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Statius’ Nemea / paradise lost

Jörn Soerink

Résumé

This paper examines the Nemean episode of Statius’ Thebaid (4.646-7.104). It is argued, against recent interpretations, that the episodeis not simply a Callimachean digression from martial themes : the hostilities between Argives and Nemeans recall the bella plus quam ciuilia between Caesar and Pompey ; the incursion of the Argives violently destroys Nemea’s pastoral landscape ; and Nemea becomes the site of quintessentially epic events. The snake that kills Opheltes looks back to Vergil’s Calabrian water-snake in Georgics 3 (and the Culex) : Vergil’s didactic persona had warned not to fall asleep when dangerous snakes are around. The death of the child can also be read as a pessimistic inversion of Vergil’s fourth Eclogue. On a poetic level, we witness the epic dissolution of Nemea’s pastoral world. On a political level, the Nemean episode seems to suggest the impossibility of an Augustan Golden Age in the Flavian poem’s disturbing universe of nefas. Nemea is Statius’ paradise lost.

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Introduction

1In the fourth book of Statius’ Thebaid, the expedition of the Seven against Thebes is stranded in Nemea. Tormented by thirst – Bacchus has caused a drought in Nemea in order to delay the expedition against his favourite city – the Argives encounter Hypsipyle nursing Opheltes, son of Lycurgus and Eurydice, king and queen of Nemea. In order to guide the soldiers as fast as possible to the one remaining spring, Langia, Hypsipyle places her nurseling on the ground. When the Argives have quenched their thirst, Hypsipyle (re)tells them the story of the Lemnian massacre, which takes up most of the following book (5.49-498). In their absence, the infant Opheltes is accidentally killed by a monstrous serpent sacred to Jupiter (5.534-40).

2The death of Opheltes nearly plunges Nemea into war. When Opheltes’ father Lycurgus hears of his son’s death (5.638-49), he wants to punish Hypsipyle for her negligence and attempts to kill her, but the Argive heroes defend their benefactress ; without the inter­vention of Adrastus and the seer Amphiaraus, this violent confrontation between the Argives and their Nemean allies doubtless would have ended in bloodshed (5.650-90). Moreover, when the vanguard of the Argive troops, which have already arrived in Nemea town, hear false rumours that Hypsipyle has been (or is about to be) killed, they angrily begin to attack Lycurgus’ palace ; only the intervention of king Adrastus prevents the situation from getting out of hand (5.690-709). Without Adrastus and Amphiaraus, then, readers of the Thebaid would have witnessed full-scale fighting long before the Argives’ arrival at the gates of Thebes.

  • 1  Aricò 1961, Vessey 1970, Brown 1994 : 57-93, Soerink 2014a.
  • 2  Nugent 1996, Gibson 2004.
  • 3  Brown 1994 : 30-56, Delarue 2000 : 123-40, McNelis 2007, Soerink 2014b : 47-56.
  • 4  McNelis 2007 : 77.
  • 5  Delarue 2000 : 135.
  • 6  McNelis 2007 : 12 ; cf. 128 with n. 9.
  • 7  McNelis 2007 : 91.

3 In Statian scholarship, this aspect of the Nemean episode has received little attention. Most critical energy has been invested in Statius’ intertextual engagement with Euripides’ tragedy Hypsipyle,1 Hypsipyle’s narration,2 and especially the Callimachean features of the Nemean episode.3 In his 2007 monograph Charles McNelis has argued that, in the Thebaid, there is a strong tension between, on the one hand, the martial epic poetics that propels the narrative forwards to the fraternas acies that are its theme and telos, and, on the other, the Callimachean poetics that diverts and delays this epic project. Nemea, in his interpretation, looks back primarily to Callimachus’ Victoria Berenices ; it is a Callimachean locus which ‘deflects the narrative away from martial themes’.4 McNelis expands on the ideas of Joanne Brown and François Delarue, who similarly argues that in the Nemean episode ‘tout est fait [...] pour laisser croire que la guerre contre Thèbes, sontes Thebas, et à plus forte raison le conflit des fils d’Œdipe [...] sont oubliés’.5 However, in the Victoria Berenices Opheltes scarcely plays a role : the Alexandrian poet is concerned with Hercules rather than Opheltes, which makes McNelis’ claim that Statius’ story of Opheltes is ‘a Callimachean aetion for the Nemean games’6 highly problematic. We may also point out that in Statius’ version Opheltes’ father is called Lycurgus as in Euripides, not Euphetes as in Callimachus ; and Statius suppresses the element of wild celery, which plays such an important role in the Victoria Berenices. McNelis, however, persists that ‘Callimachus [...] is the Greek author upon whom Statius draws for this aetion’.7 In his eagerness to make Nemea as Callimachean as possible, he also plays down the more epic elements of Statius’ Nemea, such as Hypsipyle’s narrative about the Lemnian massacre, the Nemean serpent and its death at the hands of Capaneus, the near outbreak of war, and the games.

  • 8  This article builds on chapter 5 of my dissertation, Soerink 2014b : 57-67.

4In this article, it will be argued that the Nemean episode does not deflect the narrative away from martial themes. Admittedly, Nemea is introduced as a peaceful, pastoral, Calli­machean world, but with the arrival of the Argives it is brutally swept along in the poem’s maelstrom of fraternas acies. I will focus on the elements of civil war and the violent (epic) destabilisation of Nemea’s peace­ful (pastoral) world. First I will lay bare the disturbing allusions to Lucan and Vergil in the aforementioned scenes (5.650-709). Then I will show how Nemea’s peace and quiet is disrupted by the incursion of the Seven against Thebes. Finally I will discuss Statius’ engage­ment with two Vergilian creations which, in my inter­pretation, are crucial for our under­standing of the Nemean episode : the Calabrian water-snake in the third Georgics and the prodigious child of the fourth Eclogue. Statius’ Nemean episode, I believe, can be read as a pessimistic inversion of Vergil’s optimistic fourth Eclogue, suggesting the impos­sibility of an Augustan Golden Age in the Flavian poem’s world of fraternal strife.8

Near civil war in Nemea

  • 9  Most editors read Amphiaraus ait : ‘ne, quaeso ! absistite ferro’. Although there are parallels fo (...)

5It is made abundantly clear that we are to understand the hostilities between Argives and Nemeans in book 5 in terms of civil war – even though, strictly speaking, war between Argos and Nemea might not count as such. When Amphiaraus intervenes, he speaks as follows (5.669-71) :9

Amphiaraus † ait : ‘ne, quaeso ! † absistite ferro,
unus auum sanguis, neue indulgete furori,
tuque prior.’

6The words unus auum sanguis (‘the blood of our ancestors is one’) state unambiguously that Lycurgus and the Seven have the same blood running through their veins. Armed conflict between Argives and Nemeans, the seer warns them, would thus be an instance of bella plus quam ciuilia. Ironically, of course, Amphiaraus’ words are equally applicable to the Argives’ expedition against Thebes, not only because Eteocles and Polynices have unus sanguis (cf. 4.398 unusque ... sanguis), but also because Argos and Thebes have unus sanguis, namely Jupiter’s (cf. 1.224-6, reworking Aen. 8.142).

  • 10  Deipser (1881 : 30 ; cf. Parkes on 4.836).

7   I used the Lucanian phrase (Bellum ciuile 1.1) on purpose. As scholars have obser­ved,10 Amphiaraus’ speech is modelled on Aen. 6.832-5, where Anchises calls upon Caesar and Pompey to cease their civil war – Caesar first of all (Aen. 6.832-5) :

ne, pueri, ne tanta animis adsuescite bella
neu patriae ualidas in uiscera uertite uiris ;
tuque prior, tu parce, genus qui ducis Olympo,
proice tela manu, sanguis meus !

  • 11  The Vergilian passage also underlies 4.401 tu peior, tu cede (a few lines after 4.398 unusque ... (...)

8In addition to the verbal echoes (underlined), the passages correspond in that both Amphi­araus and Anchises have knowledge of the future. The allu­sion suggests that the near violence between Argives and Nemeans is like the civil war between Caesar and Pompey.11

  • 12  In 5.588-604 Statius reworks Luc. 2.20-8, which again puts the Theban War in the Thebaid on a par (...)

