Petronius, Satyricon, 83

In pinacothecam perveni vario genere tabularum mirabilem. Nam et Zeuxidos manus vidi nondum vetustatis iniuria victas, et Protogenis rudimenta cum ipsius naturae veritate certantia non sine quodam horrore tractavi. Iam vero Apellis quam Graeciμονό κνημον appellant, etiam adoravi. Tanta enim subtilitate extremitates imaginum erant ad similitudinem praecisae, ut crederes etiam animorum esse picturam. Hinc aquila ferebat caelo sublimis Idaeum,illine candidus Hylas repellebat improbam Naida. Damnabat Apollo noxias manus lyramque resolutam modo nato flore honorabat.

I came to a gallery with all sorts of pictures, a marvelous picture-gallery. For I saw those (pictures made) by the hand of Zeuxis not yet overcome by the defacement of time, and I studied, not without a sense of terrified wonder, the rough drawings of Protogenes rivaling the truth of nature herself. And indeed (the painting) of Apelles which the Greeks call "monoknēmon" [or "monochrome"] [Variant 1: (the paintings) of Apelles whom the Greeks call the One-legged; Variant 2: (the paintings) of Apelles the Greek whom they call the One-legged], I admired by all means. In fact, with such accuracy the outlines of the figures were defined to bear close resemblance, that you might believe it to be a painting of (their) souls. Here an eagle was uplifting the Shepherd of Ida to heaven; there, the fair Hylas resisting a tormenting Naiad. [In another painting] Apollo was cursing his culpable hands, and adorning his unstrung lyre by means of the newborn flower. (Heselstine, 1913; modified and amended by Spyridon Loumakis)

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En parcourant les portiques, j'arrivai à une galerie de peinture ornée de divers tableaux, une galerie très remarquable : car j'en vis de la main de Zeuxis qui resistaient encore à l'injure du temps, et je n'osais toucher qu'avec un frissonnement religieux des ébauches de Protogène, rivalisantes la vérité de la nature elle-même. En effet, je me prosternai devant (des tableaux) d'Apelle, ce que les Grecs appellent "monochrome" (ou "monoknēmon").[Variante 1 : devant (des tableaux) d'Apelle, celui que les Grecs appellent "l'unijambiste"; Variante 2 : devant (des tableaux) d'Apelle le Grec, celui qu'on appelle "l'unijambiste"] Les contours des figures étaient dessinés avec un art qui leur donnaient une telle exactitude que l'ont eût cru que c'était la peinture des âmes (de ces figures). Ici on voyait un aigle portant Idaeus au ciel. Là l'innocent Hylas repoussait une Naïade lascive. [Dans un autre tableau] Apollon maudissait ses mains criminelles et décorait sa lyre détendue d'une fleur (d'hyacinthe) nouvellement éclose. (Reinach, 1921; modified and amended by Spyridon Loumakis).

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Created by Valérie Toillon
Contributors:
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  • Bridget Almas

Commentary

  1. The exact date and authorship of the Satyricon is still a matter of debate (Sullivan, 1968, pp. 15-33; Walsh, 1970, pp. 67-70, 244-247; Martin, 1975, pp. 182-224; 1999; 2000, pp. 139-163; SERS, 2006, pp. VII-XXV; Slater, 2009, pp. 16-31; Ripoll, 2011, pp. 439-458). However, it was likely written sometime around 65-120 AD – either at the end of the Neronian period (Sullivan, 1968, pp. 15-33; Walsh, 1970, pp. 67-70), during the Flavian period, or the Antonine period (Martin, 1975, pp. 182-224; 2000, pp. 139-163; Ripoll, 2011, pp. 439-458). Furthermore, according to recent scholarship, the Satyricon is a "retrospective novel," and therefore it is important to keep in mind that the action described in this entry, actually takes place some thirty years before the writing date (Martin, 2000, pp. 139-145; Ripoll, 2011, pp. 439-458). Therefore, in terms of the chronology of the action described in this passage, it occurs just after the feast at Trimalchio's house. The pinacotheca ("pinacotheca mirabilis") was still popular in the Roman period (Cicero, Brutus, 75; Fam., 7.23.3). Pinacotheca refers to a “room arranged as a showcase for the display of art objects including framed pictures” (Winsor-Leach, 2011, p. 132). The aim of a pinacotheca is to collect different kinds of art objects in order to decorate a room or building so as to create a sense of harmony (concerning taste in Roman period see Oltramare, 1941, pp. 82-101; Bianchi-Bandinelli, 1950, pp. 157-207). In this passage, the (certainly fictitious) "picture gallery" seems to be located inside a temple (see text 121; Reinach, 1921, p. 40; Croisille, 2003, p. 52). As for the paintings mentioned in the text, they could have taken the form of either framed paintings simply hanging on the wall, or panels (with a picture) inserted into places in the wall made especially for this purpose, or even panels executed in "trompe l'oeil" style to create the illusion of a real framed picture (Van Buren, 1938, pp. 76-81; RE, Supp. VIII, 1956, pp. 500-502; Croisille, 2003, pp. 56-59; Winsor-Leach, 2011, pp. 132-155). Some examples include the Ixion room in the Villa of the Vettii in Pompeii, the Casa degli epigrammi (DAI56.1218), and the Casa del Criptoportico (DAI60.92).

