animam: to give up the ghost 
sudor: sweat
bifurcum: fork  i.e.  my two legs
volo: to fly
reficio: to recover
sero: late
saltem: at least
adiutasses = adiutavasses (adiuto: to help)
omnia pecora tanquam lanius sanguinem illis misit: omnia pecora: acc. Melissa changes halfway the construction of the sentence as often happens in spoken language. The sentence should have been: omnibus pecoribus tanquam lanius sanguinem misit. Or after Omnia pecora a verb of movement has to be placed: He went to the cattle and slaughtered them like a butcher
pecus pecoris n,: cattle
lanius: butcher
sanguinem mitto:let bleed,  `slaughter.’
derisit: he made us not ridiculous
etiamsi: though
senius: an elderly person (another reading is servus)
lancea: lance
collum: neck
traico: throw
operio: close
amplius: further, more
luce clara abl.abs.
compilo: to plunder, rob
copo compilatus: apperantly an expression  `like robbed inn-keeper’
versipellis: `that changes his skin’, ’were-wolf
panem gustare: eat bread
occido: to kill
exopinisso: to think (exopinissent: fut.)
ego si mentior, genios vestros iratos habeam  `if I lie, your genii may be angry on me.’ (litt.”May I have your genii angry.)
: tutular deity, genius



  1. I am a bit dismayed that there is no discussion here about the word "apoculamus", an apparent hapax legomenon. When I translated the Satyricon in my sophomore year at NYU the incredible professor Wilfred Owen spoke about how no one really knows what the word means. Here's my humble (despite my overwhelming confidence that it's correct) explanation. The narrator of tHE story has just witnessed his companion become a "versiipellus" so he gets up and bolts as fast as his feet can carry him, with his sword drawn and stabbing at shadoes all the way to his girlfirends place. First "apo" means "away", as in our words apostate and apogee Then in the major Romance languages, Italian, French, Spanish, Porteguese and Romanian, the word for ass (as in buttocks, tush, kiester) is some form of "culo", including the Latin "culum". Finally "-amus" is syncopated for "-avimus", 1st person plural perfect tense. So "we hauled ass out of there". The 1st person plural is akin to the "royal we" (And the queen said "we are not amused"). The crudeness of the language is perfectly in keeping with the character of the narrator, and in the 46 years since we read The Satyricon I have never encountered a better explanation or translation for the word. I have since adopted the word into my email address, etc. And now that my speech is done, apoculabo.

  2. Correction. The word falls earlier in the passage than I remembered. So, the translation stands but the circumstances change. I'm staying with "we hauled our asses out" but here the syncopated 1st person plural perfect tense holds as plural - the traveling companions left the house.

    1. Hiram, your explanation is ingenious and attractive and it certainly fits the language!