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Lawrance M. Bernabo
- Published on Amazon.com
Publius Papinius Statius is the sort of Latin writer who is known only to devout classical scholars and students of Dante. Born in Naples Statius (45?-96 A.D.) was one of the principle epic and lyric poets of the Silver Age of Latin literature during the reign of the Emperor Domitian. His reputation was high during both his lifetime and through the Middle Ages, and he was actually considered to be second only to Virgil among Latin writer (although later critics dismissed him as a imitator of Virgil). His main works are the "Silvae," thirty-two occasional poems (circa 89-96 A.D.), the incomplete "Achilleid," a charming account of the life of the Greek hero Achilles, and his masterpiece, "Thebaid," of which the first seven of twelve books are collected in this second volume of Statius' work edited and translated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey, and published by the Loeb Classical Library.
"Thebaid" is an epic poem recounting the conflict between Polynices and Eteocles, the two sons of Oedipus, for the throne of Thebes. The break after Book 7 is somewhat unfortunately simply because the twelve books divide neatly in half with the first six covering the events leading up to the war between the two brothers and the last six telling of the events of the war and its conclusion when Polynices kills his brother and then dies himself in the fratricidal war (events covered in the Aeschylus play "Sevean Against Thebes" and which provide the background for the Sophocles tragedy of "Antigone").
Book 6 is probably the most noteworthy, giving an account of the games held by King Adrastus as part of the funeral rites for the dead Nemean crown prince. On their way to Thebes the Argives arrive at Nemea and are told by a woman where to find water. However, while she leads them to the spring the infant Opheletes, the crown prince, is killed by a serpent. Considered an omen of their doom, the Argives give the child, now called Archemorus ("beginning of doom") a funeral. The games contested during the funeral are seen as being the first of the Nemean Games, which were one of the four great athletic festivals of ancient Greece, along with the Olympic, Pythian and Isthmian games. Consequently, for classical scholars Statius is an importance source for information about Greek athletics (or at least the Roman view of Greek sports).
In terms of style Statius is more self-conscious that either Homer or Virgil, employing many of the same poetic devices associated with Homer (e.g., using epithets and describing works of art) but without working them in as naturally. To be fair, Silver Age writers were preoccupied with the conventions of literary form, but it does require some effort to follow the narrative. But in addition to providing information about Greek games (Naples was a center of Greek culture when Statius was growing up), "Thebaid" is an exploration of the passions of civil war. The epic poem concludes in the third Loeb Classical Library volume devoted to Statius, along with the extant portion of the unfinished "Achillied." As always, the Loeb Classical Library provides both the original (Latin) text and Bailey's translation side-by-side. For those interested in the tragedy of the House of Laius "Thebaid" provides a new perspective on the tale.
- Published on Amazon.com
I know that the Loebs get a lot of flack because of the facing English translation. Some especially snooty scholars think that makes the Latin mean less or something. The fact is, I've worked with some of the best professors at the best schools who've actually suggested the Loeb edition of many works. I liked the translation in this one. I thought it was pretty close to the original. I also can't find fault with the editor's choices in the Latin; although, I must admit, I haven't compared other versions.