Keith (geoffcapp) wrote,


A couple of weeks ago I picked up an odd, old-looking paperback at Half-Price Books purporting to be a "reconstruction" of the Latin Satyricon. I grabbed it, figuring I couldn't go very wrong for a dollar. I was later overjoyed, upon putting a bunch of material from the A∴A∴ reading list on my Amazon wishlist, to realize that this was a version of the recommended "Petronius Arbiter" item.

Now, it's no surprise to see Crowley recommending a work of what could be called "classical pornography," even if he did read it in the likely more staid original and fragmentary Latin. However, I personally think it is passages more like the following, which applies about as well to modern America as it did to Imperial Rome, are the greater part of his rationale.

Now, after having supped, the poet and I journeyed to the town square, where there was an exhibit of sculpture. We examined each of the pieces with interest, even though they were quite badly done, and might have then gone back to our lodgings peacefully had it not been that one of the sculptors asked Eumolpus' opinion of his work.

"I have never seen such hideous nonsense passing for art in the whole of my lifetime," my friend declared. "If I were you, I'd be ashamed to admit that I was responsible for these atrocities."

The sculptor quickly lost himself in the crowd, desirous of avoiding further criticism; for his part, however, Eumolpus was wound up and could not rest until he had spoken his piece. Mounting the base of one of the statues, he faced the crowd and declared:

"This exhibition is an insult to the art of sculpture. I have never seen anything so heinous in my life. And you, foolish people, look at these statues as if they were really worthwhile creations.

"Dolts! Fools!

"Is it any wonder that the age has become what it has? What happened to the masters of old? Where are the painters and sculptors of merit?

"Ah, we have ruined ourselves—and you, foolish people, are responsible.

"What has done it?

"Our love of riches, that's what. In olden times, when virtue was admired for its own sake, all liberal arts flourished and the only ambition among men was to make discoveries which might profit the age.

"It was in those times that Democritus, content with poverty, discovered the virtues of herbs, and, lest there be any hidden excellence in stones and trees, spent the rest of his life in experiments about them.

"It was in those times that Eudoxus abandoned the world and took up residence at the top of a high mountain so that he might study the motions of the heavens.

"It was in those times that Crisippus went three times through the same study of physics so that he might better qualify his mind for invention.

"Lysippus employed himself with one statue so diligently that he neglected the necessities of life and died a pauper. Myron, whose brazen images of men and beasts were so realistic that you might mistake his creations for living beings, starved to death.

"But look at us!

"Our age is so wholly devoted to drinking and whoring, and we're so far from inventing that we don't even bother to acquaint ourselves with the works of art which are to be found in our very hands.

"Accusing antiquity, our schools have become seminaries of vice. What's our logic? How little do we know of astronomy? Where are our philosophers?

"What master of eloquence could endure to hear speech murdered, as it is every day in the pulpits and the marketplaces? What wise man could suffer the noise?

"The very Senate, which should show an exemplary conduct, is itself the occasion of doubtful events. Some senators lead more scandalous lives that the basest of slaves would dream of leading.

"You need not wonder why painting and sculpture are lost, when gold appears more beautiful both to gods and men than anything Apelles or Phidias are esteemed to have madly spent their time about.

"You are the assassins of an entire race, my foolish friends. Because of you, the great Roman Empire will crumble and so too will all civilization.

"This is my prophecy, and it will be fulfilled unless you turn yourselves away from your love of riches and return to the things of value. As it now stands, your lives are empty; you spend the day searching for gold and the night searching for a woman in whom to bury yourselves or for the penis of a young boy to jab vitality into your intestines..."

Now, as Eumolpus had been speaking, the crowd grew more and more angry. Finally they began casting stones at him, some of which struck his head and made it bleed; he, as if realizing only the expected, covered his head and began running. Fearing that they would know me for his accomplice, even if I tried to deny it, I made after him.

When we were out of range of the angry crowd I said to him: "I beseech you, my friend, what will we do with that disease of yours? You run at the mouth as a stuck pig runs at his wound. If you don't watch what you say, you'll get us both killed."

"This is a danger you must expect when you seek to tell the truth," he replied.

"Then why tell the truth?" I argued with him. "Why seek to insinuate your beliefs upon others. [sic] Let them live their lives and you live yours; don't criticize them and they won't criticize you."

By this time we were back at our lodgings; we went inside and I dressed his wounds in the room.

"We are the victims of our own base appetites," he moaned. "We have let hunger and thirst and sex run away with us, and we are now like children strapped to the backs of wild horses, unable to control the steeds, only able to hang on and hope that the mercy of some gods somewhere might bring the treacherous journey to a safe end."

So saying, he seized me at the crotch and began to massage me. "Even now I am helpless to resist the temptation to possess you," he complained. "Even after decrying the sickness of the times, I find myself as much a victim as the others."

"Why resist?" I responded, yielding to his caresses. "Why not surrender to the body's demands like everyone else does and think no more of it?"

"Because, my friend," he responded quietly, "as long as there is one man who will cry out the truth, even if doing so means he will be stoned, there is a chance for the human race; but, when the last of us gives up, when everyone has surrendered to his appetites, man will no longer control his own destiny. There will be no hope for the world, my friend, nor for the miserable people in it." And, so speaking, he took me and pulled me against him. And in this manner we spent the night.

Petronius Arbiter. Satyricon: Memoirs of a Lusty Roman. Los Angeles, CA: Holloway House, 1965. Trans. Paul J. Gillette. pp. 141-143. Trans of P.A. Satiricon libri. Rome: [n.p.], 64. ISBN 0870674021 (2nd 1970 printing).

It is also worth noting that, despite the sometimes jarring debauchery, I found this the most purely enjoyable read yet in my admittedly limited experience of the suggested reading canon, and certainly a damn sight better than this execrable medieval nonsense.
Tags: book, magick, read, record

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