Who is Trimalchio?

October 17, 2008 at 10:12 am (All Things Gatsby, Book, F Scott Fitzgerald) (, , , , , , , )

We know from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters to his publishers that he considered calling his novel, Trimalchio in West Egg instead of The Great Gatsby.

Even though the publishers didn’t share Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm for the title, Trimalchio still makes an appearance in the novel at the beginning of Chapter 7:

“It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night-and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over.”

So who is Trimalchio? And what does he have to do with Gatsby?

Trimalchio, or Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio Maecenatianus, is a character in the roman novel Satyricon written by Petronius over 1,900 years ago.

In the story, Trimalchio, which means “thrice blessed”, was well-known for throwing extravagant dinner parties. During the dinner party related in the Satyricon, Trimalchio engages in grotesque displays of wealth by serving exotic dishes, such as live birds sewn inside a pig and dishes to represent every sign in the zodiac. His guest eat course after course, and talk of everyday life in the Roman Empire, while Trimalchio’s vulgar displays of wealth continue. The night ends with the drunken guests acting out Trimalchio’s funeral for the sake of his amusement.

Gatsby, like Trimalchio, was also know for throwing lavish parties in order to display his wealth and attract the attention of the elusive Daisy Buchanan. There are other subtle similarities between the two…. do you see one?

For more information on Petronius’ Satyricon, roman life, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the Great Gatsby- visit your local library!

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