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A Study in Food, Philosophy, and the Figural

The Roman poet and satirist Persius (34–62 CE) was unique among his peers for lampooning literary and social conventions from a distinctly Stoic point of view. A curious amalgam of mocking wit and philosophy, his Satires are rife with violent metaphors and unpleasant imagery and show little concern for the reader’s enjoyment or understanding.

In Persius, Shadi Bartsch explores this Stoic framework and argues that Persius sets his own bizarre metaphors of food, digestion, and sexuality against more appealing imagery to show that the latter—and the poetry containing  it—harms rather than helps its audience. Ultimately, he encourages us to abandon metaphor altogether in favor of the non-emotive abstract truths of Stoic philosophy, to live in a world where neither alluring poetry, nor rich food, nor sexual charm play a role in philosophical teaching.

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Ancient Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: Classical Languages


“[A] learned and intriguing exploration. . . . Bartsch has a radical and provocative account of what Persius is up to: deliberately making his metaphors both disgusting and incoherent, Persius aims to turn us away from metaphor entirely.”

Times Literary Supplement

“In this skilled treatment, Bartsch integrates recent scholarly research in philosophy, ancient medicine, and literature into a compelling narrative that contextualizes the most problematic of the Roman satirists. . . . Highly recommended.”


“As in the best travel, the most enriching aspects of this study are the details and implications Bartsch discovers along the way. . . . I found [this book] the best thing I've read on Persius in years, and it will surely remain an essential resource for a good long time.”

Dan Hooley | Bryn Mawr Classical Review

“A truly inspiring guide to a difficult poet. . . . This fine book deserves to be widely read and to be put in all serious libraries where Latin is studied.”

Classics for All Reviews

“A thought-provoking book, with an exemplary methodology.”

Classical Journal

“A significant and valuable contribution to Persius scholarship. . . . Its clarity and engaging style revitalise and make accessible—hopefully to new audiences as well as seasoned readers of Persius—an unwieldy poet.”

Classical Review

"Any consideration of metaphor in Persius must now begin with Bartsch's work."

Canadian Journal of History

“Recent studies have rightly insisted that Persius’s metaphors are an organic part of his message, but none has given these the sustained attention that Bartsch bestows on them, nor set them in the rich cultural and historical context that she assembles. Bartsch’s study is an essential contribution to the bibliography of this poet.”

William Fitzgerald, King’s College London

“You are what you read—so choose carefully, since the wrong kind of food for thought can cause serious mental indigestion. What may seem a mixture of metaphors was plain wisdom to the Stoic satirist Persius, and in this delightful and penetrating analysis of his alimentary, medicinal, and sexual metaphors, Bartsch shows how Persius sought to give his readers a healthier diet. Along the way, she surveys a wealth of classical texts on poisons, remedies, and the body generally. Her book is just what the doctor ordered.”

David Konstan, New York University

“Bartsch takes on the twisted ways of Persius to show how the most far-flung of figurative conceits play together as Stoic satire and hew to a central philosophical rationale. The result is a provocative and refreshingly clear appraisal of Rome’s most difficult poet.”

Kirk Freudenburg, Yale University

Table of Contents


Part I: Cannibals and Philosophers

Chapter 1: The Cannibal Poets
1. The Ars poetica and the Body of Verse
2. Consuming the Poets
3. A Discourse on Digestion
4. The Echoing Belly

Chapter 2: Alternative Diets
1. Satire’s Decoction
2. The Philosopher’s Plate
3. Madness, Bile, and Hellebore
4. The Mad Poet

Chapter 3: The Philosopher’s Love
1. The Seduction of Alcibiades
2. The Philosopher-Sodomite
3. Cornutus and the Stoic Way

Part II: The Metaphorics of Disgust

Chapter 4: The Scrape of Metaphor
1. The Pleasures of Figure
2. The acris iunctura
3. The Maculate Metaphor
4. A Stoic Poetics

Chapter 5: The Self-Consuming Satire
1. Satire’s Shifting Figures
2. Shins and Arrows
3. The Return of the Cannibal
4. Mind over Matter

Appendix: Medical Prescriptions of Decocta for Stomach Ailments or Other Problems
Reference List


Society for Classical Studies: The Charles J. Goodwin Awards of Merit

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