BMCR 2006.06.03

Flavian Poetry. Mnemosyne Suppl. 270

, , , Flavian poetry. Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.. Leiden: Brill, 2006. 1 online resource (vi, 408 pages).. ISBN 9789047417712. €109.00.

[Titles and authors are listed at the end of the review.]

This volume collects revised versions of 21 papers delivered at an international colloquium on Flavian poetry at the University of Groningen in August 2003.1 The editors are well-known contributors to the study of Flavian literature,2 and the contributors are respected scholars in the field of Latin literature. The papers, whose authors and titles are listed at the end of the review, generally avoid overlap in subject material, and some papers gain strength from complementary treatments in the same volume. Parenthetical comments and footnotes offer useful cross-references between the papers, and the volume meets the high production standards associated with the Mnemosyne Supplement series.3 Roughly equal coverage is given to each of the three major “subdomains” of extant Flavian poetry (epic, epigram, and the multigeneric Silvae), though certain gaps may also be questioned.4 All in all, the volume is a welcome companion to the earlier Brill production, Flavian Rome: Culture, Image, Text (ed. A.J. Boyle & W.J. Dominik, Leiden 2003).

Citroni considers the purposes of Quintilian’s survey of Greek and Latin writers in Book 10 of the Institutio Oratoria. Quintilian includes discussion of poetic works that may be of little practical use to the orator but were nevertheless regarded highly by his contemporaries. With regard to Roman poetry, Quintilian’s canons differ significantly from those of Cicero and Varro. Older poets such as Ennius and Accius are dismissed as too unrefined, the “emulative reference points” for the poets of the first century AD now include the Augustans, and the perception of Roman inferiority in comparison to Greek literary achievements has disappeared. Augustan models for drama are lacking, however, and thus Pliny recommends Plautus and Terence to his friends, while Martial invites an addressee to become the new Sophocles.

Nauta’s study examines the recusatio motif present in each of the “subdomains” of Flavian poetry. Where the Augustan poets oppose the “grander” genre of epic to the “smaller” genres (pastoral, lyric, elegy, etc.) in which they are working, the Flavian poets oppose the “smaller” mythological epic to the “grander” panegyrical epic. Thus Valerius’ proem reserves the writing of panegyrical epic for a member of the imperial family, while the narrators of Statius’ Thebaid and Achilleid indefinitely defer writing the epic on Domitian’s wars. Statius’ narrator claims that the briefer Silvae are less polished than the longer Thebaid, inverting thereby the Callimachean scheme that undergirds the Augustan recusationes. Martial’s Epigrams, by contrast, embed the recusatio motif in the contexts of patronage and imperial panegyric. The poet relates his refusal to write aliquid magnum (1.107) to his lack of material support from a patron. Later epigrams, meanwhile, display “a full turn” from the Callimachean recusatio. The imperial panegyrics (8.2 and 8.4) incorporate epic themes, even as Martial’s Muse rejects elaboration on the grand scale (8.3) and the narrator rejects mythological poetry (10.4). Rosati examines the negotiation between the Flavian encomiastic poets and the emperor. Martial’s lion-and-hare cycle is read as a celebration of the emperor’s power over nature, his clementia, and his ability to debellare superbos. Building on themes presented in Carole Newlands’ recent Statius’ Silvae and the poetics of Empire (Cambridge, 2002), Rosati presents the mediations performed in Statius’ Silvae between emperor, Senate and people, and poet as more complex than those of the Epigrams. A concluding section examines the rhetorical construction of luxury; rather than the vice deplored by the moralists, it functions as an instrument of social cohesion both for the emperor and the Flavian aristocracy.

The teichoscopies performed by Statius’ Antigone and Valerius’ Medea form the subject of Lovatt’s paper, an effort to uncover “the site of a truly female gaze within epic”. In contrast to the Homeric example-model, the interaction between Helen and Priam in Iliad 3, Statius emphasizes Antigone’s confusion and the aged Phorbas’ fallibility. Antigone’s second viewing of the battlefield in Thebaid 11 offers “a reversal of teichoscopy,” as she demands that Polynices look at her. Medea’s viewing in Valerius shows a similar reversal of the normative values of epic: restricting her focus to Jason causes her to reject both the glory and pathos of war. As Lovatt observes, the “contradictions” in Medea’s character (such as the combination of her powerful magic with her marginalization in a patriarchal society and her victimization by the hostile goddesses) themselves “map onto the contradictions of the female gaze” (78).

