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Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.11.14

Antony Augoustakis (ed.), Flavian Epic. Oxford readings in classical studies.   Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 2016.  Pp. xiii, 538.  ISBN 9780199650668.  $150.00.  

Reviewed by Simone Finkmann, Universität Rostock (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review as well as the original publication information.]

Antony Augoustakis, who has contributed a series of influential articles, commentaries, and companions to Flavian poetry, certainly seems the logical choice as editor for the Flavian instalment of the Oxford Readings in Classical Studies and the task to create a representative selection of the most influential papers of the last sixty years of Flavian scholarship. As the quality of the individual papers in this volume has been well-established and all contributions with the exception of Augoustakis’ introduction and Brown’s essay have been published previously, this review will focus on these two contributions and the merit of the collection as a whole.

Augoustakis’ introduction provides the reader with a brief history of Flavian scholarship focusing on the revival of Flavian epic from 1990 until 2015, the period during which the majority of the papers included in this collection were first published. The introduction follows the same tripartite structure as the entire volume with a separate discussion of the Flavian epicists in chronological order. In the face of what Augoustakis rightfully describes as a “plethora of monographs, articles, translations, and commentaries in the field of Flavian studies” (p.vii), the editor succeeds to offer a comprehensive but succinct, well-organized and up-to-date literature review. The review is thematically structured and efficiently combined with a brief summary of the reprinted papers in this volume. Augoustakis economically refers to the annotated Oxford Bibliographies Online for further reference while providing an expert assessment of the general state of research and highlighting desiderata such as the on-going need for a modern English translation of the Argonautica and the Punica.

In addition to Augoustakis' introduction, the volume comprises 16 revised and updated essays that cover nearly 50 years of research from 1958 to 2005. The collection fulfils the aims of the series to provide students and scholars with a general introduction to Flavian epic and the socio-political and cultural context of this period as well as a comprehensive overview of the great variety of topics that have dominated Flavian scholarship.

The papers, which Augoustakis jointly selected with another stalwart of Flavian poetry, Helen Lovatt, fit these criteria, albeit with a clear focus on intertextuality and narratology – a choice that reflects and can be justified by the current state of research in the field of Flavian studies. The same applies for the slightly uneven distribution of the papers among the three Flavian poets, which are arranged in what has commonly been accepted as the chronological order: Section 1 contains four papers on Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica, Section 2 six contributions on Statius’ Thebaid and one on the Achilleid, and Section 3 five essays on Silius Italicus’ Punica.

The bibliographical information has been carefully updated for all papers in this volume, misprints and minor errors in the original publications have been corrected, and translations of Latin and Greek quotations have been added to the articles that originally lacked them. Alterations of the main argument have been kept to a minimum. The only paper that has been significantly restructured is Joanne Brown's essay, which is based on a chapter from her unpublished dissertation. The volume also unites Richard Bruère’s two successive publications on Ovid's influence on the first and second half of Silius' Punica.

Six papers (Bernstein, Fucecchi, Hinds, Lovatt, Pomeroy, Zissos) are followed by a short postscript in which the authors provide a specialized literature review taking account of the research undertaken since the papers’ first publication, in some cases outlining their own continued work on the topic (Fucecchi, Hinds, Lovatt, Zissos), responding to scholarly criticism (Pomeroy) or taking the opportunity to revise individual aspects of their original argument (Zissos). Postscripts such as these together with a brief note on the context and the impact of the original publications on the respective field of Flavian studies would have been a welcome addition to all papers, especially as the individual contributions are not accompanied by a separate bibliography.

The majority of the papers reprinted in this volume are articles that are accessible via JSTOR or book chapters from companions that are available in most university libraries, which means that they were already easily accessible to students and scholars prior to the publication of this collection. This raises the question whether preference could have been given to papers of comparable quality and influence that would have been more difficult for the reader to obtain. Similarly, the volume only contains three Italian papers (Fucecchi, Mezzanotte, Nordera) that have been translated into English for the first time, which means that the last sixty years of Flavian scholarship are solely represented by English and Italian contributions instead of a more balanced selection that also reflects the great impact French, German, and Spanish publications have had on the field of Flavian studies.

