In reading Petronius’s “The Satyricon”, it is easy to identify the similarities between the Ancient Roman culture and the contemporary culture of the United States. In both cultures, we get a patriarchal society divided into differing social classes, which values education and material wealth. Although many of these cultural traits are not as prevalent in the contemporary United States society as they were in Ancient Roman, however, if one looks the evidence of these traits can still be seen.
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As a patriarchal society, the Ancient Roman culture, placed men at the head of the society, this meant the man controlled the family and made all the decisions. This left the women of Ancient Rome with little authority if any. The attitude toward women at the time can be expressed with a quote, from The Satyricon, “women as a sex are real vultures. It is no good doing them a favor; you might as well throw it down a well.” This shows just how little the women of Ancient Rome where regarded. In comparison, women of the United States have considerably more rights and privileges. However, men still dominate our culture, holding the majority of the positions that involve power in the United States. Today women do serve as elected officials at the state and local level across the United States, but at the highest levels of power, men still maintain control. In the event, a woman in this country does manage to achieve a dominant position; her role is often tenuous with her male contemporaries not giving her the respect that she has earned.
The United States like the Ancient Romans place a significant emphasis on individuals education. Unlike the United States, the Romans only found it necessary to provide an education to wealthy males of the society. For girls of wealthy families education was limited to basic reading and basic math, being taught just enough to run a household; while a boy of the wealthy, on the other hand, were educated until the age of 18 this was education for the sake of a career rather this was to make better citizens. This is illustrated in the Satyricon, during the dinner with Trimalchio speaks of an education as “being an investment to an individual, and a proper profession never goes dead on you” and also that “any studying one does can only be for their own good.” The United States still shares many of the same views on education as the Ancient Romans. Today in the United States, students are all continually reminded of the advantages and benefits that are available to an individual that has an education that goes beyond being a high-school graduate.
Like many people in our present day culture here in the United States, the materialistic attitude of the Ancient Romans was a pivotal part of their cultural. This materialism was exhibited by many of the Ancient Romans; they appeared to value monetary wealth a great deal and thrived on showing off the various material things that their assets could buy for them. Again an example of this can be found in the Satyricon as the main character Trimalchio, after rising from slave to wealthy freedman, throws a dinner party to show off for his friends. Trimalchio is constantly flaunting his wealth and bragging to his dinner guests about his riches. At the party, we also find examples of materialism amongst the women of Ancient Rome where Trimalchio’s wife, Fortunata, and the other women of the party play a game of bragging about one another’s jewelry. In the present culture of the United States, there are many people who are caught up in these same attitudes. Like Ancient Rome, the pursuit of material wealth has become an extremely common goal of the majority of the people in our country today. People strive for elegant homes, the fancy cars, and the name brand clothing and jewelry ensuring that everyone can see just how rich they are; even if it is paid for with the credit they will never pay off. Like Ancient Rome, it seems that as a society that we place an extremely high importance on those that are wealthy and material things. Society as a whole seems to find the wealthy more attractive and worthier than those who do not have substantial wealth and who are in the lower classes in society.
Although the social class structure in Ancient Roman society was quite different from the class structure of present day United State, with women and slaves having little rights, there are similarities. Like the United State, all an Ancient Roman male needed to advance between the social classes is money. Trimalchio is an excellent example of this. After the death of his master, the slave Trimalchio inherits monies form is master and becomes a wine merchant. This allows Trimalchio not only to gain wealth but also allows him to move from the inferior social status of a slave, to the respected status of a wealthy freeman. Like many people in the contemporary United States, once Trimalchio moves to his new social status, he becomes enamored with his new position in life and forgets, or choosing not to accept, his earlier social status. This can be seen when Trimalchio comments, “I did not put out such good stuff yesterday, though the company was a much better class” showing us how he and Ancient Roman society viewed social class standings. Some of the same attitudes can be seen in the current United States society as people routinely moving up and down in social standing according to their wealth.
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In conclusion, like the Ancient Romans the present day United States culture consists of a class based patriarchal society, while males hold the majority of the power, which values education and material wealth. Although, these similarities may not be clearly seen, as a society we if only take the time to look we will see just how much the present day United States and Ancient Rome have in common.
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