Fellini’s Satyricon- a pagan spectacle as it was in Nero’s time and certainly may be in our own…
All the scenes of Fellini’s Satyricon possess a nightmarish vividness. Fellini took Petronius’s account and gave it a suitably phantasmgoric story line, jumping from one episode to another with little attention, in fact marked disinterest to logical, linear sequence or convention.
When the young emperor Nero was nineteen, he developed the habit of going out slumming. Disguised, he visited bars and brothels and mean streets. He and his companions robbed shops and insulted passers-by, until one night he himself got into a fight and was beaten. Petronius, an intimate friend of Nero, might have written Satyricon partly to amuse him and partly to educatehim in the Epicurean manner by showing him how miserable, ridiculous and dangerous such a roving life actually can be. It is not possible to prove this; but the book does convey a powerful impression of the squalors and miseries endured by homeless wanderers without careers or trades or cash, with dirty pasts and dangerous futures.
But what has Fellini done with the story? The original Satyricon of Petronius got through the Dark Ages only in torn and battered copies full of gaps. Sometimes only one sentence survived from an entire chapter. The beggining and end have vanished. Gone forever. The continuity is lost. We do not even know how long the tale was.
Fellini had the probelm of making a continuous work of art out of a scarred, fragmentary torso with its head and limbs knocked off. And he did this very well. The story however, has been greatly changed. Fellini has introduced many new characters and incidents, has altered many episodes and borrowed some scenes from other sources. He is more than an interpretor of Petronius. More like a competitor. He is a creator.
One thing is certain: Fellini enjoys showing women lying down and being sexually degraded in public. Petronius does not. Fellini invented a scene in which a writhing nymphomaniac gets temporary satisfaction from Encolpius, the anti-hero and his friend in the presence of her husband; and still another, the most evilly fantastic, in which the hero, after fighting a gladiator dressed as the Minotaur in a labyrinth, is supposed to be Theseus, wins the princess Ariadne, and is expected to posses here before a large audience. Of course he fails and she is furious.