Petronius Arbiter


Part III: Trimalchio’s Feast continued

The Induction of a New Member into the Band of Northern Painters in Rome

‘The Induction of a New Member into the Band of Northern Painters in Rome’
Anonymous, c. 1660
The Rijksmuseum

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved

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49-52: The pig, the Corinthian plate, foolery

Trimalchio had not yet said all he wished to say, when a dish holding the large pig came to occupy the table. We began expressing our wonder at such speed, and swore that there had not been time enough to cook a fowl, especially as the pig appeared so much bigger than the boar had appeared a little while previously. Then Trimalchio, looking more and more closely at it, said: ‘What, what has this pig not been gutted. By heavens, it has not. Call him, call the cook here to us.’

When the poor cook was standing beside the table, and confessed he’d forgotten, Trimalchio exclaimed: ‘What? Forgotten?’ ‘You’d think he’d merely failed to season it with pepper and cumin. Off with his tunic!’ The cook was stripped, without delay, and stood sorrowfully between two tormentors. But we all began to intercede for him, saying: ‘These things happen; pray, let him go; we promise not to interfere should he do it again. I, most cruel in my severity, could not contain myself, but leaning over said in Agamemnon’s ear: ‘Clearly this must be a useless servant; one who could forget to gut a pig? By heavens, I wouldn’t forgive him, even if he’d only forgotten to bone the fish!’ But not Trimalchio, whose face softened into a smile. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘if your memory is so bad, gut him here in front of us.’ The cook donned his tunic, seized a knife, and with a cautious hand sliced the belly in various places. At once, as the slits widened from the pressure, out poured sausages and black puddings! At this the servants burst into spontaneous applause, and shouted: ‘Blessings on Gaius!’ The cook two was rewarded with a silver crown and a drink, being handed the cup on a Corinthian plate.

When Agamemnon peered at it closely, Trimalchio said: ‘I alone possess the true Corinthian.’ I expected him to claim as a further novelty that his plate had been imported from Corinth. But he went one better: ‘You may ask,’ he said, ‘how I alone come to possess the true Corinthian: why because the dealer in bronze I buy it from is named Corinthus. What is Corinthian, other than something some Corinthus keeps? And don’t think I’m a fool, I know perfectly well how Corinthian bronze was first created. When Troy fell, Hannibal, a crafty man and a great rascal, heaped together all the statues; bronze, gold and silver, and set the heap ablaze; they all melted into one sea of bronze. The workmen took pieces from this mass, and made dishes and little plates and statuettes. Thus Corinthian bronzes were created, from merging all together into one, neither this nor that.

Forgive me, if I say I prefer glass, which at least has no smell. If it were not so fragile I’d prefer it to gold: it’s inexpensive now, if nothing else. There was an artisan once who made an unbreakable glass dish. Accordingly, he was granted an audience with the emperor, to whom he gave it as a gift, then asked the emperor to return it to him, and hurled it to the floor. The emperor was nothing if not appalled, but the fellow retrieved the dish from the floor; it was dinted like a bronze bowl; then he took a little hammer from his pocket, and casually straightened out the flaws.

After that, he thought himself possessed of Jove’s powers, especially when the emperor asked him: ‘Does anyone else know how to create glass like this?’ Only conceive what happened: he said no, and the emperor had him beheaded: for if, in fact, such knowledge was widespread, we’d treat gold like dirt. I’m quite partial to silver. I’ve silver wine-cups more or less the size of urns, showing Cassandra killing her sons, and the boys lying there dead, all utterly life-like. I have one-handled bowls left me by my patron, depicting Daedalus shutting Niobe in the Trojan Horse.  And I’ve the gladiator bouts between Hermeros and Petraites on drinking cups, every one of them a weighty one; indeed I wouldn’t sell my knowledge of such things for any amount of money.’

As he was speaking, a boy dropped a chalice. Trimalchio glancing at him, cried: ‘Quick now, best do away with yourself, since you’re so careless.’ The boy’s face fell and he began to plead. But Trimalchio only answered: ‘Why petition me? As if I would do anything to you. I suggest rather that you petition yourself to take more care.’ We finally persuaded him to forgive the lad, who, once forgiven, scurried from the table…

Trimalchio shouted: ‘Away with water, bring on the wine!’ We took to jokes and witticisms, especially Agamemnon, who knew what would garner further invitations to dinner. Trimalchio, warmed by our praise, took to drinking, and almost intoxicated cried: ‘None of you have asked my Fortunata to dance? Believe me, no one is better at belly-dancing.’ And he lifted his hands above his head and gave us the actor Syrus, while all the servants sang in chorus: ‘Medes! Medes all around!’ And Trimalchio would have taken a stand in the middle of the room, if Fortunata had not whispered in his ear; I suppose she told him such base fooling was beneath his dignity. No one however was so unpredictable; for one moment he obeyed Fortunata, the next he reverted to his natural self.

