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about why we do not see more of the device. Obviously, certain tech-
nologies rely on the pre-existing development of other technologies. The
steam engine, for instance, could not exist until certain developments in
metallurgy (among other things) had taken place. Less obviously, some
technologies require their own broad availability to succeed. Telephones,
for instance, are of little use if too few people have them. Hence, there can
be a huge lag between the invention of a device, and the boot-strapping
needed for it really to take off. I noted in the ¬rst section that Doody had
36 Ker (2004) 233 already adumbrates this claim.
37 See further Naas (2002) 416“17 on the geography.
38 For a different, though not contradictory, reading of the location see Ker (2004) 237.
Guides to the wor(l)d 103
recently raised the question of utility. The formal differences between the
ancient and modern tables of contents almost always render the former
much less useful to the reader looking for certain kinds of information.
We might then wonder whether they were meant to be utilitarian at all.
Perhaps their main value was somehow symbolic. On the other hand, all
four texts stress some added utility to the reader of these devices.
To pursue the paradox, we might turn to another, more subtle observa-
tion of Doody™s. To wit, different approaches to a given TOC can be seen
as ˜with™ or ˜against the grain™. That is, while certain information is hard to
extract with the help of one of these tables of contents, other questions are
easily answered. (The precise distinction varies considerably from text to
text.) Individual texts are designed to be approached in certain ways, and
thus in some sense are for certain audiences. Scribonius™ text had the best
de¬ned audience of the texts considered here: doctors, and more speci¬cally
doctors whose patients presented with certain systems, and needed to pre-
scribe appropriate treatments. Scribonius developed a version of the TOC
that would accommodate them nicely, and whose theoretical weaknesses
were of little practical consequence. The fact that he actually carried out
this plan suggests we should not dismiss claims to utility quickly nor look
for a radical cultural mismatch in that notion.39
It also explains a second technological oddity “ that the ˜best™ surviving
TOC was also the ¬rst. Scribonius had the most speci¬c audience and so
the easiest task. The various instances, moreover, were so scattered that each
author was essentially working in isolation rather than bene¬ting from a
growing tradition. Contrast here, say, the regular division of long literary
works into standardised books, a development which was even retrojected
once developed.40
In Columella and (perhaps) Pliny, however, we saw a somewhat differ-
ent version of shaping the information of a particular work with a speci¬c
audience in mind. Recall that Columella seems to have expected different
books of his work to be consulted in slightly different ways, and thus shaped
their tables of contents differently. The relatively full syntax of both is a
further indication of this audience-speci¬city. Recalling Goody, cited in the
introduction, we can see this further as an indication of imperfect abstrac-
tion. But this kind of innovation can have bad long-term consequences.
The better these texts are for their ideal readers, the harder they are for
others. Moreover, if tables of contents do not work in a consistent way,
they will be dif¬cult even for users who may notionally be in the target

39 40
On the utility even of Gellius, see Holford-Strevens (2003) 36“44. Moatti (1997) 223.
104 a ndrew m. ri g g sby
audience. Here the syntax just noted above as an ˜indication™ may have
been historically important. Being able to fall back on it to some extent
may have kept Roman authors from learning to let the overall form of
the TOC do its work. At least some of these Roman tables had signi¬cant
symbolic functions, yet at the same time they were meant to help readers
¬nd information. The fact that they were speci¬cally targeted to certain
kinds of practical users implies this. For the former purpose, they were
generally well designed. For the latter, less so, but the cause of this was not
so much con¬‚ict between functions, as dif¬culties in developing the tech-
nology which are not necessarily obvious to modern readers so accustomed
to modern data design.41

b ack to i de olog y
Earlier in this chapter I suggested that there is a homology between the
relationship of Pliny™s Natural history to the outside world and the TOC™s
relationship to the main text of the work. The double compression is a
double gesture of authority. Trevor Murphy has made a very similar claim
and furthermore set it in an important context. Having shown the essen-
tially ˜triumphal™ nature of the whole work™s ˜demarcation™ of the world,42
he continues:
The index is a textual analogy to the Natural History™s use of the Roman triumphal
procession as heuristic and analytical metaphor: both triumph and index make a
thing known while at the same time signifying both the total availability and the
total objecti¬cation of what is known.43
Given the nearly seamless ¬t of the analogy text:world::TOC:text and thus
the parallel gestures made by both, it would hardly be surprising if the
TOC (especially given its rarity overall) had been developed speci¬cally
for the same ideological context as the main text itself.44 Yet, as far as we
can tell, that was not the case. It is unfortunate that we know so little
about the work of Valerius Soranus that Pliny cites as precedent, but his
attested linguistic and antiquarian interests suggest a programme more like
those of slightly later writers like P. Nigidius Figulus and M. Terentius

