Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.03.04 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.03.04

Nikoletta Manioti (ed.), Family in Flavian Epic. Mnemosyne supplements: Monographs on Greek and Latin language and literature, 394.   Leiden; Boston:  Brill, 2016.  Pp. x, 330.  ISBN 9789004324527.  $138.00.  


Reviewed by P.J. Davis, University of Adelaide/University of Tasmania (Peter.Davis@adelaide.edu.au)

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[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Family dynamics are a central concern of the Flavian epic poets, particularly Valerius Flaccus and Statius. In Valerius this is most evident in the treatment of Jason’s family in Book 1, with its focus on hostility between brothers, a hostility that climaxes with Aeson’s suicide and Pelias’ murder of his young nephew; and in the treatment of Medea’s family in Books 5-8, where fraternal enmity generates civil war in Book 6, and where the love of Medea and Jason destroys normal parent-child relationships in Books 7 and 8. Central to the action of Statius’ Thebaid is not only the mutual loathing of brothers, but also relationships between siblings more generally, and between parents and children. Thebaid, moreover, displays a marked obsession with heredity. And family relationships are important, though less prominent, in Achilleid and Punica. There is no doubt that this book’s project is justified, as is its organization of material, with three chapters being devoted to Argonautica, three to Thebaid, one to Achilleid, two to Punica, and two to the three larger epics together.

The essays on Valerius Flaccus focus on relationships between fathers and sons (Stover), fathers and daughters (Stocks), and marriage (Buckley). While this section would be strengthened by the addition of a chapter on relationships between brothers, I recognize that there are significant restraints upon editors of collections like this one and that comprehensiveness is not a primary virtue. Stover examines relationships between Sol and Aeetes, Iapetus and Prometheus, and Neptune and Amycus, arguing that these reflect ‘the tensions inherent in the rise to power of Vespasian and his sons’ (p.14). Stocks begins with Roman society, noting the relative scarcity of studies of father-daughter relationships (Hallett’s Fathers and Daughters in Roman Society [1984] is an obvious exception), and then focuses on Hypsipyle, the model daughter who rescues her father, and Medea, the daughter who betrays her father, despite exceptional filial devotion. Buckley’s study of the wedding of Medea and Jason explores Valerius’ use of Apollonius and Virgil in order to argue that ‘Valerius valorizes the role of the transgressive female’ (p. 84) and that the poem memorializes not Jason’s deeds, but Medea’s.

Of the four essays on Statius, three engage closely with the volume’s theme, with Manioti discussing Argia and Antigone as quasi-sisters, Newlands taking up the crucial question of marriage, and Bessone considering the complexities of Achilles’ family. Heslin’s essay on Hypsipyle, valuable though it is, discusses not, as one might expect in a volume entitled Family in Flavian Epic, the breakdown of family relationships inherent in the Lemnian story and parallels with Thebes, but questions of genre (epic versus epyllion) and Statius’ critique of Valerius’ Argonautica. Manioti explores the roles of sisters-in- law and sisters in the epic tradition in order to establish that in Thebaid 12 Statius constructs the relationship between Polynices’ wife and sister, Argia and Antigone, as sisterly. Like actual sisters they both resemble and compete with each other. After brief consideration of Deidamia and Achilles, Newlands discusses the unconsummated betrothal of Ismene and Atys, the blighted marriage of Argia and Polynices, and the catastrophic relationship of Jocasta and Oedipus, arguing that polluted marriage is the cause of civil war in Thebes (p. 169). Dealing with a poem very different in tone and subject matter, Bessone argues that Achilleid’s family dynamics are much more fluid than Thebaid’s, and therefore closer to those of Ovid’s Metamorphoses than those of Statius’ own earlier work.

In their discussions of Silius Italicus both Littlewood and Bernstein highlight the pervasiveness of familial conflict in Flavian epic. Littlewood discusses what she calls ‘dynastic triads’ (these triads take different forms) in the Scipionic and Barcid families, suggesting that we should see parallels between these family groups and the Flavian dynasty, with Hannibal’s younger brother Mago perhaps intended as a compliment to Domitian (p. 224). After examining representations of violence among friends and family in earlier Roman epics, particularly in Valerius Flaccus, Bernstein considers Silius’ Saguntum episode, arguing that in dealing with this episode of familial slaughter ‘the reader must resist the straightforward assignment of exemplary nobility to the Saguntines’ (p. 244).

Keith takes up the theme of sisterly relationships in Valerius, Silius, and Statius’ Thebaid. She explores Valerius’ use of the reader’s memory of the Hellenistic Argonautica in Book 6, where Juno, disguised as Chalciope, attempts to induce sexual passion in Medea; Statius’ representation of sisters and quasi-sisters, both human and divine, in Thebaid; and Juno’s manipulation of Anna’s love for Dido in Punica. Augoustakis explores the theme of female lament in the same three poems and of male lament in Thebaid, arguing that whereas female lament undermines society’s structures, male lament confirms them.

There have already been important books on the family in Flavian epic, most notably Bernstein’s In the Image of the Ancestors (2008) and Augoustakis’s Motherhood and the Other (2010). This collection of essays by both young and senior scholars makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of an increasingly important field of Latin literary study.

Authors and titles

Family in Flavian Epic, Nikoletta Manioti
Opibusque ultra ne crede paternis: Fathers and Sons on the Wrong Side of History in Valerius’ Argonautica, Tim Stover
Daddy’s Little Girl? The Father/Daughter Bond in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica and Flavian Rome, Claire Stocks
Over Her Live Body? Marriage in Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica, Emma Buckley
A Perfect Murder: The Hypsipyle Epyllion, Peter Heslin
Becoming Sisters: Antigone and Argia in Statius’ Thebaid, Nikoletta Manioti
Fatal Unions: Marriage at Thebes, Carole Newlands
The Hero’s Extended Family: Familial and Narrative Tensions in Statius’ Achilleid, Federica Bessone
Dynastic Triads: Flavian Resonances and Structural Antithesis in Silius’ Sons of Hamilcar, Joy Littlewood
Mutua uulnera: Dying Together in Silius’ Saguntum, Neil Bernstein
Sisters and Their Secrets in Flavian Epic, Alison Keith
Burial and Lament in Flavian Epic: Mothers, Fathers, Children, Antony Augoustakis
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