BMCR 2024.05.02

Editing and commenting on Statius’ Silvae

, Editing and commenting on Statius' Silvae. Mnemosyne supplements, 464. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2023. Pp. xiii, 257. ISBN 9789004528413.


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


This book has a claim upon the notice of all who are curious about the role of the commentary in classical learning, as well as those with a more general interest in the Silvae of Statius. It consists of nine papers gathered under three heads: “The (First) Rediscovery,” dealing with the reception of the Silvae in Renaissance Italy; “The Sequel: A New Age of Disclosure,” being a retrospective on commentary-writing from some recent practitioners of that art; and “A Path to the Future: Statian Readings in Augustan Poetry,” comprising four studies of allusion in the Silvae with regard to Virgil, Propertius, and Ovid. Before these stands Ana Lóio’s introduction, which offers a brief but detailed history of exegetical scholarship on the Silvae, as well as an overview of each chapter.

Giancarlo Abbamonte considers the role of the Roman humanists in bringing the Silvae into the scholastic curriculum of fifteenth-century Italy. He begins with an account of the discovery and circulation of the codex Matritensis (‘M’), and endeavours to discover who in Rome had knowledge of the Silvae after their rediscovery by Poggio in 1417. Pomponio Leto, who is the probable scribe of one of the earliest Roman MSS, ‘G’ (where he acquired his exemplar is unclear: p. 31), emerges as the primary agent of diffusion and co-author, with Niccolò Perotti, of the first commentary on the Silvae, which survives partially (1.1.1–1.5.33) in ‘P’. From the high erudition and obscure learning displayed in that work, Abbamonte infers that it was written for the benefit of fellow humanists rather than pupils at a school or university; in contrast, the later commentary of Domizio Calderini, he shows, was conceived primarily as a support for students. Quotations from these works (seldom but sometimes mis-transcribed)[1] enliven an account which ends with some brief reflections on Perotti’s vying with Calderini for the status of “official interpreter” of the Silvae.

Luke Roman examines how far Angelo Poliziano’s scholarship on the Silvae of Statius may be said to have influenced the composing of his own Silvae, and to what extent these latter Silvae may be read as “commentaries” upon the former. Recurrent themes in Poliziano’s thought, such as “the non-linearity of literary time” and “the spatial figuration of literary endeavour,” form the conceptual framework of the essay and allow for detailed comparisons between Poliziano’s prose exegesis and his poems, in particular his Nutricia. Multiple interesting conclusions follow, too many to admit of easy summation, e.g. that the pre-eminence of Statius in Poliziano’s curriculum was owing less to the stated reason of his being an “easy” (because “second-rank” )poet than to his exemplification of that same aesthetics of “heterogeneity and multiplicity” which Poliziano himself espoused (56). Roman’s readings are subtle, complex, and for the most part compelling, if sometimes cloaked in a jargon which, to the lay reader, may seem to want its own exegesis (cf. e.g. the “centreless, anti-hierarchical spatio-temporal matrix” which Poliziano evokes on p. 81).

Bruce Gibson considers the place of translation in commentaries on the Silvae, with particular regard to Markland’s note on 5.1.185–6, Liberman’s on 5.2.74, Gibson’s own on 5.1.235–7, Laguna’s on 3.1.17–19, 164–5, and van Dam’s and Newlands’ on 2.6.95. Although Gibson’s main thesis, viz. that translation may serve as a useful exegetical tool alongside or indeed in lieu of detailed philological commentary, certainly stands, I find that at least one of his examples serves rather to illustrate a potential pitfall: namely, the obfuscation of textual difficulties by loose renderings. On p. 100 Gibson commends Laguna’s translation of ipse at 3.1.164–5 (nunc ipse in limine cerno | soluentem uoces) via the idiomatic phrase “con mis proprios ojos”, noting that it “helps to enforce the point made [in the commentary] about there being no need for the emendation of Domizio Calderini, ipsum”, because “the object of Latin cerno can be clearly understood from the context”. But Laguna’s “with my own eyes” conceals an ambiguity in the placement of ipse beside in limine, as if Statius “himself” were the one “on the threshold”, not Hercules whom he sees. A literal rendering would have made plain the difficulty, and hence the potential need for Calderini’s ipsum: “on the threshold myself I see him speaking …”.[2]