41 Cf. Bodel (1995) on consular Fasti, whose form shifts from the Republic to the Empire. There is
an ideological shift here in the nature of the consulship, but the new form is still well-designed to
display the newly important information (succession patterns of suffects, rather than dates in of¬ce).
42 43 Murphy (2004) 214.
Murphy (2004) 145“64, 214.
44 I should make it clear that Murphy does not make this claim.
Guides to the wor(l)d 105
Varro. That is, to the extent that we might suggest a particular ideological
background, it is more likely an inward look at ˜Romanness™ rather than
a view outward to empire.45 And at any rate, Soranus™ and Scribonius™
works were backed up by the expertise of the author, not (as in Pliny™s
case) just his diligence. Our earliest clear parallel for Pliny™s TOC arises,
recall, in Scribonius™ narrowly occupational context. That Pliny would be
drawing on a tradition originating with works by scholars like Soranus
or professionals like Scribonius is reasonable enough. As noted above, the
more restricted and predictable an audience, the easier it is to produce a
TOC.
If this is in fact more or less the history, it provides a lesson in connections
between ideology and technology alluded to at the beginning of this paper.
I do not propose to offer here (nor do I think there can ever be) a general
solution to the question of causal relationships between the two. I can,
however, point to a particular case not often taken into account. Pliny™s
TOC is an instance of what, in the biological sciences, Gould and Vrba
have labelled an ˜exaptation™.46 That is, a feature which carries out one
function in response to one set of external pressures, yet arose originally
with a different (or no) function in response to different pressures.47 (Wings,
which in their early stages could hardly have been useful for ¬‚ight, are a
standard example.) So, for instance, a structured TOC would not only have
been easier for a Scribonius to invent, but it might have met speci¬c needs
of his.
To describe what those needs might have been, I need to digress slightly
on the subject of the technical handbook in the ¬rst century ce Scribonius™
work is reminiscent of two others, somewhat better known “ Vitruvius™
on architecture and Quintilian™s on rhetoric. Architecture, medicine and
rhetoric were areas of marginal status. They provided useful, intellectual
knowledge, but excessive specialisation in any one of them would be inap-
propriate to the ˜omnicompetent™ citizens of the political class. They had
been, as Cicero says explicitly of the ¬rst two and of education in general,
˜honourable for those whose status is ¬tted to them™ (Off. 1.151). Since the
late Republic, however, this kind of intellectual specialisation became more
45 I refer here not to the supposed adoption of Greek methods by Varro, but by the substance of his
research which famously made Cicero think he had previously been wandering Rome as an ˜alien™
or ˜guest™ (Ac. 1.9).
46 Gould and Vrba (1982).
47 I do not want to make a general claim here for the applicability of evolutionary theory to cultural
features, but the notion of ˜exaptation™ is largely descriptive and does not, I think, import any
particularly problematic assumptions.
106 a ndrew m. ri g g sby
respectable in certain areas, most notably the law.48 But individual ˜profes-
sions™ largely had to construct their own legitimacy. The three handbooks
just cited share various strategies for doing so. First, two claim that their
arts presuppose other, not obviously related disciplines: geometry, drawing,
optics, history, philosophy, music, medicine, astrology (Vitr. De arch. 1.1.4“
11), music and geometry and the whole ˜encyclion paedian [sic]™ (Quint.
Inst. 1.10.1). The authors™ own ¬elds are made out as not so narrow after
all and therefore more suited for a gentleman. Secondly, and at the same
time, two make a point of establishing boundaries with related (perhaps
lesser) disciplines: medicine vs. surgery (Scrib. Comp. preface), grammar vs.
rhetoric (Quint. Inst. 1.2.4“6). There is a real expertise involved in creating
these handbooks, which only a few could claim. Thirdly, all three establish
their ties to the emperor (Vitr., De arch. 1.pr. 1“7, Quint. Inst. 4, pr. 2; 6 pr.
1, Scrib. Comp. pr. 13).49 As with Pliny™s Natural history (pr. 4“12), utility
to the emperor becomes an absolute standard. If it™s good enough for him,
it™s good enough for you. Wallace-Hadrill has already pointed out the value
to the emperor of appropriating (the practitioners of ) these ˜professions™ as
they emerge as relatively independent loci of authority.50 Here we see there
is also the value to the technical experts: their professions are ennobled by
being appropriated. At any rate, the value of the TOC to Scribonius is easy
to explain in this context. First, the reader™s ease of access illustrates the
utility of the text. Secondly, the structure the TOC provides shows both
the sytematicity of the ¬eld and Scribonius™ own mastery of it. Once the
multi-level TOC had come into being in a work like this, the device could
more easily be borrowed for other purposes, such as Plinian nationalism.
In this case the causal connection between ideology and technology is at
best indirect, but should the process be described as ideology-free? No. If we
take a modi¬ed Althusserian approach to ideology, this kind of borrowing
is easy enough to account for. Individual subjects are con¬gured by recog-
nising themselves in various positions offered to them by their societies;
they respond to various ˜interpellations™.51 So Pliny the triumphalist writer
identi¬ed himself not just as a Roman, but speci¬cally as part of the impe-
rial apparatus. And there can be multiple identi¬cations. Most famously
and explicitly, Cicero could recognize himself as both Roman and Arpinate

