Scholia Reviews ns 14 (2005) 9.

D. R. Shackleton Bailey (ed.), Statius: Silvae. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2003. Pp. vii + 438. ISBN 0-674-99604-6. UKú14.95.

Stephen Newmyer
Duquesne University

In recent decades, the Loeb Classical Library has undergone a remarkable transformation. Once distinguished by its questionable textual readings, awkward translations, minimal critical apparatus, and spotty explanatory notes, the series, which despite these shortcomings often supplied the sole available English translation of their texts, is in the process of replacing its venerable volumes with editions of impressive scholarship, while at the same time adding authors once judged too technical or unliterary to merit inclusion in the series.[[1]] Shackleton Bailey's edition of the Silvae, the first of three volumes designed to replace the two-volume Loeb Statius edited by J. H. Mozley and first issued in 1928, has much to offer the reader interested in a poet who has enjoyed something of a renaissance of scholarly interest since the mid-1960's. Yet while Statius' masterpiece, the epic Thebaid, has been more than once issued in elegant and readable English translations in recent years,[[2]] his Silvae, a collection of thirty two occasional poems, have not attracted the attention of translators willing to tackle the formidable task of rendering the poet's highly precious and artificial style into English. In Shackleton Bailey's edition, the Silvae occupy a volume unto themselves, whereas in Mozley's earlier Loeb edition, the work was issued with the first four books of the Thebaid and the extant fragment of Statius' epic on Domitian's campaign in Germany.[[3]] The greater scope of Shackleton Bailey's edition reflects the editor's recognition that the reader of the Silvae requires substantial help to appreciate and enjoy a collection of poems which their author claims to have dashed off in the heat of inspiration, but which betray every evidence of careful workmanship and extreme elaboration of language and poetic imagery.

The brief introduction to the volume (pp. 3-10) provides a biography of Statius derived of necessity largely from the poet's own pronouncements spread throughout his works, as well as some comments on the tenuous manuscript tradition of the Silvae, which, unlike the poet's popular epic production, was unknown until Poggio Bracciolini discovered a manuscript of the collection in 1417 and had it copied. This is followed by a brief discussion of commentaries and of the editor's goals in translating the poems into English. Shackleton Bailey includes some necessary explication of the meaning of the title of the work which, like the Greek U(/LH, refers in a literary context to a sort of 'rough draft', as Statius wishes these poems to be considered, rather than as works of careful elaboration and finish. Such literary drafts are to be understood as the 'raw material' of finished poetry, and however true Statius' assertion in the prefatory letter to the first book of the collection may be that he spent no more than two days in the composition of any of the poems, Statius certainly wished his audience to marvel at the virtuosity of the finished productions.

A valuable contribution to Shackleton Bailey's edition is the bibliographic essay and listing, 'Recent Scholarship on the Silvae and Their Context: An Overview' (pp. 11-21), contributed by Kathleen M. Coleman, author of an extensive commentary on the poems of the fourth book of the Silvae,[[4]] who was invited to compose this section by the editor who acknowledges an unfamiliarity with critical work on the collection. Coleman's sensitive essay that precedes her bibliographic listing elucidates many of the problems inherent in studying Statius' occasional poetry, and offers helpful insights into trends in recent criticism of the poems, including thinking on Statius' position as a poet who inhabited and drew inspiration from two worlds, a Roman writer living in and educated in a Greek milieu in Naples; on the place occupied by the poems in the tradition of ancient epideictic literature in which rhetoric and poetry are often difficult to differentiate; on the meaning and sincerity of the flattery, often nauseating to modern readers, that marks the poet's addresses to the dedicatees of the poems; and, not least important, on the tantalizing issue of the potentially subversive intent of the poems which, despite their rosy picture of Roman life under Domitian, may hide subtle criticisms both of the poems' addressees and of the government under which Statius lived. Although Coleman's bibliographic entries are limited largely to works in English, she does include the seminal work of Hubert Cancik, which was instrumental in rekindling scholarly interest in the Silvae in the 1960's.[[5]]

