Scholia Reviews 2 (1993): 10

Michael Dewar (ed. and tr.), Statius: Thebaid IX. Edited with an English Translation and Commentary.  Oxford Classical Monographs.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.  Pp. xlix + 232.  ISBN 0-19-814480-6. UK£32.50.

W. J. Dominik

University of Natal, Durban

This edition of Statius, Thebaid 9, which developed from a commen­tary accepted for a D.Phil. at Oxford, conforms to all the requirements of the genre.  In addition to the commentary, which has been revised, there is an edited text, apparatus criticus, prose translation and introduction.  Dewar’s commentary is an important addition to the commentaries of Fortgens on Thebaid 4.1-295 (Zutphen 1934), Mulder on Book 2 (diss. Groningen 1954), Snijder on Book 3 (Amsterdam 1968), Venini on Book 11 (Florence 1970), Williams on Book 10 (Leiden 1972) and Smolenaars on 7.1-451 (diss. Amsterdam 1983).

The introduction covers Statius’ life and works, particularly the Thebaid: themes and characters, the text, sources, language, style, metre, the Parthenopaeus episode, and Statius and European literature.  Although his introduction is generally a useful one, Dewar views the Thebaid in traditional critical terms.  The deaths of key figures such as Tydeus, Hippomedon and Parthenopaeus `are due punishment for their sins’ (p. xxiii).  Dewar completely ignores the cruelty and injustice of Jupiter and other supernatural powers in bringing about their downfalls.  The only evidence for his assertion that their `deaths have been ordained by Fate as part of Jupiter’s plan to cleanse both the wicked cities of Thebes and Argos’ (p. xxiii) is Jupiter’s own specious argument in 1.214-47.  On the contrary, the deaths of Hippomedon, Parthenopaeus and even Tydeus are due to the harmful machina­tions of the gods and not at all due to inherent human sin.  Dewar’s concluding sentence to the section in which he briefly treats the themes of Thebaid 9—`In the dark world of the Thebaid even the gods may suffer the injustice of man’ (p. xxvii)—would accurately portray the relationship between the gods and humankind if it were to read: `In the dark world of the Thebaid man is made to suffer the injustice of the gods’.

Although Book 9 has been viewed as one of the Thebaid‘s less successful books, it plays an important role in stressing not only the destructive­ness and futility of war and violence but also the powerlessness and ignorance of humanity.  Dewar is on better critical ground when he examines aspects of these themes in the introduction.  He rightly points out that characters such as Partheno­paeus and Atalanta `come to symbolize the wasteful destructiveness of war and the suffering of the innocent bystanders’ (p. xxvi).  The futility of violence and human strength is seen in the fates of certain characters who appear in Book 9 such as Hippomedon and Parthenopaeus, whose deaths follow almost immediately in the wake of their own androktasiai.  That war has a definite reality in terms of its human cost is evidenced especially in the appearance of the youthful Crenaeus and Parthenopaeus just prior to their deaths on the battlefield.  Crenaeus is misled by the superficial glamour of war and foolishly takes to the battlefield untrained in the art of combat (319ff.).  The description of Parthenopaeus just prior to his brief aristeia (683ff.) reveals that he too is uninformed about the true perils of war and unaware of the imminence of his death (cf. 570ff.). Parthenopaeus shows a boyish enthusiasm for slaughter (683) and fascination with his splendid accoutre­ments and clangorous weapons (694ff.); to him war is a game (785f.).  The intoxication of these youths with the imagined glory of war and their ignorance concerning its real dangers leads directly to their untimely ends.  In no sense can their tragic deaths be said to have achieved anything remotely positive.  This complete waste of human life bears testimony to the total futility of war as presented elsewhere in the Thebaid.

Minor criticisms of the introduction include Dewar’s use of the outdated pejorative term `Silver’ in referring to postclassical Latin poetry, his subjective judgements concerning matters of Statius’ style and descriptions (e.g., `More successful are the grisly details sketched in a few words’, p. xxxiii), his unhelpful remarks on the Thebaid‘s structure (e.g., `it seems best to regard it as a deliberately episodic work’, pp. xvii-xviii), and some questionable assertions concerning particular scenes (e.g., `its titillating sensualism will no doubt have seemed to some further proof of the degeneracy of contemporary society’, p. xxxviii). However, these minor criticisms are more than offset by what is Dewar’s greatest single contribution in the introduction: his engaging discussion of Statius’ influence on later European literature (pp. xxxvii-xlviii), which scholars interested in Nachleben will find especially valuable.

The text and apparatus are dependent largely upon the 1983 edition of D. E. Hill.  In fact Dewar departs from Hill’s text in only twenty-one places (p. xxvii).  The facing translation is fluent and readable (if literal and plainly worded), but it suffers from the inevitable drawbacks that result from a prose translation of a verse text (see Bryn Mawr Classical Review 4.3 [1993] 187-92); partly as a conse­quence of this, it does not seem to me to be an improvement upon Mozley’s 1928 Loeb translation.  Nor does the commentary, since it is not a literary one, tell us much what the Thebaid is about.  However, students of Statius will find much of lexical and philological value.  The discussion throughout of his diction, style, metre and imitatio represents a major contribution to Statian scholarship.  Hence Dewar’s place among contempor­ary scholars of the poet is assured through this single work alone.