9For the observant reader, the allusions to Caesar and Pompey need not come as a surprise. The passage under consideration begins with the heavily ironic exclamation fides superum ! (5.650) : the gods have shown fides in that the dreadful oracle about Opheltes’ death (5.647) has now become reality. The phrase fides superum is an allusion to Lucan’s Bellum ciuile (2.16-7 quantis sit cladibus orbi | constatura fides superum), where the gods show similar fides in that the portents they have sent are indeed followed by disaster. The allusion aligns the death of Opheltes with the prodigia in Lucan’s epic and, by implication, the Theban War to come with Rome’s civil war.12

  • 13  My interpunction follows Shackleton Bailey and Hall ; others punctuate pergite in excidium socii, (...)

10 Another unmistakable indication that the conflict between Lycurgus and his Nemean peasants versus the Seven and their Argives is to be understood as an upsurge of civil war, is found in the speech of Lycurgus, in reaction to Tydeus’ taunts (5.683-4) :13

pergite in excidium, socii si tanta uoluptas
sanguinis, imbuite arma domi.

11The phrase socii ... | sanguinis again reminds us that Argives and Nemeans are more than allies. Consciously or subconsciously, Lycurgus’ words are of course heavily ironic, since the expedition of the Seven is the result of lust for socius sanguis. Following sanguinis, the words imbuite arma domi are an unmis­takable allusion to the outbreak of the civil war in the Aeneid (7.554 sanguis nouus imbuit arma, 541-2 sanguine bellum / imbuit). The allusion will be noticed easily, as the whole scene – Argive heroes confronting Lycurgus and his peasants (5.667 agrestum ... manus) – is reminiscent of the outbreak of war between the Trojans and the Latin peasants in Aeneid 7.505-39.

The epic disruption of Nemea’s pastoral world

  • 14  Brown has argued that the god’s entrance can also be read metapoetically as an indication that the (...)
  • 15  Critics have been troubled by these companions, ‘more suited to the entourage of Mars, a god who a (...)
  • 16  Soerink 2014b : 72-8.
  • 17  See McNelis 2007 : 50-75 ; the citation is from Newlands 2012 : 86.
  • 18  On the Nemean episode as mise en abyme see Soerink 2014b : 68-84.

12That Nemea will not be safeguarded from the epic’s narrative of fraternas acies, is signalled right at the beginning of the Nemean episode, when Bacchus makes his appearance (4.652-79).14 The god brings war to Nemea, as the first line unambi­guously states : marcidus edomito bellum referebat ab Haemo | Liber (4.652-3). Significantly, the god is not accom­pa­nied by satyrs or maenads, but by the grim personifications Ira, Furor, Metus, Virtus and Ardor (4.661-3).15 Bacchus’ drought implicates Nemea in the Theban War, as it leads not only to the death of Opheltes, an event which inaugurates the Seven’s doomed expedition against Thebes,16 but also, as we have seen, to the near outbreak of civil war in Nemea itself (5.650-709). The very Anger (Ira) that accompanies Bacchus, we may note, was also involved in the production of Harmonia’s necklace (2.287), which, as Charles McNelis has shown, ‘symbo­lises the evil, interfamilial passions that drive the narrative’.17 If we consider the Nemean epi­sode as mise en abyme of the epic as a whole, Bacchus plays the role that Mars will play in book 7.18

  • 19  Taisne 1972 : 358.
  • 20  Brown’s argument that gelidam ‘casts a mysterious chill over the scene, recalling Eteocles’ ghastl (...)
  • 21  Bacchus’ speech (4.684-96) is notable for its variation in ‘water words’ ; we find fluuiorum, font (...)
  • 22  Cf. 5.10, 6.91, 113, 155 etc. In the Siluae Nemea is given the epithet frondens (1.3.6).
  • 23  Brown 1994 : 9 with n. 56. In Ʃ Pind. Nem. hypoth. c we find two Greek etymologies : the name shou (...)
  • 24  See Fantham 2009 : 181-4.
  • 25  Elsewhere Statius employs the ideal locus amoenus to emphasise the horrors of the underworld. When (...)

13The disruption of Nemea is also figured in the metamorphosis of the landscape. In Thebaid 4, when the Seven against Thebes – and their readers – arrive in Nemea, they wander into an idealised landscape, which recalls not only ‘des paysages dits “idylli­ques” largement répan­dus dans la peinture romaine’,19 but also the landscapes of pastoral poetry, Vergil’s Eclogues in particular. The atmosphere contrasts starkly with the grim landscapes of the preceding books and especially with the horrid scene of the necromantic ritual at Thebes earlier in the same book (4.406-645). When the narrator introduces Nemea and invokes Phoebus to tell the Nemean inter­lude (4.646-51), he immediately evokes its green­eries (4.647 dumeta) and its pleasant coolness (4.646 gelidam Nemeen).20 We find refreshing waters – springs, streams and lakes (4.683-96)21 – and there is repeated reference to Nemea’s woods (e.g. 4.727 nemus, 4.746 siluas).22 Nemea is even called siluarum ... longe regina uirentum (4.832). As Brown has pointed out, to a Roman audience the very name Nemea would suggest woods (cf. nemus).23 This idealised world is typically inhabited by demigods, such as Nymphs and Fauns (4.684, 696, 5.579-82, 6.95-6, 110-3).24 In short, the Nemean landscape is essentially pastoral, in stark contrast with the bleak landscapes of the first part of the epic.25

  • 26  See McNelis 2007 : 87-8 ; Brown 1994 : 202 ; Parkes 2012 : xxiii ‘We may read this pollution as a (...)
  • 27  The epic character of the scene also appears from its being echoed in Hippomedon’s fight with the (...)

14With Bacchus’ intervention and the arrival of the Argives, however, this landscape changes dramatically. Langia, the pure Callimachean spring, is muddied when the epic Argive soldiers plunge en masse into her gentle stream (4.823-30).26 As a result, the female nymph (4.726 deae) becomes a swollen masculine river (4.837-50), characterised with the participle tumens, which is often used to describe the ‘swollen’ style of epic poetry. In order to stress the point, the Argives that drink from Langia’s stream are compared to an army plundering a city (4.828-30). Thus Nemea’s Callimachean stream becomes the site of epic warfare.27

  • 28  Brown 1994 : 12.
  • 29  Newlands 2004 : 133.
  • 30  Newlands 2004 : 134.

15Brown and Newlands have connected the pastoral landscape of Nemea with the idyllic landscapes of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in particular. Brown writes that ‘[w]oods so dominate the Ovidian landscape that on entering Nemea, the reader of the Thebaid is arguably obliged to recall the topography of Statius’ Augustan predecessor ; the woodland setting for Bacchus’ advent in Metamorphoses III and IV proves especially relevant’.28 Newlands points out that in Ovid the locus amoenus often sets the scene for horror and violence – one might think of Actaeon, Callisto or Salmacis. Indeed, in Ovid this pattern figures so frequently, that an idyllic wooded landscape qualitate qua forbodes violence and death. In the Thebaid, too, ‘the landscapes [...] provide a vivid canvas on which Statius displays the spreading evil of a civil war’.29 But Statius, Newlands rightly observes, goes one step further : in the Thebaid the idyllic landscapes not only provide the background for violence, the landscape itself falls victim to violence. Thus, she concludes, Statius presents ‘the dissolution of that Ovidian paradise’.30 In Statius’ Thebaid the violent destruction of an idyllic landscape symbolises the cost and suffering of civil war.

  • 31  See Brown 1994 : 199-203 ; Newlands 2004 : 144-5 ; Ganiban 2013 : 260-1.
  • 32  Brown 1994 : 50, in her extensive discussion of Callimachus’ poem, not making the connection with (...)
  • 33  Colace 1982 : 148 ; Brown 1994 : 45, 200 ; McNelis 2004 : 272. However, Statius may have in mind O (...)
  • 34  In addition to its primary model Aen. 6.179-82, where the Trojans hew down a primordial Italian gr (...)
  • 35  On the Italian deities inhabiting the Greek grove see Fantham 2009 : 181-4, Newlands 2012 : 34 ; c (...)
  • 36  Colace 1982 : 147-8 ; cf. Brown 1994 : 45 and 200, McNelis 2004 : 272. In all likelihood, however, (...)
  • 37  Ganiban 2013 : 261. On the sacrilegious aspects of deforestation see Frazer on Ov. Fast. 4.751, Ho (...)

