Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.04.54

Karla F.L. Pollmann, Statius, Thebaid 12: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. Studien zur Geschichte und Kultur des Altertums. Neue Folge. 1. Reihe, Band 25.   Paderborn:  Ferdinand Schöningh, 2004.  Pp. 311.  ISBN 3-506-71783-9.  €59.00.  

Reviewed by Bob Cowan, Balliol College, Oxford (
Word count: 3497 words

Statius' closing prayer to his Thebaid, as he sent it out into the world, was that it might live.1 Live it most certainly did and, in recent years, it has been flourishing. It has been the subject of several monographs, countless articles and, perhaps most importantly for the continuation of scholarly work on it, a series of commentaries.2 For Statius, the series of Thebes' crimes stretched far back into the past, but the production of Thebaid commentaries, especially in English, continues and stretches into the future, with Ruth Parkes on 4 (Oxford) and Donald Hill and Hans Smolenaars on 1 (Cambridge) coming soon. He warned his epic not to rival the divine Aeneid, but here from Pollman we have a commentary, on one of the most interesting books in an excellent poem, which need fear no comparison with Caviglia's 1, Snijder's 3, Smolenaar's 7, Dewar's 9, Williams' 10 or Venini's 11.3

The long introduction deals with key issues of structure, theme and style, in some detail and with much insight. P.'s discussions of Statius' self-awareness, the ending of the poem which resists its own closure, the motif of burial, the new brand of heroism represented by Argia, and the ambivalence of Theseus are notably successful. Occasionally, the argument is less clear and convincing. P. makes an excellent point about the Statian Antigone's intertextual awareness of her own literary past and traditional role (55) but her parallels -- the Phaeacians' knowledge of the Trojan War, and Dido's and Latinus' of Aeneas' adventures -- are a quite distinct phenomenon and can even be accounted for 'realistically' as non-literary matters of record within the world of the Odyssey and Aeneid respectively. A closer parallel would be the famous journey of Seneca's Medea from Medea. . .fiam (171) to Medea nunc sum (910). P. shows an uncharacteristically uncertain touch when dealing with some of the poem's tragic forebears, suggesting that Euripides Heraclids deals with Theban legend (29 -- perhaps Heracles?) and referring to the same author's 'Suppliants and Hiketides' as if they were not the same play (37). The comparison of Theseus' role in Theb. 12 and in Euripides' Heracles is a suggestive one, but it is rather over-stretched and would benefit from being underpinned by more scholarly literature than Barlow's excellent but limited commentary. The section on language, style and metre is beautifully concise, as well as extremely helpful and clear.

The text is a good one. Its differences from Hill's (as listed on 63) are mainly avoidance of the numerous misprints which mar that otherwise outstanding edition. However, P. does argue convincingly for several variant readings, notably the more recent MSS' exul at 59, Shackleton Bailey's conjecture aruorum at 283, and cedit rather than cedunt at 513, though these last readings should be attributed to Kohlmann and his predecessors rather than the MSS, which, as the apparatus shows, read caedit and caedunt. The only reading which is less convincingly defended is Ω's tepido at 413 for P's trepido, describing the Padus/Eridanus when Phaethon plummets into it, which I discuss below. The apparatus, using Hill's sigla, is clear and economical, and only very occasionally would more information be desirable for the general reader as opposed to the textual critic.4 The one very peculiar and unhelpful feature of the text is in its presentation. Uniquely in my experience, it is not divided or paragraphed in any way, despite the ease with which hexameters, unlike elegiacs, can be indented. P. divides the commentary into very coherent sections and it is hard to see why the text is not articulated in a similarly -- and standardly -- helpful way.

