Fotis sees her lover Lucius transformed into an ass

“The Golden Ass” (c. A.D. 155) is a strange novel by Lucius Apuleius (A.D. c.123-c.170), a Latin-language prose writer and one of the world’s earliest novelists The only ancient Roman novel in Latin to survive in its entirety, The Golden Ass was given its name by St. Augustine. The proper name of the novel is The Metamorphoses of Apuleius. In the following passage the Egyptians goddess Isis appears to Lucius, and claims to be all goddesses, including the Queen of Heaven, and principal of all the gods and goddesses. This is widely seen as a vivid illustration of religious syncretism.

On Isis, Queen of Heaven, Lucius Apuleius (A.D. c.123-c.170) wrote in Book 11 of the Golden Ass: “When I had ended this prayer, and made known my needs to the Goddess, I fell asleep, and by and by appeared unto me a divine and venerable face, worshipped even by the Gods themselves. Then by little and little I seemed to see the whole figure of her body, mounting out of the sea and standing before me, and so I shall describe her divine appearance, if the poverty of my human speech will allow me, or her divine power give me eloquence to do so. [Source: Lucius “Apuleius: Metamophoses” or “The Golden Ass,” Book 11, Chap 47. Adapted by Paul Halsall from the translation by Adlington 1566 in comparison with Robert Graves translation of 1951]

“First she had a great abundance of hair, dispersed and scattered about her neck, on the crown of her head she wore many garlands interlaced with flowers, just above her brow was a disk in the form of a mirror, or resembling the light of the Moon, in one of her hands she bore serpents, in the other, blades of corn, her robe was of fine silk shimmering in divers colors, sometime yellow, sometime rose, sometime flamy, and sometimes (which sore troubled my spirit) dark and obscure, covered with a black robe in manner of a shield, and pleated in most subtle fashion at the skirts of her garments, the welts appeared comely, whereas here and there the stars peaked out, and in the middle of them was placed the Moon, which shone like a flame of fire, round about the robe was a coronet or garland made with flowers and fruits. In her right hand she had a timbrel of brass, which gave a pleasant sound, in her left hand she bore a cup of gold, out of the mouth whereof the serpent Aspis lifted up his head, with a swelling throat, her sweet feet were covered with shoes interlaced and wrought with victorious palm.

“Thus the divine shape breathing out the pleasant spice of fertile Arabia, disdained not with her divine voice to utter these words unto me: "Behold Lucius I am come, thy weeping and prayers has moved me to succor thee. I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of heaven, the principal of the Gods celestial, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be disposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customs and in many names, for the Phrygians call me Pessinuntica, the mother of the Gods: the Athenians call me Cecropian Artemis: the Cyprians, Paphian Aphrodite: the Candians, Dictyanna: the Sicilians , Stygian Proserpine: and the Eleusians call me Mother of the Corn. Some call me Juno, others Bellona of the Battles, and still others Hecate. Principally the Ethiopians which dwell in the Orient, and the Egyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustomed to worship me, do call me Queen Isis. Behold I am come to take pity of thy fortune and tribulation, behold I am present to favor and aid thee. Leave off thy weeping and lamentation, put away thy sorrow, for behold the healthful day which is ordained by my providence, therefore be ready to attend to my commandment."

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Bestiality in The Golden Ass

from Pompeii

Leonard C. Smithers and Sir Richard Burton wrote in the notes of “Sportive Epigrams on Priapus”: The following passage from The Golden Ass of Apuleius is left in the original Latin in the translation of that writer issued in Bohn's Classical Library. This being the only English edition of Apuleius's Metamorphoses always in print, I have translated the omitted passage, and insert it here, notwithstanding its length: “When the time came, having fed, we withdrew from my master's hall and found my lady of quality at my bedchamber, where she had long been waiting. Good gods! what glorious and excellent preparation was there! without delay four eunuchs arranged for us a bed on the ground, with many pillows swollen with tender down, as if filled with wind; evenly threw over these a coverlet embroidered with gold and Tyrian purple; and over, they strewed completely with cushions with which delicate women are wont to support their chins and necks; some of these very small though plentiful enough, others of a good size. Nor delaying the pleasure of their mistress by their long attendance, they retired, closing the doors of the bedchamber. But within, waxen tapers gleaming with a clear lustre illuinined for us the darkness of night.

“Then, having straightway stripped off the whole of her clothing, the zone, too, which had bound close her lovely breasts, standing near the light she anointed herself plentifully with balsamic unguent from a small silver vase, and rubbed me copiously with the same; but drenched especially my legs and even my buttocks. Then, pressing me closely, she gave me fond kisses; not such as are wont to be thrown to one in the brothel, either by the mercenary bawds or the tight-fisted wenchers, but pure and unfeigned, she showered on me, and most alluring coaxings. 'I love thee, and long for thee; thee, alone, I pant for, and without thee am unable to live;' and used, besides, the arts by which women declare their affection.

“Having taken me by the halter, in the manner to which I had grown accustomed, she turned me to her, when, indeed, I seemed to be about to do nothing which was either new or difficult to me; especially as after so long a time I was about to encounter the ardent embraces of a beautiful woman. For I had by this time intoxicated myself with a large quantity of most luscious wine, and had incited my lustful desires with the most fragrant perfumes. But I was greatly troubled by no small fear, thinking in what manner should I be able, with legs so many and of such a size, to mount a tender and highborn lady; or, encircle with hard hooves her limbs softened with milk and honey and so white and delicate; or how, deformed, with teeth like stones and a mouth so enormous and gaping, to kiss her daintily-shaped lips, purpled with ambrosial dew; finally, in what manner my gentlewoman could support so gigantic a genital, though itching all over from her fingertips. 'Woe is me! Shall I, having burst asunder a woman of high rank, form an addition to my master's public show by being condemned to the contest with the wild beasts?'