16Later in the Nemean episode, in book 6, the pastoral landscape is again brutally destroyed, as the Argives cut down the Nemean woods in their lignatio for the funeral pyre of the serpent (6.84-117).31 In their eagerness to ‘Callimacheanise’ the Nemean episode, critics have suggested that the destruction of woods is an element taken from Callimachus’ Victoria Bere­nices : Brown speculates that ‘possibly the poem features the transformation of the landscape around Cleonae, as Herakles enables Molorchus to cut down the thickets to gather fire­wood’.32 It has also been suggested that ueteres incaedua ferro / silua comas (6.90-1) paral­lels Cal­li­machus’ phrase δρεπάνου γὰρ ἀπευθέα τέρχν[ε]α (Suppl.Hell. 257.25 ‘shoots unacquainted with the pruning hook’).33 That might be true, but that does not mean that the action itself – cutting down a sacred grove – is also Callimachean. In my view, the whole point of the passage is the very destruction of the pastoral – Callimachean if you like – world of Nemea. Not coinciden­tally, the trees in the passage are largely taken from Vergil’s pastoral world.34 The pastoral Nymphs, Fauns and birds that live in the sacred grove have to flee, as do the equally pastoral gods Pales and Silvanus.35 The trees that are cut down become flammis alimenta supremis (6.100). Even if the phrase should be an allusion to Callimachus’ πυρὶ δ[ε]ῖ[πνον (Suppl.Hell. 257.23),36 Statius uses it quite differently : the pastoral trees of Nemea become fuel for the funeral pyre of the epic serpent ! Other trees end up as spears that will drink blood in war (6.102-3). And again there is a simile, comparing the destruction of the grove to the capture of a city, while the final line of the passage – minor ille fragor quo bella gerebant (6.117) – hammers down the message that the cutting down of the grove mirrors war. In their very attempt to expiate their killing of the Nemean serpent, the Argives commit yet another sacrilegious crime.37

  • 38  Although biographical approaches are no longer in vogue, it is possible that Statius’ description (...)
  • 39  This personifcation is probably a Statian innovation (Parkes ad loc.).
  • 40  The destructive plague of Apollo is also described in terms of fire, cf. 1.634-5 ab aethere laeuus (...)
  • 41  Parkes ad loc. notes that ardentes not only means ‘flashing’, but also ‘conveys the hotness of the (...)
  • 42  4.665 solem radiis ignescere ferri, an extremely daring inversion ; see Parkes ad loc.
  • 43  Newlands (2012 : 59-60) nicely observes that the poem’s closure is associated with water, as the T (...)
  • 44  Statius is not the first to assimilate the destructiveness of war to fire ; the metaphor has a lon (...)

17Thus the trees of Nemea end up as spears and firewood – which brings to mind Statius’ use of fire imagery in the episode.38 Martial Bacchus, as we have seen, is accompanied by heat personi­fied (4.662 Ardor).39 And at the beginning of the Nemean episode, the Argives’ desire to destroy Thebes is described as ardor (4.648-9 iam Sidonias auertere praedas, / sternere, ferre domos ardent instantque).40 As they are tormen­ted by thirst (4.730-45), their shields become ardentes too (4.730 ardentes clipeos)41 and the fire of their weapons even inflames the sun.42 Bacchus’ intervention delays the Argives’ expedition against Thebes, but at the same time, it seems, the god’s ardor only increases their warlike furor (cf. 4.671 recalet furor). On a poetic level, the Seven’s ardor may also be connected with the calor that figures in the proem of the Thebaid, as a metaphor for the poetic frenzy that propels the narrative forward (1.3 Pierius menti calor incidit).43 In any case, the heat and fire of both Bacchus and the Seven bring destruction to cool and moist pastoral Nemea.44

  • 45  The passage has always been read as an illustration of familial pietas, the loving brothers Thoas (...)
  • 46  Statius’ simile in 5.723-4 clearly echoes Vergil’s in Aen. 7.586-90 and 10.693-6. See Soerink 2014 (...)
  • 47  Lovatt 2005 : 13. Cf. Brown 1994 : 54, who sees Callimachus’ influence ‘in the “magnification” of (...)
  • 48  Lovatt 2005 : 29, passim ; cf. most explicit 6.456-9.
  • 49  6.438-9 prior Hippodamus fert ora sequen­tum, / fert gemitus multaque umeros incenditur aura (cf. (...)
  • 50  Despite Aet. fr. 58 Harder ἄξονται δ’ οὐχ ἵππον ἀέθλιον, οὐ μὲν ἐχῖνον / βουδόκον (‘and as a prize (...)

18While its waters and woods are transformed into a landscape of martial epic, Statius’ Nemea also becomes the site of quintessentially epic events. Before the near outbreak of civil war (5.650-709 discussed above), there is the ‘Drachenkampf’ with the Nemean serpent (5.554-78), which is flagged as a thoroughly epic passage with an unmis­taka­ble echo of the incipit of Vergil’s Aeneid (5.557 armorum ... uirorum). We may also point out that the reunion scene towards the end of book 5 is not simply a happy end, as Euneus and Thoas are disturbingly reminiscent of Eteocles and Polynices,45 while their mother Hypsipyle is connected with Vergil’s Latinus awash with civil war and Mezentius under attack from the Etruscans.46 The games in honour of Opheltes in book 6 also belong to the world of martial epic rather than Callimachean poetry. Helen Lovatt calls them ‘a Calli­machean celebration of the small, for the death of a baby, not a hero’,47 but it should not be forgotten that this Calli­machean child has been killed by an epic monster, and that the funeral games that sink him to his grave are quint­essentially epic, reworking above all Iliad 23 and Aeneid 5, and intimately connected with the Theban War – as Lovatt herself has convin­cingly shown.48 Perhaps the games in book 6 contain an allusion to the Victoria Berenices ;49 at the same time, however, Statius suppresses the wild celery, which is central to the Hellenistic poet’s αἴτιον, in favour of the epic prizes that Callimachus says will not be awarded in the Nemean Games.50 The games in book 6 are clearly epic, not Callimachean.

  • 51  Delarue 2000 : 131.
  • 52  McNelis 2007 : 90-1. Cf. also Augoustakis’ claim that ‘the middle of the Thebaid is transformed in (...)

19Finally we may point to Hypsipyle’s epic narrative about the Lemnian massacre. It is absolutely astounding to see how various scholars, in their eagerness to ‘Callimachea­nise’ Statius’ Nemea, attempt to read Hypsipyle’s narrative as a Callimachean episode. Delarue even suggests that Statius’ Lemnian episode is modelled directly on Callimachus, who ‘avait raconté la légende dans une pièce lyrique’ – a claim which he bases on nothing but one little fragment (fr. 226 Pf. ἡ Λῆμνος τὸ παλαιόν, εἴ τις ἄλλη) from a work that in all likelihood was not even about the Lemnian massacre (witness the title Πρός τοὺς ὡραίους).51 McNelis’ argument that the Lemnian massacre is spurred by Venus and therefore opposes the poem’s martial poetics (Vulcan and his necklace) does not convince either.52

  • 53  Newlands 2012 : 52.
  • 54  Cf. Ach. 1.10 Aonium nemus, where it refers to the grove of the Muses as well as the Thebaid.

20In book 4, the Argives enter an idyllic world, but in book 7 they leave behind a barren landscape. As Newlands puts it, ‘[t]he Nemean spring and grove represent a pastoral order that is sullied by the advent of war’.53 One should not Aonium tingere Marte nemus, Proper­tius writes (3.3.42), but that is precisely what Statius does in his Nemean episode.54 The locus amoenus almost becomes a locus horridus. The arrival of the Argives, in com­bi­nation with Bacchus’ intervention, sweeps Nemea along in the maelstrom of civil war. The pastoral dream of Nemea is transformed into an epic nightmare.

  • 55  Cf. Parkes 2012 : xxxiii n. 90 ‘in some respects the interlude at Nemea is also evocative of the p (...)
  • 56  Cf. Aen. 8.102-89, 306-69, 454-585 ; woods e.g. 8.104 and 125 luco, 8.108, 345 and 351 nemus, 314 (...)
  • 57  Conspicuous echoes include 5.638-9 ~ Aen. 11.139-40, 5.651-2 ~ Aen. 11.145-6.
  • 58  For the connection between Nemea and Arcadia cf. also Aen. 12.517-9 et iuuenem exosum nequiquam be (...)

