BMCR 2004.11.02

Statius. Vol. 2: Thebaid, Books 1-7; Vol. 3: Books 8-12. Loeb Classical Library, 207 and 498

, Statius. Vol. 2: Thebaid, Books 1-7; Vol. 3: Books 8-12. Loeb Classical Library, 207 and 498. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003. 409; 441. $21.50 each.

The new Statius Loeb, a revision of the Mozley’s 1928 two-volume edition, is now complete with the publication of volumes two and three, featuring the Thebaid and the Achilleid. Though dated 2003, these volumes have only been available since February 2004.

SB’s second volume opens with a brief introduction to the Thebaid (pp. 1-7) and the Achilleid (pp. 7-8), followed by K.M. Coleman’s “drastically selective” (p. 9) overview of recent scholarship on the epics (pp. 9-29). Coleman’s itemized bibliography follows on pp. 29-37. The text and translation of Books 1-7 of the Thebaid occupy the rest of the second volume (pp. 39-459). The third and last volume features Books 8-12 of the Thebaid (pp. 1-309) and the extant fragment of the Achilleid (pp. 311-97), as well as two separate indices of names for each of the two epics (pp. 399-435 and 436-41).

While the Silvae remained largely unknown until the Renaissance,1 Statius’ epics have enjoyed centuries of virtually uninterrupted readership, from Statius’ own time down to Dante and the Renaissance.2 In times less remote from ours, the 18th century Italian neo-classical poet Vittorio Alfieri drew inspiration from Statius’ Thebaid in composing his tragedy Antigone. As D.W.T. Vessey notes in his introduction to A.D. Melville’s verse translation of the Thebaid, the extensive “afterlife of the Thebaid has never been fully explored” (Oxford, 1992: xliii). Though Statius’ masterwork has recently attracted increased attention among classicists, the Thebaid remains less easily accessible to the generally learned.

SB walks a fine line in making the Thebaid readable in English without unjustly distorting the text. A gesture toward readability is the space given in the explanatory notes to illustrate unfamiliar genealogical and geographical epithets. Besides the frequent mythical realia, many of SB’s notes concern such textual and interpretive matters as punctuation (e.g. 8.147), manuscript variant readings (e.g. 8.26), and corrections to SB’s own previously published opinions (e.g. 4.14), as well as remarks on Statius’ ‘extravagant hyperboles’ (e.g. 4.484), ‘audacious inversions’ (e.g. 4.665), or slight inconsistencies in mythic matters (e.g. 5.150). The poem’s elaborate style stems from the poet’s immense learning in matters of Greek myth. For instance, when it comes to mythic genealogies, SB often notes Statius’ ‘lax terminology’ and his fondness for obscure references.3 Genealogical and geographic epithets are common in ancient epic, but e.g. Oebalian, Oenides, and Olenian are not standard fare. The reader must be grateful to SB’s edition for its exhaustive indices.

The major challenge for the translator of the Thebaid, however, lies in Statius’ intentionally dense and allusive style, which, as SB writes in his introduction, “makes the proper balance between fidelity and readability particularly hard for his interpreters to capture” (p. 7). The reader must always keep in mind this cautionary remark, and, rather than concentrate exclusively on the English, elect to use SB’s version as a guide in appreciating the Latin text.4

For instance, at 4.1-3a, SB translates: “Thrice had Phoebus relaxed harsh winter with his Zephyrs and was constraining the vernal day to take longer than its narrow bound…” In the footnote on p. 204, SB helpfully explains the meaning of Statius’ astronomic periphrasis: “Two years had passed since Polynices left Thebes and a year since Tydeus’ embassy.” Second person address (apostrophe) is judiciously eliminated in translation when fidelity would compromise the syntactical flow in English (e.g. 1.582, 597; 2.267; 3.573; 9.357). Occasionally featuring such regionalisms as ‘mayhap’ and ‘methinks’ (e.g. 1.428; 3.15), which might—who knows—return to more widespread usage during the course of the present millennium, SB’s elegant translation sports an original archaic tone in line with the poem’s grand style.

As with the Silvae,1 also with the Thebaid it is the text rather than the translation that arouse this reviewer’s concern. SB likes to ‘improve’ the Latin in such a way as to adapt it to his English translation. This is not to say that SB’s conjectures are uninteresting or that they do not facilitate our comprehension. Yet in the majority of the cases in which SB prints his conjectural text, it would have been better to restrict editorial intervention to mentioning the conjectures in the apparatus rather than printing them in the text, especially when the transmitted text is perfectly intelligible as is.5

For instance, 8.127-30:

interea vittis lauruque insignis opima
currus et egregiis modo formidatus in armis
ipse palam, fusus nulli nullique fugatus,

129 luce palam Pω

SB interprets it thus: “Meanwhile search is made for the chariot conspicuous with fillets and triumphal laurel, and for himself [= ipse ], lately feared in the open in his glorious arms, not routed, not put to flight by any.”


Mozley’s old Loeb (1929): “Meanwhile his chariot, garlanded with sacred wool and victorious bay, and feared but of late for noble feats of arms, is sought in the clear light of day [= luce palam ] in vain, though by none vanquished and by none put to flight.”

Melville (1992):

Meanwhile that chariot, conspicuous
With sacred braids and bays of victory,
Feared a short moment past for feats of arms,
That none had vanquished, none had put to flight,
In broad daylight [= luce palam ] is missing.