Zissos examines the unresolved contradiction in Valerius’ Argonautica between the “primitivist” perspective that condemns sailing as an originary evil and the “progressivist” view which assimilates it to Jupiter’s victory in the Gigantomachy. Neither position can be maintained without being undermined by irony. The poem’s “primitivists” involve themselves in brutal contradictions (such as Boreas’ threat to destroy the Argo even at the expense of his children’s lives), while the “progressivists” must deal with the tragic events, prefigured in the narrative, that follow upon the voyage. In contrast to his Vergilian counterpart, the Valerian Neptune appears as a contradictory figure, “as both savior and destroyer, as both pacifier and pacified” (94). Zissos attributes Valerius’ equivocation to his deconstruction of an historical master narrative, while a concluding footnote associates the poem’s ideological tensions with those of the Flavian aristocracy.

Schrijvers briefly reviews the sublime in the Roman literary tradition, defined as “a fascination with great natural phenomena comparable to the feelings of awe and wonder expressed by Longinus” (99) in Peri Hupsous. He then examines elements of the sublime in the Punica, including thunderbolts, storms, streams and rivers, the Alps, and the Atlantic tides; an appendix offers ten further examples. While the lists and discussions are useful, the absence of an argument attributing greater purposes than ornament or variatio to the sublime narrative elements is regretable, while the derogatory rhetoric aimed at Silius (“mechanical”; “the reader/listener. . .has already had to endure,” etc.) is gratuitous and now rather dated.

In the following chapter, by contrast, Dominik offers a sophisticated interpretation of the epic’s narrative and ideological structure. Silius achieves programmatic emphasis through narrative expansion and placement: he expands the Saguntum episode beyond its historical significance and places the Cannae episode in the middle of the epic, despite its occurrence comparatively early in the war. Both episodes, linked by the hostile agency of Juno, present the Punic wars as the origin of later Roman civil conflict. The abandonment of the Saguntines shows the beginning of Roman moral decline, while the framing of the Cannae episode by the election of Varro the demagogue and the apostrophe of Carthage as Rome’s moral monitor prefigures the future collapse into civil strife. The conclusion details other symptoms of civil war in the Cannae episode, including the confusion of national identities, the theomachy, and the names of Roman commanders that recall the participants in later civil wars.

In a study of the exegetical strategies adopted by Statius’ early modern commentators, Berlincourt examines how they approached two narratives of the Theban past concerning the origins of the spring Dirce and the genesis of the Spartoi. Due to the lemmatized structure of the commentary, commentators tend to discuss each reference to the Theban past separately without considering the overall function of such references. Yet the Thebaid itself challenges the reader’s notion of internal coherence, as “similar situations, images, and expressions tend to repeat themselves continually, but in different contexts, with different effects, and on different scales” (143). Berlincourt cautions against the “mechanical” use of parallels and observes that reflection on the methodology of earlier exegetes may lead us to clarify our own.

Fantham studies the episode of Amphiaraus’ taking of the auspices in Thebaid 3. After a brief review of Roman augural practice, she reads the omen of the swans and eagles against its models in prior epic, including Homer, Vergil, and Lucan. Amphiaraus’ attempt to instruct the Argives, according to Fantham, invokes the theme of mora belli associated with Latinus in Vergil’s Aeneid and developed into a major theme in Lucan’s Bellum Civile. Narrative deferral is “simply a compositional device” for the Thebaid, however, rather than the internal struggle dramatized by Lucan’s narrator (as elucidated by J.M. Masters, Poetry and Civil War in Lucan’s Bellum Civile [Cambridge, 1992]).