“Meanwhile she again and again bestowed on me tender little speeches, unremitting love kisses, and sweet groanings, together with biting kisses. And in the deed, 'I hold thee,' she said, ' I hold thee fast, my woodpigeon, my sparrow.' And with these words she showed my misgivings to have been groundless, and my fears idle. For having entwined me wholly in the closest embrace, she took in the whole of me straightforward. In truth, as often as I, wishing to spare her, bent back my buttocks, so often did she, attacking with furious exertion and clinging round my spine, glue herself to me with a yet closer pressure; so that, by Hercules, I believed some thing was wanting even to me to famish her lust with its complement; nor could I now think that the mother of the Minotaur had no reason to be delighted with her bellowing adulterer.”


“The Satyricon,” or Satyricon liber (The Book of Satyrlike Adventures), is a Latin work of fiction believed to have been written by Gaius Petronius, though the manuscript tradition identifies the author as Titus Petronius. Probably composed during the reign of Nero (A.D. 37-68), “The Satyricon” is an example of Menippean satire, which is different from the formal verse satire of Juvenal or Horace. The work contains a mixture of prose and verse (commonly known as prosimetrum); serious and comic elements; and erotic and decadent passages. As with the Metamorphoses (also called The Golden Ass) of Apuleius, classical scholars often describe it as a "Roman novel", without necessarily implying continuity with the modern literary form. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The surviving portions of the text detail the misadventures of the narrator, Encolpius, a retired, famous gladiator of the area, and his slave and sexual partner Giton, a handsome sixteen-year-old boy. It is one of the two most extensive witnesses to the Roman novel, the only other being the fully extant Metamorphoses of Apuleius, which has significant differences in style and plot. Satyricon is also regarded as useful evidence for the reconstruction of how lower classes lived during the early Roman Empire. +

Principal characters:
Encolpius: The narrator and principal character
Giton: A handsome sixteen-year-old boy, a slave and a sexual partner of Encolpius
Ascyltos: An ex-gladiator and friend of Encolpius, rival for the ownership of Giton
Trimalchio: An extremely vulgar and wealthy freedman
Eumolpus: An aged, impoverished and lecherous poet of the sort rich men are said to hate
Lichas: An enemy of Encolpius
Tryphaena: A woman infatuated with Giton
Corax: A barber, the hired servant of Eumolpus
Circe: A woman attracted to Encolpius
Chrysis: Circe's servant, also in love with Encolpius +

Trimalchio: the Wealthy, Ostentatious, Ex-Slave in Satyricon

Trimalchio from Fellini's Satyricon

Dr Valerie Hope of the Open University wrote for the BBC: “ Trimalchio, the fictitious freed slave invented by the Roman writer Petronius, had all the trappings that Roman money could buy. He lived in a vast house, wore extravagant clothes, owned many slaves, entertained lavishly and even built his own grand tomb. He was portrayed as grotesque, but he may not have been that far removed from reality - it is known that freed slaves did advertise their own personal success stories. The tomb built by the freed slave Eurysaces still stands in Rome. It was built in the shape of a giant oven, decorated with scenes of baking. |::|[Source: Dr Valerie Hope, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

“Trimalchio's story suggests social mobility. The system rewarded hard work, ambition and the accumulation of wealth, but there were limits. Birth remained important, and new citizens, however wealthy, could be stigmatised by their past. Ex-slaves in particular could not escape the taint of slavery, and were not allowed to hold high office.These nouveaux-riches citizens could be mocked and despised for copying their social betters. Money could not buy everything, and individuals such as Trimalchio could find themselves in an incongruous position, fabulously wealthy but not part of high society. |::| “This of course may not have concerned Trimalchio, or others like him; he had his money, and the trappings that it bought, and within his own house he was king. Although others may have expected Trimalchio to be ashamed of his past, it doesn't necessarily follow that he felt so himself.” |::|

Early Part of the Satyricon Story

Chapters 1–26: The surviving sections of the novel begin with Encolpius traveling with a companion and former lover named Ascyltos, who has joined Encolpius on numerous escapades. Encolpius' slave, Giton, is at his owner's lodging when the story begins. In the first passage preserved, Encolpius is in a Greek town in Campania, perhaps Puteoli, where he is standing outside a school, railing against the Asiatic style and false taste in literature, which he blames on the prevailing system of declamatory education (1–2). His adversary in this debate is Agamemnon, a sophist, who shifts the blame from the teachers to the parents (3–5). Encolpius discovers that his companion Ascyltos has left and breaks away from Agamemnon when a group of students arrive (6). [Source: Wikipedia +]

Encolpius locates Ascyltos (7–8) and then Giton (8), who claims that Ascyltos made a sexual attempt on him (9). After some conflict (9–11), the three go to the market, where they are involved in a dispute over stolen property (12–15). Returning to their lodgings, they are confronted by Quartilla, a devotee of Priapus, who condemns their attempts to pry into the cult's secrets (16–18). The companions are overpowered by Quartilla and her maids, who overpower and sexually torture them (19–21), then provide them with dinner and engage them in further sexual activity (21–26). An orgy ensues and the sequence ends with Encolpius and Quartilla exchanging kisses while they spy through a keyhole at Giton having sex with a virgin girl; and finally sleeping together (26). +

Chapters 26–78: This section of the Satyricon, regarded by classicists such as Conte and Rankin as emblematic of Menippean satire, takes place a day or two after the beginning of the extant story. Encolpius and companions are invited by one of Agamemnon's slaves, to a dinner at the estate of Trimalchio, a freedman of enormous wealth, who entertains his guests with ostentatious and grotesque extravagance. After preliminaries in the baths and halls (26–30), the guests (mostly freedmen) enter the dining room, where their host joins them. +

Extravagant courses are served while Trimalchio flaunts his wealth and his pretence of learning (31–41). Trimalchio's departure to the toilet (he is incontinent) allows space for conversation among the guests (41–46). Encolpius listens to their ordinary talk about their neighbours, about the weather, about the hard times, about the public games, and about the education of their children. In his insightful depiction of everyday Roman life, Petronius delights in exposing the vulgarity and pretentiousness of the illiterate and ostentatious wealthy of his age. +

