Statius as Horatian priest of the Muses in Silvae 2.7

Stephen M. Kershner

University at Buffalo, SUNY

In his celebration of the dead poet Lucan's birthday (Silvae 2.7), Statius presents an unusual ranking of great poets which places Lucan ahead of Homer, Ennius, Lucretius, and Vergil.  Although the poem is addressed to Lucan's wife Polla, there is more to Statius' elevation of Lucan than flattery or a striving for novelty. Statius is rather positioning himself within the literary tradition and the cultural milieu of Domitianic Rome by a complex definition of his own role as poetic vates.

By alluding to Horace Odes 3.1.1-4 in lines 19-23 of his poem, Statius specifically evokes the Horatian vates as public priest, the Musarum sacerdos, as a model for his own role as poet. Statius thus reclaims a public role and poetic potency which Lucan had abandoned with his representation of the vates as largely impotent and dominated by external forces, as in the necromancy scene of Book 6 of the Bellum Civile and Apollo's treatment of the Pythia in Book 5. Yet while Statius reclaims this greater role for himself as poet within the tradition, he also effaces himself through his elevation of Lucan and by yielding to the Muse his role as speaker within the poem.  This double gesture of both mastery of and subjection to the poetic tradition represents Statius' attempt to situate himself as an epic poet among the dominant figures of Lucan and Vergil.  Statius' self-representation in Silvae 2.7 thus helps us see how in the envoi to the Thebaid, 12.810-819, his act of venerating and challenging Lucan and Vergil marks out an original and more enduring place for himself and his poetry. From here, he possesses the freedom to compose epic different from that of his predecessors—epic based on his own view of the world, both literary and real.


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