K. Coleman (ed.), Statius Silvae IV. London, Bristol Classical Press, 1998. Pp. xxxiv + 244. ISBN 1-85399-582-7. UKú14.95.
Department of Classics, University of Maryland
There has been recent scholarly interest in the poetic works of Statius, but English editions of his texts are still difficult to find. The reissue of Kathleen Coleman's 1988 edition of Silvae IV by Bristol Classical Press answers a definite need for affordable and accessible texts of Statius. Coleman's edition of Silvae IV is an impressive work which brings together literary, historical and cultural information that serves to deepen and enrich an understanding of Statius' poetry.
The introduction includes a description of Statius' early life and poetic career. Coleman focuses her attention on four major dates in Statius' life -- the publication of Silvae 1-3, his victory at the Alban Games, his defeat in the Capitoline Games, and the death of his father. These dates are problematic because most of the information comes from Statius' own poetry and Coleman's presentation of the evidence is very carefully constructed, although it may include too many details from specific poems. The date of publication and chronology of the poems of Book 4 is also handled with precision and Coleman gives a close reading of the internal evidence. Coleman briefly treats the arrangement of the poems, their relationship within the book, and within Silvae 1-3. Although she argues that the poems in book 4 are arranged carefully, a longer discussion of the related subjects and themes would be more illuminating.
Coleman addresses the problems with the very meaning of the word silvae and offers convincing evidence for her interpretation of Statius' use as the title for his collection. She traces both the literary tradition of silvae as a title, which is attributed to Lucan, as well as the metaphorical use of the word for 'matter'. Coleman cites Virgil in interpreting the meaning of silvae to also include the 'profusion and variety of a wood'. She concludes that 'this notion of miscellany and variety dominates in St.'s title, as the plural Silvae shows: St. is advertising his versatility.'
In describing the collection, Coleman presents a good literary and cultural background to the poems that covers patronage, court poetry, panegyric and rhetoric. One of the greatest strengths of this edition is the respect with which Coleman treats Statius' poetry. She defends the style and poetic merits of the Silvae, praising his technique: 'One of the most striking features of the Silvae is St.'s love of antithesis and paradox, ranging from verbal collocations (4.4.14, ardua iam densae rarescunt moenia Romae) to an innate incongruity pervading an entire scene, as with the deferential and obsequious behaviour of a naturally tempestuous river (4.3.72ff.).' In defending Statius' style Coleman quickly dismisses 'mannerism' as a concept too broad for 'defining the specific characteristics of the Silvae.'
The final sections of the introduction include Coleman's evidence against the authenticity of the tituli and the textual tradition. The question of the tituli may not warrant the attention she gives it here, but the textual tradition is obviously complicated and Coleman's treatment of it leads to a clear and readable text. She includes a number of her own textual suggestions that she explains carefully and convincingly in the notes. For example, her text at 4.3.90f. reads Cinyphios Poenus for Cinyphius Poenos. Her explanation of her reading sets out the problem of the meaning of the original text and includes stylistic evidence: 'Cinyphios Poenus Bagrada agros constitutes common word-order in St., e.g. 4.6.58, 8.31, hence the distance between Cinyphios and agros is not a difficulty. The transposition of epithets meets Vollmer's objection that the adjective derived from the name of a river which was not particularly famous (Cinyphius) does not help to clarify the position of another river.'
The inclusion of an English translation makes this edition particularly helpful to a student encountering Statius for the first time. The translations are readable and illuminate Statius' sometimes allusive language. I have a small problem, however, with the presentation of the translation, particularly with the poems written in lyric meter (poems 5 and 7). The juxtaposition of the lyric poems with the compact prose translation tends to make the relationship between the Latin and English unclear for students. If the translation had been spaced differently and perhaps broken into stanzas, the shape of Statius' poetry would have been retained.
Coleman herself notes that Statius' style, particularly his economy of expression, may obscure his poetry's meaning and her commentary serves to open up and flesh out the impact of the poems. In the notes to the text the author has provided a wealth of information on their historical and literary context. The introduction to each poem offers biographical information of the poem's addressee and, in the cases where the historical identity is uncertain, Coleman gives an account of what historical and literary information is available. She also includes the literary background to the prose preface and for each poem. For example, in the introduction to Poem 6 on the statuette of Hercules, Coleman discusses the influence of Horace's Sermones, Greek epigram and the role of ecphrasis: 'But in St.'s much longer poem the element of ecphrasis is subordinate to the broader theme of complimenting Vindex on his taste, knowledge, wealth, hospitality, and friendships. Nevertheless, characteristics of ecphrastic epigram remain.' Throughout the notes, Coleman notes the influence and echoes of Horace, Catullus, Virgil and many other Latin and Greek writers.
In addition to historical and literary context, the notes also contain a great deal of cultural information. Coleman's commentary situates the Silvae squarely in the world the poems represent. The references are wide-ranging, but extremely detailed -- her discussion of Saturnalia gifts in the notes of Poem 9 includes information on papyrus production and storage, dinnerware and olive groves: 'Olive plantations were encouraged in Africa under the Lex Manciana (CIL viii.25902, 25943) and the import of their oil to Rome was particularly fostered by Trajan and Hadrian.' Another way in which Coleman contextualizes the Silvae is through topographic and archaeological evidence. In Poem 1 she discusses the possible sites for the temple from which Janus addresses the emperor Domitian, while in Poem 2 there is a clear description of the relationship of the buildings on the Palatine to the Flavian Palace, where the poem is set. Statius also creates a vivid picture of the Bay of Naples region in the Silvae and there is a great deal of geographic information in the commentary. In Poem 3, Coleman not only gives a detailed description of the route of the Via Domitiana, but also treats the Roman practice of building roads.
It is hard to find anything lacking in Coleman's commentary, but there were times when I would like to have seen a bit more critical interpretation. For example, Coleman points out that the opening of Poem 2 evokes Virgil's account of the feast at Dido's palace, but does not reflect on what this might mean to Statius' account of his dinner with Domitian. I would also like to have seen more connections made with Statius' other works -- not just the other books of the Silvae, but his epics as well. In addition the bibliography should have perhaps been updated for this edition to include more of the recent criticism of both the Thebaid and Achilleid and their relationship to the publication of the Silvae.
Coleman's edition of Silvae IV is an invaluable source for reading Statius' works. Scholars will already be familiar with Coleman's edition published in 1988, but the reissue by Bristol Classical Press provides the means to introduce Statius to students in a clear and meaningful way.