Reading Art: Statius' "Lying Bodies" and the Dynamics of Authority in Silvae 4.6

Yurie Hong

University of Washington

In Silvae 4.6, Statius capitalizes on the aesthetic paradoxes embodied in Vindex's statuette of  Hercules Epitrapezios to chart his own poetic negotiations of the changing roles of patron and poet under the empire.  This paper explores the ways in which Statius thematizes the ambiguity of the statuette's facial expression in order to privilege Vindex's superiority and status as an art collector at the expense of his reputation as a skilled amateur poet.  Statius' exploitation of the inevitable opacity of facial and artistic surfaces reveals an attempt to redefine the social landscape in which he and Vindex operate. 

Despite an initial characterization of Vindex as the consummate educated Roman elite poet, Statius increasingly identifies Vindex as a reader, rather than a producer, of art.  Statius problematizes previous readings of the statuette's facial expression to enhance Vindex's ability to properly deduce and manipulate the statuette's intrinsic meaning. By foregrounding Vindex's superior art-collecting skills, Statius specifically designates the art world as a demarcated area wholly under Vindex's control and effectively excludes him from the poetic sphere.  This emphasis on Vindex's interpretive abilities rather than on his compositional skills constitutes a rhetorical move to sanitize the potential conflict of interests which may arise between a poet and his increasingly poetic patrons. 

The progressive restriction of the public and political life of the Roman elite during the imperial period resulted in a retreat to private spheres of activity including poetic composition [Myers: 2000].  This rise in poetic dilettantism among elite patrons posed an increasing threat to the authority, influence, and livelihood of the poet—a threat which had to be accommodated and circumvented in order for the poet to remain culturally relevant. 


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