53-54: The gazette, the acrobats, the clumsy boy

A clerk quite interrupted his passion for the dance by reading, as if from the city gazette: ‘July the 26th – On the estate at Cumae, which is Trimalchio’s, thirty boys and forty girls were born. Five hundred thousand pecks of wheat were taken from the threshing-floor to the barn. On the same day: Mithridates, a slave, was led to crucifixion for having spoken ill of our master Gaius. On the same day: one hundred thousand gold pieces which could not be employed were returned to the strong-box. On the same day: there was a fire in our gardens at Pompeii, which began in the house of Nasta, the bailiff.’ ‘What?’ cried Trimalchio. ‘When did I purchase gardens at Pompeii?’ ‘Last year’ the clerk replied ‘but they are not yet entered in the accounts.’ Trimalchio fumed and said: ‘I forbid any property bought in my name to be entered in the accounts unless I know of it within six months.’

We now had a further recitation of the public notices, some bailiffs’ wills, from which  Trimalchio was excluded by codicil; then the names of stewards, and of a freedwoman divorced by her husband an overseer, having been caught at the house of a baths superintendent; and a major-domo banished to Baiae; and a treasurer who was being prosecuted; and a case being pursued between some valets.

But at last the acrobats arrived. The most absurd of clowns stood there with a ladder, and commanded a lad to hop from rung to rung to the very top, to the accompaniment of a popular tune, then jump through fiery hoops holding a wine-jar in his teeth. Only Trimalchio was impressed by this, saying it was a thankless profession. He said there were only two mortal things he could witness with complete delight, acrobats and horn-blowers; other entertainments were pure nonsense. ‘Why, I once bought a Greek comedy troupe, but preferred them to act Atellan farces and told my flute-player to play Latin tunes.’

When he was at the height of his oratory, a lad stumbled against Trimalchio. The servants cried out in unison, the guests no less, but not on account of that vile creature, being perfectly happy if he’d broken his neck, but because it would have meant a gloomy end to the banquet, having to shed tears over a complete stranger. Trimalchio, for his part, groaned aloud, and nursed his arm as if he’d been hurt. The doctors rushed in en masse, with Fortunata at their head, her hair hanging loose, and a cup in her hand, proclaiming how wretched and unhappy she was.

The lad who had slipped, was now crawling about at our feet, begging forgiveness. I was very suspicious lest his pleading was leading up to some ridiculous turnabout. The cook who had forgotten to gut the pig had indeed not yet faded from memory. So I began glancing all around the room, lest some automaton emerge from the wall, especially after they began to beat the servant for dressing the bruise on his master’s arm with white wool rather than purple. My suspicions were not far wrong; instead of a punishment Trimalchio decreed that the servant be made a free man, lest anyone was able to say that so great a hero had been wounded by a slave.

55-56: Poetry, other professions, and gifts

 We approved of his action, and babbled sundry speeches regarding the uncertainty of human affairs. ‘Then, ‘said Trimalchio, ‘we should not let the opportunity pass without recording it’, and immediately called for paper, and with no great effort of thought recited these lines:

‘What we little anticipate, happens unexpectedly,

while, high over us, Fortune governs the matter.

Therefore, my boy, bring on the Falernian wine.’

From this epigram arose a discussion concerning the poets, and for a while it was claimed that the summit of poetry was held by Mopsus of Thrace, until Trimalchio said: ‘I ask you, master, how you would differentiate between Cicero and Publilius? I think the former more eloquent, the latter nobler. What could be written that is finer than this?

“The walls of Rome melt in luxury’s jaws.

For your palate, the peacock, dressed all in

Babylonian splendour, the guinea-fowl and

the capon are nurtured: and even the stork,

our dear migrant guest, emblem of parental

affection, a slender-legged castanet dancer,

exiled by winter, and harbinger of warmth,

builds its nest in your cauldron of iniquity.

