(Previously – Satyricon 11 – Scene VIIa: Dinner with Trimalchio – First Course)

The Pig – The pig that Trimalchio chose earlier now returns to the dining hall amid applause.  It is steaming and bloated, fake but grotesque.  Trimalchio feigns outrage to set up an elaborate joke on his guests.  When the baked pig is cut open, other types of meat are pulled from its humid carcass for the diners.  This scene comes from the novel (section 67).

Another part of the novel is also being alluded to in the film when a plethora of cooked fowl emerge from the guts of the pig.  In an earlier scene, another cooked boar is brought into the dining room and when cut open, releases a flock of thrushes (section 40).  For Petronius, it represented how the laws of nature are upended in Trimalchio’s world, since pork gives off fowl.  For Fellini, it’s seems like a chance to highlight the gastronomical decadence of the dinner, as well as its grossness.  Note the guest who is staring at the camera while the offal is piled up, reminding us of the scene’s artificiality.

When Trimalchio is berating the cook, the lower-class diners look down from their perch and implore Trimalchio to pardon him.  This is like our Hollywood idea of how Roman spectators behaved in the arena, begging the emperor to spare a defeated gladiator.  Trimalchio seems to enjoy his role as a proxy emperor due to his massive ego.  This also underscores a historical Roman idea:  In patriarchal Roman society, great emphasis was given to treating the pater familias as the king of his own household, where his word was law.

The slicing and folding up of the pig’s head is evocative of another detail of the earlier boar of Petronius (section 40).  In the novel it wears a freedman’s cap, a hat that freed slaves were given when they were emancipated.  There it is a pun because the pig was meant for the previous day’s meal, but was given a reprieve until that night.  It was meant to be a clever allusion, since Trimalchio was also a freedman, but also served to identify the gluttonous man with the porcine animal.

Encolpius Rebuked – Encolpius finds great amusement in the pig spectacle, which rubs one of his fellow diners the wrong way.  In the screenplay, the character who rebukes him is called the Rich Freedman (presumably the former slave of Trimalchio himself), and referred to by name as Hermeros.[1]  In Eileen Lanouette Hughes’ journal of the filming, she calls him a Cinedo, ie. a passive male prostitute.[2]  While the cinaedus was an actual type of person in ancient Rome, I think Hughes may have been reading the character’s makeup and demeanor too literally.  He actually does say he is a freedman during his speech, and mentions his wife, which would be quite out of the picture for a historical cinaedus.

In the novel, it is Ascyltus who breaks into laughter and is rebuked by one of Trimalchio’s freedmen (section 57).  Much of the speech is the same.

This character was played by another non-actor.  His real name was Eugenio Mastropietro but was known as Genius, a professional fortune-teller who lived in Rome.  He and Fellini were friends, although Fellini did not believe in astrology.[3]  During this scene, Fellini was off-camera shouting at Genius to say whatever insults came to mind, trying to get him worked up so that would translate to his actions on the screen.  Another actor dubbed the long chastising speech.

“Are you a cavalier’s son?” –  This quote from Hermeros, the rich freedman, is lost a bit in the translation, and is clearer in the original Latin (section 57).  It is a reference to the Roman equestrian class, which was the lesser of the two aristocratic classes in Rome (underneath the patricians).  The joke is that Encolpius is so beneath him that, if he was an equestrian, the freedman would be equal to the emperor in comparison.

The “wiping their hands on her tits” line is a Fellini interpretation of the novel’s original line which referenced wiping hands on a slave’s hair (as we saw during the first course).

“Give us some Homer” –  Fellini is now following the thread of the novel, more or less (sections 58-59).  After reprimanding Hermeros, some actors come on to recite Greek poetry.  This is a nice contrast, even though they bring the party to a complete halt.  To the Romans, Greek culture represented the ideal, the height of human endeavor.  It was revered.  The actors are brought out to show how cultured Trimalchio is, although neither he or his guests are much moved by them, except to sleep.  Only Eumolpus is touched.

If Eumolpus is a character Fellini identified with, and has sympathy for (the unappreciated artist), we can see another allusion to the appropriation of classical antiquity by the Fascists in this scene.  Eumolpus is moved by the beauty of the Greek poetry, and appreciates its aesthetic and emotional value.  The boorish Trimalchio and his guests see it only as something to be brought out to prove how cultured they are (“I like to hear Greek while I’m eating.”).  Fellini may be able to appreciate what the classical world can offer us, but has so often found it ruined and unappreciated by the louts.