The next group of papers discuss the relationship between the Silvae and epic. Gibson’s paper is a welcome complement to Nauta’s paper on the recusatio. He shows that though the Silvae claim a lesser generic status than epic, epic elements are nevertheless ubiquitous, occurring even in unexpected contexts such as Silv. 1.6, the hendecasyllabic poem on the Saturnalia. Though Statius claims to be unequal to writing about Domitian in the epic proems, the emperor has a far greater presence in the Silvae, and Statius permits himself the “grand Jovian material” recused in the epics in Silv. 1.1. The paper’s subsequent discussion of funerary scenes ( Silv. 2.1, 2.6, 5.1) and propemptica ( Silv. 3.2, 5.2) convincingly demonstrates how “the Silvae can become a tool in the reading of epic” (176).

Van Dam nominates Vergil as “the privileged author in the Silvae” and examines a number of extended allusions to Vergil and the earlier epic tradition in Silv. 2.1, 1.4, 3.4, and 3.1. Hardie complements van Dam’s focus on Vergilian allusion with a paper on Statius’ “Ovidian poetics”. The juxtaposition of Silv. 2.3, a narrative of erotic pursuit and metamorphosis, and 2.4, a poem on a dead parrot in the tradition of Amores 2.6, suggests an Ovidian connection between the poems. The description of the tree exploits the same relationship of metamorphosis, metaphor, and poetics characteristic of the Metamorphoses. The tree’s suspension above the water, for example, figures the perpetual frustration of Pan’s desires for the nymph, while the shade of the tree and the pool, traditional symbols of poetry, become symbolic attestations of the poet’s skill. Statius exploits Horatian and Ovidian traditions concurrently: he reconverts the locus amoenus (a site for outdoor symposia in Horace but for rape in Ovid) back into a safe space, while the pool recalls both the fons Bandusiae, stained by the sacrificial animal’s blood, and the poetic spring generated from the blood of the murdered Acis in the Metamorphoses.

Smolenaars’ study of Silv. 4.3, Statius’ poem on the Via Domitiana, rejects Newlands’ claims for ambiguity and implicit criticism of the emperor. He argues that the poem fits with the tradition of imperial encomium, that criticism is most unlikely, and that its mobilization of grim epic intertexts (such as the Trojan departure from Carthage in Vergil or the Sibyl’s prophecy in Lucan) produces a humorous incongruity. Other aspects of the poem are similarly described as humorous or encomiastic. For example, the speech of Vulturnus is said to produce an amusing inconsistency: the river claims to have been made into a Callimachean “pure spring” rather than a raging Pindaric torrent, but the Via Domitiana itself is the busy highway deplored by Callimachus. The Sibyl’s wish that Domitian live longer than natis. . .abnepotibusque is not a tactless reference to the early death of the emperor’s son, but (on the analogy of Pliny Pan. 94) a wish that he outlive his readers’ descendants.

Laguna Mariscal concludes the volume’s entries on the Silvae with an examination of their linguistic and thematic correspondences with Horatian satire. Roman satire offers the only prior model for the generically diverse collection, and Horace and Statius take up similar themes such as autobiography, virtue, and moral integrity. In the following paper, Merli also examines a Flavian poet through the lens of Horatian satire. Horace’s Satires and Epistles are the model for the city/country antithesis in Martial’s tenth book of Epigrams (rather than the Greek epigrammatic tradition, in which they are absent). Horatian satire also provides the model for Martial’s “autobiographical figure” and the pretext for Martial’s “most ambitious goal, that of lifting the genre of epigram out of occasional poetry and entertainment and rooting it in the literary system” (269).

