Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Trimalchio's wife...omg what a lupatria!

When I initially read the section relating to Trimalchio's wife, I was taken aback by the strong lexical choices that Petronius inserts into his characters' mouths.  Her initial social status aside, Petronius has Encolpius' dining companion describe her as a "lupatria," domineering with respect to controlling Trimalchio and money, having a bad tongue (this was unclear.  Does she curse too much or does she sound like Eliza Doolittle before she meets Henry Higgins?), and she acts like a "magpie on a couch."  Initially, the description reminds me of a stereotypical Greek description of a Persian royal family, where the Persian queens exert personal and financial influence over their husbands.  As much as Petronius' character attempts to paint Fortunata in a negative light, it is clear that she may be the more fiscally responsible and socially astute partner.  Unlike Trimalchio who is unaware of his wealth and frequently disposes of valuable items for no good reason (like the silver that dropped on the floor), Fortunata is said to have a plan for all of Trimalchio's income.  She appears to be quite rational in her decisions and interactions as she is described as "sicca, sobria, bonorum consiliorum [est]."  Encolpius' companion also makes an interesting observation, "Quem amat, amat; quem non amat, non amat."  Fortunata seems to be far more developed in her social relations, so much so that her relationships are quite black and white.  She is in stark contrast to Trimalchio who cannot recognize when is the object of slandor and jokes.  Trimalchio is oblivious to some of the disrespect that he receives and shows this by continuing to invite people without restriction into his house, even those who insult his wife right in front of him!  Fortunata also appears to be helping with the execution of the dinner party while Trimalchio sits with his guests.  This may be another hint at Fortunata not realizing the power of her wealthy status.  Encolpius' dining neighbor tells him that had he seen Fortunata before she met Trimalchio, he would not even think of accepting bread from her.  Apparently, even after she became rich, she is continuing to help with passing around food instead of letting slaves take care of the matter themselves.  Petronius' passage on Fortunata here at first appears to be a biting criticism, but in actuality Fortunata appears to be an intelligent, socially aware, fiscally responsible (only so much as she appears to keep a ledger), and strong-willed woman.

2 comments:

James Gawley said...

Regarding the "quem amat, amat" passage, is it possible to take this as "whom she loves, he loves, and whom she does not love, he does not love?" That's how I took the line, and I think it adds to your interpretation, because it means T doesn't even decide whom he likes or patronizes--he leaves it to his wife. We should check the translators.

Alexandra Beren said...

I had the same translation for that passage...