The commentary provides an excellent balance between literary and linguistic exegesis. Statius' style is not easy, but P. skilfully elucidates even the most tortured instances of his syntax while never neglecting to demonstrate its virtues as well as its challenges (499-504 is a good example of both Statius and P. at their best). At the same time, the complex literary issues discussed in the introduction are constantly addressed as a passage relevant to them comes up. The move towards a feminine heroism with Argia and Antigone, and the ambivalence of Theseus are particularly well handled. Parallels are judiciously chosen, illuminating, and mercifully not multiplied beyond the needs of exegesis or intertextuality. I give below various points of detail on which I would disagree with, or more often wish to supplement, P.'s readings, and these inevitably take up a disproportionately greater amount of space in a review than the many more places where P.'s notes are clear, accurate, enlightening and comprehensive. To choose only one examples from many, P. shows how the simile comparing Argia to the priests of Cybele (224-7) not only illustrates her frenzied dedication but also (arguing that the grammatically feminine dux uesana chori is, as in Cat. 63, an emasculated male Gallus) match her transgression of gender boundaries, as described at 177-9. The book is generally well-produced, but there are a few signs that its editing lacks the manus ultima. Most egregious is the repetition of virtually the same sentence at 314-5: 'For the originally Greek construction where the predicate expresses a state and the participle the main action cf. also 372, 697nn. We find here again (cf. 372n., 697n.) an originally Greek construction where the predicate expresses a state and the participle the main action.' On 665-6, P. adjudicates that angustat means that Theseus causes the enemy army to press together, rather than that he makes his own look small, but she then immediately contradicts this by remarking on the 'oxymoronic exaggeration that even from afar Theseus looks bigger than the already impressive troops.' Occasionally, books already listed in the bibliography are also given full, rather than Harvard, references in the footnotes, such as Barlow (41 n.159), Schetter (50 n.210), and Anderson (61 n.285). Conversely, references to the work of Garland regularly lack a year to differentiate between The Greek way of death and Introducing new gods. The context of funerary rites often suggests that the former is meant, but it would be helpful to disambiguate. Many references to Feeney are similarly unmarked, but fortunately here citations from the Statius (and Valerius) chapter in The Gods in Epic (313-91) could not possibly belong to the 176-page Literature and Religion at Rome.

There are relatively few typos, but the following might be noted. In the introduction (referring to page numbers), 9: for 'Thabaid', read 'Thebaid', for 'P.B. Hardie', read 'P.R.'; 23: P. accidentally suggests even more incest than there already is in the Thebaid by talking of 'Argia's search for her brother'; Polynices is of course her husband; 25 n.77: Victoria E. Pagán becomes Pégan (also in bibliography) and Pegán at 32 n.119, 33 and 94 (bis); 32: for 'Hor. Carm. 1.8.22' read '1.28.23-5'; 35: for 'Zeus', read 'Jupiter'; 36 n.134: 'that' not 'tat'. In the commentary (referring to line numbers), 12-13 (also 169-72 and 601-5): for 'Kytzler (1969)', read '(1962)'; 189-91: Hector departs from Andromache, not Andromeda, in Il. 6; 204: for 'a contrast figure to Ariga', read 'Argia' (also 260-1); 228-90 for 'lairds', read 'lairs'; 291-311: for 'Henderson (1998)', read '(1991)'; 347-8: for 'Thessander', read 'Thersander'; 402: 'bracchylogical' is ironically too long, with one c too many; 'Poynices' compensates by lacking an l; 409: read 'Achelous' for 'Archelous'; 429: for ite diu fraters, read fratres; 589: for 'Peripathetic', read 'Peripatetic'; 590-1; for 'Adrasusts', read 'Adrastus'; 673-4: for 'blurrs', read 'blurs'. Bibliography: for 'Holford-Stevens', read 'Holford-Strevens', for 'Housman, E.A.', read 'A.E.'

P.'s style can be a little unidiomatic, but this is generally characterful and engaging rather than intrusive and only very rarely risks misleading the reader, as when Argia's one-off walk to Thebes would be more clearly described as 'nocturnal', 'night-time' or 'by night' than 'nightly' (20, 144). More inscrutable is '[Medea] got a trial in Athens which spoke her free.' (ad 510-11). Presumably this is a conflation of 'declared her innocent and set her free'.

There are some points of detail where one might disagree with or supplement P.'s readings (references to line numbers in the commentary):

1-59: Although it follows Statius' own striking practice of using Graius, Pelasgus, etc., it is potentially confusing to call the Argive army 'Greek' in the commentary, without qualification or explanation.

5 raris...Penatibus: P. is surely right to reject Watt's tutis and to translate 'sparsely populated' as a result of deaths in the war. An important intertext and supporting parallel here is Luc. 1.21-32, on the depopulating effects of Rome's civil war.

15-21 turris: P. cites interesting instances of dovecots built in the form of a tower, but, since the simile refers to the Thebans' city-defences, the choice of this word, as of uallant ('used metaphorically'), must also be fine examples of what Lyne terms 'trespass', the use in the simile of language appropriate to the narrative.5

26-8: On uirtus as a potentially negative quality, see also Elaine Fantham (1995) 'The ambiguity of Virtus in Lucan's Civil war and Statius' Thebaid', Arachnion. A Journal of Ancient Literature and History on the Web, nr. 3.

38: The line should be translated 'those who had homes unharmed and who were free from sorrow', as P.'s own Latin paraphrase shows.