L. Watson argues against the view, originating in G.E. Lessing, that Martial’s epigrams exhibit a bipartite structure consisting of “set-up” (Erwartung) and “conclusion” (Aufschluss). Through a review of formal procedures (including closural devices, ring composition, and the use of significant names), he demonstrates how “tonal and thematic bridges may be erected between Erwartung and Aufschluss” (276). Detailed readings of three epigrams (10.63, 2.29, and 8.52) further undermine the bipartite schema by indicating the presence of anticipatory material that prepares the reader for the final “point”. P. Watson examines the factors that determine Martial’s use of meters other than the normative elegiac couplet, including the scazon and the Phalaecian hendecasyllable. The scazon was associated with invective and satire in the preceding literary tradition, and it is Martial’s meter of choice for invectives such as 3.82 (against Zoilus), 7.20, 12.32, etc. In the manner of the preceding paper, Watson shows how the use of the scazon provides “an advance clue” for the surprise attack on Paetus that concludes the second Erotion epigram (5.37). The Phalaecian hendecasyllable, though rare in Greek epigram, accounts for two-thirds of Catullus’ polymetrics, and Martial uses it in “Catullan” settings where intimacy and familiarity are emphasized (such as 3.12, 5.78, 6.42, etc.). Analysis of poems in similar contexts shows the thematic potential of the different meters: in the Zoilus cycle, for example, the scazon is appropriate for an invective such as 3.82, but hendecasyllable for the more frivolous attack of 4.77.

Stroup offers a theoretically sophisticated and intellectually exhilarating approach to the discourse of exchange in Martial’s Xenia. An introduction surveying theories of collecting from Durost and Benjamin to Pearce provides the conceptual framework for her discussion of Martial’s poetic transformation of the “rough stuff of the physical world” into the “aesthetically refined artifacts” represented by the distichs of these books. Stroup observes that though previous literary tradition could equate poetry with gifts, Martial’s suggestion that “poetry ‘about’ a gift-object might provide a reasonable economic substitute for that gift-object itself — disticha pro munere” (306) represents a significant innovation. Though the foodstuffs described in the Xenia are perishable, the poems themselves will endure: “in his production of an enduring but insubstantial mimesis that is of greater social and exchange value than the perishable, if substantive, original, and, in his suggestion that his own paper gifts are the only ones worth receiving (the only ones that can make this transformation successfully), Martial has written himself a trump card in the Saturnalian game of chance” (310). A briefer coda discusses the Apophoreta, in which distichs of commensurate length create the illusion that gifts of greatly differing value have been rendered “effectively interchangeable”.

Canius Rufus may have written light verse, but evidence for him outside Martial’s corpus is lacking. Lorenz argues the group of epigrams that mention Canius all refer to the same person. His links to Gades (1.61) with its erotic entertainers and to Tarentum (1.69), another city associated with sexual license in Horace and Juvenal, help to explain the puzzling 1.69, in which a statue of the lecherous Pan is replaced with one of Canius. Lorenz next examines a later set of epigrams that detail the nature of Canius’ literary production as represented by Martial. 3.20 deflates Canius’ pretensions to the higher genres, while 7.69 implies that his writing concerns sexual activity.

Williams examines the opening line of Mart. 2.41, ride si sapis, o puella, ride, which the narrator attributes to Ovid although it is not to be found in Ovid’s extant corpus. While the line could be a verbatim quotation from a lost Ovidian poem (the assumption made by the collectors of Ovidian fragments), it also alludes to thematic and linguistic models from Ovid’s erotodidactic poetry. In Ars Amatoria 3, Ovid instructs girls how to laugh as a means of seduction, while in the Remedia he suggests that the incorrect use of both laughter and tears can kill desire. Williams’ discussion indicates both how awareness of the Ovidian models enriches Martial’s invective against Maximina and how the scholarly vocabulary of intertextuality can be refined.

Henriksén’s study of Martial’s sepulchral epitaphs, epigrams that take the form of a funerary inscription, concludes the volume. A lengthy introduction clarifies terminology and subdivides the nine sepulchral epitaphs from eulogies of persons other than the deceased or skoptic epigrams. Henriksén observes how Martial’s inclusion of narrative elements such deixis, the name of the deceased, the indication of age at death, biographical information, and funerary formulae contribute to the “epigraphic character” of these epitaphs. While it cannot be known with certainty whether Martial was ever commissioned to write epitaphs or whether his epitaphs were inscribed, Henriksén suggests that it is unlikely that he would have been commissioned in cases such as Melior’s freedman Glaucias or the famous charioteer Scorpus.


Citroni, Mario. “Quintilian and the perception of the system of poetic genres in the Flavian age.” pp. 1-19.