At 8.129 ipse palam is SB’s conjecture for the transmitted luce palam. SB notes (p. 13 note 19) that egregiis … in armis echoes Aeneid 9.581 and “must apply to the warrior, not the chariot,” which is true, of course, as far as the interpretation goes. However, this correct interpretation should not be sufficient to print SB’s conjectural ipse for two reasons. First, change of subject is frequent in Statius, as SB himself occasionally notes (e.g. 9.849 in note). Second, Amphiaraus’ chariot is described as formidatus, ‘feared’, which, given Statius’ artful language, could be daringly interpreted as metonymically transferred from charioteer to chariot. For the idea of a fear-inspiring chariot, compare Silius’ description of Tunger the Moor in Punica 7.683-6:

nigra viro membra, et furvi iuga celsa trahebant
cornipedes, totusque novae formidinis arte
concolor aequabat liventia currus equorum

Duff’s Loeb translates:

His body was black, and his lofty chariot was drawn by black horse; and the chariot—a new device to strike terror—was the same colour all over as the dusky backs of the steeds.”

While SB is right in tracing the expression egregiis … in armis to Virgil, Statius is not Virgil and one should resist the temptation of normalizing Statius’ Latin to match the Virgilian model. In Statius’ own words (12.816), “essay not the divine Aeneid,” nec tu divinam Aeneida tempta. It would have been better to mention the conjecture in the apparatus.6

After enduring the sanguinary gravity of the Thebaid, the reader is rewarded with the amorous levity of the Achilleid fragment. As SB notes in his introductory remarks (p. 8), the Achilleid represents a “revolution,” for it features none of the mannerism that characterizes the Silvae and the Thebaid. The less difficult style is also reflected in SB’s translation. The love-story between Achilles and Deodamia, with the moving touch of the heroine abandoned upon Achilles’ departure for the Trojan War, is a definite Ovidian gesture. Dismissing the view that construes the Achilleid as a reaction to the Iliadic Achilles,7 Gianpiero Rosati perceptively catches the ambiguity in Statius’ portrayal of Achilles. Statius’ Achilles constitutes an attempt at recovering the hero’s sentimental traits, which his wrathful persona on the battlefield necessarily conceals.8

Undoubtedly an improvement on Mozley, SB’s new translation of Statius’ epics benefits readers in understanding Statius’ Latin. Sometimes signaled in SB’s explanatory notes, SB’s idiosyncratic textual choices helpfully lead the reader through the narrative, but perhaps conceal the poet’s unusual style in the Thebaid. Overall, SB balances readability with fidelity in this long-overdue revision.

A small number of typos were detected:

Vol. 2:

p. 3 line 8: read ‘810’ instead of ‘310’; ad 3.16 in app. crit. closing parenthesis after SB is missing;

p. 75 line 18 from top: read ‘prophecy’ instead of ‘prophesy’;

p. 77 note 56 in parenthesis: read ‘are likely to be’ for ‘are like to be’;

p. 275 line 1: read ‘Mulciber’ instead of ‘Mulicber’;

p. 316 note 58: read ‘ Vertitur instead of Vertitut.

Vol. 3:

p. 13 note 19: read ‘SB2’ instead of ‘SB1’.

p. 149 note 26: read ‘in mourning’ instead of ‘in morning’

p. 411 s.v. ‘Erigone’ in the index read ‘Icarius’ instead of ‘Icarus’ or add the variant spelling ‘Icarus’ s.v. p. 416; cf. SB’s note ad 12.35.


1. See BMCR 2003.10.05.

2. “Codicum Thebaidos tanta est multitudo ut iure suspiceris pluris per mediam aetatem librarios quam per nostram lectores Statio contigisse.” Thus H.W. Garrod begins prefacing his 1906 OCT of Statius’ epics; see M.D. Reeve in L. D. Reynolds (ed.), Texts and Transmission (Oxford, 1983) 394-9.

3. E.g. 1.224-6; 1.464; 3.270; 4.590; 6.125; 7.204; 7.258; 7.278; 9.362; 9.403; 11.432.

4. In Michael Dewar’s perceptive formulation, the language of the Thebaid is “not unduly abstruse” but “extremely subtle and can seem difficult. Until one grows accustomed to it, much of the point he strives for can prove elusive, much of the hyperbole unbearable.” M. Dewar, Statius. Thebaid IX (Oxford, 1991) xxxi.

5. SB is notorious for his readiness to print his often too interesting conjectures in the text. See most recently R.G.M. Nisbet/N. Rudd, A Commentary on Horace: Odes Book III (Oxford, 2004) xxix.

6. There are (at least) thirty-three loci where SB prints his own conjecture in the text: Thebaid 3.16; 3.519; 3.561; 4.322; 4.514; 4.640; 4.748-50; 5.206; 5.318; 5.334; 5.347; 5.480; 5.654; 6.152; 6.206; 6.408; 6.459; 6.605; 6.892; 6.922; 7.12; 7.246; 8.129; 8.170; 9.664; 10.18; 10.404; 10.835; 10.873; 11.22; 11.296; 12.167; Achilleid 1.666. It is not easy to see why the conjectures proposed in apparatus at e.g. 1.148, 4.574, 4.796, and 8.490, are less worthy of being printed in the text than many of the cited thirty-three. Most of these conjectures were previously published by SB in MH 40 (1983) 51-60, and HSCP 100 (2000) 463-76.

7. S. Koster, “Liebe und Krieg in der ‘Achilleis’,” Würzburger Jahrbücher für die Altertumswissenschaft n.F. 5 (1975) 189-208.

8. G. Rosati, “L’ Achilleide di Stazio, un’epica dell’ambiguità,” Maia 44 (1992) 233-66 = G. Rosati, Stazio: Achilleide. Introduzione, traduzione e note (Milan, 1994) 5-61.