After Trimalchio's return from the lavatory (47), the succession of courses is resumed, some of them disguised as other kinds of food or arranged to resemble certain zodiac signs. Falling into an argument with Agamemnon (a guest who secretly holds Trimalchio in disdain), Trimalchio reveals that he once saw the Sibyl of Cumae, who because of her great age was suspended in a flask for eternity (48). Supernatural stories about a werewolf (62) and witches are told (63). Following a lull in the conversation, a stonemason named Habinnas arrives with his wife Scintilla (65), who compares jewellery with Trimalchio's wife Fortunata (67). Then Trimalchio sets forth his will and gives Habinnas instructions on how to build his monument when he is dead (71). +

Encolpius and his companions, by now wearied and disgusted, try to leave as the other guests proceed to the baths, but are prevented by a porter (72). They escape only after Trimalchio holds a mock funeral for himself. The vigiles, mistaking the sound of horns for a signal that a fire has broken out, burst into the residence (78). Using this sudden alarm as an excuse to get rid of the sophist Agamemnon, whose company Encolpius and his friends are weary of, they flee as if from a real fire (78). +

Middle Part of the Satyricon Story

Chapters 79–98: Encolpius returns with his companions to the inn but, having drunk too much wine, passes out while Ascyltos takes advantage of the situation and seduces Giton (79). On the next day, Encolpius wakes to find his lover and Ascyltos in bed together naked. Encolpius quarrels with Ascyltos and the two agree to part, but Encolpius is shocked when Giton decides to stay with Ascyltos (80). After two or three days spent in separate lodgings sulking and brooding on his revenge, Encolpius sets out with sword in hand, but is disarmed by a soldier he encounters in the street (81–82). [Source: Wikipedia +]

After entering a picture gallery, he meets with an old poet, Eumolpus. The two exchange complaints about their misfortunes (83–84), and Eumolpus tells how, when he pursued an affair with a boy in Pergamon while employed as his tutor, the youth got the better of him (85–87). After talking about the decay of art and the inferiority of the painters and writers of the age to the old masters (88), Eumolpus illustrates a picture of the capture of Troy by some verses on that theme (89). +

This ends when those who are walking in the adjoining colonnade drive Eumolpus out with stones (90). Encolpius invites Eumolpus to dinner. As he returns home, Encolpius encounters Giton who begs him to take him back as his lover. Encolpius finally forgives him (91). Eumolpus arrives from the baths and reveals that a man there (evidently Ascyltos) was looking for someone called Giton (92). +

Encolpius decides not to reveal Giton's identity, but he and the poet fall into rivalry over the boy (93–94). This leads to a fight between Eumolpus and the other residents of the insula (95–96), which is broken up by the manager Bargates. Then Ascyltos arrives with a municipal slave to search for Giton, who hides under a bed at Encolpius's request (97). Eumolpus threatens to reveal him but after much negotiation ends up reconciled to Encolpius and Giton (98). +

Chapters 99–124: In the next scene preserved, Encolpius and his friends board a ship, along with Eumolpus's hired servant, later named as Corax (99). Encolpius belatedly discovers that the captain is an old enemy, Lichas of Tarentum. Also on board is a woman called Tryphaena, by whom Giton does not want to be discovered (100–101). Despite their attempt to disguise themselves as Eumolpus's slaves (103), Encolpius and Giton are identified (105). +

Eumolpus speaks in their defence (107), but it is only after fighting breaks out (108) that peace is agreed (109). To maintain good feelings, Eumolpus tells the story of a widow of Ephesus. At first she planned to starve herself to death in her husband's tomb, but she was seduced by a soldier guarding crucified corpses, and when one of these was stolen she offered the corpse of her husband as a replacement (110–112). +

The ship is wrecked in a storm (114). Encolpius, Giton and Eumolpus get to shore safely (as apparently does Corax), but Lichas is washed ashore drowned (115). The companions learn they are in the neighbourhood of Crotona, and that the inhabitants are notorious legacy-hunters (116). Eumolpus proposes taking advantage of this, and it is agreed that he will pose as a childless, sickly man of wealth, and the others as his slaves (117). As they travel to the city, Eumolpus lectures on the need for elevated content in poetry (118), which he illustrates with a poem of almost 300 lines on the Civil War between Julius Caesar and Pompey (119–124). When they arrive in Crotona, the legacy-hunters prove hospitable. +

Last Part of the Satyricon Story

Chapters 125–141: When the text resumes, the companions have apparently been in Crotona for some time (125). A maid named Chrysis flirts with Encolpius and brings to him her beautiful mistress Circe, who asks him for sex. However, his attempts are prevented by impotence (126–128). Circe and Encolpius exchange letters, and he seeks a cure by sleeping without Giton (129–130). When he next meets Circe, she brings with her an elderly enchantress called Proselenos who attempts a magical cure (131). Nonetheless, he fails again to make love, as Circe has Chrysis and him flogged (132). [Source: Wikipedia +]

Encolpius is tempted to sever the offending organ, but prays to Priapus at his temple for healing (133). Proselenos and the priestess Oenothea arrive. Oenothea, who is also a sorceress, claims she can provide the cure desired by Encolpius and begins cooking (134–135). While the women are temporarily absent, Encolpius is attacked by the temple's sacred geese and kills one of them. Oenothea is horrified, but Encolpius pacifies her with an offer of money (136–137). +

Oenothea tears open the breast of the goose, and uses its liver to foretell Encolpius's future (137). That accomplished, the priestess reveals a "leather dildo," (scorteum fascinum) and the women apply various irritants to him, which they use to prepare Encolpius for anal penetration (138). Encolpius flees from Oenothea and her assistants. In the following chapters, Chrysis herself falls in love with Encolpius (138–139). +

An aging legacy-huntress named Philomela places her son and daughter with Eumolpus, ostensibly for education. Eumolpus makes love to the daughter, although because of his pretence of ill health he requires the help of Corax. Encolpius reveals that he has somehow been cured of his impotence (140). He warns Eumolpus that, because the wealth he claims to have has not appeared, the patience of the legacy-hunters is running out. Eumolpus's will is read to the legacy-hunters, who apparently now believe he is dead, and they learn they can inherit only if they consume his body. In the final passage preserved, historical examples of cannibalism are cited (141). +

Banquet of Trimalchio from the Satyricon

The following is a excerpt from the comic romance The depiction of Trimalchio, the fictitious, uncouth former slave, who has nothing good about him except his money, and who is surrounded by sycophants, flatterers and people expected to serve or amuse him, is regarded as “one of the most clever and unsparing delineations in ancient literature.”

Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66) wrote in “Satyricon“:“At last we went to recline at table where boys from Alexandria poured snow water on our hands, while others, turning their attention to our feet, picked our nails, and not in silence did they perform their task, but singing all the time. I wished to try if the whole retinue could sing, and so I called for a drink, and a boy, not less ready with his tune, brought it accompanying his action with a sharp-toned ditty; and no matter what you asked for it was all the same song. [Source: Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66), “The Banquet of Trimalchio” from the “Satyricon,” William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“The first course was served and it was good, for all were close up at the table, save Trimalchio, for whom, after a new fashion, the place of honor was reserved. Among the first viands there was a little ass of Corinthian bronze with saddle bags on his back, in one of which were white olives and in the other black. Over the ass were two silver platters, engraved on the edges with Trimalchio's name, and the weight of silver. Dormice seasoned with honey and poppies lay on little bridge-like structures of iron; there were also sausages brought in piping hot on a silver gridiron, and under that Syrian plums and pomegranate grains.

“We were in the midst of these delights when Trimalchio was brought in with a burst of music. They laid him down on some little cushions, very carefully; whereat some giddy ones broke into a laugh, though it was not much to be wondered at, to see his bald pate peeping out from a scarlet cloak, and his neck all wrapped up and a robe with a broad purple stripe hanging down before him, with tassels and fringes dingle-dangle about him.”

Entertainment and Gaming at Trimalchio Banquet in Satyricon

Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66) wrote in “Satyricon“: “Then going through his teeth with a silver pick, "my friends," quoth he, "I really didn't want to come to dinner so soon, but I was afraid my absence would cause too great a delay, so I denied myself the pleasure I was at — at any rate I hope you'll let me finish my game." A slave followed, carrying a checkerboard of turpentine wood, with crystal dice; but one thing in particular I noticed as extra nice — he had gold and silver coins instead of the ordinary black and white pieces. While he was cursing like a trooper over the game and we were starting on the lighter dishes, a basket was brought in on a tray, with a wooden hen in it, her wings spread round, as if she were hatching. [Source: Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66), “The Banquet of Trimalchio” from the “Satyricon,” William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“Then two slaves came with their eternal singing, and began searching the straw, whence they rooted out some peahen's eggs, and distributed them among the guests. At this Trimalchio turned around — "Friends," he says, "I had some peahen's eggs placed under a hen, and so help me Hercules! — I hope they're not hatched out; we'd better try if they're still tasty." Thereupon we took up our spoons — they were not less than half a pound weight of silver — and broke the eggs that were made of rich pastry. I had been almost on the point of throwing my share away, for I thought I had a chick in it, until hearing an old hand saying, "There must be something good in this," I delved deeper — and found a very fat fig-pecker inside, surrounded by peppered egg yolk.

“At this point Trimalchio stopped his game, demanded the same dishes, and raising his voice, declared that if anyone wanted more liquor he had only to say the word. At once the orchestra struck up the music, as the slaves also struck up theirs, and removed the first course. In the bustle a dish chanced to fall, and when a boy stooped to pick it up, Trimalchio gave him a few vigorous cuffs for his pains, and bade him to "throw it down again" — and a slave coming in swept out the silver platter along with the refuse. After that two long-haired Ethiopians entered with little bladders, similar to those used in sprinkling the arena in the amphitheater, but instead of water they poured wine on our hands. Then glass wine jars were brought in, carefully sealed and a ticket on the neck of each, reading thus: "Opimian Falernia, One hundred years old."”

Presently one of the guests remarks, first on how completely Trimalchio is under the thumb of his wife; next he comments on the gentleman's vast riches.] "So help me Hercules, the tenth of his slaves don't know their own master.... Some time ago the quality of his wool was not to his liking; so what does he do, but buys rams at Tarentum to improve the breed. In order to have Attic honey at home with him, he has bees brought from Attica to better his stock by crossing it with the Greek. A couple of days ago he had the notion to write to India for mushroom seed. And his freedmen, his one-time comrades [in slavery] they are no small cheese either; they are immensely well-off. Do you see that chap on the last couch over there? Today he has his 800,000 sesterces. He came from nothing, and time was when he had to carry wood upon his back.... He has been manumitted only lately, but he knows his business. Not long ago he displayed this notice: "Caius Pompeius Diogenes, Having Taken A House Is Disposed To Let His Garret From The Kalends Of July."”