21In this respect, Statius’ Nemea looks back to the pastoral world of king Evander and his Arcadians in the Aeneid.55 The woods, the humble peasants, and the presence of Jupiter are reminiscent of Pallanteum and the Arcadians in book 8.56 It is significant that Lycurgus, who loses his beloved son to the expedition of the Seven against Thebes, is intertextually modelled on king Evander, who similar loses his son Pallas to the war between the Trojans and the Latins57 – Pallas also being the key model for Statius’ Arcadian puer Parthenopaeus, whose mors immatura lies at the heart of the Thebaid.58

Nemea as paradise lost : Vergil’s fourth Eclogue

  • 59  Brown 1994 : 137-42 discusses the ‘Wunderkind’ in the two Pindaric odes ; later (144-5) she also m (...)

22The monstrous serpent’s killing of the innocent child Opheltes inverts the more optimistic scenario in which promising babies are said to be safe from snakes, such as Iamos in Pindar’s sixth Olympian (Ol. 6.43-63) or the Horatian puer in the fourth Roman Ode (Carm. 3.4.17-8 ut tuto ab atris corpore uiperis / dormirem), or even conquer snakes, as does the infant Hercules in Pindar’s first Nemean and Theocritus 24.59 Most importantly, I believe, the death of Opheltes is an inversion – or perhaps annihilation – of Vergil’s fourth Eclogue, which famously heralds the birth of a prodigious child and the death of the evil serpent.

  • 60  Vessey 1973 : 105 ‘One is reminded of Virgil’s fourth Bucolic in which the birth of an infant is s (...)
  • 61  Opheltes is called puer in 4.793, 5.539 ; Vergil uses the same word in Ecl. 4.8, 18, 60 and 62. Cf (...)
  • 62  Brown 1994 : 22-9. One of her central arguments is that, as the Nemean episode in the Thebaid dela (...)
  • 63  See Nauta 2002 : 249-50. On the possible relevance of Lucan’s Siluae nothing can be said.
  • 64  Cf. Ecl. 1.2 siluestram ... musam, 6.2 nostra nec erubuit siluas habitare Thalea. Newlands 2012 : (...)
  • 65  Cf. Alfred Tennyson To Virgil ‘summers of the snakeless meadow’. For the serpent as symbol of the (...)
  • 66  Statius’ emphatically enjambed occidis (5.538) might even echo Ecl. 4.24-5 occidet et serpens, et (...)

23Since babies are rare in classical literature, Statius’ remarkable description of Opheltes playing around in the idyllic Nemean landscape (4.793-803) immediately brings to mind the most famous puer of Latin literature : the ‘Wunderkind’ of Vergil’s fourth Eclogue, who inha­bits a similar landscape, the symbolic landscape of the Golden Age.60 The connection is reinforced by the emphasis on nourishment and flowers, as well as the intimate connection between child and earth, puer and tellus.61 The allusion to Vergil’s fourth Eclogue is under­scored by the emphasis on Nemea’s siluae (‘woods’). Whereas Brown connects Nemea’s siluae with Statius’ Siluae62– which, between brackets, had not yet been published under that title before 92 ad63 – in my view the Nemean woods, in combination with other pastoral buzzwords such as agrestis, primarily serve to evoke the pastoral landscapes of Vergil’s Eclogues, which are symbolically represented as siluae by Vergil himself.64 The word figures most prominently at the beginning of the fourth poem, Ecl. 4.3 si canimus siluas, siluae sint consule dignae. The end of book 4, with Opheltes in the idyllic landscape (4.793-800), surely recalls Vergil’s prophetic child (cf. esp. Ecl. 4.18-25). Vergil mentions the death of the serpent (4.24 occidet et serpens), chthonic creature par excellence and symbol of the powers that threaten the peaceful and prosperous world which the poem prophesies. In the Golden Age there is no place for snakes.65 Statius pointedly inverts Vergil’s scenario, as the serpent brings death to the child.66

  • 67  Cf. McNelis 2007 : 174.
  • 68  Where the preceding phrase, Met. 1.145 non socer a genero [sc. tutus], could be applied to Adrastu (...)
  • 69  Cf. also the extensive account in [Sen.] Oct. 391-434.
  • 70  Cf. Sen. Thy. 249 (Pietas), 1021, 1035-6, 1070. Statius refers several times to Atreus and Thyeste (...)

24 That the Thebaid engages the poetic discourse on the Golden Age need not come as a surprise.67 The poem’s central theme, the nefas of fraternal strife, is one of the most prominent symbols of the degeneration of the Golden Age. As such it figures prominently in the finale of Catullus’ epyllion (64.399 perfudere manus fraterno sanguine fratres), where there is also mention of the incestuous relationship between mother and son (cf. 64.403 ignaro mater substernens se impia nato), which cannot fail to recall Theban myth. In Ovid’s narrative of decline we find fraternal strife too, as characteristic of the Iron Age (cf. Met. 1.145 fratrum quoque gratia rara est).68 And in Hesiod’s account the expedition of the Seven against Thebes and the Trojan War mark the beginning of the Heroic Age (Op. 161-3).69 In Thebaid 11, when Pietas leaves the earth and Jupiter turns his eyes away, we may be reminded of the climactic moment in the story of Atreus and Thyestes,70 but there is also an allusion to Astraea and the gods’ departure at the end of the Golden Age.

  • 71  See McNelis 2007 : 47-8 with references.
  • 72  Cf. Ganiban 2013 : 258 ‘Perhaps we might also recall description of the Golden Age, such as in Ecl (...)
  • 73  The phrase is borrowed from Newlands 2012 : 3-4.
  • 74  In the previous section we have seen that the dissolution of pastoral in favour of epic looks back (...)

25 The allusions to Vergil’s fourth Eclogue can be seen to have a political dimen­sion. In Augustan ideology serpents and giants often represent the powers that threaten the Pax Augusta, which itself is often figured as a return to the Golden Age.71 In the bleak world of the Thebaid, however, the optimis­tic aurea aetas prophesied in Eclogue 4 is utterly im­possible : in the golden dream of the fourth Eclogue there is no place for the evil serpent, in Statius’ nightmarish epic there is no place for the innocent child.72 Thus, on a political level, the death of Opheltes can be connected with the Thebaid’s ‘rupture with Augustan optimism’ after Rome’s traumatic relapse into civil war in 68-69 ad.73 Statius’ Nemea, too, is affected by the horrors of civil war ; it is a paradise lost.74

Statius’ Vergilian plot : Georgics and Culex

  • 75  Cf. e.g. 4.715 pasto­r­um, 5.512 agricolae, 667 agrestum ... manus and also 4.681 aruis, 702-4 seg (...)

26We have seen that Nemea, inhabited by an infant reminiscent of the symbolic puer of Vergil’s fourth Eclogue, is associated with the Golden Age world. On closer inspection, however, it soon becomes clear that Nemea is not really a paradisal world. It is inhabited by shepherds and farmers, who do not belong to the Golden Age,75 for instance, and it harbours an enormous serpent (contrast Ecl. 4.24 occidet et serpens). In Vergil’s pastoral world, we may note, serpents are not entirely absent, witness the proverbial anguis in herba (Ecl. 3.93-4). Perhaps Statius recreates Vergil’s pastoral world ? On even closer inspection, I would argue, Statius’ Nemea recreates neither the Golden Age world of the fourth Eclogue, nor the idealised world of pastoral poetry generally, but the complex world of Vergil’s Georgics.

27In the first place, the Nemean serpent is sacred not to Saturn, but to his son Jupiter, who presides over Nemea (cf. 5.511 Inachio ... Tonanti) as he presides over the post-lapsarian world. In the first book of the Georgics Jupiter famously puts an end to the Golden Age of his father Saturn, in order that men should employ their skills and labour (Geo. 1.118-46) ; the god’s very first action is to ‘add evil poison to dark snakes’ (1.129 ille malum uirus serpentibus addidit atris). This venomous Jovian serpent seems to underlie the Jovian serpent that looms dangerously in Statius’ Nemea. In the Georgics, as else­where, these dark snakes are the symbol par excellence of the cala­mities that threaten mankind, of the dark forces of nature that we must attempt to overcome – often in vain – with our toilsome labor improbus. And the clear allusion to Molorchus in 4.159 not only points to Callimachus, but also to the second proem of the Georgics (3.19).

