Petronius, Satyricon

LCL 15: 70-71

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et sententiarum vanissimo strepitu hoc tantum proficiunt, ut cum in forum venerint, putent se in alium orbem terrarum delatos. | 3et ideo OφLego adulescentulos existimo in scholis stultissimos fieri, quia nihil ex his quae in usu habemus aut audiunt aut vident, OLsed piratas cum catenis in litore stantes, sed2 tyrannos edicta scribentes quibus imperent filiis ut patrum suorum capita praecidant, sed responsa in pestilentiam data ut virgines tres aut plures immolentur, sed mellitos verborum globulos et omnia dicta factaque quasi papavere et sesamo sparsa.

OφL2. qui inter haec nutriuntur non magis sapere possunt quam bene olere qui in culina habitant. | 2OLpace vestra liceat dixisse, primi omnium3 eloquentiam perdidistis. levibus enim atque inanibus sonis ludibria quaedam excitando effecistis ut corpus orationis enervaretur et caderet. | 3nondum iuvenes declamationibus continebantur, cum Sophocles aut Euripides invenerunt verba quibus deberent loqui. | 4nondum umbraticus doctor ingenia deleverat, cum Pindarus novemque lyrici Homericis versibus canere timuerunt. | 5et ne poetas {quidem}4 ad testimonium citem, certe neque Platona neque Demosthenen ad hoc genus exercitationis accessisse video.5 | 6grandis et ut ita dicam

  • 2sed s, l: et
  • 3omnium δs, l: omnem
  • 4deleted Bücheler
  • 5video Turnebus, p2: et ideo


inflated subject matter and of the absolutely empty sounds of the maxims is that when the young speakers enter court, they think they have been conveyed into another world. This is why I believe that our young boys are converted into total fools in schools of rhetoric, because they hear and see nothing used in everyday life but only topics like pirates with chains standing on the beach, like tyrants writing edicts ordering sons to decapitate their own fathers, like oracular responses in time of plague recommending that three or more virgins be sacrificed, like honeyed clusters of expressions, and all words and actions, as it were, sprinkled with poppy seed and sesame.3

2. Youngsters who are fed on this fare can no more gain good sense than those who live in the kitchen can smell clean. Forgive my bluntness, but I have to tell you that you above all others have impoverished eloquence. Your feeble and empty sounds have brought about only a certain frivolousness, with the result that oratory has lost its vigor and fallen flat. Young men were not yet restricted to declamations, when Sophocles and Euripides found the language they needed.4 No sequestered pedant in his ivory tower had as yet ruined all the genius in students, when Pindar and the nine lyric poets5 carefully shied away from Homeric lines in composing their own. Not that I need to have recourse to the poets for evidence; I certainly do not see that Plato or Demosthenes took up this kind of training.

  • 3Encolpius’ criticism of rhetoricians probably does not represent the opinions of Petronius, and lamenting the decline of oratory is a parody (of current opinions and fads), which itself is hackneyed.
  • 4These two along with Aeschylus were the great tragedians of fifth-century Athens.
  • 5Pindar is usually included in the canon of the nine lyric poets, along with Alcaeus, Sappho, Anacreon, Alcman, Stesichorus, Ibycus, Simonides, and Bacchylides.
DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.petronius-satyricon.2020