Whatever its other excellences, the principal interest that a new interest of the Silvae is likely to possess for English readers, especially in the case of a work that has attracted so little attention in this regard, lies in its translation (pp. 23-381). In his note to the translation (p. 10), Shackleton Bailey expresses the hope that he has avoided blunders and has been faithful to the text without relying on excessive literalness -- a recognition of the difficulties that confront a translator who tackles a work whose language is so elevated and artificial, even when describing the most mundane activities of life. Twenty-six poems in the Silvae are in hexameters, while four of the remaining pieces are in hendecasyllabics with one poem each in Sapphics and Alcaics, and Statius' approach to the hexameter does not differ appreciably between his use of it in a highly formal and impersonal poem like Silvae 4.1, in which the poet congratulates Domitian on his seventeenth consulship and Silvae 3.5, in which he urges his wife to join him in retirement in Naples. This uniformity of style may derive from the speed with which the poems were composed, if we may take Statius' claim in the prose epistle to Silvae 1 literally. Shackleton Bailey's English version must be judged a splendid success, especially when it is set beside Mozley's translation which succeeds in being simultaneously stilted and bland. Shackleton Bailey even succeeds in introducing a bit of elegant informality into the epistles that precede the five books of the collection, and here his success against Mozley is readily observable. His rendering, for example, of Statius' description, in the epistle to Silvae 2, of the need for speed in the composition of the lament on the death of a tamed lion in the arena (Silvae 2.5), for otherwise frigidum erat, 'the piece would have fallen flat,' which seems just the right idiom to replace Mozley's colorless rendering, 'all the effect would have been missed.' Shackleton Bailey has an unfailing sense for the nuance of Statius' elaborate diction which allows him to extract maximum force from each Latin word. In the opening line of Statius' remarkably moving lament on the death of his adopted son (Silvae 5.5), the poet remarks that the poem requires an all-new style in keeping with the depth of his grief. Shackleton Bailey's rendering of neque verbis sollemnibus, 'with no wonted words,' to describe the poet's need for something new removes the almost meaningless ambiguity of Mozley's 'with no hallowed words.' With Shackleton Bailey's guidance, the reader, whether classically trained of latinless, will find the Silvae elegant, touching, and at times amusing, as their author surely intended.

The translation is followed by an extensive critical appendix (pp. 383-404), some of the material for which is derived from the editor's prior publication of manuscript conjectures.[[6]] This section makes for surprisingly lively reading thanks to Shackleton Bailey's often ingenious arguments for preferable textual readings. A further serviceable feature of the volume is the set of prefatory notes that precedes the translation of each book, in which the editor attempts to date the poems of the book and to offer prosopographical information on the sometimes obscure personages to whom Statius addresses the poems.[[7]] These notes aid the reader in deciding the vexed question of the degree of intimacy with the addressees which Statius often implies was considerable but which may have been exaggerated by the poet to enhance the reader's impression of his social status. The volume ends with a helpful and extensive index of names (pp. 405-38) which helps the reader to find his way through the bewildering forest of geographical and mythological allusions found in the collection.

Both the classicist and the casual reader of Latin poetry owe a debt of gratitude to Shackleton Bailey for making this difficult collection of poems accessible in a scholarly yet eminently readable edition that may help Statius' occasional poetry to participate in the renewal of interest which the poet's epic production is currently experiencing.


[[1]] One might mention, among the latter, the exemplary edition of Manilius' Astronomica by G. P. Goold (Cambridge, Mass. 1977).

[[2]] Readable translations have been published by J. B. Poynton, Statius: Thebaid (Oxford 1971-1975) and A. D. Melville, Statius: Thebaid (Oxford 1992).

[[3]] This Bellum Germanicum, of which four hexameters are quoted in Valla's commentary to Juvenal's fourth satire, is otherwise unknown. Statius may allude to it in Silvae 4.2.66f.

[[4]] K. M. Coleman (ed. & tr.), Statius: Silvae IV (Oxford 1988).

[[5]] H. Cancik, Untersuchungen zur lyrischen Kunst des P. Papinius Statius (Hildesheim 1965).

[[6]] D. R. Shackleton Bailey, 'The Silvae of Statius' HSPh 91 (1987) 273-82.

[[7]] The prefatory note to Silvae 4.6 (p. 238) contains almost the only error detectable in the volume. That poem is in hexameters, not in Sapphics, as the note states. The lyric meter is found in fact in the subsequent poem, which may have led to the error.