Why are pearls, those fruits of India, dear

to you? So your wife, adorned with these

spoils of the sea, might thrash wild limbs

in a stranger’s bed? To what end the green

emeralds, precious crystals? Why wish for

the fire of your Carthaginian gems, if no

honesty gleams among those red garnets?

Is it right a bride dresses in garments of air,

stands naked in public, clothed only in mist?”

Yet what,’ he asked, ‘do we consider the most difficult profession after literature? I think a doctor’s or a money-changer’s: the doctor because he knows what poor mortals have in their hearts and when the fever will strike, though I hate doctors worst of all, since for me they often prescribe an extract of dill seed: the money-changer because he sees the brass beneath the silver.

Now among the beasts, oxen and sheep are the most industrious: the oxen thanks to whom we have bread to eat; the sheep whose wool clothes us so splendidly. It’s a shameful crime for anyone to eat a sheep yet possess a woollen tunic. And I think bees the most divine of insects, they produce honey, though people say they bring it from Jove; yet they sting, for wherever there’s sweetness, there you’ll find something disagreeable too.’

He was about to put the philosophers out of work, when a wine-cup was carried round, and a boy entrusted with the duty began reading aloud the tickets that named gifts destined for the guests.

‘Tarnished silver’: a ham was brought in, over which bowls of vinegar were positioned. ‘A neck-rest’: a scrag-end of neck appeared. ‘Wise too late’ and ‘Insult to injury’: dry salted food was the gift, and a crab-apple along with a stick. ‘Leek and peaches’: a lash and a trimming-knife: ‘Sparrows and a fly-trap’: brown raisins and Attic honey. ‘Dinner-things, business-things’: scraps of meat and writing tablets: ‘Furrow and foot’: hare and a slipper: ‘A moray-eel (muraena) and a letter’: a mouse (mus) with a frog(rana) fastened to it, and a bundle of beet. We laughed long and loud: there were any amount of these witticisms that now escape my memory.

57-58: Hermeros’ tirade

But Ascyltos, with extravagant licence, threw up his hands and ridiculed everything, laughing till he cried. which incensed Hermeros, one of Trimalchio’s freedmen friends, who was sitting next to me. ‘What’s so funny, you mutton-head?’ he cried, ‘Don’t our host’s delicacies suit you? I suppose you’re rich, and used to finer living? As I hope for the favour of this household’s gods, I’d have shut his bleating by now, if I’d been sitting next to him. A fine pipsqueak to mock at others! Some little fly-by-night not worth his own piss. Indeed, if I pissed on him, he wouldn’t know where to fly. By heavens, I’m not usually quick to rouse, but worms breed in rotten meat. He’s amused. What’s he got to be amused about? Did his father pay gold for him as a baby. You’re a Roman knight: then I’m a king’s son! “Why were you a slave then?” Because I became one myself, and preferred to become a citizen of Rome than a provincial tribute-payer. And now I live a life where I expect no one to mock at me. I walk about bare-headed, a man among men. I owe no-one brass; I’ve never been in court; no one has ever said ‘Pay what you owe’ to me, in the market-place.

I’ve bought a few acres, gathered some silver-plate; I feed twenty bellies and a dog beside; I ransomed my companion, lest anyone wipe his hands on her front; I paid a thousand in silver for my own freedom; I was made a priest of Augustus for nothing; I hope, when I die, to go to my grave without a blush. Are you so industrious then, you’ve no time to look behind you? You can see the fleas on other, but not the lice on yourself. No one finds us ridiculous but you; behold your teacher, older and wiser than you; he finds us pleasing. You’re a babe just weaned, who can’t babble ‘ma’ or ‘da’; an empty pitcher; or rather a wash-leather in water, squishier not better.

If you’re richer, well breakfast and dine twice a day. I prefer my reputation to riches. In sum, whoever had to petition me twice? I was a slave for forty years; no one was sure if I was a slave or free. I was a lad with long curls when I arrived here; the town-hall wasn’t yet built. Yet I still worked hard to please my master, a fine and noble gentleman, whose fingernail was worth more than you. And there were those in the household who stuck out a foot to trip me here and there; yet – thanks to that fine soul – I fought my way through. Those are the true challenges; for being born free is as easy as saying; “Come here.” What, are you dumbfounded, now, like a goat in a field of vetch?’