Antonino Pittà offers seven textual and interpretive notes on poems in Silv. 1 and 3. He makes a reasoned case for emending to tu the meaningless and often deleted et in 1.praef.2 Courtney qua parte et uoluisti, although I am not sure quite how much more “tortured” (p. 111) is the dittographical explanation parte > partete > parte et as compared with his own partetuuoluisti >  partetuoluisti > parte et uoluisti. The heroic clausula introduced by Pittà’s conjecture is also rather thinly supported by parallels from Statius’ (or Martial’s) prose prefaces (Courtney obelizes 2.praef.6–7 complexŭs ămābam). By contrast his and F. Hand’s en for et at 1.2.180 is thoroughly convincing, as are his matrum for tantum at 4.9.30 and onus for opus at 1.4.56. At 1.4.76 Statius’ use of Gălătēă for Gălătĭă is cleverly explained as an allusion to Callimachus’ poem Galatea. Pittà also revives with powerful arguments both Manutius’ tradere es ausus at 1.1.85 (adducing Tib. 1.9.53 and 77 for the elision, in answer to Liberman’s objections ad loc.) and the anonymously conjectured ulna at 3.4.43. All told, these notes are a formidable illustration of the profits that a fresh study of the text of the Silvae can yield.

Kathleen Coleman compares six passages in the Silvae with parallels from art and material culture: the “tumbling cupids” of 1.2 are matched with frescoes from Pompeii and Herculaneum, the ἀσάρωτος οἶκος of 1.3 with an Aventine mosaic, the falling missilia of 1.6 with a Neapolitan wall-painting, Hercules’ ivory couch in 3.1 with an inlaid seat and footstool from the villa of one Lucius Verus, the portrait of Lucan in 2.2 with paintings of diverse imagines clipeatae, and the Hercules Epitrapezios of 4.6 with a Hellenistic statuette of Poseidon. Coleman is particularly good on the mimetic effect of Statius’ diction and syntax, as in her discussion of the missilia in 1.6, where verbal repetition and interlaced word-order are said to approximate the painter’s technique of overlapping objects (136). The chapter concludes with a diverting study of the distribution of marble-types in the Silvae.

Carole Newlands revisits a note in her commentary on Silv. 2.2.83–5, where she explores an allusion that she previously missed to Virg. Aen. 6.900 tum se ad Caietae recto fert limite portum in Statius’ use of the phrase derecto limite. The frequent appearance of this and similar phrases both in verse (9× Virg.–Stat.) and in prose (4× Mela–Quint.) as a simple term for “(in) a straight line”, may dispose one to doubt whether there could be any significance in the echo. But Newlands makes a persuasive case, arguing that in Virgil the phrase marks a turn away from “Greek arts”, whereas in Statius it marks a turn towards them (inasmuch as Pollius’ villa actually faces Parthenope, a region of considerable Greek culture). She further contends that this difference of use marks a transference of literary authority in Naples from the one poet to the other. The chapter ends with a synkrisis of Statius’ and Silius Italicus’ respective claims to succeed Virgil as prime poet on the Bay of Naples.

Gianpiero Rosati compares Cupid’s address to Venus in Silv. 1.2.65–102 with Ovid’s address  Cupid in Rem. 1–40, in both of which a servant of love desires to be released from his duties. Rosati also notices in Silv. 1.2.65–102 some echoes of other works by Ovid, e.g. Am. 1.1.6 at Silv. 1.2.70 (p. 191), and accordingly holds that the mythical lovers whom Stella is said to surpass (90) are not merely the “generic ones of myth”, but rather “the specific ones described in Ovid’s poetry”. Although few of the adduced passages contain words with exact parallels in Statius, the general similarities between them suffice to make Rosati’s thesis in the main convincing.