44-5: Unlike the Euripidean and Lucanian passages aptly cited, Hannibal's sadistic enjoyment of the besieged Romans' terror at Sil. 12.566 does not closely parallel the Thebans' oxymoronic enjoyment of their own sorrows.

52-53: Cithaeron is favourable to funeral pyres, not only because of its dense forestation, but as the scene of the deaths of Pentheus (Eur. Ba. 1043-1152, Ov. Met. 3.701-Theb. 1.328-32 Actaeon (Met. 3.143ff: mons erat...), and Dirce (Hyg. Fab. 7.5, Sen. Phoe. 12-21 for all three!) and of baby Oedipus' fatally unsuccessful exposure (cf. Soph. OT 1391-3). Cf. Theb. 2.460-1: quanta Cithaeron / funera sanguineusque uadis, Ismene, rotabis!

54-5: Ogygius is antonomastic or metonymic, but not 'antonymic', for 'Theban'.

60-104: Creon sacrifices POWs and horses but, unlike Homer's Achilles and Valerius' Argonauts, not dogs.

66-7: For a less positive interpretation of Menoeceus' deuotio, see A. Heinrich (1999) 'Longa retro series: Sacrifice and repetition in Statius' Menoeceus episode' Arethusa 32: 165-95.

73: P. marks an aposiopesis after ardor, on the basis that o nisi...inisset lacks a matching apodosis. There is undeniably anacolouthon here, but it seems more natural to take the vocatives uenerande...atque...recture (to which Creon never gets round to attaching a main verb) as the equivalent of the unreal apodosis; in which case, it is necessary for the sense that we do not assume an aposiopesis: Menoeceus would have ruled and been honoured if and only if an excessive burning desire for glory had not entered him. It is parallelled by (albeit lacking the subsequent anacolouthon) the common formula fortunata/felix si numquam/ (Verg. Ecl. 6.45, Aen. 4.657-8, Theb. 1.573-4) and most closely Ov. Met. 5.269-70: o nisi te uirtus opera ad maiora tulisset, / in partem uentura chori Tritonia nostri,

91-2 regem te, regem: P. notes that 'the gemination of a noun is relatively rare and emphasizes rather than embellishes the term', but perhaps the very rareness of the gemination, enclosing a pronoun, might suggest an echo of deus ille fuit, deus (Lucr. 5.8) and Virgil's own allusion to it deus, deus ille, Menalca! (Ecl. 5.64). Considering the ambiguity over Menoeceus' apotheosis and characterin the Thebaid's obsession with regal power, this would be a striking perversion of Epicurus' and Daphnis' deification.

100-1: suprema / ...ope et flammis might better be taken as hendiadys, 'flames helpful for burial' or 'assistance with burial in the form of flames', than as 'with any kind of aid for burial, never mind combustion'.

102-3: mihi flebile semper / numen eris (12.77-8) surely does not mean that Creon thinks that Menoeceus has not been deified, but only that the apotheosis is a source of grief to him since it entailed his son's death. His expression of the irony that one day sent his son and Oedipus' to Tartarus (84-5) suggests more confusion, but even so his oath by the god Menoeceus here is not in itself a particularly opportunistic or inconsistent move.

104: The situation in which Evander's servants in tecta ferebant him (Aen. 8.584 = Theb. 12.104) is not as 'contrasting' as P. suggests, since the speech he delivers is one in which he anticipates Pallas' premature death, just as Creon here looks back on Menoeceus'.

105-140: A more important authority than Apollodorus for the alternative version in which Adrastus has a prominent role in the flight to Athens is Euripides' Suppliant Women.

107: For further instances and discussion of the urbs capta motif, on which this simile is a witty variation, see also G.M. Paul (1982) 'urbs capta- sketch of an ancient literary motif' Phoenix 36: 144-55.

107: Perses' lament at V.Fl. 6.737-8 is not over his brother's death, but because Jupiter has encouraged him to wage a civil war against that brother, Aeëtes, which he has lost and hence been unable to kill him as he deserves (fratris meritas...poenas, 6.730).

154: While aequus is undeniably 'used sarcastically' of Creon, it does have some specific point, in that Ornytus suggests that the Argive women will not receive unfairly preferential treatment over the rest of humanity who are denied access to the corpses of the Argive army.

166-7: in mores hominemque is hendiadys.

169-72: The simile comparing the Argive women to heifers terrified by a tiger's growl might gain further significance from the comparison of other epic figures, also concerned with the treatment of corpses, to cows, namely Menelaos bestriding Patroklos' body at Il. 17.4-5, and Hippomedon protecting Tydeus' (Theb. 9.115-7, with Dewar ad loc.)