At this, Giton, who was standing beside me, burst out in indecent laughter, which he’d long been restraining. Ascyltos’ adversary, noticing him, turned his abuse on the lad: ‘Are you laughing too, you curly-topped onion-head? Is it December’s feast, indeed, then “Io Saturnalia!” When was your five percent freedom tax paid? He’s not a word to say, this food for the gallows, this crow’s meat. I’ll deal with you, now Jove’s had enough of you, and that fellow too, who can’t keep you in order. As sure as I earn my bread, I’d have given you what you deserve right now, but for respect for my fellow freedman. We’d get on fine if it weren’t for these numbskulls who can’t keep you in hand. Indeed, like master, like man. I can barely contain myself, and I’m not hot-tempered by nature, but once I start I don’t give a fig for my own mother. Sure, I’ll see you outside, you mouse, you lump of earth. I’ll not grow or shrink a fraction, till I’ve thrown your master into a bed of rue, and no mercy for you, by heaven, however much you call to Olympian Jove. I’ll see that your long curls, and that worthless master of yours, are no use to you. Sure, you’ll go under the harrow. You’ll not be laughing, or I don’t know myself, despite your golden beard. Athena’s anger be on you, I’ll make sure of that, and on this man who first made you a fancy-boy.

No, I never learned your geometry, your critical nonsense, your “Anger of Achilles”, but I know my block capitals, I can tell any amount in gold, silver and brass. In short, if you wish, you and I can have a little bet: come on, put down the metal. You’ll soon see your father wasted the fees, though you were trained in rhetoric. Look here: “What part of us wanders far and wide? Solve me!” And what part runs without leaving its place, I say, and what grows out of us and grows less? (The eye, the foot, the hair) You scurry about, you scramble, take fright, like a mouse in a jar. So be silent, or stay away from your betters, who are unaware of your existence; unless you think I respect those rings of boxwood, you stole from your “girl-friend”.

Let’s go to the exchange and borrow money: you’ll see my ring of iron commands credit. Ah, a bedraggled fox is a fine thing. May I never be rich, nor make so good an end people swear by my death, if I don’t don the black cap and hunt you down everywhere. He’s a fine fellow who taught you all this, a charlatan not a master. We had real schooling; the master would say: “Are all your things safe? Go straight home; take care not to stop and gaze around; take care not to speak ill of your betters.” But now it’s mere rubbish, no one’s worth a fig. I, whom you see before you thus, thank the gods for my profession.’ 

59: A recitation from Homer

Ascyltos was about to reply to this invective, but Trimalchio was delighted with his fellow freedman’s eloquence, saying: ‘Come now, no quarrelling. It’s better to be pleasant, and you, Hermeros, spare the lad. Young blood flows hot, be calmer yourself. In this sort of matter, he who yields conquers. You too, when you were a young cockerel, cried cock-a-doodle-do, and had little sense. Let’s do better by watching the first fruits of comedy and these reciters of Homer.’

The troupe entered at once, and spear clashed on shield. Trimalchio himself perched on a cushion and, while the reciters conversed, in their usual conceited fashion, in Greek verse, he intoned Latin from a book. Soon silence fell and he said: ‘You know the tale they’re reciting? Diomede and Ganymede were brothers. Their sister was Helen. Agamemnon carried her off, and substituted Diana’s deer for her. So Homer is now telling how Troy and Taranto fought each other. Of course Agamemnon won, and married his daughter, Iphigenia, to Achilles. That drove Ajax mad, and the theme will now unfold.’ As Trimalchio concluded, the reciters raised a clamour, the servants ran about and a boiled calf on a ceremonial dish was brought in, a helmet on its head. Ajax followed with drawn sword, and attacked it as if in madness, and after hacking away with the flat of the blade and the edge, collected slices on the point, and divided the calf among the astonished guests.

60-61: Gifts, fruit, and Niceros is asked for a story

We were not given long to admire this elegant performance, for suddenly there came a noise from the ceiling and the whole dining-room shook. I rose in panic, afraid lest some acrobat was descending from above. The other guests, no less amazed, raised their eyes, wondering what new arrival from the skies it portended. And behold, the whole ceiling suddenly parted, and a giant hoop, apparently knocked from a huge cask, was lowered, which was hung about with golden crowns and alabaster perfume-boxes.