48 For the underlying notion of the separation of spheres, see Habinek™s (1990) reading of Cicero™s De
amicitia. For the speci¬c history of some ¬elds, see Wallace-Hadrill (1997).
49 Rhetoric was apparently a problematic area from its inception as an area of knowledge, and so there
had long been counter-arguments for its utility. What is striking about Quintilian is the appeal not
to a generic audience, but speci¬cally to the imperial family.
50 51 See Gunderson (1996) 117“19.
Wallace-Hadrill (1997).
Guides to the wor(l)d 107
(Laws 2.6). But other identities might line up less with local and national
communities and more with, for instance, age, class, gender or occupation.
Scribonius, whatever his national identity, also self-identi¬es as a physician
of a new sort. Gellius™ retreat to the world of texts suggests the intersection
of the Romanness of a subject (rather than Pliny™s imperial agent) and an
elite whose leisure gives it time to focus on nice distinctions of ethics and
aesthetics. New ideas can appear in any of these contexts, but once they
have come into being, they are available for use in entirely new areas.
chapter 5

Petronius™ lessons in learning “ the hard way
Victoria Rimell




Petronius™ Satyricon looks like the joker in the pack. Not only is it the one
text in this volume to have made the twentieth-century big screen “ it™s also
the only chunk of prosimetric ¬ction, and perhaps the only work regularly
read for fun, or even read much at all. If we can™t swallow Petronius™ toxic
disordering and perversion of systems and ˜facts™, we can decide it™s really
off our map (and what did we expect from a hyper, Neronian pantomime
anyway?). Moreover, questions about how the Satyricon embroiders, applies
and tests knowledge, especially when set against the fetishisation and cod-
i¬cation of Roman learning in the ¬rst century ce, will always jigsaw with
debate about what we (can) know about, or learn from, the text itself. As
Conte warns of the Satyricon in his History of Latin Literature: ˜Few mas-
terpieces are as shadowy as this . . .We would do well to keep in mind the
extent to which our knowledge and the hypotheses built on it are limited
and partial™.1 The Cambridge History of Classical Literature makes similar
claims: ˜No Latin writer excites more lively interest. Unfortunately it is
not always accompanied by due recognition of our ignorance™.2 Slater clas-
si¬es the ¬ction as ˜singularly uninterpretable™,3 Sullivan concedes that it
˜presents more puzzles than any other ancient text™,4 while Rudich ranks it
˜the most controversial text in all of classical literature™.5 These comments
are all referring, to a greater or lesser extent, not only to the mutilated and
probably jumbled state of the extant text (a problem which haunts all close
readings of the Satyricon), but to the interpretative stumbling blocks posed
by a hybrid, opaque anti-narrative which is notoriously dif¬cult to follow
and categorise, apparently undertaken, as Zeitlin writes, ˜with the deliber-
ate intention of defeating the expectations of an audience accustomed to
an organising literary form™.6