The collection itself is very coherent with many papers taking note of and building on one another already in their original form:

PART A: Valerius Flaccus

2. The first section opens with Martha Davis' landmark study on Valerius Flaccus’ prophetic ship. Davis convincingly shows that Argo’s pioneering voyage is a metaphor for the poet’s engagement in the ‘literary conversation’ with his predecessors and his responsibility as Roman vates to present a differentiated view of Rome’s rise to power.

3. Valerius’ pessimistic worldview is also at the center of Roberta Nordera’s discussion, which ascribes Valerius’ highly allusive, complex, and contorted style with a predilection for psychological portrayals of (female) characters in an extreme state of mind to his new (baroque) taste and his aspiration to be original in his adaptation of the Virgilian model.

4. Marco Fucecchi’s contribution takes a closer look at the psychological portrayal of the two protagonists and Valerius’ digression from his Hellenistic model, Apollonius Rhodius, in his combination of elegiac and epic elements in the Colchian-Scythian war of Argonautica 6. Fucecchi demonstrates that Medea and Jason undergo an opposite conditioning in their character development until they and with them the two main themes of war and love are united during the teichoscopy.

5. In the final chapter of this section, Andrew Zissos revisits Roberta Nordera's discussion in his analysis of Valerius’ systematic use of ‘negative allusions’, i.e. unselected variants of the Argonautic myth, as a “pointed metaliterary gesture” (p.112) that acknowledges the poet's belated position in the epic tradition and challenges his reader’s mythological competence.

Part B: Statius

6. Debra Hershkowitz examines four Statian adaptations (Theb. 2.352–356: Argia–Polynices, 3.260–323: Venus–Mars, 3.678–721: Argia–Adrastus, 7.145–226: Jupiter–Bacchus) of Virgil’s parce metu, Cythereamotif in Jupiter's consolation of Venus (Aen. 1.223–196) as a striking example of intertextual allusion through intratextual repetition. She argues that Statius’ reworking of the motif in the Thebaid including his misplacement of the Virgilian characters into an unsuitable context and the role reversal of comforter and comfortee is not a failed attempt to imitate the Virgilian model but constitutes Statius’ own original take on and interpretation of the paradigm.

7. Alison Keith's study of Statius' intertextual relationship with Ovid illustrates that Statius’ Thebaid is not just a continuation or simple reworking of Ovid’s Theban history (Met.2.836–4.603), but a sophisticated interpretation of and comment on his predecessor’s narrative choices.

8. Georgia Nugent compares Hypsipyle’s long narrative in Statius’ Nemean episode (Theb.4.49–498) to Aeneas’ account of the Fall of Troy (Aen. 2–3). The analysis concludes that while the homodiegetic report of the former Lemnian queen gives unprecedented authority to a female voice in Roman epic, her account is still inextricably intertwined with and dependent on her father Thoas, and as such representative of Statius’ relationship to his ‘poetic father’, Virgil.

9. With Joanne Brown’s contribution the focus shifts from Hypsipyle to the death of her nursling, Opheltes/Archemorus at the intersection of the Nemean, Lemnian, and Theban narrative. The essay, a substantially revised version of Chapter Five of her dissertation, bears signs of the revision process with some transitions appearing rather abrupt or forced as a result of the structural changes. While her ambitious argument at times seems to pull in different directions and may have benefitted from streamlining, Brown's many interesting observations deserve to be presented with a broader platform in this volume and will undoubtedly stimulate further discussion. She places Opheltes in the literary tradition of divine, dying, and heroic infants in epic poetry and other genres and discusses a variety of related concepts and recurrent patterns to establish the enormous narrative potential Statius evokes in the Opheltes-episode only to suppress it quickly afterwards with the child’s premature death that quashes all his potential for heroism. Brown convincingly argues that the Flavian poet turns the infant’s demise into a metaphor “for the destruction of creative potential” (p.208) and the resulting narrative digression that delays the expedition of the Seven into a representation of the poet’s own deferral of his epic narrative with the Silvae.

10. Neil Bernstein demonstrates that Statius breaks with the expectations of spectacles in the preceding literary tradition by replacing the regular cast of focalizers during the Thebaid’s fratricidal duel with contrasting viewpoints from multiple audiences and calling into question the exemplarity of spectacles. His analysis establishes that the evident failure of spectatorship in the Thebaid “symbolizes the breakdown of ancestral relationships” (p.251).