As we were being asked to receive these gifts, I looked back at the table and saw that a dish with some cakes had now been placed there, in the midst of which stood a figure of Priapus created by the confectioner, holding up all kinds of apples and grapes, in conventional style, in the wide fold of his tunic. We stretched out our hands greedily towards his treasures, and this sudden new playful offering rekindled our merriment. All the cakes and fruit, in fact, however lightly they were touched, began to spurt saffron, and the unpleasant mixture even flew into our faces. We thought it must be some sacred dish which was filled with such religious contents, and we all stood to attention crying: ‘Blessings on Augustus, the father of his country.’

Yet as some guests snatched at the fruit even after this solemnity, we filled our napkins with them too, especially myself, who thought I could never fill Giton’s lap with sufficiently large a gift. Meanwhile three lads entered, with their white tunics tucked up, two of whom placed statues of the Lares with charms about their neck, on the table, while the other circulated with a bowl of wine, crying: ‘May the gods favour us.’ Trimalchio said that one was called Cerdo (Trade), another Felicio (Luck), and the third Lucrio (Profit). And as everyone else kissed Trimalchio’s statue in gold, we too were ashamed to pass it by.

Well now, after all had wished themselves health and good sense, Trimalchio glanced at Niceros, saying: ‘You used to be better company at dinner: I wonder why there’s not a murmur from you, not a sound. I beg you, think of my happiness, tell us something that happened to you.’ Niceros, delighted by his friend’s amiability, said: ‘Let all profit pass me by, if I’m not ready to burst with joy, at seeing you in such good humour. Well, let it be purely in fun then, though I fear lest your learned friends laugh at me. Let them laugh, I’ll still say on: what harm does it do me, whoever may laugh? Better to be laughed at than scorned.’

‘Once he had spoken these words…’ he began the following tale:

62: Niceros’ tale: the werewolf

While I was yet a slave, we lived in a narrow alley; the house is now Gavilla’s. There, the gods willed that I fell in love with the wife of Terentius the innkeeper: you remember her, Melissa from Taranto, a lovely plump little woman.         But, by heavens, it wasn’t a physical thing, a sexual passion, but rather because she was kindly by nature. If I asked her for anything, she never refused me; if she earned any money I had half; whatever I had I put in her purse, and was never cheated.

Now one day her husband died at the country house. So I decided to find a way to come at her, by hook or by crook: furthermore, in dire straits your friends become apparent. By chance, my master had gone to Capua, to discharge some business. Seizing the opportunity, I persuaded a guest of ours to come with me as far as the fifth milestone. He was a soldier too, and brave as anything. So we took ourselves off about cockcrow, the moonlight bright as noon.

We arrived among the wayside tombs: my companion began to do his business behind the gravestones; I sat down, my heart singing, and counted the same. Glancing round at my friend, I saw he had stripped off his clothes and placed them by the roadside. Heart in mouth, I stood there like a dead man, as he pissed all round his clothes, then suddenly turned into a wolf. Don’t think I’m joking;  No amount of money would make me lie about this.

Well, as I started to tell you, after he’d turned into a wolf, he began to howl, and fled into the woods. I hardly knew where I was, at first, then I went to gather his clothes: but they’d all turned to stone. Who could be more terrified than I was? But I drew my sword and went along slaying shadows, all the way to my love’s house. A mere ghost, I entered, boasting barely a breath of life, sweat pouring down my legs, eyes like the dead, scarce able to be revived.

Dear Melissa began expressing surprise at my arriving so late, and said: ‘If you’d come earlier you could have helped us, at least; a wolf got into the yard, worried all the sheep, and shed their blood like a butcher. However he won’t be laughing, even though he fled, since our man pierced his neck with a spear.’ On hearing this, I could open my eyes no wider, but rushed back to my master’s house, in broad daylight, as if I’d been robbed and, when I reached the spot where the clothes were turned to stone, found nothing but a pool of blood.

Yet when I arrived home, my soldier was lying in bed like an ox, with a doctor dressing his neck. I realised he was a werewolf and could never sit down to eat with him thereafter, not if you’d threatened me with death. Others can decide on an explanation; but your guardian spirits may torment me if I lie.’  

63-64: Trimalchio’s tale, and the dog Scylax

We were all struck dumb with wonder. ‘Bless your tale, if it’s true,’ cried Trimalchio, ‘how my hair stood on end, since I know Niceros never talks nonsense: he’s solid and not garrulous. Now I want to tell you a horror story myself, as a hostage to fortune. While I still had hair down my back, for I lived the wild Chian life when I was young, my master’s favourite died, a pearl, by heavens, an excellent lad, one in a thousand.