1 2 3 Slater (1990) 250.
Conte (1994) 454. Kenney and Clausen (eds.) (1982) 139.
4 5 6 Zeitlin (1971) 635.
Sullivan (1968) 21. Rudich (1997) 186.

108
Petronius™ lessons in learning “ the hard way 109
From where we stand, this text™s extraordinary density makes for an
overthickened, engul¬ng broth: as Connors writes, the Satyricon is ˜¬‚ooded™
with literature,7 and Sullivan is convinced of its mammoth original scale
(perhaps over 400,000 words).8 Yet as the Cambridge History goes on to
note, ˜Petronius writes for a highly literate audience, able to recognise
widely scattered allusions™,9 and I have argued elsewhere that we should
not allow our own Aristotelian biases to shroud complex verbal, thematic
and imagistic designs in the text.10 The Satyricon is both grotesquely learned
(demanding to be read as a whole, rather than a pick-and-mix of Menippean
tales) and anti-intellectual: it celebrates ˜learned™ Nero while sending him
up, and lays an exhilarating assault course for educated readers whilst also
satirising our nerdy, Encolpian curiosity.
Conte is keen to stress that the Satyricon represents an ˜encyclopedia™ of
labyrinthine artistry, a label which re¬‚ects a (controversial) view of the text
as more comprehensive than fragmented:11
we may recognise as a unifying feature of the work the fact that Petronius has
collected, reinterpreted and parodied all the literary genres and cultural myths of
his day (Homer and Virgil, tragedy, elegy, history and philosophy) as well as popular
literature (sentimental novels, short stories, mimes, declamation and sensational
stories of witches, magic and werewolves): Petronius may be studied as a shrewd
depicter of customs and also as the author of a kind of literary encyclopedia of
imperial Rome. Nor is this encyclopedia surprising in a period that opens with
Ovid™s Metamorphoses and was to have, on the constructive, institutional side, its
Pliny the Elder and its Quintilian.12
Yet while the Satyricon is clearly a text of peculiar complexity, it is also clear
that it cannot be said to systematise and inform in the manner of a reference
work (although it also gets us thinking about how totalising, solid and even
any ˜encyclopedia™ truly is). It cuts and pastes, pulverises and rehashes a vast
body of literary, medical, zodiacal, culinary and physiognomic knowledge,
as well as less assortable savvy on how to make your way in a big, bad world.
In many ways, as Conte hints (and this stands up, I think, even when we
try to estimate the impact of a fragmented text), the Satyricon has more in
common with Lucan™s immersion in disorder and discontinuity, or with
the daedalean, anti-Lucretian universe of Ovid™s Metamorphoses, than with

