Statius' Silvan Poetics: A Synoptic Reading of the Silvae

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Dell'Anno, Laila 

The overwhelming majority of scholarly publications on Statius’ Silvae, a collection of relatively short poems from the first century AD, selectively approach specific themes or individual poems. As a consequence, the overall design of the collection has received at best marginal attention. This thesis proposes the long overdue coherent reading of the five books of Silvae. Close readings of the poems and epistolary prefaces not only reveal connections between the poems but also intertextual relationships with authors from the Augustan age, that function as models for Statius’ poetic project. Concepts from 20th-century anthropology and philosophy further the understanding of the poems’ specifically silvan nature. This study reveals the relevance of the book publication for Statius’ Silvae which no longer appear a fortuitous collection but as a carefully crafted series of poetry books.

Of the five chapters, the first two have a conceptual and terminological focus, whereas the latter three approach the collection in terms of structuring elements. Chapter 1 proposes to read the title, Silvae, as a development of the term silva used in the rhetorical treatises of Cicero and, most notably, Quintilian, who appears to have been an important model for Statius’ poetic undertaking. It also traces the use of this title in the wake of Statius. Chapter 2 questions the validity of the label ‘occasional poetry’ and investigates how the silvan occasionality differs from the use of time made by other poets of the classical canon. Chapter 3 continues the line of inquiry on temporality by analysing the character of Statius’ “occasions”: I argue that the Silvae all describe a rite of passage and that they form, as a collection, a new Flavian calendar. This reading is supported by a close analysis of Silv. 1.1 and the entirety of book 1, in which Statius inscribes the Roman festival calendar and extensively echoes Ovid’s Fasti. Chapter 4 shifts the focus from the theme of religion to the author and shows how a unified narrative is constructed around his persona, a narrative which culminates in a closural book 5 as a firm and integral part of the collection. The final chapter 5 considers the place of the Silvae in the framework of Statius’ oeuvre through the concept of liminality. It will emerge that the little poems are considered a delay, mora, of the composition of the epic poems Thebaid and Achilleid.

The entirety of this study looks to illustrate the coherence of the Silvae, a poetic work that not only has a clear internal poetic agenda, but also firmly defends its place in the framework of Statius’ oeuvre and the literary canon alike.

Hardie, Philip
Calendar, Liminality, Poetry book, Ritual, Statius
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge