Titus Petronius

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The Satyricon edition by Pierre Pithou , Paris 1587

Titus Petronius Arbiter (* around 14; † 66 in Cumae ), also known under the probably incorrect names Gaius Petronius , Gaius Petronius Arbiter or Publius Petronius Niger , German sometimes also Petron , was a Roman senator and the author of the satirical novel Satyricon . The Cognomen Arbiter was not passed on to him, but grew out of his designation as Neros Arbiter Elegantiae , "referee of fine taste".

Name and origin

Contemporary and early sources suggest that the first name Titus is certain:

  • The earliest witness for the prenomen T [itus] is Petron's contemporary Pliny the Elder († 79).
  • Plutarch († around 125) explicitly calls him "Titos".

The mention of "Gaius" in Tacitus is solitary and secondary. According to Harry C. Schnur , “Gaius” is just an incorrect addition to Scaliger , but the “C.” can be found in all manuscripts.

Petronius probably came from the line of Petronii without cognomen and is possibly a son of Augurs Publius Petronius . The identification with the suffect consul of the year 62, Publius Petronius Niger , which is sometimes represented in recent research , is hardly tenable.

The handwritten tradition of Satyricon as well as quotes from later writers always only mention "Petronius", "Arbiter", "Petronius Arbiter", whereby the arbiter Petron , perceived as a cognom, obviously grew through its function as arbiter elegantiae Neros.

It was not until the 6th or 7th century that the strangely distorted form "Fronius" or "Franius" appeared, which later (12th century) led to the popular "Petronius Affranius" due to a mix-up with the Togatian poet Lucius Afranius .


Little more is known of the life of Titus Petronius than what Tacitus reports.

His work testifies to a first-class education. He may have spent the time from 29 to 35 with his father in Asia , so that he himself may have known the cities of Ephesus , Pergamon and Troy mentioned in the Satyricon .

According to Tacitus, Petronius spent the day in sleep and the night in business. Although he was indulging in a great effort , he was not considered a wasteful, but an educated connoisseur of fine pleasures. His loose sayings were counted as sincerity.

That this idleness was only one facet of his life - and perhaps not even authentic - he proved (possibly in the years 57 to 59) as the energetic proconsul of Bithynia and soon afterwards (November / December 60?) As consul . Whether Petronius also introduced the lex Petronia during his consulate is controversial and cannot be proven.

Mutual allusions in the works of Petronius and the Nero adviser Seneca led to the conclusion that the two authors were in a literary feud.

Around this time Nero accepted him among his few confidants and left him the role of "arbiter of fine taste" (arbiter elegantiae) . From this the nickname "Arbiter" might have resulted later.

Accused by the Praetorian Prefect Tigellinus in 66 out of envy of participating in the Pisonian conspiracy against Emperor Nero, Petronius came before a conviction. He staged his suicide in Cumae in a decidedly relaxed, natural way (described by Tacitus as a counterpart to Seneca's death as a philosopher). He cut his wrists; his will contained no praise for the emperor, but a detailed account of Nero's latest vices.

Pliny the Elder adds that shortly before his death, Titus Petronius broke a precious ladle made of fluorspar so that it would not get on Nero's table.


Although the satirical novel Satyricon , of which only larger parts have survived, including the Cena Trimalchionis (" The Supper of Trimalchio "), is not (directly) mentioned in contemporary sources, the question of the author is now considered to be resolved. Of the numerous allusions to people and events, none is younger than the Nero period (54–68 AD).

Individual fragments - mostly out of linguistic interest - have been handed down to many ancient writers and grammarians.


The figure of the educated bon vivant Petronius appears in the novel Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz and then z. B. in the film adaptation of Mervyn LeRoy ( 1951 ; actor: Leo Genn ). In his historical novel Der Schatten eines Satyrs, Volker Ebersbach chose the life and work of Petronius as the focus. For the afterlife of his work see under Satyricon (Petron) .

"Petronius is one of the greatest in world literature."

"What he wanted to give, he was able to give with a genius that is unmatched in Roman literature."

The asteroid (3244) Petronius was named after him on July 8, 1990.



  • Michael von Albrecht : History of Roman literature from Andronicus to Boethius and its continued effect . Volume 2. 3rd, improved and expanded edition. De Gruyter, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-11-026525-5 , pp. 1028-1051.
  • Peter Habermehl : Petronius [5]. In: The New Pauly (DNP). Volume 9, Metzler, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-476-01479-7 , Sp. 672-676.
  • Peter Habermehl: Petronius, Satyrica 79–141. A philological-literary commentary. Volume 1: Satyrica 79–110 (= texts and commentaries. Volume 27/1). De Gruyter, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-11-018184-3 .
  • Peter Habermehl: Petronius, Satyrica 79–141. A philological-literary commentary. Volume 2: Satyrica 111-118 (= texts and commentaries. Volume 27/2). De Gruyter, Berlin 2020, ISBN 3110191091 .
  • Edward Courtney: A Companion to Petronius. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2001, ISBN 0-19-924594-0 .
  • József Herman (Ed.): Petroniana. Commemorative publication for Hubert Petersmann. Winter, Heidelberg 2003, ISBN 3-8253-1384-0 .
  • Christian Mueller-Goldingen : Petron and contemporary literature. In: Christian Mueller-Goldingen: Poets and Society. Four studies on Roman literature (= current antiquity. Volume 1). Lit, Berlin et al. 2006, ISBN 978-3-8258-9925-7 , pp. 50-66.
  • Luciano Landolfi: Petron (Petronius Niger, Arbiter). Satyrica. In: Christine Walde (Ed.): The reception of ancient literature. Kulturhistorisches Werklexikon (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 7). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2010, ISBN 978-3-476-02034-5 , Sp. 609-634.

Web links

Commons : Petronius Arbiter  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Pliny, Naturalis historia 37.20.
  2. ^ Plutarch, de adulatore et amico.
  3. Tacitus, Annals 16:18. In Annals 16:17 “T” is conjugated, but it is not found in the manuscripts.
  4. So also Petronius. The Satyricon. Seneca. The Apolocynthosis. Translated by John P. Sullivan. Revised edition. Harmondsworth et al. 1987, p. 12.
  5. Petron: Satyricon. A Roman picaresque novel. Translated and explained by Harry C. Schnur. Bibliographically amended edition. Stuttgart 1982, p. 251.
  6. Gilbert Bagnani thinks it is possible that Petronius, “who has no cognomen at all” with the four-name Trimalchio (Petronius 71,12) makes fun of the fashion of cognomina collecting (Gilbert Bagnani: Trimalchio. In: Phoenix. Band 8, No. 3, 1954, p. 86). Rudolf Hanslik , who prefers the first name Gaius, suspects that his father is Gaius Petronius , the suffect consul of the year 25: “P. belonged to the branch of Petronii of the 1st Jhs. AD, who did not have a cognomen ”(Rudolf Hanslik: dtv-Lexikon der Antike . Philosophy Literature Science. Volume 3, 1969, p. 300). Philip B. Corbett considers Titus Petronius to be an (older?) Brother of Publius Petronius Turpilianus : “Titus Petronius has no known cognomen. I think it likely that he was the son of Publius Petronius, also without cognomen, consul in AD 19 ”(Philipp B. Corbett: Petronius. New York 1970, p. 142). “I prefer a Petronius without cognomen, an elder (?) Brother of P. Petronius Turpilianus, consul in 61, while the choice of Titus as praenomen, given by the elder Pliny and Plutarch, rather than the conventional Gaius, supported by a single doubtful MS reading ”(Philipp B. Corbett: The“ Satyricon ”of Petronius: A Literary Study by JP Sullivan. In: Classical Philology. Volume 65, No. 1, 1970, p. 53). That Petronius belongs to the line of Petronii without cognomen is also represented by Edward Courtney: “Tacitus' conspicuous avoidance of a cognomen implies that the man had none” (Edward Courtney: A Companion to Petronius. Oxford 2001, p. 6).
  7. For the history of this attribution, see the article Publius Petronius Niger .
  8. Tacitus, Annals 16:18.
  9. Scholia Bernensia ad Vergilii Georgica 2.98 ( Codex Bernensis 167; 172). Cf. Konrad Müller (Ed.): Petronii Arbitri Satyricon Reliquiae. Munich et al. 2003, p. Xxxii; Franz Bücheler (Ed.): Petronius. Satirae. Berlin 1862, pp. Iii, 46.
  10. Codex Parisinus Latinus 8049 (= P), end of the 12th century.
  11. Tacitus, Annals 16: 18-19.
  12. E. Gottschlich: De parodiis Senecae apud Petronium. In: Festschrift for Friderici Haase's anniversary. Breslau 1863, pp. 26-29; John P. Sullivan: Petronius, Seneca, and Lucan: A Neronian Literary Feud? In: Transactions and proceedings of the American Philological Association. 99, 1968, pp. 453-467; Eckard Lefèvre : Seneca on Petron? (to de Brevitate vitae 12,5). In: Pratum Saraviense. Festival ceremony for Peter Steinmetz (= Palingenesia. Volume 30). Stuttgart 1990, pp. 165-168; Pierre-Jacques Dehon: Une parodie de Sénèque chez Pétrone (Satiricon, CIX, 9, sp. 1–2)? In: Revue des Études Latines . Volume 71, 1993, pp. 33-36; Shannon N. Byrne: Petronius and Maecenas: Seneca's Calculated Criticism. In: Shannon N. Byrne, Edmund P. Cueva, Jean Alvares (Eds.): Authors, Authority, and Interpreters in the Ancient Novel. Essays in Honor of Gareth L. Schmeling. Groningen 2006.
  13. Volker Ebersbach : The shadow of a satyr. Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-371-00128-8 .
  14. Ludwig Gurlitt: Foreword. In: Petronius: Satires. Berlin 1923, p. 9.
  15. ^ Otto Weinreich: Roman satires. Zurich 1970, p. LXXXVIII.
  16. Minor Planet Circ. 16591