Saturnalia is a miniature simulacrum of the Lucianic corpus. It is paradigmatic of Lucian’s generic variety and especially of his generic mixis (here dialogic, historiographical, and epistolary). However, it has been generally neglected and scholars have only seen it as an unworthy appendix to other works focused on social satire, particularly with Roman subject (Nigrinus, On Salaried Posts).
The three sections / mini-texts that compose Saturnalia treat, from different perspectives, with repetitions, yet striking inconsistencies, the same topic: the social and cultural condition of the pepaideumenos. However, subtle cross-references suggest that all these mini-texts represent one and the same text, rewritten and repeatedly distorted, with the persona of the author changing masks, cultural identities, and modes of speech. In the opening dialogue the priest of Cronos promises to make a written record of his conversation with the god. The subsequent epistolary mini-corpus translates and disingenuously distorts the dialogue, thus reflecting on both senders and addressees. For instance, the priest, who claims to be a pepaideumenos, deceivingly includes in the laws (nomoi) of the Saturnalia, allegedly ordained by the god himself and now communicated to the rich, specific provisions regarding the treatment of the intellectual élite. Accordingly, the pepaideumenoi are to partake fully in the festival and their only form of displaying paideia during the Saturnalia should consist of amusement and entertainment (skomma kai paidian, 13.14-15).
I argue that, as the pepaideumenos complains about his inadequate social rewards (cf. Luc. Rhet praec., Adv. ind.), his complaint translates here a claim to freedom, not with regard to the socio-economic establishment, but to the literary nomoi ( cf. Luc. VH 1.7-8 and various prolaliai). I argue, therefore, that Saturnalia is a form of ars poetica disguised as satire, in which the author claims the right to reverse and thus rewrite the literary nomoi and offers a compact and composite sample of his freedom in literary practices. The author’s shifting masks and discursive modes illustrate his literary versatility. The invocation of the festival with its reversal of rules, apparently used to makes amends for the socio-economic injustice, serves rather as a paradigm of the reversal of literary nomoi to rejuvenate the tradition, as well as a paradigm of the general ambiance of Lucian’s works, where comic jest and laughter constitute the predominant discursive mode.