Nauta, Ruurd R. “The recusatio in Flavian poetry.” pp. 21-40.

Rosati, Gianpiero. “Luxury and love: the encomium as aestheticisation of power in Flavian poetry.” pp. 41-58.

Lovatt, Helen. “The female gaze in Flavian epic: looking out from the walls in Valerius Flaccus and Statius.” pp. 59-78.

Zissos, Andrew. “Sailing and sea-storm in Valerius Flaccus ( Argonautica 1.574-642): the rhetoric of inundation.” pp. 79-95.

Schrijvers, Piet H. “Silius Italicus and the Roman sublime.” pp. 97-111.

Dominik, William J. “Rome then and now: linking the Saguntum and Cannae episodes in Silius Italicus’ Punica.” pp. 113-127.

Berlincourt, Valéry. “Queen Dirce and the Spartoi: wandering through Statius’ Theban past and the Thebaid‘s early printed editions.” pp. 129-145.

Fantham, Elaine. “The perils of prophecy: Statius’ Amphiaraus and his literary antecedents.” pp. 147-162.

Gibson, Bruce. “The Silvae and epic.” pp. 163-183.

van Dam, Harm-Jan. “Multiple imitation of epic models in the Silvae.” pp. 185-205.

Hardie, Philip R. “Statius’ Ovidian poetics and the tree of Atedius Melior ( Silvae 2.3).” pp. 207-221.

Smolenaars, Johannes J.L. “Ideology and poetics along the via Domitiana: Statius Silv. 4.3.” pp. 223-244.

Laguna Mariscal, Gabriel. “Satirical elements in Statius’ Silvae : a literary and sociological approach.” pp. 245-255.

Merli, Elena. “Identity and irony. Martial’s tenth book, Horace, and the tradition of Roman satire.” pp. 257-270.

Watson, Lindsay C. “The unity of Martial’s Epigrams.” pp. 271-284.

Watson, Patricia. “Contextualising Martial’s metres.” pp. 285-298.

Stroup, Sarah Culpepper. “Invaluable collections: the illusion of poetic presence in Martial’s Xenia and Apophoreta.” pp. 299-313.

Lorenz, Sven. “Martial and the writer Canius Rufus.” pp. 315-328.

Williams, Craig. “Identified quotations and literary models: the example of Martial 2.41.” pp. 329-348.

Henriksén, Christer. “Martial’s modes of mourning. Sepulchral epitaphs in the Epigrams.” pp. 349-367.


1. The program and abstracts of the papers are available online.

2. E.g., H.J. van Dam, P. Papinius Statius Silvae Book II (Leiden, 1984); J.J.L. Smolenaars, Statius: Thebaid VII (Leiden, 1994); R.R. Nauta, Poetry for patrons: literary communication in the age of Domitian (Leiden, 2002).

3. In addition to some errors in italicization, punctuation, and capitalization, misprints include “Pachalis” (for Paschalis, 24 n.11), “manood” (32), “adressed” (108), “Maguire” (for McGuire, 158 n.30), “sluggisch” (231), the portmanteau “Fathunders” (243), “Epia” (for Eppia, 255 n. 29), “Alphius” (for Alfius, 258), “und” (for “and,” 268), “his his” (280), “Freidländer” (299 n.1).

4. No paper in the collection is primarily devoted to Statius’ Achilleid. A study of poetic fragments and works no longer extant from the Flavian era would also have been a welcome contribution to the volume. The editors’ brief preface implies that dramatic poetry was excluded (such as the Octavia, likely a Flavian production). See Joseph A. Smith, “Flavian Drama: Looking Back with Octavia,” in A.J. Boyle & W.J. Dominik, ed., Flavian Rome: Culture, Image, Text (Leiden, 2003) 391-430. No contributor responds to a recent suggestion (even to cursorily dismiss it) that the “Bellum Civile” of Petronius’ Satyricon may also have been a Flavian production. See Franc,ois Ripoll, “Le Bellum Ciuile de Pétrone: une épopée flavienne?” RÉA 104 (2002): 163-184.