Abstract This paper investigates the status that the genre of fable acquires when it is employed in literature. In particular, it surveys Horace's treatment of fables in the Satires and Epistles and the carefully controlled circumstances in which zoomorphic language is allowed to emerge during the banquet at Trimalchio's in Petronius' Satyrica. The analysis of the distribution of fables in Horace shows that for the Roman literary public the act of speaking through fables bore in itself a negative connotation, so much that the moral discourse of the satirist needed at first to provide additional justification in order to incorporate them: from vindication of ingenuitas and shifts in narrative voice, to use of rhetorical misnomers and eventually of philosophical frankness. Petronius' text, in turn, suggests that what is wrong with fable is precisely its being reminiscent of a servile past. During the dinner at Trimalchio's allusions to recognizable fable plots and zoomorphic language are allowed to surface only during a momentary absence of the host. This circumstance suggests that fable is not just another literary genre among the many genres abused in Trimalchio's house: for both the host and his freedmen guests fables are an uncomfortable reminder of an enduring past inscribed in their language.
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