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Freedom and Confinement Aboard the Ship of Lichas (Satyricon 100–115)

Nikola Golubovic

University of Pennsylvania

In this paper I offer a new reading of the Ship of Lichas episode in the Satyricon (100–115), emphasizing (1) the role of enclosed space in the narrative and (2) significant similarities to the earlier Cena Trimalchionis episode. At Sat. 100 Encolpius, Eumolpus, and Giton board a ship and set sail, only to find out that the ship’s master is Lichas, their enemy from an earlier section now lost, the very person they are trying to avoid. The episode is built around the premise of the protagonists’ inability to escape this trap, and their attempts first to not be discovered, and later to resolve their differences with Lichas and his companion Tryphaena. Just as reconciliation is taking shape, a violent storm destroys the ship and everyone except the leading trio dies. In interpreting this episode, scholars have mainly focused on theatrical elements prominent in it, connecting it to mime (“mimicum naufragium” - Panayotakis, picked up by Schmeling in his commentary), or the Greek novel, and ultimately to the Odyssey (Courtney, Vannini). Rimell’s ‘corporeal’ reading is especially engaging, according to which the episode is dominated by images and ideas related to the body. In a ‘visceral rewriting’, food and digestion take precedence over the already-present intertextual framing: the ship’s inside turns from the Cyclops’ cave into Cyclops’ stomach, and this precarious setting is exploited by Eumolpus, whose own obsession with the corporeal is concerned only with acquiring fodder for his poetic project.

While considering these useful interpretations, in this paper I focus on the role that space itself plays in this passage, an area underexplored in scholarship. I argue not only that enclosed space provides a framework for the episode, but that the interplay between various types and levels of confinement crucially shapes the events in it. The ship’s many subspaces (super constratum puppis 103.1, secretissimum locum 100.6, aegrorum cubilia 101.11, scapha 102.1, etc.), private and ‘public’, provide a chance for the characters to tailor their social experience as they wish. Shutting in and letting out in this episode is not only literal; the tension between the open deck and the cabin can amount to social and sexual tension and can make the difference between life and death, e.g. for the trio hiding, or for Eumolpus who survives the storm sub diaeta magistri (115.1). Yet every interaction is dominated by the presence of Lichas, an autocratic master of all space who is able to breach all confinements while keeping everyone from leaving his domain.

To support my claims about the importance of spatial concerns for the ship episode, I compare it to Cena Trimalchionis. This episode, I argue, is built around the same spatial frame, and the same issues of inclusion, seclusion, and insularity govern it (as evidenced by an even greater prominence of spatial language). Trimalchio’s house is another closed, insular space, easily entered but difficult to leave. Although it can seemingly be subdivided ad infinitum, the central, as it were, open or ‘public’ space is the dining room. It serves as the stage for the consciously theatrical display governed by the master. Like Lichas, he is a businessman of lowly origin, holding the power to cut off traffic between the inside and the outside world completely, and to regulate social relations in his domain. Unease generated by the inability to leave the house is only resolved when – as in the case of the ship – the outer world bursts in violently. The paterfamilias dies, whether actually or metaphorically (Trimalchio’s staged funeral).

These two episodes offer a paradigm for the Satyricon as a whole. Issues of insularity, exclusion and penetration, and sub-partitioning are not only spatial, but mirror the narrative architecture of the novel (e.g. the episodic structure). The model proposed here may be used for the study of other ancient fictional narratives, many of which display similar structures or treat the same issues in a comparable fashion.

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Greek and Roman Novel

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