  • 76  To my knowledge, only Cazzaniga 1959 : 127 n. 4 has noted the parallel. Vessey 1986 : 2981-3 point (...)
  • 77  Theb. 5.520 saeuior and Cul. 175 acrior mark the second stage.
  • 78  E.g. 5.538 extremae caudae < Geo. 3.423 extremae ... caudae. See further Soerink 2014b ad loc.

28Secondly, the very plot of the Nemean episode realises a scenario from Vergil’s Georgics. The death of Opheltes, who falls asleep in the meadow and is killed by the thirst-maddened serpent, looks back to Vergil’s Calabrian water-snake (Geo. 3.425-39) :76 as long as streams gush forth from their sources, as long as the earth is moist, the Calabrian snake lives peacefully, lingering on river banks and feeding on fish and frogs ; when the snake is tormented by thirst, however, it changes into a lethal monster. The passage ends with the explicit warning not to fall asleep when that serpent is around (3.435-9). These lines certainly inform the death of Opheltes in the second half of Thebaid 5. Like its Calabrian counterpart, the Nemean serpent normally lives peacefully, dwelling on the river banks (5.514-7) ; when tormented by heat, however, it becomes ferocious (5.518-28).77 In Statius, Vergil’s worst case scenario becomes reality : Opheltes, or rather his nurse Hypsipyle, does not heed Vergil’s warning, and the innocent child falls asleep – and falls victim to the serpent. The structural and thematic parallels are reinforced by verbal echoes.78 It is also worth noting that the didactic poet advises to kill the snake with rock and with wood (Verg. Geo. 3.420-2), a scheme that we also find in Statius (Hippomedon’s rock and Capaneus’ spear in 5.558-74). On the brink of death, the snake flees away (3.422-4), something we also find in Statius (5.574-8). We may point out that in the remaining fragments of Euripides’ Hypsipyle there is nothing that suggests that the serpent that kills Opheltes is maddened by thirst, nothing that suggests that Opheltes has fallen asleep. These two elements are taken directly from the Georgics.

  • 79  See Soerink 2014b : 82-4.

29The Georgics is an immensely complex poem, and one should be careful not to reduce it to a simple moralistic message. Yet if there is one lesson to be learnt from Vergil’s didactic poem, it is that human life is fragile, that human existence is an everlasting struggle with the hostile powers of nature, against which men – and animals – are ultimately powerless. One of the most important passages, in this respect, is the poet’s discourse on diseases and the poignant description of the plague that concludes the third book (Geo. 3.440-566). And it is precisely this most somber episode to which the description of the Calabrian serpent forms a prelude. From a didactic perspective, the passage instructs farmers how to keep snakes away from their flocks and herds ; on a symbolic level, however, the Calabrian serpent can be read as a powerful symbol of the disastrous forces of nature that dominate the remainder of Georgics 3. The Nemean serpent in the Thebaid, as I have argued elsewhere, does the same.79

  • 80  See S. 1 praef. et Culicem legimus et Batrachomyomachiam etiam agnoscimus, 2.7.73-4 (Lucan) haec p (...)
  • 81  See Seelentag 2012 : 144 ‘Dieses Szenario dient unserem Dichter als Grundlage’.
  • 82  Janka 2005 : 40 n. 27.

30Statius’ engagement with Georgics 3 also seems to involve the pseudo-Vergilian Culex. The Culex does not figure prominently in discussions of the Thebaid or any other post-Vergilian poem : for modern readers the Culex is not Vergilian and therefore not important. We should remember, however, that Statius and other poets of the late first century ad regarded the Culex as an authentic Vergilian poem.80 The plot of the Culex – a dangerous snake threatens to kill a sleeping goatherd – is clearly inspired by Georgics 3, where Vergil’s didactic persona warns his pupils not to fall asleep when a dangerous snake is around.81 Moreover, the serpent in the Culex also seems to represent the forces that threaten the idyllic pastoral world described at length in the first part of the poem : Janka plausibly suggests that in this respect the Culex looks back to Eclogue 4 : ‘Die Schlange als Symbol der Depra­vation, Falschheit und Gewaltsamkeit hat der CD [Culex-Dichter] vielleicht aus der Prophetie der vierten Ekloge übernommen [...] Die großartige Vision vom neuen, para­diesischen Goldzeit­alter würde so zum scherzepischen Schlangentod verflacht.’82

  • 83  See Soerink 2014b on 5.505-33.
  • 84  Pavan on 6.242-8 notes the relevance of the culex’ tomb for Opheltes’ tumulus, also pointing to th (...)
  • 85  On ludus and praeludere see Janka 2005, Lovatt 2005 : 8-10.

31That Statius has in mind the Culex as well as Georgics 3 is suggested by some striking verbal echoes in the description of the Nemean serpent.83 Other points of contact are the death of the Culex’ minuscule protagonist and the erection of an elaborate funeral monument which concludes the poem.84 When Opheltes falls asleep, he seems to play the role of the goatherd, but in the somber Thebaid there is no mosquito to save his life. Later, Opheltes rather plays the role of the little insect : as the death of the mosquito saves the life of the goatherd, so the death of Opheltes saves the lives of the Argives. It is tempting to see a further connection in that the Culex presents itself as a prelude vis-à-vis Vergil’s Aeneid, while the Nemean episode acts as a prelude to the Theban War in the second half of the Thebaid.85

Conclusion

32We have seen that Statius’ Nemea does not ‘deflect the narrative away from martial themes’, as McNelis has argued. Although Nemea is introduced as an idyllic world, as a result of Bacchus’ intervention its peace and quiet is brutally disrupted by the incursion of the Seven against Thebes. The epic Argives destroy Nemea’s pastoral streams, woods and coolness. The death of Opheltes destabilises Nemea, as it deprives the king of Nemea of his heir and leads to near bloodshed. Allusions to Lucan and Vergil underscore that these (mythical) hostilities are to be understood in terms of (historical) bella plus quam ciuilia. Statius’ Nemean episode takes its plot from Vergil’s Calabrian water-snake in Georgics 3 (and the Culex) : Vergil’s didactic persona had warned not to fall asleep when such a dangerous snake is around ; in Statius’ somber universe, this warning is not heeded, which results in the death of Opheltes. The death of this innocent child not only plunges Nemea in near civil war, it is also a pessimistic inversion of Vergil’s fourth Eclogue. On a poetic level, we witness the epic dissolution of Nemea’s pastoral world. On a political level, the Nemean episode seems to suggest the impossibility of an Augustan Golden Age in the Flavian poem’s disturbing universe of nefas.   

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Bibliographie

Aricò, G. (1961) ‘Stazio e l’Ipsipile euripidea. Note sull’imitazione staziana’, Dioniso 35 : 56-67.

Augoustakis, A. (2010) Motherhood and the Other. Fashioning Female Power in Flavian Epic (Oxford).

Brown, J. (1994) Into the Woods. Narrative Studies in the Thebaid of Statius with Special Reference to Books IV-VI (diss. Cambridge).

Cazzaniga, I. (1959) ‘Alcuni colori nicandrei in Stazio e Claudiano (Theb. V, 505 ; Gigant. II, 25)’, Acme 12 : 125-9.

Colace, P.R. (1982) ‘Il nuovo Callimaco di Lille, Ovidio e Stazio’, RFIC 110 : 140-9.

Deipser, B. (1881) De P. Papinio Statio Vergilii et Ovidii imitatore. Accedit appendix critica (diss. Argentorati [Strasbourg]).

Delarue, F. (2000) Stace, poète épique. Originalité et cohérence (Louvain & Paris).

Dominik, W.J. (1994) Speech and Rhetoric in Statius’ Thebaid (Hildesheim).

Fantham, E. (2009) Latin Poets and Italian Gods (Toronto).

Ganiban, R.T. (2013) ‘The death and funeral rites of Opheltes in the Thebaid’ in : A. Augoustakis (ed.) Ritual and Religion in Flavian Epic (Oxford) 249-65.

Gibson, B. (2004) ‘The Repetitions of Hypsipyle’ in : M. Gale (ed.) Latin Epic and Didactic Poetry. Genre, Tradition and Individuality (Swansea) 149-80.

Hinds, S. (1998) Allusion and Intertext (Cambridge).

Janka, M. (2005) ‘Prolusio oder Posttext ? Zum intertextuellen Stammbaum des hypervergilischen Culex’ in : N. Holzberg (ed.) Die Appendix Vergiliana. Pseudepigraphen im literarischen Kontext (Tübingen) 28-67.

