- Brill’s Companion to Statius ed. by W. J. Dominik, C. E. Newlands, K. Gervais
It is difficult to do justice to Statius, the experimental author of an epic on the fratricidal war of the Theban brothers Eteocles and Polynices; an incomplete epic on Achilles; and five books of shorter poems, all written under the last Flavian emperor (Domitian, 81–96 C.E.). By design this Companion seeks to complement existing scholarship and to acknowledge new trends in Statian studies rather than to provide a comprehensive accessus to the poet (the first-time reader of Statius should bear this in mind). In this, the Companion is largely successful: the various contributions add new evidence to existing discussions even when they tackle much-investigated topics.
The book is organized into seven sections: (1) the introduction; (2) “Beginnings”; (3) “Social and Cultural Matters”; (4) “Transgressive Poetics: the Achilleid”; (5) “Conflict, Power, and Death in the Thebaid”; (6) “Predecessors and Contemporaries”; and (7) “Reception.”
New trends are visible in the relevance given to reception (the largest section). This is a commendable choice, as this trajectory offers the best evidence for the centrality of this author in the Western tradition, and the necessity of knowing about his work in order to make sense of some of the milestones of world literature. The reader can follow the adventures of Statius’ works—and the influence of what people knew about Statius’ life (Parkes)—in late-antique literature (Kaufmann), in a range of medieval texts (Edwards), in Dante’s Com-media (Heslin), in Italian Renaissance epic (Chaudhuri), in the early modern commentary tradition (Berlincourt), in Poliziano and Dryden (Mengelkoch), in modern translations (Braund), and in the seventeenth-to nineteenth-century ideological reception of Statius in Europe and the U.S. (Newlands). In the Middle Ages and Renaissance Statius was particularly good to think with in terms of figuring one’s own relationship with the giants of the classical tradition (he himself acknowledged his belatedness), but also constituted a key text for articulating questions of power and governance (Edwards), and even issues of religion and philosophy (Chaudhuri).
In the section on “Predecessors and Contemporaries” (6), the editors focus on the impact of Neronian literature (following a recent trend in Statian studies) and privilege less usually considered intertexts. Thus, we get no entry on Statius’ most pervasive model, Vergil’s Aeneid, but an insightful contribution (Pagán) on the Thebaid and the Georgics (a much neglected topic). Approaches range from concentration on the agonistic and literary aspects of Statius’ reworking of the epic tradition (Micozzi, Roche) to what intertextuality achieves in the Statian text (for example, Augoustakis’ study of how Statius’ grafting of tragedy onto the epic body undermines the credibility of the poem’s resolution). Micozzi’s paper offers a very welcome counterbalance to contemporary critical tendencies (Ovid’s Metamorphoses still remains to be fully investigated as a model for the Thebaid) by drawing attention to Ovid’s major poem as a model for the Thebaid’s allusive strategies. This section’s focus is almost exclusively on the Thebaid, with the exception of Luke Roman’s stimulating paper on poetic self-representation in the Silvae and Martial. As an introduction to the Silvae, I recommend Rosati’s excellent contribution on the prefaces (in the “Beginnings” section): here the justification of a new – post-Callimachean – poetics of ex tempore composition is shown to accompany major social changes in the [End Page 278] maturation of literature in the Flavian period, and to reflect the social status of Statius’ addressees and patrons.
The other area of textual relationships that lacks full coverage in Statian studies is that of interactions with prose texts. Not so in this Companion. Rhiannon Ash’s paper, although it belongs in the section on “Conflict, Power and Death in the Thebaid,” brilliantly sets the Thebaid alongside a range of new sources, including Xenophon’s Anabasis (alluded to in the Thebaid’s description of the thirsting Argive...