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  • Looking at the Forest?The Silvae and Roman Studies: Afterword
  • Charles McNelis

There is nothing else like the Silvae in extant Roman literature in terms of diversity and range. Statius's thirty-two poems contain, for example, emotional addresses—both sad and celebratory—to family and friends; praise of physical objects (statues, baths, villas, and a road) and people, including the emperor Domitian; and discussions of animals (and even a tree). Such a wide variety of themes implicates topics such as dining, nature, imperial power, family life, sexuality, patronage, marriage, death, rhetoric, education, and the arts, just to name a few. The poems, then, contain points of interest for almost anyone interested in imperial Rome, and consequently deserve the attention and interest of many critics.

Fortunately, the Silvae are about as accessible now as they ever have been. There are new translations, and the past thirty years or so have witnessed the publication of editions and commentaries that have been badly needed to help explain the challenging language employed by Statius. These essential research tools will continue to open up Statius's poetry to different kinds of approaches ranging from prosopographical studies to those employing sociological theory; from formalist studies of his language and generic antecedents to readings of imperial culture in both the public and private spheres; from intertextual readings of the poems in light of earlier poets—most notably Virgil, Ovid, and Lucan—to those focusing on contemporary domestic decoration. This wide array of scholarship is not simply a case of post-modern readers running amuck and finding whatever they need (or want) in a set of poems. Rather, it is clear that the Silvae will sustain all types of research. And these developments will likely continue, since, at least in the United States, some of the Silvae have recently appeared on [End Page 279] reading lists in graduate programs. It seems as though the poems are here to stay for some time.

While no one can presume to know the sorts of questions that will be asked in the future of the Silvae, it is reasonable to hope that future criticism will continue along lines similar to those of recent enquiry. That is, recurring study of the poems through the lens of a broad range of literary, social, and historical approaches will shed more light on Statius's ouevre as well as imperial culture. These numerous possibilities for approaching the Silvae are exciting, but they also seriously challenge readers in that the poems break down the boundaries between many of the disciplines in the field. Synthetic approaches and methodologies that build upon the foundations that have been laid in recent years will thus need to continue.1 And as the bibliography on Statius encouragingly multiplies, there is reason to be optimistic that this will be the case. To bring the Silvae further into the classics mainstream, however, the poems will need to be seen as important by a broader range of scholars than just those working on imperial Latin poetry, and in this regard, it may be useful to outline some broad trends in Roman studies to which Statius's poems can contribute.

The idea of Hellenism—that is, of Rome's reception of the Greek world in realms as diverse as literature, visual art, politics, and philosophy, to name just a few—has been among the most significant advances that have been made in recent years in the study of imperial Rome. In fact, the topic is so rich that Cambridge University Press has initiated a series entitled "Greek Culture in the Roman World" that focuses on various aspects of Greek culture under the Roman empire and the responses of the Greek world to imperial Rome. Cultural interaction, of course, is at least a two-way street, and Rome's reception of Greece matters quite a bit in this dynamic. And while Greece and its import for Rome has always been a significant object of study, recent scholarship on the material culture—and particularly the houses—found on the Bay of Naples in sites such as Pompeii and Herculaneum has opened up a whole new series of questions by articulating the strategies by which Romans, in...


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