PersiusA Study in Food, Philosophy, and the Figural

PersiusA Study in Food, Philosophy, and the Figural

Shadi Bartsch

Print publication date: 2015

ISBN: 9780226241845

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


Persius’ Satires have long resisted interpretation. A curious amalgam of satire and philosophy, they are couched in bizarre and violent metaphorical language and unpleasant imagery. They show little concern for the pleasure and understanding of the reader, instead attacking all humans for falling short of Stoic moral standards and depicting their values and behaviour in mocking terms. This short study investigates the function of Persius’ primary metaphors, showing how he turns to digestion, cannibalism, and pederasty to formulate his critique of men, mores, and contemporary poetry as part of the same corrupt framework. Developing elements taken from the poetic tradition and from philosophy, he opposes his own metaphors to those that give pleasure, casting the latter, and the poetry that uses them, as unable to teach or heal the audience. It is only Persius’ own poetry, a bitter and boiled-down brew, that can make us healthier, better and more Stoic, as if it were a form of poetic medicine, a healing draught with no honey on the rim. Ultimately, however, Persius encourages us to leave behind the world of metaphor altogether, even if his metaphors are salutary and not pleasing; instead, we should concentrate on the non-emotive abstract truths of Stoic philosophy and live in a world where neither poetry, nor rich food, nor sexual charm, are put to use in the service of philosophical teaching.