Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/29/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Gibson, Craig A

First Committee Member

Ketterer, Robert C

Second Committee Member

Bond, Sarah E

Third Committee Member

Finamore, John F

Fourth Committee Member

Storey, Glenn R


The purpose of this study was to explore how wealthy, upper class Roman authors use the themes of wealth and poverty in their works and to assess the information that they provide us about the realities of being poor in the ancient world. The focus of the study was on the novels of Petronius and Apuleius, two authors from the first two centuries CE. I ultimately argue that while we can extract some information about the poor from these two novels, we must be cautious and consider how literary themes and traditions influenced the representation of wealth and poverty in them.

Chapter one reviews scholarship on poverty in the ancient world. This chapter moves beyond the few general studies on ancient poverty to discuss other perspectives such as legal issues involving the poor, the health and diet of the larger Roman populace, land and housing considerations, depictions of the poor in art, and views of the poor in Christian texts. The purpose of this chapter is to summarize current research on ancient poverty and to provide context for the remaining chapters.

Chapter two focuses on Petronius’ Satyrica. This novel has a reputation for being a realistic portrayal of low-life culture. The main characters are of limited means and are liars and thieves. Trimalchio, the famous portrayal of the nouveaux-riche freedman, is perhaps the most well known character in the novel. This chapter examines Petronius’ portrayal of the poor and asks why he portrays them as squalid, ugly, and immoral. Moreover, the chapter also investigates how Petronius portrays the rich and argues that he is just as critical of the rich as he is of the poor.

Chapter three analyzes Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, with some comparison also to his Apology, which contains a philosophical encomium of poverty. The Metamorphoses ends with the main character, Lucius, becoming a devotee to the gods Isis and Osiris. Scholars are divided on how we ought to interpret the ending of novel. This chapter argues that Apuleius’ portrayal of poverty suggests a satirical intention by having Lucius become a religious devotee. The novel is not a story of redemption, as some have argued.


vii, 318 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 302-318).


Copyright © 2019 Robert Kyle Morley

Available for download on Thursday, July 29, 2021

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