  2. In this passage, Petronius refers to three great Greek painters of the classical period: Zeuxis (5th-4th centuries BC, see texts 199 to 256), Apelles (see texts 400 to 490) and Protogenes (middle of the 4th century BC, see texts 491 to 506). Each of these painters reflects the education and taste of an average young Roman at the end of the 1st century AD (Oltramare, 1941, p. 84ff). More specifically, they reflect or attest to a taste for an exact rendering of "the truth of Nature," as expressed by this sentence: "Tanta enim subtilitate extremitates imaginum erant ad similitudinem praecisae, ut crederes etiam animorum esse picturam." Therefore, the purpose of this kind of art is to compete with Nature itself. This idea comes from the stoic philosophers who see human art as a reflection of Nature (Oltramare, 1941, pp. 90-95; Slater, 1990, pp. 228-230; Zagdoun, 2000, esp. pp.147-170).

  3. In the original Latin text, the word "quam" cannot refer to Apelles ("Apellis" in genitive) since the former is feminine and the latter is masculine. However, no other previous word can be connected gramatically to "quam" (e.g. feminine "tabulae" is in plural while "quam" is in singular, whereas "rudimenta" is neuter). Similarly, problems in translation creates the word "Graeci" which can be either the subject of the verb "appellant" (nominative, masculine, plural: "which/whom the Greeks call...") or can specify the name "Apellis" (genitive, masculine, singular: "...of Apelles the Greek"). In fact, without corrections (see following note) this passage is impossible to translate.

  4. In Scaliger's 16th-century edition of the Satyricon, the word that appears right after the passage that reads “Iam vero Apellis quam Graeci” is μονόκνημον (monocnemon), which translates as "on one leg" and is probably a reference to Artemis/Diana being in a running position. This is the version that most publishers (Ernout, Grimal, Heseltine) prefer. Furthermore, because of a correction at the margin of this 16th-century edition, some have read "monocromon" (Reinach, p. 41; Sers, 2006, p. 312 keeps this version and assumes "monocnemon" is a mistake) as a reference to "monochrome painting" (see texts 56 and 190). Monochrome paintings were usually done in red on a white background or in white on a dark background, as several examples from the Hellenistic period indicate (Rouveret, 1989, pp. 252-253; Bruno, 1977, pp.41-44; 1985, pp. 31-54). Aside from this specific passage, there is no other textual evidence concerning any "monochrome" paintings by Apelles. Some have also read (and corrected) “monocnemon” to "monogrammon." This could be a reference to the simplicity of Apelles' outline drawing (Pellegrino, Satyricon, 1975, p. 373; on the whole subject see Croisille, 2003, p. 52, n. 17). It is important to keep in mind that the paintings are probably not originals and so none of these interpretations should be dismissed. Therefore, the translation provided here tries to incorporate more than one of these possible variants.

  5. The paintings deal with subjects that are fairly common in their time period (1st-2nd centuries AD) and known by Pompeian paintings of the Second Style such as: the rape of Ganymedes, Hylas and the Nymph, and Apollo and Hyakinthos (Reinach, 1921, p. 41; Croisille, 2003, p. 54). For each of the paintings, the choice of subject aims at evoking an emotional and intellectual reaction by Encolpius, who is crying about love’s misfortune. Likewise, each picture demands an interpretation, but neither Encolpius nor Eumolpus know enough about painting to offer a correct explanation. Throughout this situation, Petronius makes fun of his contemporaries who do not have any serious knowledge of ancient art (Slater, 1990, pp. 220-230; Elsner, 1994, p. 34). Through satire, he also mocks his contemporaries' misunderstanding of the theory of mimesis (see Sat. 29.1; Slater, 1987, pp. 167-169; 1990, pp. 228-229; Elsner, 1994, p. 38; Croisille, 2003, p. 53). He also mocks the role of ekphrasis (descriptions of works of art) in Greek novels (especially Longus's Daphnis and Chloe), where it is used as a metaphor to express the character's feelings of love (in erotic situations) (Walsh, 1970, pp. 93-94; Sullivan, pp. 115-131; Slater, 1990, pp. 220-222; Elsner, 1994, p. 33). Generally, the theme of the decline of art (see also Satyr. 88; Pliny, NH, XXXV, 2; 28; 118; Vitruvius, De arch., VII, 5, 3; Croisille, 2003, p. 59) is addressed with a satirical tone throughout the novel (Thomas, 1986, pp. 150-152; Slater, 1987, pp. 166-170; Elsner 1994, pp. 30-47; Croisille, 2003, p. 53). In conclusion, this specific passage does not really say much about ancient Greek painting. However, with its ironic tone, it does say a lot about the artistic climate at the end of the 1st century AD and the first decades of the 2nd century (Oltramare, 1941, pp. 82-101; Slater, 1987, p. 166; Elsner, 1994, p. 31; Croisille, 2003, pp. 53-59).

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Created by Valérie Toillon
Contributors:
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Bibliography

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Annotation Authors and Editors
Created by Valérie Toillon
Contributors:
  • Spyridon Loumakis
  • Bridget Almas