Lemnian Murderers and Tamed Amazons:
Female Outsiders in the

Antony Augoustakis

Critics have pointed out the remarkable ending of Statius’ Thebaid, as the poet mingles female lamentation with the impossibility of poetic expression (Dietrich, Ramus 1999; Fantham, Epic Traditions in the Contemporary World 1999; Pagan, AJP 2000).  In this paper (building on the work of Nugent, Scholia 1996 and Keith, Engendering Rome 2000 among others), I focus on the role of foreign otherness in terms of gender differentiation, by examining the Lemnian digression of books 4-6 and the portrayal of the conquered Amazons in book 12.

In book 4, the Argives encounter Hypsipyle who is marked from the outset of the narrative as a foreigner (Lemnias).  Within the embedded narrative where the horror of the Lemnian slaughter is exposed, the reader comes across several manifestations of otherness.  The island’s population twice faces barbarian influences, from the Thracians and subsequently from the Argonauts.  Hypsipyle’s impregnation by Jason is followed by the separation from her children and her exile.  While she is a slave nurse, Hypsipyle finds in the baby Opheltes a substitute for her missing offspring.  The baby’s death lays bare Hypsipyle’s own failure to secure generational continuity for Lycurgus.  Even at the end, it still remains unclear how much her otherness has benefited the Argive army on its way to initiate civil war: Hypsipyle’s failure as a queen on the public level, and as a daughter (her saving of Thoas is marked as fraus) and mother in the private domain, forebodes disasters.  Moreover, the sixth book of the poem starts with the lamentation for Opheltes’ death that takes place within the imperial house of Nemea.  Consolation proves impossible, despite Adrastus’ efforts to comfort Lycurgus.  The persistence of lamentation comes full circle at the end of the Thebaid, as the poet deems it is time to berth his opus in a safe haven at the moment when his poetic ability falls short of expressing the grief of the Argive women.

At the end of the epic, however, just before Theseus’ victory over Creon, the poet opts for a different representation of barbarian women.  Theseus has just come back from his campaign against the Amazons, who now follow behind his chariot in a display of a “Roman” triumph.  Although the Amazons still remain fierce (nondum sexum fatentur, 529) and do not show any signs of weakness (such as lament), their queen seems subdued (iam blanda genas patiensque mariti / foederis, 534-5).  In the representation of the Amazons, however, there is a twist: Hippolyte will bear offspring for the king.  And yet she remains a barbara, at whom the Athenians gaze with wonder: magnis quod barbara semet Athenis / misceat atque hosti veniat paritura marito (538-9).  Hippolyte plays off against Hypsipyle who has failed in her duties as a “mother.”  Hippolyte is thought to be assimilated to her new environment, but not without a price paid on Theseus’ part.  She will be a mother that does not lose her identity as a barbarian.  In addition, the implications of Theseus’ victory over the Amazons in Domitianic Rome are very important: it is not a mere coincidence that the fountain in the lower level of the Domus Augustana is made in the shape of Amazonian peltae.  According to imperial ideology, the conquered periphery comes into the heart of the city, in the Palatine.  The relationship, however, is one of mutual influence and interaction.

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