chapter  IX
30 Pages

FORM REMADE/STATIUS’ THEBAID

As the story of Latin epic reaches the Thebaid of Statius, we confiront for the first time the problem of a ‘classic’ which is commonly and even generally found disappointing by the scholarly consensus of our time.* While there have been voices outspoken in condem nation and, more rarely, in acclaim, this poem from the heart o f the Flavian dynasty’s court has most typically been coolly assessed as a disappointingly conformist product returning the epic genre to its ancient ways and means - with all the excitation and challenge that this description promises us (not) to expect! Vespasian in his hum drum dourness could be said4 to have restored something of ‘Augustan’ dignity to the Imperial O rder after the megalomania and self-destruction of JulioClaudian excess, but ultimately failed to blind posterity to the obvious tru th that he was the first em peror who was no ‘Caesar’ (made, not born). We could in similar fashion see his bard's laid-back aestheticism as a modest restoration of Virgilian classicism to epic’s destiny after relegated Ovid’s follies and Lucan’s perform ance as ‘human-bomb’, but a restoration which must come across as a counter-reformatory venture doom ed by its very logic to present its author as, ultimately, no true Poet (Purpose, yes, but inspiration? Hardly!’). Self-aware Sabine ru ler and Neapolitan writer: just the team for an honest-to-goodness plod along roads, and reads, that would lead back to a gilt-edged Rome worthy of the name. Expect miles of post-Homeric machinery: Olympian inserts, Twin Catalogues and Teichoscopy, Necromancy and Underworld scenography, Funeral Games and Aristeiai, Prayer-sequences and Prophecy, Tragical Included Narrative and Aetiological Hymn, Developed Formal Similes, Batde-Sfurm und Drang, Mountain Vastnesses tipping out twelve post-Virgilian volumes of torrentially surging verse - in extenso, the whole works! Such a view is outlined by the poem itself, both in its dedicatory Prologue and in the extraordinary Epilogue that

rounds off the text, in marked defiance of our generic expectations. It is also supported by Statius’ own self-portraiture in his other extant poetry, his collections of occasional poems, the Silvae.