D.hat is a book that is hard to crack. A monumental work from the total off. Seven hundred pages of speaking voices from ancient times, as if they came from next door. No, not from next door, but from across the street. You understand almost everything and yet you know that the words are not addressed to you. The whole book is a unique imitation that pulls every register of adaptation and creative continuation. A real transformation of antiquity, as taught and studied at universities and in special research areas. Under the stipulation not to start from a total malleability of the material, to understand antiquity as a pure dream of the philologist, but also to look for its continuous suggestive power to sharpen its dynamism and not fail to recognize that all modern design will depend on that depends on the original material handed down by antiquity: stories, characters, style and questions of faith.
The historian Reinhart Koselleck, who is interested in history and philosophy, once spoke of a “veto right of the source”, which does not just allow everything to be done with itself, but also helps to determine the direction of even the most powerful transformations. And so “Petronica”, the bold, in every respect immoderate debut of the Austrian writer Tom F. Lange (a pseudonym) is deeply shaped by what it wants to transform: namely by the life and lifeworld of the Roman writer Petronius from the imperial era, who as arbiter elegantiae, was considered an arbitrating master in the art of fine enjoyment of life. Initially highly regarded at the court of the notorious emperor Nero, he fell victim to the intrigue of a jealous courtier in 66 AD and committed suicide, not without first sending the eccentric emperor a document in which he described all of his cruel misconduct.
However, Petronius has remained a term for posterity not because of this, but because of a fragmentary picaresque novel of which his authorship is by no means certain: The “Satyrica” tell, portrayed from the first-person perspective, which are often grotesque, sometimes ludicrously embarrassing, but always entertaining surprising love and life adventures of a young man. The work – which relocates the hustle and bustle in Rome to Croton in southern Italy – is a crude parody of the romance novels of its time and offers moral descriptions of rampant wit and realism. It serves the ancient historical science not only as the most important testimony for the Latin vulgar language, but also as a source for the social history and private life of the Romans.
In particular, the description of the “cena Trimalchionis”, the banquet of an ostentatious upstart who disregards all good morals and thus fails the upper class in spite of his wealth, is still quoted today in every seminar on the Roman social order in order to clarify the special code of honor: Not those who make a lot of money and indulge in clumsy materialism are highly regarded in Rome, but rather those who come from a famous family and hold political offices. Christian Meier’s famous doctrine in this context reads Christian Meier’s famous doctrine: “Anyone who did politics was noble, and whoever was noble drove politics”.
In Ludwig Friedländer’s classic standard work on the “moral history of Rome”, a whole chapter on “social intercourse” is based almost exclusively on Petron’s descriptions. In Rome under Nero, as Friedländer paraphrased the satirist who bites every double standard, all people were divided into two parties: “They either fish or let themselves be fished. It is a city that resembles a plague, where there is nothing but corpses and ravens to tear them apart. “