11. Helen Lovatt’s study of Lucan’s influence on the closing techniques of the Thebaid takes up Bernstein's discussion on the importance of gaze and vision. She shows that Statius offers the reader an abundance of alternative endings, only for all of them to fail to provide closure as Statius’ characters are “part of the endless pattern of literary heritage” (p.275).

12. In his discussion of generic norms and creative transgressions of perceived genre and gender boundaries in Augustan and Flavian poetry, Stephen Hinds proposes a model of dynamic impurity and generic mobility for Statius’ genre- and gender-bending Achilleid. Part C: Silius Italicus

13. Arthur Pomeroy’s analysis of the intertextual relationship between Silius' Punica and Aeneid 8, “the most Roman and probably most Augustan book in Virgil’s poem” (p.327), illustrates that Silius distances himself from the vision of his predecessor by reversing Virgilian themes or adapting them to a new context and by portraying his epic protagonist as a civic-minded hero, who sacrifices himself for the common good.

14. Richard Bruère’s study systematically summarizes the most important Ovidian echoes throughout the Punica and assesses the function and effect of the individual borrowings and the striking lack thereof in certain passages.

15. Antony Augoustakis demonstrates that the story of the rape and death of Pyrene (Pun. 3.415–441) is not just an aetiological interlude that foreshadows the defeat of the Carthaginian leader, but also a “didactic set piece” (p.390) that highlights the ambivalent portrayal of Hercules as a model of virtue for Scipio and of vice for Hannibal.

16. Raymond Marks takes up Pomeroy's discussion in his analysis of Silius’ portrayal of Roman self-sacrifice in Punica 4–10 as a concept of exchange and substitution for Rome’s imperium sine fine.

17. Alessandro Mezzanotte’s paper identifies Silius as a nostalgic admirer of the past but also a careful observer of contemporary events and the political climate of his time.

As with all collections of this kind, one might disagree with the editor’s selection or might have opted for a more balanced distribution of the papers among the three Flavian poets or for the inclusion of a greater variety of topics and translations from other modern languages, but overall Antony Augoustakis’ edition is just what the series promises – a well-produced, coherent and representative collection of, introduction to and reflection upon the last sixty years of Flavian scholarship.

The volume has been meticulously edited. The typographical errors that remain are few and insignificant. Only two misprints of primary sources shall be included here: p. 155, n.19: ‘Sidonius’ does not occur in Theb. 2.6 and 2.282, but in 1.5 and 1.181; p.418: the final sentence of paragraph 1 “Paulus perishes, overwhelmed by a shower of enemy weapons” refers to Pun. 10.303–305, not 10.30–35.

Table of Contents

Preface, vii–viii
Text and Translations Used, xi–xii
List of Abbreviations, xiii
1. Introduction: Flavian Epic Renaissance, Antony Augoustakis, 1–14

Part A: Valerius Flaccus, 15–126
2. ratis audax: Valerius Flaccus’ Bold Ship, Martha A. Davis, 17–44
3. Virgilianisms in Valerius Flaccus: A Contribution to the Study of Epic Language in the Imperial Age, Roberta Nordera, 45–79 (Translation)
4. The Restoration of Ancient Models: Epic Tradition and Mannerist Technique in Valerius’ Argonautica 6, Marco Fucecchi, 80–110 (Translation, with postscript)
5. Allusion and Narrative Possibility in the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus, Andrew Zissos, 111–126 (With postscript)

PART B: Statius, 127–318
6. parce metu, Cytherea: Failed Intertext Repetition in Statius’ Thebaid, or, Don't Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before, Debra Hershkowitz, 129–148
7. Ovid’s Theban Narrative in Statius’ Thebaid, Alison Keith, 149–169
8. Statius’ Hypsipyle: Following in the Footsteps of Virgil’s Aeneid, S. Georgia Nugent, 170–194
9. lacrimabile nomen Archemorus: The Babe in the Woods in Statius’ Thebaid 4–6, Joanne Brown, 195–233
10. auferte oculos: Modes of Spectatorship in Statius’ Thebaid 11, Neil W. Bernstein, 234–261 (With postscript)
11. Competing Endings: Re-reading the End of Statius’ Thebaid through Lucan, Helen Lovatt, 262–291 (With postscript)
12. Essential Epic: Genre and Gender from Macer to Statius, Stephen Hinds, 292–318 (With postscript)