Trimalchio Explains How He Earned His Great Wealth

After a very long discussion and a vulgar display of luxuries and riches, Trimalchio condescends to tell the company how he came by his vast wealth. Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66) wrote in “Satyricon“: "When I came here first [as a slave] from Asia, I was only as high as yonder candlestick, and I'd be measuring my height on it every day, and greasing my lips with lamp oil to bring out a bit of hair on my snout. Well, at last, to make a long story short, as it pleased the gods, I became master in the house, and as you see, I'm a chip off the same block. He [my master] made me coheir with Caesar, and I came into a royal fortune, but no one ever thinks he has enough. I was mad for trading, and to put it all in a nutshell, bought five ships, freighted them with wine — and wine was as good as coined money at that time — and sent them to Rome. [Source: Petronius Arbiter (A.D. c.27-66), “The Banquet of Trimalchio” from the “Satyricon,” William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West]

“You wouldn't believe it, every one of those ships was wrecked. In one day Neptune swallowed up 30,000,000 sesterces on me. D'ye think I lost heart? Not much! I took no notice of it, by Hercules! I got more ships made, larger, better, and luckier; that no one might say I wasn't a plucky fellow. A big ship has big strength — that's plain! Well I freighted them with wine, bacon, beans, perfumes, and slaves. Here Fortuna (my consort) showed her devotion. She sold her jewelry and all her dresses, and gave me a hundred gold pieces — that's what my fortune grew from. What the gods ordain happens quickly. For on just one voyage I scooped in 10,000,000 sesterces and immediately started to redeem all the lands that used to be my master's. I built a house, bought some cattle to sell again — whatever I laid my hand to grew like a honeycomb. When I found myself richer than all the country round about was worth, in less than no time I gave up trading, and commenced lending money at interest to the freedmen. Upon my word, I was very near giving up business altogether, only an astrologer, who happened to come into our colony, dissuaded me.

“"And now I may as well tell you it all — I have thirty years, four months and two days to live, moreover I"m to fall in for an estate — that's prophecy anyway. If I'm so lucky as to be able to join my domains to Apulia, I'll say I've got on pretty well. Meanwhile under Mercury's' fostering, I've built this house. Just a hut once, you know — now a regular temple! It has four dining rooms, twenty bedrooms, two marble porticoes, a set of cells upstairs, my own bedroom, a sitting room for this viper (my wife!) here, a very fine porter's room, and it holds guests to any amount. There are a lot of other things too that I'll show you by and by. Take my word for it, if you have a penny you're worth a penny, you are valued for just what you have. Yesterday your friend was a frog, he's a king today — that's the way it goes." [Trimalchio goes on to show off to his guests the costly shroud, perfumes, etc., he has been assembling for his own funeral; and at last] we, the guests were already disgusted with the whole affair when Trimalchio, who, by the way, was beastly drunk, ordered in the cornet players for our further pleasure, and propped up with cushions, stretched himself out at full length. "Imagine I'm dead," says he, "and play something soothing!" Whereat the cornet players struck up a funeral march, and one of them especially — a slave of the undertaker fellow — the best in the crowd, played with such effect that he roused the whole neighborhood. So the watchmen, who had charge of the district, thinking Trimalchio's house on fire, burst in the door, and surged in — as was their right — with axes and water ready. Taking advantage of such an opportune moment . . . we bolted incontinently, as if there had been a real fire in the place.”


Publius Vergilius Maro (70-19 B.C.), usually called Virgil or Vergil in English, was an ancient Roman poet of the Augustan period. Rgarded as the greatest Roman writer, he is credited with transforming myth into literature.He wrote three of the most famous poems in Latin literature: the Eclogues, the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid. The “ Aeneid” , which appeared after his death and is regarded as a model of writing in the Latin style.

Virgil saw himself as an outsider in Rome. He was born Publius Vergilius Maro in the village of Andes near Venice. His father was a farmer wealthy enough to pay for an education for his son. Virgil studied at Cremona and Milan before moving at the age of 17 to Rome, where he studied rhetoric and philosophy but didn’t stay all that long.

After the Roman civil war between Caesar and Pompey, Virgil’s father’s farm was seized. The loss meant that he could no longer pay for Virgil’s education. Some powerful people in Rome sympathized with Virgil’s plight and helped his father obtain a new farm. These friends also introduced Virgil to Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus. One of Augustus’s ministers became one of Virgil’s best friends. He was also the writer’s benefactor, freeing Virgil from worries about money

According to one old story Virgil held a funeral for a common housefly which he claimed was his favorite pet. Mourners and an orchestra were hired; celebrities and statesmen were on hand; special eulogies were read by prominent citizens; and finally the fly was buried in special mausoleum. The cost of the funeral? About 800,000 sesterces (around $200,000 in today's money). [People's Almanac]

Virgil’s Life as a Writer and Death

Using the Greek poet Theocritus as his model, Virgil wrote “ Eclogues” , pastoral poems describing the beauty of Italy. He followed that with “ Geogics” , more serious and original poems about farming and the Italian countryside. This work established Virgil as a famous poet.

Virgil’s life was devoted to writing. He never married and few events of his life seemed worth recording. He lived in Naples during the 12 years it took to write the “ Aeneid” . Emperor Augustus took an interest in Virgil’s work and asked that parts of be read to him as it was being written. Virgil was still working on the text when he died. The “Aeneid” wasn’t published until after his death.

Virgil became ill and died while taking a trip to Greece and Asia Minor to verify facts for his book. In his will he bequeathed one quarter of his property to the Emperor Augustus. Virgil asked that the “ Aeneid “ be burned after his death because it wasn’t perfect. This request on the orders of Augustus was denied.

20120227-laocoonte 01.JPG
The Lacoon. a Greek work
The “ Aeneid” had a big impact on Latin literature and Virgil’s legacy. It became the standard by which all other Latin literature was measured and lived on well past the Roman age. The Christian church called Virgil divinely inspired. Dante chose Virgil to be his guide in Hell and Purgatory in the “ Divine Comedy” . Virgil’s work also had a big influence on Chaucer, Milton, Tennyson and others. In the Middle ages, his tomb in Naples became a religious shrine believed to be endowed with magical powers.

Example of Virgil’s Writing

In the “Aeneid “ Virgil, a Roman, wrote:

“ The Greeks shape bronze statues so real they
they seem to breathe.
And craft cold marble until it almost
comes to life.
The Greeks compose great orations.
and measure
The heavens so well they can predict
the rising of the stars.
But you, Romans, remember your
great arts;
To govern the peoples with authority.
To establish peace under the rule of law.
To conquer the mighty, and show them
mercy once they are conquered.”


