Author: Petronius Arbiter


From the very nature of the writings of such an author as Petronius, it is evident that the gaps in the text would have a marked tendency to stimulate the curiosity of literary forgers and to tempt their sagacity, literary or otherwise. The recovery of the Trimalchionian episode, and the subsequent pamphleteering would by no means eradicate this "cacoethes emendandi."

When, circa 1650, the library of the unfortunate Nicolas Cippico yielded up the Trau fragment, the news of this discovery spread far and wide and about twelve years later, Statileo, in response to the repeated requests of the Venetian ambassador, Pietro Basadonna, made with his own hand a copy of the MS., which he sent to Basadonna. The ambassador, in turn, permitted this MS. to be printed by one Frambotti, a printer endowed with more industry than critical acumen, and the resultant textual conflation had much to do with the pamphlet war which followed. Had this Paduan printer followed the explicit directions which he received, and printed exactly what was given him much good paper might have been saved and a very interesting chapter in the history of literary forgery would probably never have been written. The pamphlet war did not die out until Bleau, in 1670-71, printed his exact reproduction of the Trau manuscript and the corrections introduced by that licentiousness of emendation of which we have spoken.

In October, 1690, Francois Nodot, a French soldier of fortune, a commissary officer who combined belles lettres and philosophy with his official duties, wrote to Charpentier, President of the Academy of France, calling, his attention to a copy of a manuscript which he (Nodot) possessed, and which came into his hands in the following manner: one Du Pin, a French officer detailed to service with Austria, had been present at the sack of Belgrade in 1688. That this Du Pin had, while there, made the acquaintance of a certain Greek renegade, having, as a matter of fact, stayed in the house of this renegade. The Greek’s father, a man of some learning, had by some means come into possession of the MS., and Du Pin, in going through some of the books in the house, had come across it. He had experienced the utmost difficulty in deciphering the letters, and finally, driven by curiosity, had retained a copyist and had it copied out. That this Du Pin had this copy in his house at Frankfort, and that he had given Nodot to understand that if he (Nodot) came to Frankfort, he would be permitted to see this copy. Owing to the exigencies of military service, Nodot had been unable to go in person to Frankfort, and that he had therefore availed himself of the friendly interest and services of a certain merchant of Frankfort, who had volunteered to find an amanuensis, have a copy made, and send it to Nodot. This was done, and Nodot concludes his letter to Charpentier by requesting the latter to lay the result before the Academy and ask for their blessing and approval. These Nodotian Supplements were accepted as authentic by the Academics of Arles and Nimes, as well as by Charpentier. In a short time, however, the voices of scholarly skeptics began to be heard in the land, and accurate and unbiased criticism laid bare the fraud. The Latinity was attacked and exception taken to Silver Age prose in which was found a French police regulation which required newly arrived travellers to register their names in the book of a police officer of an Italian village of the first century. Although they are still retained in the text by some editors, this is done to give some measure of continuity to an otherwise interrupted narrative, but they can only serve to distort the author and obscure whatever view of him the reader might otherwise have reached. They are generally printed between brackets or in different type.

In 1768 another and far abler forger saw the light of day. Jose Marchena, a Spaniard of Jewish extraction, was destined for an ecclesiastical career. He received an excellent education which served to fortify a natural bent toward languages and historical criticism. In his early youth he showed a marked preference for uncanonical pursuits and heretical doctrines and before he had reached his thirtieth year prudence counseled him to prevent the consequences of his heresy and avoid the too pressing Inquisition by a timely flight into France. He arrived there in time to throw himself into the fight for liberty, and in 1800 we find him at Basle attached to the staff of General Moreau. While there he is said to have amused himself and some of his cronies by writing notes on what Davenport would have called "Forbidden Subjects," and, as a means of publishing his erotic lucubrations, he constructed this fragment, which brings in those topics on which he had enlarged. He translated the fragment into French, attached his notes, and issued the book. There is another story to the effect that he had been reprimanded by Moreau for having written a loose song and that he exculpated himself by assuring the general that it was but a new fragment of Petronius which he had translated. Two days later he had the fragment ready to prove his contention.

This is the account given by his Spanish biographer. In his preface, dedicated to the Army of the Rhine, he states that he found the fragment in a manuscript of the work of St. Gennadius on the Duties of Priests, probably of the XI Century. A close examination revealed the fact that it was a palimpsest which, after treatment, permitted the restoration of this fragment. It is supposed to supply the gap in Chapter 26 after the word "verberabant."

Its obscenity outrivals that of the preceding text, and the grammar, style, and curiosa felicitas Petroniana make it an almost perfect imitation. There is no internal evidence of forgery. If the text is closely scrutinized it will be seen that it is composed of words and expressions taken from various parts of the Satyricon, "and that in every line it has exactly the Petronian turn of phrase."

"Not only is the original edition unprocurable," to quote again from Mr. Gaselee’s invaluable bibliography, "but the reprint at Soleure (Brussels), 1865, consisted of only 120 copies, and is hard to find. The most accessible place for English readers is in Bohn’s translation, in which, however, only the Latin text is given; and the notes were a most important part of the original work."

These notes, humorously and perhaps sarcastically ascribed to Lallemand, Sanctae Theologiae Doctor, "are six in number (all on various forms of vice); and show great knowledge, classical and sociological, of unsavory subjects. Now that the book is too rare to do us any harm, we may admit that the pastiche was not only highly amusing, but showed a perverse cleverness amounting almost to genius."

Marchena died at Madrid in great poverty in 1821. A contemporary has described him as being rather short and heavy set in figure, of great frontal development, and vain beyond belief. He considered himself invincible where women were concerned. He had a peculiar predilection in the choice of animal pets and was an object of fear and curiosity to the towns people. His forgery might have been completely successful had he not acknowledged it himself within two or three years after the publication of his brochure. The fragment will remain a permanent tribute to the excellence of his scholarship, but it is his Ode to Christ Crucified which has made him more generally known, and it is one of the ironies of fate that caused this deformed giant of sarcasm to compose a poem of such tender and touching piety.

Very little is known about Don Joe Antonio Gonzalez de Salas, whose connecting passages, with the exception of one which is irrelevant, are here included.

The learned editors of the Spanish encyclopedia naively preface their brief sketch with the following assertion: "no tenemos noticias de su vida." De Salas was born in 1588 and died in 1654. His edition of Petronius was first issued in 1629 and re-issued in 1643 with a copper plate of the Editor. The Paris edition, from which he says he supplied certain deficiencies in the text, is unknown to bibliographers and is supposed to be fictitious.

The work is also accompanied by a translation of the six notes, the composition of which led Marchena to forge the fragment which first appeared in the year 1800. These have never before been translated.

Thanks are due Ralph Straus, Esq., and Professor Stephen Gaselee.

Legend Identifying the "Forgeries:"
(Forgeries of Nodot)
[Forgeries of Marchena]
{Additions of De Salas}


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Chicago: Petronius Arbiter, "IV Forgeries of Petronius.," Satyricon, trans. W. C. Firebaugh in Satyricon (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1922), Original Sources, accessed January 31, 2023,

MLA: Arbiter, Petronius. "IV Forgeries of Petronius." Satyricon, translted by W. C. Firebaugh, in Satyricon, New York, Boni and Liveright, 1922, Original Sources. 31 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Arbiter, P, 'IV Forgeries of Petronius.' in Satyricon, trans. . cited in 1922, Satyricon, Boni and Liveright, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 31 January 2023, from