While his poor mother was bewailing him, and several of us were sharing her grief, a sudden screeching began; you’d have thought it a hare being chased by a dog. We had a Cappadocian lad in the household at the time, a big fellow, quite brave, and strong enough to lift an angry bull from the ground. He ran outside with a naked sword, wrapped carefully in his left hand, and ran a woman through, about here – may what I touch, be safe – right in the middle. We heard a groan, though – truth to tell – we didn’t see her.

But our great blockhead, once inside again, threw himself on the bed, his body livid all over as if he’d been flogged, because of course an evil hand had touched him. We shut the door and returned to our mourning, but when the mother embraced her son’s body, she felt it and realised it was a mere bundle of straw. It had no heart within, no intestines, nothing: of course the witches had carried off the lad, and put a straw mannequin in his place.

I beg you, and you should believe, there are indeed women who have secret knowledge, creatures of the night, who can turn all the world upside down. Well, our great lad never regained his own colour after that, but died, raving mad, in a few days.’ We wondered and believed, in equal measure, and kissed the table and prayed the night-creatures would stay away when we returned home from dinner.

By now, indeed, the lamps were multiplying before my eyes, and the whole dining-room was altering shape, as Trimalchio asked: ‘Plocamus, have you nothing to narrate? Will you not entertain us? Why, you used to be better company, and recite lines from the plays beautifully, and with music thrown in. Alas, alas, how the Carian figs are fallen!’ ‘Well, my course is run,’ Plocamus answered: ‘ever since I was afflicted with the gout. Though when I was a youngster I almost wasted away with all that singing. How I could leap about, and recite, and talk like a barber’s shop! Was there anyone equal to me, except that actor, Apelles?’ And he put his hand up to the side of his mouth, and whistled something vile, which he claimed afterwards was Greek.

Trimalchio himself, after imitating a trumpeter also, looked round for his favourite, whom he called Croesus. The boy had bleary eyes and appalling teeth, and after enveloping an indecently overweight black puppy in a green cloth, was breaking pieces of bread onto the couch and cramming them into the unwilling animal, ad nauseam. This reminded Trimalchio of his duties, and he ordered Scylax ‘guardian of the house and servants’ to be brought. Without delay, a dog of enormous size, was led in on a chain and, after a kick from the porter as a hint to lie down, positioned himself beside the table.

Then Trimalchio threw him some white bread, saying: ‘None of the household loves me more.’ The favourite, indignant at this lavish praise of Scylax, deposited the puppy on the floor, urging her to attack. Scylax, of course, filled the room with the most dreadful barking, in the manner of dogs, and nearly tore Croesus’ little Pearl to pieces. Nor was the uproar simply a dogfight, for a lamp on the table was overturned and, the whole of its glass container breaking, sprinkled some of the guests with hot oil. Trimalchio seemingly unmoved by the accident, kissed the boy and commanded him to jump on his back. Croesus, mounting his ‘horse’ at once and striking Trimalchio’s shoulders repeatedly (as a slave is flogged with an ox-hide whip) using his open palm, proclaimed amid laughter: ‘Whip, whip, how many now?’ Trimalchio, having shown restraint, consequently ordered a large bowl of wine to be mixed, and drinks to be distributed to all the servants, sitting at our feet, adding this provision: ‘If anyone refuses to accept it, pour it over his head. Serious by day, be merry now.’        

65-67: Habinnas and Scintilla

This display of kindness, was followed by the entry of savoury dishes, the memory of which, I tell you faithfully, makes me shudder. For a fat chicken, instead of fieldfares, was carried round and goose eggs wearing freedmen’s felt caps, which Trimalchio urged us to eat most insistently, saying these were chickens without the bones.

Meanwhile a lictor, attendant on some priest of Augustus, knocked on the dining room door, and a reveller, dressed in white, entered with a host of others. I, frightened by his majestic presence, thought the chief magistrate had arrived. So I attempted to rise, and set my bare feet on the floor. Agamemnon laughed at my trepidation, saying: ‘Contain yourself, you fool. It’s Habinnas, he’s a priest of Augustus too, a monumental mason known for his fine tombstones.’