Leigh, M. (1999) ‘Lucan’s Caesar and the sacred grove : deforestation and enlighten­ment in antiquity’ in : P. Esposito & L. Nicastri (edd.) Interpretare Lucano : miscel­lanea di studi (Napoli) 167-205.

Lovatt, H. (2005) Statius and Epic Games : Sport, Politics, and Poetics in the Thebaid (Cambridge).

McNelis, C. (2007) Statius’ Thebaid and the Poetics of Civil War (Cambridge).

Nauta, R.R. (2002) Poetry for Patrons. Literary Communication in the Age of Domitian (Leiden).

Newlands, C.E. (2004) ‘Ovid and Statius : Transforming the Landscape’, TAPhA 134.1 : 133-55.

Newlands, C.E. (2012) Statius, Poet between Rome and Naples. Bristol Classical Press.

Nugent, S.G. (1996) ‘Statius’ Hypsipyle : following in the footsteps of the Aeneid’, Scholia 5 : 46-71.

Parkes, R. (2012) Statius, Thebaid 4. Edited with an Introduction, Translation, and Commentary (Oxford).

Pavan, A. (2009) La gara delle quadrighe e il gioco della guerra. Saggio di commento a P. Papinii Statii Thebaidos liber VI 238-549 (Alessandria).

Thomas R.F. (1988), Virgil, Georgics, 2 vol. (Cambridge).

Thomas R.F. (2004-2005), ‘Torn between Jupiter and Saturn : ideology, rhetoric and culture wars in the Aeneid’, CJ 100: 121-147.

Seelentag, S. (2012) Der pseudovergilische Culex. Text – Übersetzung – Kommentar (Stuttgart).

Soerink, J. (2014a) ‘Tragic / Epic : Statius’ Thebaid and Euripides’ Hypsipyle’ in : A. Augoustakis (ed.) Flavian Poetry and Its Greek Past (Leiden) 171-91.

Soerink, J. (2014b) Beginning of Doom. Statius Thebaid 5.499-753. Introduction, Text Commentary (diss. Groningen).

Taisne, A.M. (1972) ‘Le rôle du serpent dans la mythologie de Stace’, Caesarodunum 7 : 357-80.

Vessey, D.W.T.C. (1970) ‘Notes on the Hypsipyle episode in Statius : Thebaid 4-6’, BICS 17 : 44-55.

Vessey, D.W.T.C. (1973) Statius and the Thebaid (Cambridge).

Vessey, D.W.T.C. (1986) ‘Pierius menti calor incidit : Statius’ epic style’, ANRW II 32.5 (Berlin-New York) 2965-3019.

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Notes

1  Aricò 1961, Vessey 1970, Brown 1994 : 57-93, Soerink 2014a.

2  Nugent 1996, Gibson 2004.

3  Brown 1994 : 30-56, Delarue 2000 : 123-40, McNelis 2007, Soerink 2014b : 47-56.

4  McNelis 2007 : 77.

5  Delarue 2000 : 135.

6  McNelis 2007 : 12 ; cf. 128 with n. 9.

7  McNelis 2007 : 91.

8  This article builds on chapter 5 of my dissertation, Soerink 2014b : 57-67.

9  Most editors read Amphiaraus ait : ‘ne, quaeso ! absistite ferro’. Although there are parallels for quaeso in Latin epic (e.g. 3.389, 6.171, 12.305, Aen. 8.573, 12.72-3, Val. 7.478, 8.280), the elliptical ‘ne, quaeso !’ is extre­me­ly awkward and without parallel. In an attempt to produce one fluent senten­ce, Hall con­jec­tures adsistite : ‘Do not, I pray, make your stand with the sword’. However, ne ... adsistite is extremely unlikely in the light of Aen. 11.307 (Latinus speaking) nec uicti possunt absistere ferro (Deipser 1881 : 27 notes the parallel) ; cf. also Aen. 6.259 totoque absistite luco, Val. 3.451 absistite bellis. In my opinion, the text is corrupt. In addition to the awkard ‘ne, quaeso !’, the word ait cannot stand : like inquit, ait is always inserted after the commence­ment of the speech (for Statius’ speeches with ait see Dominik 1994 : 342-6). An alternative to ait does not easily present itself. There seems to be no other uerbum dicendi that fits the hexameter. Sometimes Statius omits the uerbum dicendi (see Dominik 1994 : 19 ; cf. e.g. 4.832) : could that be the case here ? In some MSS we find agit, which does not make sense. Perhaps adit (cf. 10.205) ? That seems unlikely after the preposition inter (667). ne seems to be warranted by neue in the following line (and by the Vergilian intertext).

10  Deipser (1881 : 30 ; cf. Parkes on 4.836).

11  The Vergilian passage also underlies 4.401 tu peior, tu cede (a few lines after 4.398 unusque ... sanguis mentioned above), where a maenad foresees a fight between two bulls (i.e. Eteocles and Polynices), aligning the fraternas acies of the poem with Roman civil war.

12  In 5.588-604 Statius reworks Luc. 2.20-8, which again puts the Theban War in the Thebaid on a par with the civil war in Lucan’s Bellum ciuile. See Soerink 2014b ad loc.

13  My interpunction follows Shackleton Bailey and Hall ; others punctuate pergite in excidium socii, si tanta uoluptas, / sanguinis. However, theenjamb­ment and an oxymoronic combination of uoluptas and socii sanguinis seems congenial to Statius ; cf. the conditional clauses in 10.431-2 regem si tanta cupido / condere and 11.433 sceptri si tanta cupido est, where we find similar features : postponed si, enjambment, and a genitive or epexegetic infinitive that specifies cupido (cf. also 7.22 ferrique insana uoluptas, 10.266-7 uoluptas / caedis).

14  Brown has argued that the god’s entrance can also be read metapoetically as an indication that the following episode will be in tragic fashion, as the Nemean episode takes its plot from Euripides’ Hypsipyle (Brown 1994 : 57-9 ; cf. Soerink 2014a : 177-8).

15  Critics have been troubled by these companions, ‘more suited to the entourage of Mars, a god who also might be expected to arrive from Thrace’, than to Bacchus (Parkes on 4.661-3). Parkes solves the problem by saying that ‘Statius emphasizes the martial aspect [...] in order to build up to the anticlima<c>tic refusal of the god to use these forces’ (Parkes ibid.). Delarue even argues that Bacchus, despite everything, is a Callimachean figure, because the Mimallones (4.660) in his train are also mentioned in a fragment of Callimachus (Delarue 2000 : 127-8 ; cf. Callim. fr. inc. 503 Pf.). The one-sided emphasis on Nemea’s Callimachean aspects has blinded critics to the obvious : Bacchus brings war.

16  Soerink 2014b : 72-8.

17  See McNelis 2007 : 50-75 ; the citation is from Newlands 2012 : 86.

18  On the Nemean episode as mise en abyme see Soerink 2014b : 68-84.

19  Taisne 1972 : 358.

20  Brown’s argument that gelidam ‘casts a mysterious chill over the scene, recalling Eteocles’ ghastly lucus’ (1994 : 21-2) does not convince. Admittedly, the word also occurs in Statius’ description of the bleak Theban forest, but cold is not something ‘sinister’ (ibid. 17) in itself ; it takes its associations, positive or negative, from the context. And in the description of Nemea, as in other descriptions of idyllic landscapes, words like gelidus clearly refer to the pleasant coolness of shade (cf. e.g. Aen. 8.159 Arcadiae gelidos ... finis, Ov. Met. 2.455 nemus gelidum).

21  Bacchus’ speech (4.684-96) is notable for its variation in ‘water words’ ; we find fluuiorum, fontibus, amnes, stagna, riuos, liquor and gurgite.

22  Cf. 5.10, 6.91, 113, 155 etc. In the Siluae Nemea is given the epithet frondens (1.3.6).

23  Brown 1994 : 9 with n. 56. In Ʃ Pind. Nem. hypoth. c we find two Greek etymologies : the name should derive either from the nymph Nemea, daughter of Zeus and Selene, or ἀπὸ τῶν βοῶν τῶν ὑπὸ Ἄργου νεμομένων ἐν τῷ χωρίῳ.

