This paper explores the various meanings of silva (and of the Greek Ïlh) as a more robust notion of poetic value than has been accepted. Ingenium is a favourite word of Statius meaning both innate aptness and aptitude. Under the concept of ingenium, there is an absence of a sharply drawn division between art and nature. The concept of silvae and ingenium come together in Silvae 2.3, an allegory of the virtuosity of Statius’s poetics—of the craft of writing poetry and of the genius that makes it endure.
This paper puts together the figure of Orpheus and the idea of the vates in order to explore the poetics of Statius in the Silvae. It shows that Statius struggles to be a serious and political poet. Orpheus is a reflection of both the power and the powerlessness of poetry: the poet and the patron in the world of the Silvae have intermittent power over the natural world, but neither has control over grief. The Orpheus of Statius’s poems of lament is a voiceless vates: the effectiveness of poetry in the world is severely limited.
Women in Statius’s Silvae appear frequently and prominently. Focusing on Silvae 1.2 and 5.1, this paper examines how Statius consciously creates portraits of Violentilla (1.2) and Priscilla (5.1) which both reflect these historical figures and also embody the traditional feminine ideals appropriate to the celebratory occasions and corresponding poetic genres in which they appear (epithalamium and epicedion respectively). This approach relies in part on Pierre Bourdieu’s sociological theories: ultimately Statius exploits his feminine constructs to fulfill his primary poetic purpose, namely to create distinction (symbolic capital) for the poems’ male addressees.
Silvae 5.2 is an encomium addressed to Crispinus upon the occasion of his appointment as tribunus militum. This paper investigates how Statius employs epic intertexts in order to address potentially negative judgments of Crispinus caused by the young man’s inexperience and the memory of his mother’s crime. Allusions to Virgil’s Aeneid affirm Crispinus’s ability to emulate his father, exclude his criminal mother as a formative influence, and specify the roles of the young man’s preceptors. Recollections of Statius’s Thebaid, meanwhile, highlight the emperor’s successful resolution of Crispinus’s familial conflict through contrast with the epic’s fratricidal violence.
This paper explores how in Silvae 1.2 Statius provided an important precedent for later epithalamia by expanding the genre’s rhetoric with epic topoi, creating a novel epithalamium of epic scope. Violentilla is bound to be tamed under the yoke of Rome, just as the power of Aphrodite brings Medea to live among civilized Greeks in Apollonius’s Argonautica. Violentilla is transformed from recalcitrant widow into a subdued and Romanized bride. As friend and fellow poet, the poem’s recipient Stella would appreciate the wit of his association with one of myth’s most glamorous if dangerous couples.
Silvae 2.5 addresses the problematic aspects of the domesticated, acculturated natural world and its impact. Sorrow for a lion’s death is transformed into a discussion of the problematics of culture imposed contra naturam. The lion’s unused skills and gentleness did not help at all when it was exposed to the merciless arena. And yet the lion opposes the artificiality of its own domesticity and fights back against its fleeing enemy. As the Romans transgress human and natural boundaries, the poet questions the advantage of such achievements while becoming involved in a continuous rewriting of the Thebaid.
This paper examines how Statius sets up his portrait of Domitian as host in Silvae 4.2 through a series of interrelated allusions, mostly to the epic tradition. Though the poem is often read as a flattering panegyric, in keeping with Domitian’s own use of feasting as part of his self-presentation as a benevolent emperor, an analysis of the pattern of allusions employed in the poem suggests a more complex text. The portrait of Domitian that emerges is consistent with the negative portrayal of Domitian’s hospitality sketched by later writers, particularly with Pliny’s description of Domitian at Panegyricus 48.3-6.
In Silvae 3.5, Statius seizes the moment to present a picture of the complicated composition of his domestic ménage: determined on “retirement” from the court at Rome and relocation to his hometown of Naples, he articulates considerations which might convince his wife Claudia to come join him. The essay tracks the collage of improvisational family structures and sentimental bonds that frame and distrain the collection's “modern” Flavian world, pinpoints the pivotal positioning of this finale to Book 3 within the narrative progression of the Silvae, and derives Statian uxoriousness from a blend of literary prototypes from Cicero, Ovid, and Lucan.