Trimalchio is a character in the 1st century AD Roman work of fiction Satyricon by Petronius. He plays a part only in the section titled "Cena Trimalchionis" (The Banquet of Trimalchio, often translated as "Dinner With Trimalchio"). Trimalchio is an arrogant former slave, who has become quite wealthy by tactics that most would find distasteful. The name "Trimalchio" is formed from the Greek prefix τρις and the Semitic מלך (melech) in its occidental form Malchio or Malchus. The fundamental meaning of the root is "King", and the name "Trimalchio" would thus mean "Thrice King", "greatest King".
The term "Trimalchio" has become shorthand for the worst excesses of the nouveau riche. (See below under F. Scott Fitzgerald).
His full name is "Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio Maecenatianus"; the references to Pompey and Maecenas in his name serve to enhance his ostentatious character. His wife's name is Fortunata, a former slave and chorus girl. Trimalchio is known for throwing lavish dinner parties, where his numerous servants bring course after course of exotic delicacies, such as live birds sewn up inside a pig, live birds inside fake eggs which the guests have to "collect" themselves, and a dish to represent every sign of the zodiac.
The Satyricon has a lengthy description of Trimalchio's proposed tomb (71–72), which is ostentatious, and lavish. This tomb is to be designed by a well-known tomb-builder called Habinnas, who is among the revellers present at Trimalchio's feast. He seeks to impress his guests—the Roman nouveau riche, mostly freedmen—with the ubiquitous excesses seen throughout his dwelling. By the end of the banquet, Trimalchio's drunken showiness leads to the entire household acting out his funeral, all for his own amusement and egotism.
Cultural references to Trimalchio
- Trimalchio is referred to in the novel Pompeii by Robert Harris, where the character Numerius Popidius Ampliatus, also a freed slave who has become wealthy, throws a great, but ghastly, dinner party where there is too much for everyone to eat. One of the magistrates present for the banquet, Quintus Brittius, secretly mouths the word Tri-mal-chio to Ampliatus's former master, Lucius Popidius Secundus, one of the aediles of Pompeii, to their greater amusement.
- There is a single mention of Trimalchio in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby as his showy parties and background parallel those of Gatsby: Chapter Seven begins, "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 began, his career as Trimalchio was over." Trimalchio and Trimalchio in West Egg were among Fitzgerald's working titles for the novel. In the 2013 movie based on the novel, the orchestra leader at Gatsby's mansion, played by iOTA, is named Trimalchio.
- H.P. Lovecraft's short story "The Rats in the Walls" makes reference to Trimalchio, reading, "There was a vision of a Roman feast like that of Trimalchio, with a horror in a covered platter.
- Trimalchio is mentioned and quoted by Henry Miller in his book Black Spring. The section titled "Third of Fourth Day of Spring" opens with a quotation reading: "To piss warm and drink cold, as Trimalchio says, because our mother the earth is in the middle..."
- Trimalchio's Feast is alluded to in the short story "Toga Party" by John Barth, which was included in The Best American Short Stories 2007, in reference to Tom and Patsy Hardison's lavish toga party.
- Trimalchio and his feast are referenced in Octavio Paz's poem, "I Speak of the City."
- Lina uses the term "Trimalchian" to describe a wonderful salad prepared for her by Ned in the play, "Three Days Of Rain" by, Richard Greenberg.
- Thomas Love Peacock mentions Trimalchio and Niceros in his preface to Rhododaphne (1818).
- Albert Pike in the "Entered Apprentice" chapter of his Scottish Rite Freemasonry text Morals & Dogma (1871) references Trimalchio as an example of a legislator who spends the public purse lavishly or extravagantly – operating from their own vices and egotism. He counsels Scottish Rite Freemasons to stand against such lawmakers.
- Victor Hugo references Trimalchio in Les Misérables, saying, "History and philosophy have eternal duties, which are, at the same time, simple duties; to combat Caiphas the High-priest, Draco the Lawgiver, Trimalcion the Legislator, Tiberius the Emperor; this is clear, direct, and limpid, and offers no obscurity."
- In The Triumph of Love by Geoffrey Hill (1998), Trimalchio appears throughout the poem as one of its many personae.
- On Apollo's eponymous album from 1970 is song called Trimalcion, composed by jazz-drummer Edward Vesala, one of his first released compositions.
- Bagnani, Gilbert (1954). "Trimalchio". Phoenix. 8 (3): 77–91. doi:10.2307/1086404.
- Arrowsmith, William (1966). "Luxury and Death in the Satyricon". Arion. 5 (3): 304–331. ISSN 0095-5809. JSTOR 20163030.
- Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, by Albert Pike; Charleston,  http://www.sacred-texts.com/mas/md/md02.htm
- Frangoulidis, Stavros (January 2008). "Trimalchio as Narrator and Stage Director in the Cena: An Unobserved Parallelism in Petronius' Satyricon 78". Classical Philology. University of Chicago Press. 103 (1): 81–87. doi:10.1086/590096. ISSN 0009-837X. Retrieved 24 February 2013.