Rick Parker wrote (10/26/02):
> P.S. - Without going into the Satyricon's context,
> I don't think that you would say the words
> in the epigraph haven't a serious meaning.
Well, that's the point, isn't it? And that happens all the time, even in pop
fiction -- the perceived meaning of the phrase "He made him an offer he
couldn't refuse" changed completely after 'The Godfather' was published in
the 1970s. Out-of-context, the Satryicon epigraph appears to mean one thing,
and then, in-context, alternative meanings become possible. And the reader
has to sort it all out.
For discussion purposes, let me list some thoughts about possible meanings of
the TWL epigraph. These probably won't all be valid, but I'm post them
uncensored and let you at least have a good laugh at my ignorance:
1) As Carrol said, the fact that the quote is from antiquity gives the
question/answer of "What do you want/I want to die" a feeling of "This is
nothing new; this has all happened before". So humanity has always been
caught in an endless cycle of seeking meaning to life in the face of war,
rape, superficial relationships, etc, etc, that is, in the face of things the
reader will encounter in The Waste Land. This is probably the meaning most
readers derive when they first read the epigraph.
2) The quote from Petronious is spoken by a drunken fool, a
pseudo-intellectual who ignorantly misuses literary fragments. This could
mean that the epigraph serves to "catch" the superficial readers who think
they know what the epigraph is about, but actually do not. As we know since
the publication of the TWL facsimile edition and the TSE letters, the
Petronious quote was substituted for TSE's first choice, a quote from Conrad
that Pound criticized as "not weighty enough". So using a quote that points
to pseudo-intellectualism could be part of the reason that particular
fragment was used. It could serve as a warning that other literary fragments
in TWL may not be used for the superficial reasons that they appear to be
3) In the Satyricon lines just before the TWL epigraph, Trimalchio mentions
the works of Homer and then misquotes scenes that never took place. But
Homer's great works themselves certainly exist and are "pointed to" by the
Trimalchio ramblings. Similarly, even if Trimalchio never saw 'with his own
eyes' the Sibyl of Cumae, the story of the Sibyl is "pointed to" by the
quote, and the reader may be lead to the Aenead. It is in the Aenead that the
Sibyl, at Cumae, leads Aeneas into the underworld to find his dead father.
This may have relevance for TWL ("and on the king my father's death before
him"). And if the reader is thinking about the decent of Aeneas into the
underworld, it might be an appropriate thing to be mulling over as a reading
of TWL begins.
4) The Satyricon, while bawdy in general, is specifically filled with
depictions of homosexual relationships. A possible reason for referring to
the Satyricon could be to acknowledge that homosexual relationships form an
important part of TWL.
5) The Satyricon is about the decay of the Roman empire, a major example of
the collapse of a great civilization. This has obvious tie-ins to the themes
6) The story of the Sibyl trapped in a bottle will remind the reader of the
woman trapped in an uncommunicative relationship in "A Game of Chess".
So, between the epigraph pointing to
1) a trapped woman
2) a gay relationship
3) the collapse of civilizations throughout time
4) a dead father
5) a descent into the underworld
6) pseudo-intellectual readers who think they understand, but don't
an interesting set of reasons emerges for why that Petronious quote may have
-- Steve --