Drawn from Homer's “ Iliad” , the “ Aeneid” attributes the origin of the Roman people to Aeneas, a hero of the Trojan War. Although it is set in the distant past it has many features of A.D. first century Rome. Homeric themes are presented in a Roman way and battles are fought like Roman battles. Some key facts are different. Virgil records the events of the “ Odyssey” as occurring before those in the “ Iliad” (the contrary is true in Homer’s books). Many of the details from events in the “ Iliad” , particularly the Trojan horse story, come to us from the “ Aeneid” not the “ Iliad”

In the “ Aeneid” the Trojans have been kicked out of the their homeland because of the war and the end up in Italy, which is caste as a kind of Promised land. There, Aeneas marries an Italian princess and their descendants founded Rome. The Roman emperors embraced the story and used the links to the Trojans to legitimize their rule.

20120227-Iliad Trojan_Horse Giovanni_Domenico_Tipeolo.jpg
Trojan Horse by Giovanni Domenico Tipeolo
Virgil selected Aeneas, a grandson of Aphrodite and a member of the Trojan royal family, because he seemed to be the only Trojan in the “Iliad” who had a future. He kept Aeneas true to his character in the “ Iliad” and made him one of the founders of the Roman race by incorporating an existing Roman tale about him.

The basic theme in the “Aeneid” is that duty, honor and country have precedence above everything else. The work also has some pretty graphic language. Describing the death of Euryalus, Virgil wrote, “He writhes in death/ as blood flows over shapely limbs, his neck droops,/ sinking over his shoulder, limp as a crimson flower/ cut off by a passing plow.”

Michael Elliot wrote in Time a common complaint of the generation that was required to study the classic in school: “At school, I loathed Latin, in general, but I detested Virgil in particular, After you’d spent hours wading through conjugations and declensions and ablative absolutes and gerund and parts perfect, imperfect and pluperfect, there was the pointless torture of learning and then reciting lines of dactylic hexameter about this bloke wandering aimlessly around the Mediterranean at the whim of a perpetually pissed off goddess. I mean, even Milton was more fun.”

Roger Dunkle of Brooklyn College wrote: “Although the Aeneid shares many characteristics with the Homeric epic, as an epic it is different in important ways. For this reason, the Aeneid is referred to as a literary or secondary epic in order to differentiate it from primitive or primary epics such as the Homeric poems. The terms "primitive", "primary" and "secondary" should not be interpreted as value judgments, but merely as indications that the original character of the epic was improvisational and oral, while that of the Aeneid, composed later in the epic tradition, was basically non-oral and crafted with the aid of writing. As we have seen, the Homeric poems give evidence of improvisational techniques of composition1 involving the use of various formulas. This style of composition is suited to the demands of improvisation before an audience which do not allow the poet time to create new ways of expressing various ideas. In order to keep his performance going he must depend upon stock phrases, which are designed to fill out various portions of the dactylic hexameter line. On the other hand, Vergil, composing in private, obviously spent much time on creating his own personal poetic language. Thus in reading the Aeneid you will notice the absence of the continual repetition of formulas, which are unnecessary in a literary or secondary epic. [Source: Roger Dunkle, Brooklyn College Core Curriculum Series, 1986 /+]

Death of Dido
“Whether the Homeric poems were originally improvised without the aid of writing or written down by the poet himself or dictated to a scribe and then recited, is not known for certain, but it is clear that they were composed in the style of improvised oral poetry. Vergil, however, does imitate Homeric language without the repetitions. This is another reason for calling the Aeneid a secondary epic. For example, Vergil occasionally translates individual Homeric formulas or even creates new formulas in imitation of Homer such as "pious Aeneas", imitates other Homeric stylistic devices such as the epic simile and uses the Homeric poems as a source for story patterns. Although in this sense the Aeneid can be called derivative, what Vergil has taken from Homer he has recast in a way which has made his borrowings thoroughly Vergilian and Roman. For example, Vergil changed the value system characteristic of the Homeric epic, which celebrated heroic individualism such as displayed by Achilles in the Iliad. The heroic values of an Achilles would have been anachronistic and inappropriate in a poem written for readers in Rome of the first century B.C., who required their leaders to live according to a more social ideal suited to a sophisticated urban civilization. Therefore, although Vergil set the action of his poem in a legendary age contemporary with the Trojan War before Rome existed, one must judge the characters of his poem by the standards of the poet's own times. “ /+\

The translation of the “The Aeneid” by Robert Fagles is considered first rate. “Aeneid” (Yale University Press) is translated in verse by Sarah Rudmen, a poet.

Story of the Aeneid

After the fall of Troy, the Trojan hero Aeneas sets sail in search of a new home. After a fierce storm he becomes separated from his crew and ends up at Carthage in North Africa, made invisible by magic, in a land ruled by Queen Dido. Dido falls in love with Aeneas. He helps her build a royal city. Jupiter’s gets angry about this as Aeneas has become side sidetracked from his duty to found the Roman Empire. He tells Aeneas to quit dawdling and get over to Italy.

Dido ultimately feels betrayed by Aeneas. When Aeneas leaves Dido flies into flurry of rage and grief and kills herself. Aeneas and his companions settle briefly in Thrace, Crete and Italy before finally choosing Rome as their home.

Aeneas helps King Latinus of Rome fight against outsiders, marries the king’s daughter Lavinia and inherits his kingdom when Latinus dies, ruling over a kingdom of united Trojans and Latins. After this Aeneas visits the underworld and sees the heroes of Rome’s future. He returns with knowledge of magic and shamanism. Aeneas’s story ends when he is killed in a battle with Etruscans.

When Aeneas catches a glimpse of Dido in the underworld he explains: “Oh dear god, was it I who caused your death?/ I swear by the stars, by the Powers in high...I left your shores, my Queen, against my will...Stay a moment. Don’t withdraw from my sight.”