Federica Bessone examines Silv. 3.1 beside some of its Augustan models, particularly Virg. Aen. 8, Prop. 4.6, Ov. Met. 8 and Fast. 1 (in addition to Silv. 2.2 and Pind. Ol. 6). Many of these allusions, not noticed until now, are highly plausible and thought-provoking. One is particularly struck by e.g. the likeness of Silv. 3.1.110–12 to Prop. 4.6.47–8 (212 n. 30), about which more could perhaps have been said. These intertexts are closely examined for the light they shed both upon Statius’ handling of various literary themes, such as the theoxenia story-type, and upon his treatment of certain ideological questions, such as the “moral legitimacy” of private fortunes like that of Pollius. A rare slip, however, leads to a missed opportunity: the collocation animis opibusque at Silv. 3.1.166 is not quite the “unparalleled hendiadys of moral and material resources” that Bessone claims it to be (p. 218), as it occurs also at Virg. Aen. 2.799 (undique conuenere animis opibusque parati) in connection with the Trojan refugees assembled about their leader Aeneas. It thus has that same epic flavour that critics have perceived elsewhere in the language of Silv. 3.1, and could therefore be urged in support of Bessone’s contention that Statius in that poem is striving to frame Pollius as “a national epic hero” (p. 200).

In an exemplary synthesis of literary and textual criticism Ana Lóio examines two vexing passages in Statius’ Silvae (4.4.93–105) and Propertius’ Elegies (2.1.35–8), each concerned with proverbial friendships and the relations between poet and patron. The similarities which she notes between them are intriguing (esp. the presence of Theseus and Pirithous and Achilles and Patroclus in both as models of comradeship), and helpfully support her case in the second half of the paper, which deals with establishing the text of both passages. There her arguments seem slightly more persuasive in respect of Propertius than Statius. In particular, her suggestion that editors should accept Coleman’s lacuna after neque enim at Silv. 4.4.102, yet fill the gap by referring Hercules’ amicitia to his dealings with Theseus and Pirithous instead of Telamon (p. 236), might have been more convincing if an exempli gratia supplement had been given.

The book ends with a convenient list of cited manuscripts and incunabula, as well as two copious indices (‘general’ and ‘locorum’). What errors of presentation I noticed were few and mostly venial.[3]


Authors and Titles

Ana Lóio, “Introduction: Commenting on Statius’ Silvae: No Place for Dead Wood”

Giancarlo Abbamonte, “Roman Humanism and the Study of the Silvae in the Fifteenth Century”

Luke Roman, “Poliziano’s (Commentary on Statius’) Silvae: Between Imitation and Exegesis”

Bruce Gibson, “The Role of Translation in Commentary on Statius’ Silvae

Antonino Pittà, “Notes from a New Commentary on Statius’ Silvae

Kathleen M. Coleman, “Commenting on the Silvae: Visuality, Versatility, Verisimilitude”

Gianpiero Rosati, “Commenting on an Ovidian Model: An Authorized Desertion in Silvae 1.2”

Federica Bessone, “The Hut and the Temple: Private Aetiology and Augustan Models in Silvae 3.1”

Ana Loió, “Untying the Commentator’s Knot: Bonds and Lacunae in Silvae 4.4 and Propertius 2.1”



[1] On p. 34 read thoraca Mineruae and Meduseae; on p. 42 tempestuosum.

[2] For another argument in favour of ipsum, see K. M. Coleman, ‘Stones in the Forest: Epigraphic Allusion in the Silvae’, in J. J. L. Smolenaars, H.-J. van Dam, and R. R. Nauta, eds., The Poetry of Statius, Leiden, 2008, 19–43, at 39.

[3] On p. 74 read not quam Nemesin … / … dixere patri but quam veteres Nemesin … / … dixere; on pp. 109 n. 5 and 169 n. 7 the page numbers of Abbamonte, Roman and Gibson’s MSS are given for those of the published chapters (respectively, I think, pp. 25–27, 49–50, 103–104).