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The Politics of Consumption: From Trimalchio and Gatsby to Trump and Beyond

The Activist History Review

by Jason Schlude[1]

We live in an age of unconventionality and instability, dominated by President Trump. News cycles exhaust us as our eyes flit from one burning meteor to the next. We lose our bearings. In such times we look for patterns in the chaos reminiscent of past experience and hope ancient constellations may bring us safely home.

Enter Trimalchio—at center stage. Trimalchio was a slave freed and made heir to his former Roman master’s vast fortunes. We encounter him in the early novel of the Satyrica by Latin author Petronius.[2] Set against southern Italy in the first century CE, Trimalchio is larger than life. When encountered by Encolpius, who narrates the Satyrica, Trimalchio is a bald, corpulent man nearing his golden years, playing ball games with pretty boys in public, pausing only to expose himself, unselfconsciously, to use his silver chamber pot.

The Banquet of Trimalchio, Courtesy of The National Gallery of Art.jpg The Banquet of Trimalchio…

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