7 Connors (1998) 145.
8 Sullivan (1968) 34“8. See further debate in Walsh (1970) 73“6 and Reeve (1983).
9 Kenney and Clausen (eds.) (1982) 140, cf. Harrison (ed.) (1999) xxi: the Satyricon ˜appeals to a speci¬c
repertory of literary knowledge™.
10 11 See also Connors (1998) 145, and Rimell (2002), esp. 7“9.
Rimell (2002) 7“9 and passim.
12 Conte (1994) 464.
110 victori a ri me ll
the fastidious technicalities of Frontinus™ On aqueducts, the reader-friendly
patterning of Valerius Maximus™ Memorable deeds and sayings, or even the
fragmentised compilation of Plutarch™s Sympotic questions. In particular,
Ovidian didacticism and Roman satire, with their emphasis on the obfus-
cation and unreliability of knowledge and truth, set the immediate stage
for the experiment of ¬rst-person narration in the Satyricon. Yet its mega-
lomaniac scope and hybridity, as well as its exploration of the relationship
between knowledge (and different types of expertise) and power/freedom
make it a fascinating text to include within the parameters of this project.
The Satyricon™s Neronian over-consumption might be construed as a fur-
ther symptom and expression of the universalising drive epitomised by
Pliny™s Natural history or Seneca™s Natural questions.
In the Cena, for example, the site of learned (or ˜learned™) discussion
which forms the backbone of the text as we have it (Sat., 26“78), Trimalchio™s
Neronian reign (both of the microcosmic dining room and his empire-like
estate)13 is contingent on his command and display of knowledge: he boasts
of Greek and Latin libraries, employs a clerk to enumerate daily happenings
on his property, recites poetry off the cuff, offers dishes laden with mytho-
logical reference, and decorates his walls with scenes from Homer. But, as I™ll
argue, Trimalchio™s performance also pressures Foucault™s power/knowledge
formula, buttressed so effectively by many of the other texts dealt with in
this volume. Or rather, it re-highlights, with different emphasis, the equiv-
ocality of knowledge: for whether Trimalchio really is in the know has little
bearing on his dominion, and the notion that his properties are so innumer-
able he is unsure where some of them are (Sat. 48.2) is of course an index of
his power. Under his rule what counts as erudition, and what distinguishes
pattern from mess, constraint from liberality, gets tainted and confused,
mirroring the challenges of reading what often seems a slyly tyrannical
text. Dis-ordered knowledge, Petronius reminds us, can always hamstring
rather than empower reader response, just as deranging rather than regu-
lating text and world might equally ¬‚aunt an imperative to control.14
One of the things this essay will stress is that the Satyricon is a disturbing
¬ction on many different levels, perhaps never more so: to some extent we
all want and need to believe that literary texts embody knowledge and are

