BMCR 2024.06.12

Sic notus Achilles? Episches Narrativ und Intertextualität in Statius’ Achilleis

, Sic notus Achilles? Episches Narrativ und Intertextualität in Statius' Achilleis. Classica Monacensia, 61. Tübingen: Narr Francke Attempto, 2023. Pp. 314. ISBN 9783381107216.



Sigurjónsson’s study confirms the attention that Statius’ Achilleid, although unfinished, has attracted in recent years in the criticism of epic poetry of the Flavian age. The book analyses the presence of epic narrative in the Achilleid with an intertextual approach, focusing on the comparison with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Virgil’s Aeneid, and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. This book is useful for those studying the Achilleid, since the research about the relationships established by Statius with the Homeric poems is now dated.[1] Furthermore, the only monographs solely focused on the poem are those by Heslin (2005), Fantuzzi (2012) and Bitto (2016).[2]

In the short chapter 1 (“Statius’ Achilleis—Ein Anti-Epos”) which serves as introduction, Sigurjónsson defines the object of study (1.1), provides a brief review of the most significant studies on Achilleid (1.2), and outlines the research objective (1.3), also anticipated on the back cover (“Ziel der Arbeit ist es, zu zeigen, mit welchen Mitteln die Erzählung in Statius Achilleis im Vergleich zu diesen Prätexten neu akzentuiert wird, Achill heroischer und männlicher wirken kann und damit seine Bestimmung zum Helden deutlich wird”). The author aims to analyse how the Achilleid can be considered a proto-Homeric epic that at the same time anticipates some episodes of the Iliad and Odyssey. In identifying and observing the massive presence of numerous structural references to the heroic narrative of the previous literary works, Sigurjónsson places the Achilleid in the epic tradition, and intends to prove: (i) that in the episode at Skyros, which occupies a large part of the remaining fragment, only Achilles’ masculinity and his future destiny of war are ever extolled; (ii) that, although the influences of erotic poetry are not negligible in the fragment (p. 22), Achilles is never depicted as an elegiac lover according to the model of the servitium amoris (p. 27).

With this objective, in chapter 2 (“Das epische Narrativ in Statius’ Achilleis”), Sigurjónsson conducts a thorough re-reading of the entire work, with a focus on some key episodes. The first section that is given significant attention in 2.1 (“Thetis’ Bitte um einen Seesturm und die epischen Vorbilder”) is the storm scene (1.20–94). The general analysis of the passage is useful for the readers of the Achilleid who, as Sigurjónsson notes, do not have more available beyond Mulder’s now outdated work (1955), a paragraph in Juhnke’s short essay (1972, pp. 164–65), and Kozák’s chapter (2013).[3] Sigurjónsson explores the complex relationships between the texts activated by Statius within the scene, using comparative sections to guide the reader, and he draws a parallel between the storm episode in front of the Phaeacians’ land in Hom. Od. 5.270–290, the storm in Verg. Aen. 1.34–80 (pp. 31–38), and the prophecy of Jupiter on the Trojan War in Val. Fl. 1.549–554, which Neptune will reprise (1.80–94) when rejecting Thetis (p. 58; pp. 66–71). In 2.2 (“Achill bei Thetis’ Ankunft: Protoiliadischer Held und Kind zugleich”), Sigurjónsson examines the representation of Achilles in his first appearance (1.158-83) and in the episode in the cave of Chiron (1.184–197), by focusing on the elements that distinguish Achilles as a proto-hero, signs of his future warrior physiognomy (hunting; comparison with Apollo; Achilles as epic singer; Achilles versus Centaurs). The text continues with the study of the Skyros episode in 2.3 (“Epos und andere Traditionen. Achill auf Skyros”), with the disguise in women’s clothing, which allows the character to experience the knowledge of eros. The exhaustive chapter 2.3.3 (“Angewandte Ars. Deidamias Verführung”) focuses on Achilles’ falling in love (1.301–317) and his seduction of Deidamia (1.560–579), which draw inspiration from the lost Skyrioi by Euripides, the Epithalamium Achillis et Deidameiae attributed to Bion, and the Ars Amatoria by Ovid (the relationship with the models is very well argued: pp. 136–152). According to Sigurjónsson, this section also confirms that although there are erotic suggestions throughout the story of the stay in Skyros, it is always clear in the narration that Achilles is destined to become a warrior and behave not as a lover, but as his almost-father Jupiter (Ach. 1.1–2), known for his frequent violence against mortal women in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (pp. 159–165). Sigurjónsson focuses on the erotic episode in Skyros, rejecting any attempt of elegization of the situation (p. 164) and highlighting Achilles’ behaviour, which emphasizes his masculine and almost god-like nature through rape (p. 165). Essentially, Achilles’ stay in Skyros is for Sigurjónsson just a typical epic delay, similar to Aeneas’ stay in Carthage and Jason’s stay in Lemnos. This delay serves to further develop the heroic profile of these characters (p. 211). In section 2.4 (“Selbstverortung der Achilleis in ihrer epischen Tradition”), Sigurjónsson provides an insightful analysis of the war preparations in Aulis (1.397–599), a passage still scarcely studied, and which will undoubtedly prove useful to the future commentators of Achilleid. I find particular interest in (“Odysseus’ und Diomedes’ Achilleis als Prequel zur Dolonie”). In this section, Sigurjónsson investigates the actions of Ulysses and Diomedes in Aulis (1.538–599) and Skyros (1.689–749), which appear to anticipate what the two heroes will accomplish in Doloneia in Il. 10.241–375. Statius stages a prequel to the Iliad in the Achilleid by referencing this Homeric episode: the events that will occur in Troy can be explained in according to those narrated here, such as Diomedes becoming the future companion of the cunning Odysseus in successful ventures. According to Sigurjónsson, through precise references to the Homeric poems, Statius portrays the Greeks Ulysses and Diomedes as proto-Iliadic characters and puts the Achilleid in the epic tradition holding a significant place among other works related to Troy. Additionally, the structural references to Doloneia and the reuse of similes serve to clarify to the reader that Achilles will soon be discovered, and the war will come to Skyros (pp. 251–252). The last part of chapter 2.4.3 (“Achills Apolog: Seine Erziehung durch Chiron”) describes the education received from Chiron, as told by Achilles himself before leaving for Troy (2.96–167). Sigurjónsson believes this confirms that Achilles followed the educational precepts suited to a Homeric warrior, rather than those suggested by Ovid in Ars (p. 276).

