Chapters 1-4 (I find myself unable to term a plot rundown of the first ten pages a ‘spoiler’, but if you think it is, don’t read)
“Drawing two straps from her dress, Psyche proceeded to bind us hand and foot.”
~Satyricon, Chapter 4
So I watched Get Him to the Greek last night.
I don’t know if any of you have ever seen it. I certainly hadn’t, nor had I heard anyone talk about it. From the commercials, I could gather that it was a comedy of the not-too-intellectual sort. I assumed it was along the lines of The Hangover. That is to say, I figured that the movie would float right on the edge of my level of tolerance as far as sexual/drug/alcohol-related humor are concerned.
Now we’ll see how this relates to the Satyricon. When you hear the words “earliest example of a novel known to exist”, what pops into your mind? Something kind of boring, kind of confusing, perhaps something historically interesting, but I’m betting in every case you conjure up the mental image of something relatively tame.
Just in case anyone can’t tell where I’m going with this, I’ll spell it out for you. Reading the beginning of Satyricon was like watching Get Him to the Greek.
Actually, the nature of Satyricon is even more surprising when discover it because it tricks you at the beginning. Chapter 1 consists exclusively of a diatribe about the failings of “modern” (that is to say, 1st century) rhetoric followed by a scholarly response. It lulls you into a false sense of security, confirming the nice, peaceful, boring image you had previously conjured up.
Then it goes for the throat. Chapter 2 follows the main character as he is unknowingly led through the city to a whorehouse. There he encounters his ex-boyfriend/current friend who was also led unknowingly to the same whorehouse where he was propositioned for sex. By a man. Then the narrator’s current boyfriend (who is 16) accuses the ex-boyfriend of trying to rape him, after which the narrator and the boyfriend enjoy themselves thoroughly.
And just so you can fully appreciate the implications of the above quote, it’s not consensual.
So I’ve come to the realization that the new book on my desk is the leather-bound, gilt-edged, 1st-century version of a grocery store romance for the otherwise inclined. Which, on further reflection, is rather interesting. I mean, the earliest known example of the form of writing which pretty much every work of fiction we have today takes is just like some plain old modern novel. There’s mischief, conflict, and sex (to keep people interested), all of which provides a view of the characters’ everyday lives.
The initial shock has now worn off, so I’ll be fine as I continue to read Satyricon. It just went beyond my initial expectations to such an astronomical degree that I felt like I was back in that little theater watching Get Him to the Greek. That moment where you realize that what you’re getting isn’t really what you bargained for is not entirely pleasant. But hey, the movie was still funny, and what I’ve read so far of Satyricon is still interesting. It just requires a shift in my perspective.