Historical Background of the Aenied

Roger Dunkle of Brooklyn College wrote: “Vergil lived through the politically violent and chaotic years of the failing Republic, and his writings very clearly show the influence of the events of this period. Thus, an understanding of the history of this era is critical to the interpretation of the Aeneid. In 63 B.C. a conspiracy to overthrow the Roman government led by the infamous Catiline was discovered and defeated through the efforts of Cicero, the consul of that year. There were, however, other threats to the existing order soon to follow. After the powerful general Pompey returned from his extensive conquests in the East in 62 B.C., the refusal of the Senate to approve his settlement of affairs there alienated him from the optimates. As a result, he joined in political alliance with the leaders of the Populares: Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus. The alliance has come to be known as the First Triumvirate and was sealed by the marriage of Pompey to Caesar's daughter.3 Employing the threat of Pompey's military power, these three men were able to impose their will on Rome. In this way Caesar insured his own election to the consulship in 59 and in the following year, his assignment to the governorship of Gaul, which required the command of a large army to subdue the warlike natives. Caesar enjoyed great military successes against the Gauls for almost a ten-year period, but what meant most to him was the fact that he now had an army loyal to himself, making him equal to Pompey, who had for so long overshadowed him in military power. [Source: Roger Dunkle, Brooklyn College Core Curriculum Series, 1986 /+]

“When Vergil has Anchises predict the civil war between these two leaders, their names are not mentioned, but they are referred to as father-in-law and son-in-law (6. 828-831). In the late 50's B.C. with Caesar in Gaul and Pompey virtually ruler at Rome, a split between the two leaders became increasingly evident, especially after the death of Caesar's daughter, which removed the last tie between them. Civil war was inevitable. As the poet Lucan put it: "Caesar is able to tolerate no man as his superior; Pompey, no man as his equal" (1.125-126). The war between Caesar and Pompey ended with the latter's defeat in Greece and his assassination in Egypt. After his victory Caesar assumed the dictatorship at Rome, which ultimately was granted to him for life. Caesar was now sole ruler of Rome. Resentment at the loss of political freedom resulted in his assassination by Brutus, Cassius, and others in 44. /+\

“Caesar's army passed in good part into the possession of his eighteen-year- old grand-nephew, Octavian, his chief heir, who was adopted as Caesar's son according to the terms of his will. Because of his youth, no one expected Octavian to be of any consequence in the political arena, but with a maturity beyond his years he won over Caesar's veterans and was determined to avenge his adoptive father's death. Octavian came into immediate conflict with Caesar's lieutenant, Antony, who felt that his close association with the dictator earned him the right to succeed Caesar. Cicero sided with Octavian and attacked Antony in a set of speeches called the Philippics, which resulted in Antony's being declared a public enemy. After Antony suffered a defeat at the hands of a coalition of military leaders (including Octavian), Antony and Octavian decided it would be in their own best interests to join in political alliance. They along with Lepidus formed the Second Triumvirate (43 B.C.) and revived Sulla's technique of proscription in order to rid themselves of their political enemies. One of the most prominent victims of this proscription was Cicero himself, whose death was demanded by Antony in revenge for the Philippics and reluctantly agreed to by Octavian. At Antony's command Cicero's head and hands were cut off and placed on the speaker's platform in the Forum. This barbaric act serves as a vivid symbol of the bloody violence of the last years of the Republic. /+\

“Following the proscriptions Antony and Octavian turned their attention to the assassins of Caesar and defeated them in Greece at the battle of Philippi (42 B.C.). Their alliance was weakened when Antony's brother revolted against Octavian while Antony was in Egypt, but was reconfirmed by the marriage of Antony and Octavian's sister. There were two more temporarily successful attempts to prevent a split between Octavian and Antony, but Antony's romantic involvement with Cleopatra,4 the queen of Egypt, which resulted in his rejection and ultimate divorce of Octavia, permanently alienated the two leaders. In addition, Antony's obvious intention to use the wealth of Egypt as a basis of power for uniting the East under his control made war unavoidable. The final conflict was a naval battle off Actium (31 B.C.) on the western coast of Greece, in which Antony and Cleopatra were routed by Octavian's fleet. The defeated pair later committed suicide in Alexandria. /+\

“Cleopatra was a member of the Ptolemies, the Greek ruling family of Egypt, which had controlled Egypt since the death of Alexander the Great. As was the custom, she was married to her brother Ptolemy XIII, and after his death, to another brother Ptolemy XIV. During his campaign in the East after his victory over Pompey, Julius Caesar had an affair with her and fathered a son. /+\

Aeneas' Flight from Troy

“After Actium Octavian embarked on a program of restoring order by reuniting the Roman present with its old moral, religious and political traditions. He made a show of restoring the free Republic, but Octavian with his control over the Roman army and finances was in fact the sole ruler of Rome and its empire. In 27 B.C. the Roman Senate bestowed upon him the honorific title of Augustus,5 which symbolized his special position of authority in the state. Octavian was welcomed as a savior by such writers as Vergil and Horace, the great lyric poet, and by the vast majority of Romans, because he had brought peace to Rome after a century of civil conflict. The admiration expressed by the poets for Octavian's accomplishments, although its effusiveness is sometimes offensive to modern taste, should not be interpreted as mere servile praise and political propaganda, but as an honest appreciation of a political leader who had brought an end to the horrors of civil war and was able to act with moderation after his victory. /+\ The title "Augustus" had special religious associations and was etymologically related to the Latin word auctoritas 'authority'.” /+\