There is a poignancy to their performance.  In the script, Fellini wrote, “(the actors) bring with them the melancholy of a very civilized people now in decline, vanquished.”[4]  While a very romanticized idea of Greek culture, it is probably similar to the prevailing attitude toward Greece in the age of Nero.

Note how the actors are all dressed in almost pure white, in contrast with the colorful (and dingy) guests.  Their over-exaggerated and artificial “acting” suggests the formalization of “the classics”.  Meanwhile, the dogs bark and slaves bustle here and there carrying plates of food, while guests tear at bulbous eels cooked in a sauce.

“Do you understand the story?” – In the novel, Petronius shows Trimalchio’s pretensions by having him completely butcher the explanation of the myth performed (section 59).  Of course, nobody corrects Trimalchio.

The sheep with the crown that is brought in also comes from the novel, although there it is a calf (section 59).

The Mural – Applause from the crowned sheep is carried over for the completion of the villa’s mural of Trimalchio.  To achieve the shining color, the art director used Italian hard candy to make it.[5]

Eumolpus Performs – Inspired by the Greek actors, Eumolpus gets up and recites some poetry.  In the novel, it is the rhetoric teacher Agamemnon who is at the dinner with Encolpius and his friends, but the reaction to Eumolpus’ performance in the film is the same as whenever the poet recited his works in the novel.  He is pelted with food and rubbish.  In the novel this is because the arrogant poet is not very good, and mistakes this for the decline of his culture.  In the film, the more sympathetic Eumolpus is just not appreciated.

“We poets” – Trimalchio again plays referee and reminds us of Eumolpus’ words from earlier about how the vulgar freedman considers himself a poet.  He recites some lines (adapted from section 55 of the novel), and is duly praised.

Horace was a famous poet of the Augustan age, a few generations before Nero.  His verses were very elegant and refined, so Eumolpus may be making a sly critique of Trimalchio’s talent.

Medeia, Perimadeia – In the novel, Trimalchio comments that Fortunata does a good version of a naughty dance called the Cordax (section 52).  He then strikes the pose of a famous Roman actor and the guests respond with a chorus of “Medeia, Perimadeia”.  We do not know what this  rhyme referred to, although it may mean “drink and get drunker” since madeo in Latin means to be wet.  It may have been a popular song that was associated with the actor.  This is what the African singers are repeating in the film while clapping.

Fortunata’s Dance – Proper elite women did not dance in public in ancient Rome.  In the novel, she discourages her husband from dancing (as it would be beneath him) after he praises her lewd dancing skills (section 52).  Later, a very drunk Fortunata almost gets up to dance, but doesn’t (section 70).  In the film, she actually does, after much coaxing.

Her dance is wild, erotic, and erratic.  It is full of strange zeal and gesture that are not fully understood by us the spectators, but we still know what’s going on.  It is done amid a host of half-naked male slaves and entertainers.  She is vulgar.  As she watch her gyrate in her see-through dress, the camera pans right to encounter a female guest staring at the camera.  Her grim expression is in contrast with the joviality around her.  The second woman is watching us objectify Fortunata’s body with our own gaze.

Another female elite guest joins in, invoking every drunk aunt at a wedding.  The camera prefers her wildly dancing plump body and pulls away from Fortunata.  It finally rests on another young woman again watching us watch.

We focus again on Fortunata while the strange a-rhythmic music blares.  Soon her sweaty, gyrating body melts into the lascivious shadows.  The only person not enjoying the spectacle is the melancholy Eumolpus.

Trimalchio joins in finally (unlike in the novel) and presents a static, posed contrast to Fortunata’s primal energy.  He is physically the center of attention, and for the first time, looks us the camera and at us.  Finally, his emotion takes over and he kisses (claims) Fortunata’s breasts.

And as suddenly as it began, Fortunata’s dance is over.  The film skips ahead with an edit (as if encountering a break in the text) to a later, more sedate part of the feast.

(Up Next:  Satyricon 13 – Scene VIIc: Dinner with Trimalchio – Third Course)


[1] Fellini, Frederico (1970), Fellini’s Satyricon (Ballantine), p. 142.

[2] Hughes, Eileen (1971), On the Set of Fellini-Satyricon (Morrow), p. 103.

[3] Ibid., p. 105.

[4] Fellini (1970), p. 143.

[5] Hughes, (1971), p. 95.