24  See Fantham 2009 : 181-4.

25  Elsewhere Statius employs the ideal locus amoenus to emphasise the horrors of the underworld. When Laius is leaving the underworld, an anonymous shade cries : heu dulces uisure polos solemque relictum / et uirides terras et puros fontibus amnes, tristior has iterum tamen intrature tenebras (2.23-4) ; cf. also 1.89-90 inamoenum Cocyton. Later in book 2, when Statius describes the locus horridus of the Sphinx, he calls attention to the very absence of Fauns and Dryads (2.521-2).

26  See McNelis 2007 : 87-8 ; Brown 1994 : 202 ; Parkes 2012 : xxiii ‘We may read this pollution as a signal of the narrative’s return to traditional martial epic’, with her note on 4.824-7. The source of muddied rivers as symbols of epic poetry is Callim. Ap. 108-12.

27  The epic character of the scene also appears from its being echoed in Hippomedon’s fight with the river in 9.225-569.

28  Brown 1994 : 12.

29  Newlands 2004 : 133.

30  Newlands 2004 : 134.

31  See Brown 1994 : 199-203 ; Newlands 2004 : 144-5 ; Ganiban 2013 : 260-1.

32  Brown 1994 : 50, in her extensive discussion of Callimachus’ poem, not making the connection with Statius.

33  Colace 1982 : 148 ; Brown 1994 : 45, 200 ; McNelis 2004 : 272. However, Statius may have in mind Ovid rather than Callimachus, cf. Am. 3.1.1 stat uetus et multos incaedua silua per annos, Fast. 2.435-6 multis incae­du­us annis / Iunonis magnae nomine lucus erat, and esp. Met. 3.28 silua uetus stabat nulla uiolata securi. Cf. also Silv. 5.2.69-70 nescia falcis / silua.

34  In addition to its primary model Aen. 6.179-82, where the Trojans hew down a primordial Italian grove for Misenus’ pyre (a passage with clear metapoetic overtones ; see Hinds 1998 : 11-4), the catalogue of trees recalls Ecl. 6.1-8, 7.61-8 (Brown 1994 : 24, 202), while the destruction of the grove also looks back to Luc. 3.399-452 ; see Ganiban 2013 : 260-1 with references.

35  On the Italian deities inhabiting the Greek grove see Fantham 2009 : 181-4, Newlands 2012 : 34 ; cf. Ganiban 2013 : 261.

36  Colace 1982 : 147-8 ; cf. Brown 1994 : 45 and 200, McNelis 2004 : 272. In all likelihood, however, Statius took his inspiration from some Latin predecessor, e.g. Ov. Met. 14.532 alimentaque cetera flammae (see further Fortgens ad loc.).

37  Ganiban 2013 : 261. On the sacrilegious aspects of deforestation see Frazer on Ov. Fast. 4.751, Hollis on Ov. Met. 8.741-2 and esp. Leigh (1999). It may be worth noting that, before they were conquered by Theseus, the Amazons also used to fell trees (12.526).

38  Although biographical approaches are no longer in vogue, it is possible that Statius’ description of the scorched landscape is connected with the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 ad, on which his father was writing a poem when death overtook him (see Silv. 3.5.72-4, 4.4.178-86, Nauta 2002 : 195-6, 199).

39  This personifcation is probably a Statian innovation (Parkes ad loc.).

40  The destructive plague of Apollo is also described in terms of fire, cf. 1.634-5 ab aethere laeuus / ignis, 654 ignique, 662-3 ardentem ... Letoiden.

41  Parkes ad loc. notes that ardentes not only means ‘flashing’, but also ‘conveys the hotness of the sun-baked metal shields’.

42  4.665 solem radiis ignescere ferri, an extremely daring inversion ; see Parkes ad loc.

43  Newlands (2012 : 59-60) nicely observes that the poem’s closure is associated with water, as the Thebaid reaches its harbour (12.809). For the narrator’s poetic furor cf. also 12.808 nouus ... furor.

44  Statius is not the first to assimilate the destructiveness of war to fire ; the metaphor has a long literary history ; see Harrison on Aen. 10.405-11, Tarrant on Aen. 12.521-6 and cf. e.g. Il. 11.153-7, 15.605-6, 20.490-2, Ap.Rh. 1.1026-8 ; Ross 2007 : 24 points out that the Georgics too ‘returns again and again to the opposition of fire and water, the destructiveness of war opposed to civilizing progress’.

45  The passage has always been read as an illustration of familial pietas, the loving brothers Thoas and Euneus contrasting with the sons of Oedipus (e.g. Vessey 1973 : 190, Brown 1994 : 218 n. 123, Lovatt 2005 : 26, McNelis 2007 : 92-3). Yet their brotherly pietas is seriously contaminated by some disturbing intra- and intertextual echoes. The description of the embrace (5.721-2 matremque auidis complexibus ambo | diripiunt alternaque ad pectora mutant) is troubled by the violent diripiunt, while auidis seems to have erotic overtones, esp. after causa uiae genetrix (5.715), which echoes Ov. Met. 10.23 causa uiae est coniunx and thus aligns Euneus’ and Thoas’ search for their mother with Orpheus’ quest for Eurydice, suggesting oedipal desires (often suggested for Eteocles and Polynices, see Hersh­kowitz 1998 : 271-82, 4.88 with Parkes, 7.499 teris with Smolenaars). We may also remember that the twins have been raised by Lycaste (a name that might echo Acaste, nurse of Argia and Deipyle, cf. 1.529-31), who killed her twin brother (cf. 5.226-35, 467). Most importantly, the phrase alternaque ad pectora mutant cannot fail to recall Eteocles and Polynices (cf. e.g. 1.138-9, 2.444, 10.800-1). Perhaps Hypsipyle’s sons, eager to hold and unable to share, are not so different from Eteocles and Polynices after all ?

46  Statius’ simile in 5.723-4 clearly echoes Vergil’s in Aen. 7.586-90 and 10.693-6. See Soerink 2014b ad loc.

47  Lovatt 2005 : 13. Cf. Brown 1994 : 54, who sees Callimachus’ influence ‘in the “magnification” of the tiny and domestic at the expense of the huge and heroic’. McNelis argues that the Nemean Games are essentially Callimachean, with reference to Prop. 2.34.37-8, where according to McNelis ‘Propertius singles out Arche­morus’ funeral games as part of the Theban story that is appropriate for a Callimachean’ (2007 : 19) ; these controversial lines, however, may well express the very opposite idea (see Fedeli on Prop. 2.34.33-40).

48  Lovatt 2005 : 29, passim ; cf. most explicit 6.456-9.

49  6.438-9 prior Hippodamus fert ora sequen­tum, / fert gemitus multaque umeros incenditur aura (cf. 6.603-5) may recall Suppl.Hell. 254.8-10 ἔθρεξαν προ[τέρω]ν οὔτινας ἡνιόχων / ἄσθματι χλι[αίνοντε]ς ἐπωμίδας ‘they ran nor did they warm with their breath the shoulders of anyone in front of them’ (Colace 1982 : 144 ; cf. McNelis 2004 : 272). However, as Colace 1982 : 144 points out, ‘l’identità della situazione e l’impiego della medesima immagine basterebbero a garantire la presenza diretta del testo callimacheo alla memoria del poeta latino, se un’analisi di tutta la sezione della Tebaide relativa ai giochi non rivelasse altri preziosi echi tratti dalla Victoria Berenices’, and the phrase could also derive from Il. 23.380-1 πνοιῇ δ’ Εὐμήλοιο μετάφρενον εὐρέε τ’ ὤμω / θέρμετο (which underlies Callimachus ; cf. Colace loc. cit.) and Geo. 3.111 umescunt spumis flatuque sequentum (which looks back to Homer and, perhaps, Callimachus ; see Thomas ad loc.) ; see Pavan on 6.438-9 (who does not even mention Calli­ma­chus).

50  Despite Aet. fr. 58 Harder ἄξονται δ’ οὐχ ἵππον ἀέθλιον, οὐ μὲν ἐχῖνον / βουδόκον (‘and as a prize they will receive no racing-horse, no cauldron able to contain an ox’), in Statius we find a horse (6.644 equum) and a Herculean bowl (6.531-2 cratera ... Herculeum).

51  Delarue 2000 : 131.

52  McNelis 2007 : 90-1. Cf. also Augoustakis’ claim that ‘the middle of the Thebaid is transformed into an extensive Herois’ (2010 : 32), which similarly denies its epic nature.