Reading the Aeneid

Roger Dunkle of Brooklyn College wrote: “The Aeneid differs from the Iliad and the Odyssey in that it often gives evidence of meaning beyond the narrative level. Homeric narrative is fairly straightforward; there is generally no need to look for significance which is not explicit in the story. On the other hand, although Vergilian narrative can be read and enjoyed as a story, it is often densely packed with implicit symbolic meaning. Frequently the implicit reference is to Roman history. While Homer is little concerned with the relationship of the past to the present - the past is preserved for its intrinsic interest as a story - Vergil recounts the legend of Aeneas because he believes it has meaning for Roman history and especially for his own times. For example, the destruction of Troy resulting in the wanderings of Aeneas and his followers west to find a new life can be seen as parallel to the history of Rome in the first century B.C., which included both the violent destruction of the Republic and the creation of peace and order by Augustus. Also suggestive of the Roman civil wars is the "civil war" between the Trojans and their Italian allies, and Aeneas's victory over the Italians in this war suggests Augustus's ending of the Roman civil wars. The Carthaginian queen Dido, whose beauty almost makes Aeneas forget his duty as a leader, reminds the reader of Cleopatra's similar relationship with Antony. Dido's story also provides a legendary explanation for the historical hostility between Rome and Carthage which resulted in three wars. These are only a few examples of the importance of Roman history in the Aeneid. In the questions at the end of this section help will be provided to enable you to see other implicit allusions to Roman history. [Source: Roger Dunkle, Brooklyn College Core Curriculum Series, 1986 /+]

“Another important difference between the Aeneid and the Homeric poems is that the former has a philosophical basis while the latter were composed in an era completely innocent of philosophy. The Aeneid gives evidence of the influence of Stoicism, a Hellenistic philosophy which had gained many adherents in the Greek world and by the first century B.C. had become the most popular philosophy of the educated classes at Rome. In reading the Aeneid be alert for Stoic influence. Note the connection between fate and the foundation of Rome. Also note when Aeneas adheres to Stoic ethical principles and when he does not. Finally, be sure to read carefully Anchises's digression on the nature of the universe and human existence (6.724-751), which combines Stoic physical theory with Orphic and Pythagorean teachings (transmigration of souls). On the other hand, the gods in the Aeneid for the most part do not reflect the Stoic view of divinity. They are basically the traditional anthropomorphic deities of myth as required by the conventions of epic. On occasion, however, Stoic influence is evident as in book 1 when Jupiter is closely identified with providential fate (1.262 ff.). /+\


“Another important aspect of the interpretation of the Aeneid is Vergil's use of the Homeric poems. In the Aeneid there are innumerable echoes of the Iliad and the Odyssey. Do not be concerned if you do not immediately recognize the allusions to Homer; it takes some experience and practice. Some echoes are so subtle that they go unnoticed even by experienced readers of the poem. Perhaps the most important connections for you to make will be in book 12 where your knowledge of the Iliad will enable you to see how important figures of Vergil's poem are associated in various ways with heroes of the Iliad. Once these connections are identified, you will see that these references to the Iliad provide an interesting and significant commentary on the action of the Aeneid. /+\

“Finally, you should be conscious of recurring images in the Aeneid such as snakes, wounds, fire, hunting, and storms, and their meaning for the narrative. In your study of the imagery notice the Vergilian technique of making a real part of the story an image and vice-versa. For example, consider hunting in the Aeneid. In book 1 Aeneas is a real hunter who slays deer; in book 4 in a simile he is a metaphorical hunter of Dido and then again a real hunter as he and Dido engage in a hunting expedition. No doubt Vergil intended these three instances of hunting to refer to each other implicitly and to comment upon the story. Recurring words have a significance in the Aeneid uncharacteristic of the Homeric poems, which, due to the nature of oral poetry, as a matter of course employ constant repetition of formulas. Of course, the reader in translation is at a disadvantage in this regard since translators often do not translate any given Latin word in the same way every time, but even if there is not consistent translation of a given Latin word, the concepts which these recurring words convey can be identified in translation. Two of the most important recurrent words in the Aeneid are furor, which means violent madness',frenzy', fury',passionate desire' etc., and its associated verb, furere to rage',to have a mad passion'. These words have important meaning for the characters in the Aeneid to whom they are applied and whose behavior must be evaluated by reference to the Stoic ethical ideal. In addition, these two words connect the legendary world of the Aeneid with Roman politics of the first century B.C. because they were often used in prose of the late Republic to describe the political chaos of that era. In reading the Aeneid try to be aware of interpretative points such as those described above. With attention to these details of interpretation you will begin to appreciate the art of Vergil and understand better the meaning of the poem.” /+\

Dido's sacrifice to Juno

Passage from the Aeneid

Virgil's Aeneid might be understood as one long paean, glorifying Rome, its founders, and its greatness in the Augustan age. How skillfully the courtly poet paid his tribute to the reigning Julii and especially to Augustus is shown in the following lines from the great Latin epic.

Virgil wrote in The Aeneid, VI.ii.789-800, 847-853:
[Anchises, in the realms of the dead, is reciting to his son Aeneas the future glories of the Roman race.]
“Lo! Caesar and all the Julian
Line, predestined to rise to the infinite spaces of heaven.
This, yea, this is the man, so often foretold you in promise,
Caesar Augustus, descended from God, who again shall a golden
Age in Latium found, in fields once governed by Saturn
Further than India's hordes, or the Garymantian peoples
He shall extend his reign; there's a land beyond all of our planets [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed., “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 174-179]

“Yond the far track of the year and the sun, where sky-bearing Atlas
Turns on his shoulders the firmament studded with bright constellations;
Yea, even now, at his coming, foreshadowed by omens from heaven,
Shudder the Caspian realms, and the barbarous Scythian kingdoms,
While the disquieted harbors of Nile are affrighted!

[Anchises now points out the long line of worthies and conquerors who are to precede Augustus, and adds these lines.] “Others better may fashion the breathing bronze with more delicate fingers;
Doubtless they also will summon more lifelike features from marble:
They shall more cunningly plead at the bar; and the mazes of heaven
Draw to the scale and determine the march of the swift constellations.

“Yours be the care, O Rome, to subdue the whole world
for your empire!
These be the arts for you — the order of peace to establish,
Them that are vanquished to spare, and them that are
haughty to humble!

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Another view of Dido's death

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, The Louvre, The British Museum

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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