Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Greek, Latin, and Classical Studies
Statius’ epic poem, the Thebaid, has often been compared to Virgil’s Aeneid and many studies rightfully devote their attention to this text. I argue, however, that Greek tragedy equally plays an integral role in our reading and understanding of the Thebaid. Statius’ relationship with Greek tragedy in his epic is pronounced, ubiquitous, and intentional throughout the Thebaid and it is no less prevalent and relevant than the Aeneid for an understanding of the poem. The extant Greek tragic plays that treat the Theban story and Polynices and Eteocles’ conflict include Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes, Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone, and Euripides’ Phoenissae and Suppliant Women. I identify various passages throughout the epic that parallel scenes from these tragedies, not only through their more overt similarities to characters or plot, but also through thematic, verbal, or even syntactic echoes.
I then explore the prominent themes, which the layering of the texts reveals, and the political significance and the contemporary relevance in these intertextual scenes. I show how Statius highlights themes that illustrate a deterioration of family dynamics, ritual connections, and political turmoil, which is intrinsically connected to the crisis of the political situation in Statius’ time. I demonstrate that Statius more subtly uses such intertext with tragedy to raise themes that would be of concern to a reader from Flavian Rome: civil war, power vacuums, crises of inheritance and succession, overextension and abuse of power, and destabilization of political structures when familial and ritual bonds dissolve.
These points of interaction between the epic and the tragedies emphasize themes of the Thebaid that are particularly politically weighted due to their activation through the tragic backdrop Statius creates. Statius’ intertext with Greek tragedy prompts the reader to examine the Roman epic and its themes through the encoded political nature of the Greek tragic genre. The inherent politicizing nature of Greek tragedy, therefore, invites the reader to explore the politics of the Thebaid, not merely as a product of its mythological sources, but as a product of the contemporary Roman climate from which it is produced.
Boetsch, D. E. 2023. "An Epic of Tragic Proportions: [In]forming the Politics of Statius’ Thebaid through Greek Tragic Intertext." PhD Diss., Bryn Mawr College.
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