- Introduction:Statius's Silvae and the Poetics of Intimacy
The Silvae, Statius's occasional poems, suffer from having been written under the emperor Domitian, long regarded as a tyrannical and paranoid ruler. Yet recent revisionary approaches to his reign have now opened the way to a fresh consideration of the Silvae.1 In the past twenty years, critics with different methodological backgrounds have produced exciting new readings of some of the poems within the five books of the corpus.2 Major commentaries on Books 2, 4, and 5, and on a single poem 1.1 have aided the readers of Statius's intricately structured and densely allusive compositions (and a commentary on the posthumously published Book 5 was published last year).3 Yet the Silvae still remain relatively unknown outside a specialist group of Flavian devotees. The present collection of essays is based on the premise that the Silvae are to be taken seriously as poetry as well as for their rich and deep range of cultural information.4 Indeed, a major impetus behind the poetics of the Silvae is self-conscious innovation. As a new [End Page 117] form of poetry in Statius's day—indeed, they are unique in Roman literary history—the Silvae invite new critical approaches in ours.
The purpose of this special issue of Arethusa is two-fold: first, to introduce the Silvae to a broader critical readership. This journal is well known for revolutionizing classical studies. In 1992, the journal lent its pages to a special issue on Ovid's Fasti, at that time a rather neglected poem when compared to Ovid's more famous epic enterprise. A similar fate has plagued the Silvae: these poems have been rather obscured by Statius's epic Thebaid, a poem to which (and to whose completion) the lyric verses of the Silvae frequently allude. Thus, like the Fasti, the Silvae are mature works written at the same time as an epic and engaged in fruitful interchange with that epic's social and literary themes; they serve as a significant Roman counterpart to the mythological text. The second goal of this collection is to reveal the multifaceted world of the Silvae by exploring their relationship to Flavian society through a variety of critical approaches. The proclaimed occasionality of the Silvae often cloaks their cultured complexity.
The title given this collection connects the Silvae to their origins as gifts between poet and patron/friend in a social economy consolidated by gift exchange. In an attempt to redress the emphasis upon imperial politics in previous scholarship on the Silvae, many of the articles collected here concern social events and relationships involving friends and family, while the emperor Domitian features in cultural events such as a day at the games and an imperial banquet. Intimacy is thus a key to the self-fashioning of the poet of the Silvae, much as "learned madness" (Pierius calor) is to his persona in the Thebaid. Intimacy, however, is also a political strategy allowing Statius, an outsider from Naples, to claim a privileged place in Rome and advance his literary career through his social connections.
Through a variety of critical approaches, yet all cognizant of the important interaction between literary and social contexts, the writers in this collection explore the politics of the personal by examining a range of the Silvae; poems from all five books are discussed. One drawback of the variety of critical perspectives to be found in this volume is that the coherence of each book of the Silvae is necessarily overlooked; nonetheless, certain common preoccupations will be seen to run throughout all five books, and there are clear advantages to promoting the rich thematic eclecticism of this body of poetry. The flexibility of these new readings compares to the flexibility of the poet's stated intentions in the various prose prefaces that precede each book in which epigrammatic brevity and "heated fluency" alternate with epic gravity. Moreover, these prefaces not only announce the order in [End Page 118] which the poems are to be read but also fashion an ideal reader, one whose attention can be deflected from the apparent artificiality and "occasional" lightness of...