181-2: For epic women warriors, to Virgil's Camilla and Valerius' Thoe, add Silius' Asbyte (2.56-269)

198-9 tantae quae sola ruinae / causa fui: P. convincingly parallels Argia's claim to be the cause of the war with Livy's Sabine women and Aeneas' words to Dido in the underworld. A further parallel might be Argia's role as a perverted Lavinia, esp. in Theb. 1, with relation to Adrastus' perverted Evander (cf. causa mali tanti, Verg. Aen. 6.93, 11.480). This is complicated by her competing role, as a wife helping to bring her husband to war, as an Amata-figure; cf. Amata before her death: se causam clamat crimenque caputque malorum ( Aen.12.600).

270-7: P. notes that the anaphora in the same sedes of Persephonen at 276 and 277 'marks the contrast between the shouting of the mother...and the silence of the underworld', and nicely illustrates how it 'imitates the echoing of the daughter's name', with parallels at Verg. E. 6.43-4, Ov. Fast. 4.483-6 and V.Fl. 3.596-7. However, she could note more explicitly and emphatically how wittily and surprisingly Statius inverts the by-then conventional mimetic use of anaphora, a surprise delayed until tacet in the fourth foot of 277.

299-301: P. sees Juno's aposiopesis when beginning to complain about Luna's involvement in Jupiter's long night with Alcmena as 'generous forgiveness of former deeds of injustice against her' and typical of her atypical behaviour (in terms of literary tradition) throughout the Thebaid; this is undeniably true, and one might add that ueteres...querelas could be an intertextual marker suggesting 'the sort of complaints I used to make in Euripides, Virgil and Ovid'. Yet surely she is also tactically touching on a former offence in compensation for which Luna should help her with Argia's plight, as her next words, en locus officio, make clear.

366-7: to the parallels for nocte mea, add the recent noctem Herculeam at 12.301.

390 Thebas Argosque renarrant: the use of Thebes and Argos as metonymies for the stories of their cities is, as P. notes, unusual, but has two striking parallels in the Thebaid: in the proem, when Statius sets out sontis...euoluere Thebas (1.2), and when the Thebans celebrate Amphiaraus' katabasis by singing their city's history, nunc facta reuoluunt / maiorum ueteresque canunt ab origine Thebas (8.227-8).

402: P. has very interesting things to say about the wider implications of Argia's question as to which god drove the brothers to such rage, but omits to mention that one, partial answer is Tisiphone in book 1, aided for the final fratricide in 11 by her sister Megaera.

413: P. reads ω's tepido for P's trepido, describing the Padus/Eridanus when Phaethon plummets into it. Despite Hill's parallels for the corruption of the latter into the former, the reading is convincing and witty in itself, especially in conjunction with Phaethonta...fumantem. However, P.'s justification, that trepido 'offers a less clear intertextual signal', cross-referencing to her discussion of Statius' intertextuality with Ovid's and Valerius' Phaethon-scenes (intro. 55-7), is obscure. Since Valerius describes the Eridanus there as trepidum...amnem (5.430), the desire for a 'clear intertextual signal' would demand reading tepido/-um in both places (to which I would be sympathetic) or neither.

458: for Argia and Antigone's competition to be punished, cf. (though with the motivation to save the other, which is absent from this perverted variation) Orestes and Pylades at Eur. IT 674-722 and esp. Pacuvius' Chryses (fr. 69*** Schierl = inc. fr. 3651-3R3 apud Cic. Fin. 5.63, with a similarly emphatic use of the first person pronoun: ego sum enimuero ego sum, inquam, Orestes!

552 bellica iura: the prose and Lucanian instances of ius belli, which P. cites, are parallel to Evadne's sense here (OLD s.v. 8b), but at her other reference, Sil. 6.612-3, belli / iura means command of or authority over (OLD 13b) the conduct of the war.

588: It is true that 'the epithet Neptunius anticipates Theseus' cursing of his son Hippolytus, who will be killed by Neptune', but it also classes Theseus with all the other disreputable offspring of the sea-god, on which see A.S. Pease (1943) 'The Son of Neptune' HSCPh54: 69-82.

