Scholia Reviews ns 16 (2007) 19.

Bruce Gibson (ed.), Statius: Silvae Book 5. Oxford Classical Monographs. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Pp. lii + 492. ISBN 0-19-927715-X. UK80.00.

Antony Augoustakis
Baylor University

‘These are undoubtedly exciting times for scholars working on the Silvae Gibson rightly claims in his preface (p. vii). Indeed, this assertion is supported by the appearance of two more books and one collection of essays since Gibsons excellent commentary, published in the latter part of 2006, in addition to the numerous articles on Statius’ lyric poetry that predate Gibsons work.[[1]] Gibson’s timely commentary on the posthumous last book of the Silvae, an expansion of the authors 1995 Oxford D. Phil. thesis, fills a serious gap in existing scholarship. Gibson organizes his materials in an introduction, Latin text with apparatus and facing translation, commentary, bibliography, and three indices.

In his introduction, Gibson confines the biographical information on Statius to a single page, turning his attention instead to the nature of the poems, particularly in the fifth book. The author correctly places under scrutiny Statius constant claim that his poetry is written in haste and should therefore be considered for what it really is, a genus leve. To be sure, Statius’ careful crafting of poetic imagery suggests that he is certain of the immortality of his verses. Gibson gleans the subtle Callimachean references in the Silvae as evidence of the poets only superficial modesty concerning his trifles. Then the author turns to the issue of publication and arrangement of the fifth book and sides with the prevalent view that an editor arranged and published the poems after Statius’ death (ca. AD 96).

A great portion of this introduction is then spent on looking at the features assumed by the role of consolatio in this book. While Statius offers 5.1 as consolation to Abascantus for the death of his wife, Priscilla, the poems emphasis rather lies in praising the couple; also in 5.3, Statius uses the epicedion for his fathers death as a means to promote his own merit as a worthy successor of a brilliant father. Finally, however, the unfinished poem on the death of Statius’ foster son defies the norms of consolatio, as it underscores the failure of the genre to comfort the author of consolations himself. Thus Gibson points both to the consolatory as well as to the anti-consolatory elements in the fifth book, a book unique for its combination of such diverse materials.

In his textual emendations, Gibson is a very careful reader of the manuscripts and scholarship on the Silvae; his choices are mostly well supported by the vivid imagery suggested in the text, a proof of Gibson’s sensitive reading of some of Statius’ most moving poems in the collection. This is especially evident in the third poem of the book; although the poem presents by far the most textual problems for the critic, Gibson handles most of these cruces satisfactorily. For instance, I found some of Gibson’s choices compelling: in 5.1.6, rasa manu makes better sense than nata; in 5.1.19, Gibson rightly chooses quis tum miseras accessus ad aures; in 5.1.66, anceps fors, one of Gibson’s own emendations, is a convincing reading; in 5.1.83, paratis is another persuasive emendation by Gibson; in 5.1.120, fallit instead of flectit is a plausible reading; after 5.1.129, placing a lacuna is correctly identified as a necessity; in 5.1.149 the reading of adsibilat seems quite effective for its hissing sound; in 5.1.196, Gibson offers an excellent explanation of the perfect tenses used to describe Priscilla’s dying moment, as the use of the present tense would be too painful of a re-enactment of the last scene between Abascantus and his wife; in 5.1.202, segnis provides a better reading compared to Barth’s igne; in 5.2.74, tenens seems the correct choice over timens; in 5.2.145, victor provides a satisfying reading and solves an otherwise difficult line; in 5.3.217, the active confundens is rightly chosen instead of the passive confusus; in 5.5.1, ultro is a satisfactory substitution provided by Gibson.

I would like, however, to point out also some places where I disagree with Gibson’s readings: in 5.1.51f., I found the translation ‘Women are praised for their ancestors and the gift of beauty who lack personal virtue’ a bit odd; perhaps it should rather read as ‘Women who lack personal virtue are praised for their ancestors and the gift of beauty’; I would have welcomed a comment on Priscilla’s interesting prostrations in 5.1.73 cunctis supplex advolveris, repeated in 5.1.111-13; I would have also liked a comment on expressions such as alma chelys in 5.1.135 and comam damnare in 5.1.136; in 5.1.139, I would add that notauit makes sense as gnomic perfect; I do not share Gibson’s positive reading of Domitian’s presence in 5.1 in general; e.g. in 5.1.105- 7, Fama is construed as a positive carrier of good tidings, though Latin literature in general denies her such role.

In 5.2.12, ut is obviously better than et, although the previous line etiamne optanda propinquis tristia should be put between cruces. Though Gibson uses cruces sparingly, there are two more lines that constitute a locus desperatus: in 5.3.85, I find cunctos problematic, as is, I believe, the noun labores in 5.3.99; in 5.2.30, I would translate parabat as began to set or tried to set, since Gibson rightly acknowledges the use of the imperfect as conative or inceptive (even Courtney’s pararat could be retained in this case); in 5.2.43, I did not find metari particularly convincing; in 5.3.3, instead of movere, I would keep Vollmer’s moveri; in 5.3.105, the phrase adflato monte solutum does not provide an entirely satisfactory meaning as loosened by the burning of the mountain. Gibson is correct in pointing out that an offering consisting of burned hair is not appropriate in this case, but his reading does not smooth the fact that the offering remains an offering of burned hair: even though solutum points to Parthenope’s loose hair as a sign of mourning, her lock of hair is nevertheless burned by Vesuvius’ eruption; in 5.3.232-33, the reading cum lustra parentis invida Tarpei canerem is not entirely satisfactory.

Despite these shortcomings, I would like to praise the books quality in general, as typographical errors are virtually non-existent, a virtue especially appreciated in the Greek passages.[[2]] Gibson shows how well tuned he is with the text of the Silvae, which he has served faithfully by providing an excellent commentary, a worthy and helpful companion for the reader of Statius last book of lyric poems.


[[1]] N. Johannsen, Dichter ber ihre Gedichte: Die Prosavorreden in den Epigrammaton libri Martials und in den Silvae des Statius (Göttingen 2006); M. Rühl, Literatur gewordener Augenblick: Die Silven des Statius im Kontext literarischer und sozialer Bedingungen von Dichtung (Berlin 2006); A. Augoustakis and C. Newlands, Statius’s Silvae and the Poetics of Intimacy’, Arethusa 40.2 (2007) forthcoming.

[[2]] I found an accent missing from A)RA/SSW on p. 246.