(Previously – Satyricon 8 – Scene IV: Encolpius Rejected / The Earthquake)
In the novel, Encolpius goes to an art gallery (section 83), as he does here in the film, after being spurned by Giton. His activity here is much like us watching this movie, looking at isolated pretty things (often separated from their original context). Note how, at the beginning of the episode, he is again positioned off-center (frame left and low).
For this scene, Fellini had the same artist who did the graffiti wall at the beginning of the film, Antonio Scordia, replicate Greek, Egyptian, Sumerian, Perisan, and Roman art. As a Classicist, I can recognize in this scene many examples of famous works of ancient art. Images from Pompeian walls, Knossos palaces, Attic pots, and Paestum tombs have been recreated here as isolated “paintings”, often regardless of their actual medium. They are also of many time periods (including several like the Severan Tondo which post-dates the Age of Nero by a century).
Music – Exotic but calm and minimalist, a contrast with the complex noises of the earthquake and the collapsing insula. Almost African.
Restorers – The man and woman standing before the art with paintbrushes are restorers. They are touching up damage to the ancient works (a strange notion of there being aged “ancient works” in antiquity). The man is assisted by a boy holding an egg which the restorer dips his brush in, probably a reference to the use of egg tempera by ancient artists.
The Pavement – If you look closely in the long shots, you can see that there is grass and weeds growing between the cracks of the flagstones. This details shows that this gallery is little visited.
“I am a poet” – Here we meet Eumolpus, whose name in Latin means “sweet singer”. In the novel he is an old intellectual who Encolpius meets at the art gallery. His speech here is more or less the same as in the novel. However, in Petronius’ version, he is a joke character who spouts bad poetry that usually gets people to throw rocks at him until he stops. In Fellini’s film, he is largely a sympathetic character, and the one the audience can most identify with. His role is as mature mentor to Encolpius, and to teach him some eternal truths. Fellini will allow us to see some splendor in this world.
Eumolpus is also a pederast, here subtly referenced by his interest in the boy assisting the male restorer. Perhaps to keep him sympathetic, the reference is very subtle. In the novel he tells two very funny overt stories about his misadventures in trying to seduce the handsome son of a man he stayed with in Pergamum (section 85-87).
“…this sad state” – Eumolpus has an en extended speech where he bemoans the fact that attention is no longer paid to the liberal arts, and that contemporary art pales in comparison to ancient art because too much money is involved. It is a speech that mostly comes from the original novel, and may have spoken to Fellini. In fact, the character of Eumolpus himself may have, since like Fellini, he was an artist who had to rely on financial support from the wealthy while still remaining true to his artistic principles.
The Scaffolding – While Eumolpus is talking, a wheeled scaffolding with people clinging to it rolls past an open window. It seems that Fellini meant this to suggest there were “other people” in the background beyond the singular room, but done in an abstract, artificial way. It may also represent how these people, portrayed by actors, are on display for us just like these paintings. They are literally wheeled in front of us and become framed by the window like art.
It is also worth mentioning that apart from one brief outburst about the beloved youths of the gods, Encolpius is a mute observer throughout this scene. His story is fading into the background and, like us, becomes a passive witness.
“Those crazy Greeks!” – This is an actual line from the novel, in reference specifically the ancient artists Apelles and Phidias. Fellini likes the line (Eumolpus ends the scene on a great reading of it to camera), but tweaks it into a universal declaration of all those “ancient” artists that were “crazy” enough to value art over money, something that might have been on his mind while making such an unconventional film.