Relieved at this, I reclined on my couch again, and watched Habinnas’ entrance with great amazement. Already drunk, his hand clutching his wife’s arm, and burdened by several garlands, with perfumed unguent running down his forehead and into his eyes, he sat down in the chief magistrate’s seat, and at once called for wine and hot water. Trimalchio was delighted by his gaiety, and demanding a larger cup for himself, asked how his day had gone.

‘We had everything we wished, except you; indeed my thoughts were here. But, by heavens, it was splendid. Scissa was holding an elegant funeral feast for a wretched slave whom she’d freed on his deathbed. And she’ll have a biggish five percent payment to make to the tax-collector, I think, for the dead man was valued at fifty thousand. Yet it was still pleasant, even if we were forced to pour half our drinks over his ashes.’ ‘But,’ cried Trimalchio, ‘what did you have for dinner?’

‘I’ll tell you, if I can,’ Habinnas replied, ‘but my memory is such that I often forget my own name. Still, we had a pig first, crowned with sausages, garnished with honeyed cakes, and giblets, very well done, and the brains of course, and pure wholemeal bread, which I prefer to white; it strengthens me, and when I do my business I’ve no complaint. The next dish was a cold pie, and an excellent Spanish wine poured over warm honey. Indeed, I ate no small part of the pie, with a regular sprinkling of honey. Chickpeas and lupine seeds circulated, a choice of nuts, and apples all round. I took two, and see, I have them here in a napkin; since if I didn’t bring some gift home for my little slave-boy I’d hear about it. My wife always reminds me.

We had sight of some bear-meat fillets, which Scintilla was rash enough to try, and nearly vomited up her insides; I on the other hand ate more than a pound, for the meat tasted like wild boar. And if, as I contend, a bear can eat wretched man, how much more fitting that wretched man should eat bear. To end with, there was cheese mellowed in new wine, snails all round, and bits of liver and tripe in little dishes, and eggs with caps on, and turnip and mustard, and a dish of mince: enough, Palamedes!  Pickled olives, too, were brought round in a bowl, of which some greedy creatures took three fistfuls. For we’d given the ham a miss. But tell me, Gaius, why is Fortunata not dining?’

‘You know her better than that,’ Trimalchio replied, ‘until the silver plate has been collected, and she’s divided the leftovers among the lads, she won’t let even a drop of water touch her lips.’ ‘Well then, if she’s not dining,’ said Habinnas, ‘I’ll be off,’ and he was starting to rise when, at a signal, all the servants cried out ‘Fortunata’ four times and more. She appeared, in consequence, girded up by a greenish-yellow belt with a cherry-coloured dress showing beneath it, twisted anklets, and white shoes embroidered with gold. She wiped her hands on the kerchief she had tied round her neck, and took her place on the couch on which Scintilla, Habinnas’ wife, was reclining, and kissed her, clapping her hands and crying: ‘Is this really you, I’m seeing?’

Fortunata went so far as to remove the bracelets from her very plump arms, to exhibit them to Scintilla’s admiring gaze. She even took off her anklets, and her golden hair-net which she claimed was eighteen carat. Trimalchio noted this, and ordered them all to be brought to him. ‘Here, you see woman’s fetters,’ he said, ‘and thus we poor fools are plundered. She must have six and a half pounds of gold on her. I have a bracelet myself, made of that thousandth part I owe to Mercury, god of trade, and no less than ten pounds in weight.’

At last, lest we thought he was lying, he commanded the scales be brought, and had the weight confirmed all round. Scintilla was no better, taking a little gold locket from her neck, which she called her lucky charm. Then she offered her earrings for inspection, and gave them to Fortunata to examine in turn, saying: ‘Thanks to my husband’s generosity, no one possesses finer.’ ‘What?’ cried Habinnas, ‘You’d bankrupt me, to buy your glass beads, I declare! If I had a daughter, I’d cut off her ears. If it were not for women, we’d think it all so much dross; as it is, it’s pissing warm water and drinking cold.’

Meanwhile the wives, offended, laughed together; giving each other drunken kisses, while the one boasted of her attentiveness as a mother, and the other of her husband’s favourites and his lack of attentiveness. While they were chattering together, Habinnas rose furtively, took Fortunata by the legs and threw them onto the couch. ‘Oh! Oh!’ she exclaimed as her dress flew up above her knees. She took refuge in Scintilla’s arms, burying her blushing face, burning hot, in her kerchief.    

End of the Satyricon: Part III