Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies


Persius, Petronius, and Seneca are often seen as "satirizing" Nero. It's common to read satire as moral critique, and who better to criticize than (Suetonius and Tacitus' construction of) Nero? But looking at the satire from a non-­‐classical perspective, that of Bakhtin's grotesque, leads to an interesting conclusion. These three satirists are in sync with the festive and aesthetic values of the Neronian court. Neronian era satire isn't "satirizing" Neronian culture; it's participating in it.

First I show there is a more balanced picture of the emperor, but scholars on Neronian era satire default to a questionable narrative with Nero as monster and fool and the satirists satirizing him through veiled references. Instead, I propose that Nero and his satirists are creating a new aesthetic based on grotesque principles rather than classical ones. The grotesque's symbolism of renewal suggests a renewal of the principate and the arts. I suggest that satire was the ideal vehicle for the literary embodiment of the grotesque aesthetic.

The Apocolocyntosis is prototypical of Neronian grotesque satire: its portrayal of Claudius' grotesque body, its interest in the lower registers of language, its debasement of Julio-­‐Claudian traditions, and its celebration of Saturnalia. In the Apocolocyntosis Nero's promise of renewal of the principate and literature is represented as a Saturnalian return to the Saturnia regna of Augustus.

Persius continued this grotesque literary revolution. Judging Persius by the classical aesthetic leads to conclusions about his poetry's lack of beauty that point to criticism of Nero. I argue Persius is in tune with the Neronian programs and his emphasis is on the grotesque revival of post-­‐Augustan literature through his grotesque iuncturae acres and debasement of Horace.

Petronius' Cena Trimalchionis too has been read as a satire on the Neronian age. I argue it is meant to be read as grotesque and Saturnalian; the negative commentary of its heroes serving as elite foil to the festive, freedman culture and to Trimalchio, the feast's Saturnalius Rex, constantly parodying elite culture. Part of that parody is a grotesque debasement of Augustan literature, principally through Trimalchio's parallels to Maecenas.