In 1663 in Dalmatia portions of a manuscript known as The Satyricon were found. This bawdy satire is attributed to Petronius (d. A.D. 65), one of Nero’s court officials. Though undoubtedly exaggerated, the work tells us much about contemporary attitudes and practices among the most wealthy and leisured. One of the longest sections is an account of a lavish banquet given by the newly rich and ultra-vulgar Trimalchio.
At long last the tumblers appeared. An extremely insipid clown held up a ladder and ordered a boy to climb up and do a dance on top to the accompaniment of several popular songs. He was then commanded to jump through burning hoops and to pick up a big jug with his teeth. No one much enjoyed this entertainment except Trimalchio…. Just at this point the ladder toppled and the boy on top fell down, landing squarely on Trimalchio. The slaves shrieked, the guests screamed. We were not, of course, in the least concerned about the boy, whose neck we would have been delighted to see broken; but we dreaded the thought of possibly having to go into mourn¬ing for a man who meant nothing to us at all. Meanwhile, Trimalchio lay there groaning and nursing his arm as though it were broken. Doctors came rushing in…. M hey began flogging a servant for having bound up his master’s wounded arm with white, rather than scarlet, bandages… Wnstead of having the boy whipped, Trimalchio ordered him to be set free, so that nobody could say that the great Trimalchio had been hurt by a mere slave. We gave this ample gesture our approval and remarked on the uncertainties of human existence.