13 Trimalchio™s properties are such that if he wants to go to Africa, he can do so by travelling only
through his own land (48.3).
14 Compare Jason K¨ nig in this volume, who argues that the surface fragmentariness of Plutarch™s
o
Sympotic questions urges readers to forge their own consistent view of the world. Also see, in particular,
Riggsby on Pliny, and Alice K¨ nig on Frontinus, where ordering knowledge is construed, at least in
o
part, as a gesture of control.
Petronius™ lessons in learning “ the hard way 111
useful, enriching and categorisable. At the same time, we have embraced
the fracturing, de-totalising critiques of post-modernism (which themselves
shadow shifting models of knowledge born of twentieth-century advances
in theoretical physics),15 while our late-capitalist world shortcircuits a Fou-
cauldian reciprocity between power and knowledge before our eyes, and
reshuf¬‚es a shaky hierarchy of specialisms. The dominant cult of celebrity
rates looks, wealth, self-promotion and being in the right place at the
right time over talent and skill, and we live in an era where plumbers can
earn more than university professors,16 big drug companies govern medical
research, and where access to and speed of information have helped fuel
a zeitgeist characterised by anxiety and fear.17 The most extreme impact
of a postmodern unpacking of encyclopedism is that those who profess
to know most, and to know the most authoritatively, end up the least
trusted (take politicians, journalists and, increasingly, conventional doc-
tors). Yet this same cultural vibe has rated Schott™s Miscellanies runaway
bestsellers.18
Similarly, Petronius™ rambunctious novel illustrates how, in the acceler-
ated culture of high empire (then, as now), knowledge can become a kind
of madness even as it reassures and entertains, an (addictive) recipe for para-
noia and a threat to the self. We can™t forget what we (think we) know about
Petronius, the politician and Arbiter elegantiae at Nero™s court, a ¬gure of
expertise always presumably at risk of not knowing enough, or conversely
being a little too good at his job, who was ¬nally forced to suicide in 66 ce.
15 E.g., Heisenberg™s articulation of the uncertainty principle, the discovery of wave-particle duality,
or, more generally, the emerging model of a holographic universe. These new (and not so new)
ideas have yet to make their way (at least consciously) into the cultural imagination at large, but are
beginning to make themselves felt through the New Age, or Post-Secular movement.
16 All of which recalls scenes from Petronius and Martial (e.g., Ascyltos™ enemy tells him school fees
are a waste of money, as teachers these days are not worth twopence (Sat 58), and Martial 9.73 lashes
out at an illiterate cobbler who got rich through sheer luck, while he slaved away at his grammar).
17 Thanks, largely, to advances in information technology, in particular the internet, which has become
an uncontrollable breeding ground for everything from hypochondria to conspiracy theories and
hard-core pornography.
18 Schott™s Original Miscellany (2002) and his Food and Drink Miscellany (2003), Plinean collections
of trivia on everything from glove sizes to public-school slang and euphemisms for offal, have been
publishing sensations. In many ways these books charm because they offer readers complete guilt-
free control over how to sample what are self-consciously useless minutiae. They allow the literary
equivalent of bored internet sur¬ng (which has turned us all into high-speed sorters and amateur
lexographers), offering fast-food for info-addicts but at the same time a nostalgic respite from the
daily onslaught of the type of information which must be assimilated 24/7, or which is traumatic
and hard-hitting. Similar follow-up publications include (with same retro school-book-style paper
cover) Peter Bowler™s The Superior Person™s Book of Words (2002), a dictionary of eccentric sounding,
neglected words for readers to ˜rediscover™, Bill Bryson™s A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003)
and Michael Cook™s A Brief History of the Human Race (2004), a more complex narrative than ever
thanks to scienti¬c advances like DNA and carbon-dating.
112 victori a ri me ll
In pained contrast to the many kinds of orderings we™ve seen so far, Petro-
nius™ labyrinthine rehash of classical literature (like many other Neronian
texts which parade creativity and anxieties of in¬‚uence in grotesque bod-
ies) presents knowledge as a problem of personal identity, and of physical
and psychological, as well as intellectual, management. For us, especially,
it upsets lingering presumptions that disembodied objectivity is the only
form which the acquisition of knowledge can take.19 This is an era, or liter-
ary system, in which, as Eumolpus argues at Satyricon 118, one™s mind must
be ˜¬‚ooded in a vast river of literature™ (ingenti ¬‚umine litterarum inundata),
to achieve intellectual self-actualisation.20 To tackle today™s literary trends,
exempli¬ed by the heady entanglements of civil war poetry, you must be
˜full™ of literature (plenus litteris), the same image Agamemnon conjures
when he describes the student™s ideal trajectory in his poem at Satyricon
5: ˜full of the learning of the Socratic school™ (Socratico plenus grege) (line
13); ˜thus, full up, you shall pour out words in a swelling river from a heart
the Muses love™ (sic ¬‚umine largo / plenus Pierio defundes pectore verba)
(lines 21“2). Petronius depicts (and performs) a paradoxical literary cosmos
in which knowledge, like other commodities, is demanded in excess, but
where that excess is ultimately too much to swallow or sustain, or at least to
enjoy in any straightforward way. In Quartilla™s brothel, curiosity is cruelly
punished (˜A man cannot look upon forbidden things and go free™, Quar-
tilla warns at 17.4), while in the Cena, excess food and entertainment turn
an orgy of hedonism into a nauseating death-trap. The culinary spectacles
stage the cutting open and tasting of dishes as discoveries, enticing the
guests to play detectives (or soothsayers, poring over fake entrails). Yet the
more they ˜know™, the less they desire to know “ discovery becomes sick-
ening (˜the whole event was getting really nauseating™; ibat res ad summam
nauseam (78.5)), even a torture (˜we could have put up with this, had a far
more fantastic dish not driven us to prefer death by starvation™ (69.7)).
Like Persius™ Satires and Manilius™ Astronomica, the Satyricon turns the
imperial knowledge project inwards, to explore deeper, darker realms of
body and mind: its narratives open up a nexus of ˜inner™ spaces, from
Trimalchio™s stuffed pig, staged within the underworld-labyrinthine cavity
of the dining room itself, to the bellies of the dinner-guests, of trainee
19 That is, despite feminist critiques of the disembodied, Cartesian knower, of which Jaggar and Bordo
(1989) is a good example. Also see Merleau-Ponty (1962), who posits a subject who knows because
the body knows.
20 In this respect the Satyricon looks quintessentially Neronian. As Elsner and Masters (1994) 7 put it:

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