Statius’ Apollo:  Theb. 1. 552-720

Carole Newlands

Vergil’s Aeneid has been generally regarded as a pervasive influence upon Statius’ Thebaid.  Yet in 1973 Vessey in the Appendix to his Statius and the Thebaid briefly suggested that the Metamorphoses and the Thebaid are alike in their narrative strategies.  His observation was overlooked until recently when studies by Feeney (1991), Barchiesi (2001) and Keith (2002) variously demonstrated the important influence of  Ovid’s poem upon Statius’ techniques of narration and characterisation in the Thebaid.  My paper will examine a small but significant aspect of the relationship between Ovid’s epic and Statius’, their programmatic use of the god Apollo in Book 1 to indicate their poems’ unsettling intertwining both of passions and gods, and of politics and poetics.

Towards the end of the initial book of their epics, both Ovid and Statius narrate an aitiological myth in which Apollo’s killing of the Python is followed by his love and pursuit of a virgin: Apollo and Daphne (Met. 1. 452-567) and Apollo and Psamathe (Theb. 1. 557-672). Statius’ myth has generally been seen as analogous to the Hercules and Cacus myth in Aeneid 8, and yet the placement of the myth here in Book 1 along with its Callimachean source (Aetia 1. 26), suggests an Ovidian penchant for the affective and learned possibilities of Hellenistic poetry.   In addition, as Ovid clearly marks the relevance of the story of Apollo and Daphne to Augustan Rome, so Statius’ myth of Apollo and Psamathe reflects cultural practice in Flavian Rome.  The god’s startling association with Mithras (720), for instance, recalls the syncretism of the Flavian city, where Egyptian cults had acquired particular prominence.  Thus, I shall suggest, it is not only Thebes, as has been commonly suggested, that offers an admonitory model for Rome but also Argos, the centre of Apollo’s cult, with its pious, just but dynastically weak ruler who, like Domitian, tragically lacked male heirs and thus a stable foundation for the perpetuation of his ruling house.

Works Cited: 

Barchiesi, A. 2001.  ‘L’Histoire Littéraire Immanente dans la Poésie Latine’, Entretiens sur L’Antiquité Classique 47:  315-62

Feeney, D. C. 1991.  The Gods in Epic.  Oxford

Keith, A.  2002. “Ovidian Personae in Statius’ Thebaid.”   Forthcoming in Arethusa.

Vessey, D. W. T. C. 1973.  Statius and the Thebaid.  Cambridge

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