The conclusions of the book, as summarised in chapter 3 (“Die Achilleis als intertextuelles und psychologisierendes Prequel”), are clear and reiterated throughout the discussion. This approach ensures that the common thread is never lost. Achilleid is (i) an epic poem that is a prequel to the Homeric works, (ii) it fits perfectly in the wake of the great heroic poems that precede it; (iii) the heroic characterization of Achilles is evident, since he never loses his masculinity, even during his disguise in women’s clothes at the court of Lycomedes; (iv) Achilles is consistently depicted as an almost-son of Jupiter, as foreshadowed in the first two lines of the proem.[4]

In summary, Sigurjónsson’s book offers a clear and competent reading of the entire Achilleid, highlighting the numerous and often complex intertextual relationships with previous literature. It demonstrates the reception and recovery of the main epic models, particularly Homer, Virgil, and Ovid, while also identifying new comparisons with this previous literature.[5] Sigurjónsson’s work is worthwhile for its clear explanation of the proposed parallels, often pointed out by summaries of the passages considered, particularly useful for the reader (see, for example, pp. 121–122: cf. Hom. Od. 6.99–134, Ov. Met. 2.711–736, Ach. 1.285–337). The author also employs the most recent bibliography, whose positions are always discussed in the notes, in order to support a rich, coherent, and accurate study. Nevertheless, Sigurjónsson’s intertextual study of Achilleid is limited, in my opinion, by its unidirectional dimension, which restricts our overall comprehension of this poetry, a masterpiece of combined allusions. The epic or proto-epic form is the only lens through which Achilleid is read and interpreted, resulting in a portrait of Achilles solely as a warrior and almost-divine hero. Sigurjónsson partially points out the not strictly epic literature, which influenced the Skyros episode, and mentioned on the back cover (“Auch diese Ereignisse waren bekannt, sie wurden allerdings in nichtepischen Gattungen wie der Bukolik, Tragödie und dem Liebes-Lehrgedicht dargestellt”), but he rejects Achilles’ non-heroic identity and so dedicates little space to the extra-epic elements in the text, despite acknowledging their existence on multiple occasions (pp. 20–23, 99, 151, 211, 279) but sometimes without any in-depth analysis.[6] The combination of not only elegiac and bucolic, but also lyric, tragic, and even comical influences instead make in the narrative an interesting tension about literary genre, which offers more productive interpretations for a complete and total exegesis of the Achilleid, as shown by some of the most recent criticism.[7] In any case, considering the coherent study by Sigurjónsson about the Episches Narrativ of this poetry, Statian scholars will also undoubtedly benefit from reading and studying this book, and I recommend it to every commentator on the Achilleid.