53  Newlands 2012 : 52.

54  Cf. Ach. 1.10 Aonium nemus, where it refers to the grove of the Muses as well as the Thebaid.

55  Cf. Parkes 2012 : xxxiii n. 90 ‘in some respects the interlude at Nemea is also evocative of the pastoral delay of Aeneid 8 (cf. the stories of Hypsipyle in Theb. 5 and Evander in A. 8)’. Brown 1994 : 53-4 connects Thebaid 4-6 and Aeneid 8 in that both episodes look back to Callimachus’ Victoria Berenices, which underlies the theme of ‘theoxenic aetiology’ as well as Hercules’ presence in Aeneid 8.

56  Cf. Aen. 8.102-89, 306-69, 454-585 ; woods e.g. 8.104 and 125 luco, 8.108, 345 and 351 nemus, 314 haec nemora, 342 lucum ingentem, 348 siluestribus ... dumis, 350 siluam ; humble lifestyle 8.100 res inopes, 105 pauper, 176 gramineo ... sedili, 178 solio ... acerno, 360 pauperis Euandri, 455 humili tecto, 543 paruosque penatis ; presence of Jupiter 8.351-4 ; there is also mention of nymphs, Aen. 8.314, 336, 339.

57  Conspicuous echoes include 5.638-9 ~ Aen. 11.139-40, 5.651-2 ~ Aen. 11.145-6.

58  For the connection between Nemea and Arcadia cf. also Aen. 12.517-9 et iuuenem exosum nequiquam bella Menoeten, / Arcada, piscosae cui circum flumina Lernae / ars fuerat pauperque domus etc. and Val.Fl. 1.35-6 olim Lernae defensus ab angue / Arcas.

59  Brown 1994 : 137-42 discusses the ‘Wunderkind’ in the two Pindaric odes ; later (144-5) she also mentions Hor. Carm. 3.4.9-20. Strikingly, the Horatian puer falls asleep ludo fatigatumque somno (3.4.11), which parallels 5.502-4, while the poem also features a nurse (3.4.10 nutricis). Another example, we may note, is Glaucias in Silv. 2.1.48-9 cui sibila serpens / poneret.  

60  Vessey 1973 : 105 ‘One is reminded of Virgil’s fourth Bucolic in which the birth of an infant is said to herald a new Golden Age ; in the Thebaid, the death of two babies [Opheltes and Linus] portends doom’. Brown 1994 : 133 develops the idea. In scholarly discussions of the Thebaid, however,Vergil’s Eclogues hardly play a role. Statius’ engagement with the Eclogues, according to silent communis opinio, occurs in his Siluae, not in his epic poetry : ‘The title [Siluae] also surely refers to Virgil’s programmatic use of the word siluae in the Eclogues. The connection with the Eclogues gives an attractive symmetry to St[atius]’s poetic corpus ; in his Thebaid he acknowledges the importance of the Aeneid (Theb. 12.816-7), and in the Siluae he makes literary homage to the Eclogues which, like St[atius]’s poems, strikingly intermingle naturalism and artifice, fantasy and politics’ (Newlands 2012 : 6-7).

61  Opheltes is called puer in 4.793, 5.539 ; Vergil uses the same word in Ecl. 4.8, 18, 60 and 62. Cf. Theb. 4.788 floribus aggestis (with Parkes’ note) and Ecl. 4.23 ipsa tibi blandos fundent cunabula flores. For tellus cf. Ecl. 4.14 terras, 19 tellus, etc. Brown 1994 : 133 connects 4.796 renidens with the child’s smile in Ecl. 4.60-3.

62  Brown 1994 : 22-9. One of her central arguments is that, as the Nemean episode in the Thebaid delays the epic expedition of the Seven, so Statius’ Siluae delay his epic project (cf. 1.5.8-9) ; and the many ecphrases in the Siluae, she ventures, have their counterpart in Hypsipyle’s narrative, ‘itself a form of narrative ecphrasis’ (28).

63  See Nauta 2002 : 249-50. On the possible relevance of Lucan’s Siluae nothing can be said.

64  Cf. Ecl. 1.2 siluestram ... musam, 6.2 nostra nec erubuit siluas habitare Thalea. Newlands 2012 : 9 n. 54 ‘The Augustan poet uses siluae as a collective image for his Eclogues’. We may add that siluae also represents the Eclogues in the false (but ancient) proem to the Aeneid, 1.1b egressus siluis. On the title Siluae, which not only looks back to Vergil’s Eclogues, but also carries associations with Greek ὕλη, speedy composition and (perhaps) variety, see Nauta 2002 : 252-4, Newlands 2011 : 6-7 with references.

65  Cf. Alfred Tennyson To Virgil ‘summers of the snakeless meadow’. For the serpent as symbol of the powers that threaten peace and prosperity, we may also compare the laudes Italiae in the second book of the Georgics, where Vergil also mentions the absence of snakes : nec rapit immensos orbis per humum neque tanto / squameus in spiram tractu se colligit anguis (Geo. 2.153-4). For snakes as symbols of evil cf. also Aen. 7.753-5, Hor. Ep. 16.52 neque intumescit alta uiperis humus.

66  Statius’ emphatically enjambed occidis (5.538) might even echo Ecl. 4.24-5 occidet et serpens, et fallax herba ueneni / occidet.

67  Cf. McNelis 2007 : 174.

68  Where the preceding phrase, Met. 1.145 non socer a genero [sc. tutus], could be applied to Adrastus and Polynices.

69  Cf. also the extensive account in [Sen.] Oct. 391-434.

70  Cf. Sen. Thy. 249 (Pietas), 1021, 1035-6, 1070. Statius refers several times to Atreus and Thyestes, cf. 1.325, 2.184, 3.308-10, 4.308, 6.280, 284, 11.127-9.

71  See McNelis 2007 : 47-8 with references.

72  Cf. Ganiban 2013 : 258 ‘Perhaps we might also recall description of the Golden Age, such as in Eclogues 4.23-4, wherin flowers will form cradles (cunabula), and the serpens will die. The deaths of Statius’ Opheltes and Linus both would then suggest the opposite of a Golden Age.’

73  The phrase is borrowed from Newlands 2012 : 3-4.

74  In the previous section we have seen that the dissolution of pastoral in favour of epic looks back to the second half of the Aeneid. Statius’ engagement with the fourth Eclogue and the poetic discourse of the Golden Age can also be connected with the Aeneid : in Thomas’ reading of the poem (Thomas 2004-2005), the primitive world of the Italians is a ‘golden’ Saturnian world, which the arrival of the Trojans and the following war corrupts into an ‘iron’ Jovian world. For a brief discussion and references see Lovatt 2005 : 147 n. 12.

75  Cf. e.g. 4.715 pasto­r­um, 5.512 agricolae, 667 agrestum ... manus and also 4.681 aruis, 702-4 seges ... culmi ... pecus ... armenta.

76  To my knowledge, only Cazzaniga 1959 : 127 n. 4 has noted the parallel. Vessey 1986 : 2981-3 points to the relevance of the Calabrian water-snake for the snake simile in 2.410-4, but is silent on its connection with the Nemean serpent.

77  Theb. 5.520 saeuior and Cul. 175 acrior mark the second stage.

78  E.g. 5.538 extremae caudae < Geo. 3.423 extremae ... caudae. See further Soerink 2014b ad loc.

79  See Soerink 2014b : 82-4.

80  See S. 1 praef. et Culicem legimus et Batrachomyomachiam etiam agnoscimus, 2.7.73-4 (Lucan) haec primo iuuenis canes sub aeuo, / ante annos Culicis Maroniani, Mart. 8.55.19-20, 14.185-6. See Seelentag 2012 : 9-11.

81  See Seelentag 2012 : 144 ‘Dieses Szenario dient unserem Dichter als Grundlage’.

82  Janka 2005 : 40 n. 27.

83  See Soerink 2014b on 5.505-33.

84  Pavan on 6.242-8 notes the relevance of the culex’ tomb for Opheltes’ tumulus, also pointing to the correspondence between 5.558-67 and Cul. 192-7 (the killing of the serpent).

85  On ludus and praeludere see Janka 2005, Lovatt 2005 : 8-10.

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Jörn Soerink, « Statius’ Nemea / paradise lost », Dictynna [En ligne], 12 | 2015, mis en ligne le 27 janvier 2016, consulté le 18 août 2017. URL : http://dictynna.revues.org/1125

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