594: P. makes an interesting point about Theseus' adsum as a variation on a typical scene where a hero offers himself to be killed in another's place, but it also serves as a first-person equivalent to the conventional kletic prayer ades (e.g. Catul. 62.5, Tib. 1.7.49, Stat. Silv. 3.1.28, Theb. 1.81: Oedipus to Tisiphone) or adsis (e.g. Verg. G. 1.18, Ov. Met. 4.31, Stat. Theb. 1.716: Adrastus to Apollo), thus fitting P.'s own characterization of Theseus as a human deus ex machina (introduction, 37-43). Actual gods announce their own epiphanies with adsum at Verg. Aen. 7.454 (Allecto) and Ov. Ars. 1.555 (Bacchus).

601-5: The simile comparing Theseus to a bull not only fits into the system of bull-similes throughout the Thebaid, as P. notes, but also assimilates him to the Marathonian bull and Minotaur, which have just been cited by Evadne (580-2) as key instances of his role as a civilizing slayer of monsters (cf. the disturbing similarity of Hercules and Cacus in Aen. 8). It also evokes the bull-monster which will kill Hippolytus.

643-4 omnem diuumque hominumque fauorem: the Ennian and four Virgilian parallels which P. cites for the central phrase all take the form diuum pater atque hominum rex and all refer to Jupiter; the alteration of the formula thus marks the absence of Jupiter here, which fits with the general diminution of divine influence in Theb. 12 which P., following Feeney, detects. One might also wonder whether there is an allusion to a similar rejection of conventional gods in Lucretius' adaptation of the same Ennian formula to demythologize his Epicurean Venus: hominum diuoumque uoluptas (DRN 1.1).

649: Though P. does list it among a number of other references, surely more emphasis should be given to Tisiphone's hurling of the spear, like a fetialis, to instigate hostilities against Thebes (4.6-7), as a parallel to Theseus' similar action here.

743: For epic triplets fighting shoulder-to-shoulder, in addition to the family units P. cites from the Iliad, Aeneid and Thebaid, cf. Sil. 13.191-212 and, for two sets of triplets, Sil. 4.355-400. The latter example certainly, and probably all Roman instances, resonate with the battle of champions between the Alban Curiatii and the Roman Horatii (Liv. 1.24-6).

761-2: Creon's jibe that the Thebans will prove a stiffer challenge for Theseus than the targe-bearing girls that were the Amazons may well represent 'stereotypical, psychologically interesting behaviour of losers, who look for somebody they can paint as even inferior to themselves', but it surely also alludes to the similar vaunt in Numanus Remulus' speech (Aen. 9.598-620) that the Italians will be harder for the Trojans to fight than the Greeks were: non hic Atridae nec fandi fictor Vlixes: / durum a stirpe genus natos ad flumina primum / deferimus saeuoque gelu duramus et undis; (9.602-4).

810: Domitian's preferred appellation was not dominus deus but, as the three passages P. cites show, either dominus et deus (Suet. Dom. 13.2), domini deique (gen. sing., Mart. 5.8.1) or simply dominus (Silv. 1.6.83).

Quibbles aside, P. has produced a good introduction and excellent commentary, both of which facilitate the understanding of this complex text on the level both of detail and of the larger issues. In short, this is an excellent edition, which will enable students and scholars to appreciate fully the remarkable final book of a remarkable poem.


1.   uiue, precor; nec tu diuinam Aeneida tempta / sed longe sequere et uestigia semper adora. Stat. Theb. 12.816-7.
2.   Notably Helen Lovatt (2005) Statius and Epic Games: sport, politics, and poetics in the Thebaid (Cambridge), Randall T. Ganiban (2007) Statius and Virgil: the Thebaid and the reinterpretation of the Aeneid (Cambridge), Charles McNelis (2007) Statius' Thebaid and the poetics of civil war (Cambridge). My focus on work in English, for the sake of space, is no reflection on the excellent Thebaid scholarship recently produced in German, French and Italian.
3.   Franco Caviglia (Roma, 1973), H. Snijder (Amsterdam, 1968), J.J.L. Smolenaars (Leiden, 1994), Michael Dewar (Oxford, 1991), R.D. Williams (Leiden, 1972), Paola Venini (Firenze, 1970). There are also commentaries on parts of books 4 (J. Steiniger, Stuttgart, 2005) and 12 (M. Hoffmann, Göttingen, 1999).
4.   Perhaps some of the other MSS readings for Alaeus (622) might be shared with those without access to Hill, as might Eden's mysterious two suggestions. Likewise, if Watt's conjectures on 5 are worth noting in the commentary, even if only to be rejected, perhaps they should also be in the apparatus.
5.   R.O.A.M. Lyne (1989) Words and the Poet. Characteristic Techniques of Style in Vergil's Aeneid (Oxford) 92-9.

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