[1] H. Juhnke, Homerisches in römischer Epik flavischer Zeit. Untersuchungen zu Szenennachbildungen und Strukturentsprechungen in Statius’ Thebais und Achilleis und in Silius’ Punica, München 1972, 167–172; S. Koster, Liebe und Krieg in der Achilleis des Statius, in WJA 5, 1979, 189–208; A. M. Taisne, 2008, Présence d’Homère dans l’Achilléide de Stace, in VL 178, 2008, 94–103.

[2] P. J. Heslin, The Tranvestite Achilles. Gender and Genre in Statius’ Achilleid, Cambridge-New York 2005; M. Fantuzzi, Achilles in Love. Intertextual Studies, Oxford 2012; G. Bitto, Vergimus in senium. Statius’ Achilleis als Alterswerk (Hypomnemata 202), Göttingen 2016.

[3] H. M. Mulder, Fata vetant. De imitandi componendique in Achilleide ratione Statiana, in Ut pictura poesis. Studia latina Petro Iohann Enk septuagenario oblata, Leiden 1955, 119-28; Dániel Kozák, Trace of the Argo. Statius’ Achilleid 1 and Valerius’ Argonautica 1–2, in G. Manuwald (ed.), Flavian Epic Interactions, Berlin-Boston 2013, 247–66.

[4] The motif of almost-progeny by Jupiter had already noticed by W. Schetter, Untersuchungen zur epischen Kunst des Statius, Wiesbaden 1960, 130, and Koster 1979, 190.

[5] See, e.g., on Ach. 2.81-5: Ulysses pushes Achilles to Troy, suggesting that Deidamia could also be kidnapped as Helena, and Achilles reacts by bringing his hand to the sword: the gesture remembers, but also anticipates, his reaction in Hom. Il. 1.188-222, when Agamemnon takes Briseis. According to Sigurjónsson, this section also prepares the heroic essence of Achilles in Troy and allows the Achilleid’ incoming in medias res, definitively concluding the Skyros episode (p. 262).

[6] I propose two examples. In 2.2.2, Sigurjónsson studies the Achilles’ portrait in his first appearance (Ach. 1.158-77), and highlights his heroic features, comparable to those of Apollo and other young ephebes warriors. So, he leaves out the elegiac influence on the scene (cf., e.g., Tib. 1.4; [Tib. 3.4]; Prop. 4.9), which instead sustains in my opinion Achilles’ genre ambiguity in this programmatic description (cf. also F. Bessone, La ricezione dell’elegia properziana nell’opera di Stazio, in G. Bonamente, R. Cristofoli, C. Santini (eds.), Properzio fra Repubblica e Principato: Proceedings of the Twenty-First International Conference on Propertius, Assisi-Cannara, 30 May–1 June 2016, Turnhout, 2018, 13–50). In, Sigurjónsson describes Achilles’ male behaviour and outlines the use of military vocabulary in the nighttime festival (Ach. 1.593-618), in which Achilles in women’s clothing rapes Deidamia, but he does not argue about the tragic and comic mixed resonances (bacchic atmosphere and transvestitism topic) of this relevant episode (cf., e.g., Heslin 2005, 242).

[7] See, e.g., R. Parkes, Finding the Tragic in the Epics of Statius, in S. Papaioannou, A. Marinis (eds.), Elements of Tragedy in Flavian Epic, Berlin-Boston 2021, 107–128; F. Bessone, Grecia e Roma nell’Achilleide, in F. Bessone, (a cura di), Dalla Tebaide alla Commedia. Nuovi studi su Stazio e la sua ricezione, in RCCM LXIV (1), 2022, 101–122, two titles absent from the bibliography.

I have spotted very few typographical errors in the bibliography: comment for commento (p. 285); Itroduction for Introduction (p. 286); Frederica for Federica (pp. 287-8); Berkely for Berkeley (p. 293); Agonautica for Argonautica (p. 294); anchronismo for anachronismo (p. 295).