PART C: Silius Italicus, 319–458
13. Silius’ Rome: The Rewriting of Virgil’s Vision, Arthur Pomeroy, 321–344 (With postscript)
14. Color Ovidianus in Silius’ Punica, Richard T. Bruère, 345–387
15. lugendam formae sine virginitate reliquit: Reading Pyrene and the Transformation of Landscape in Silius’ Punica 3, Antony Augoustakis, 388–407
16. per vulnera regnum: Self-destruction, Self-sacrifice and Devotio in Punica 4–10, Raymond Marks, 408–433
17. Echoes of the Contemporary World in Silius Italicus, Alessandro Mezzanotte, 434–458 (Translation)

Bibliography, 459–499
Acknowledgements, 501–502
Index Locorum, 503–527
General Index, 528–538

Original Publications

Davis, Martha A., “ratis audax: Valerius Flaccus’ Bold Ship”, Ramus 18 (1989): 46–73.
Nordera, Roberta, “I virgilianismi in Valerio Flacco. Contributo a uno studio della lingua epica nell’età imperiale”, in: R. Nordera, T. Bertotti, L. Bezzi, E. Pianezzola, and A. Lunelli (eds.), Contributi a tre poeti Latini (Valerio Flacco, Rutilio Namaziano, Pascoli), Bologna 1969: 1–92).
Fucecchi, Marco, “Il restauro dei modelli antichi: Tradizione epica e tecnica manieristica in Valerio Flacco”, MD 36 (1996): 101–165.
Zissos, Andrew, “Allusion and Narrative Possibility in the Argonautica of Valerius Flaccus”, CPh 94 (1999): 289–301.
Hershkowitz, Debra, “parce metu, Cytherea: Failed Intertext Repetition in Statius’ Thebaid, or, Don't Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before”, MD 39 (1997): 35–52.
Keith, Alison, “Ovid's Theban Narrative in Statius’ Thebaid”, Hermathena 177–178 (2004–2005): 181–207.
Nugent, S. Georgia, “Statius’ Hypsipyle: Following in the Footsteps of the Aeneid”, Scholia 5 (1996): 46–71.
Brown, Joanne, “Archemorus: The Babe in the Woods”, in: Into the Woods: Narrative Studies in the Thebaid of Statius with Special References to Books IV-VI, Diss. Cambridge 1994: 129–160.
Bernstein, Neil W., “auferte oculos: Modes of Spectatorship in Statius’ Thebaid 11”, Phoenix 58 (2004): 62–85
Lovatt, Helen, “Competing Endings: Re-reading the End of Statius’ Thebaid through Lucan”, Ramus 28 (1999): 126–151.
Hinds, Stephen, “Essential Epic: Genre and Gender from Macer to Statius”, in: M. Depew and D. Obbink (eds.), Matrices of Genre: Authors, Canons, and Society, Cambridge, Mass. 2000: 221–244.
Pomeroy, Arthur, “Silius’ Rome: The Rewriting of Virgil’s Vision”, Ramus 29 (2000): 149–168.
Bruère, Richard T. (1958), “Color Ovidianus in Silius’ Punica 1–7”, in: N. I. Herescu (ed.), Ovidiana: Recherches sur Ovide, Paris 1958: 475–499.
Bruère, Richard T. (1959), “Color Ovidianus in Silius’ Punica 8–17”, CPh 54 (1959): 228–245.
Augoustakis, Antony, “Lugendam formae sine virginitate reliquit: Reading Pyrene and the Transformation of Landscape in Silius’ Punica 3”, AJPh 124 (2003): 235–257.
Marks, Raymond (2005), “per vulnera regnum: Self-destruction, Self-sacrifice and Devotio in Punica 4–10”, Ramus 34: 127–151.
Mezzanotte, Alessandro, “Echi del mondo contemporaneo in Silio Italico”, RIL 129 (1995): 357–388.
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