Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Classical Studies

First Advisor

Joseph . Farrell

Abstract

In this dissertation, I argue that survival is a central preoccupation of Statius’ Thebaid. Survival in the Thebaid is a traumatic experience, in which characters feel they have lived past the point when they think they should have died, for which I use Emily Wilson’s term “overliving.” The problem of overliving also becomes a way for Statius to reflect on his place in the epic canon and to figure his own problem of poetic belatedness. The introduction establishes a set of essentializing ideas about the epic and tragic genres and the relationship between them that suggest that Statius, in choosing to write an epic of the Seven Against Thebes, makes a show of and thematizes his belatedness. In my first chapter, I argue for the place of overliving as a driving force of the Thebaid’s plot and poetics. In my second chapter, I show how the fear of overliving that permeates the Thebaid subverts basic tenets of traditional martial epic: warriors die in battle not out of desire for fama and gloria, but rather out of fear of being left to survive. I further identify the reluctant survivor Maeon as a potential model for Statius as poet: Statius suggests that rather than participating in the illustrious project of immortalizing the klea andron, his epic project is the result of having been left alive to tell the tale. In the final chapter, I argue that Statius posits a role for overliving in the economy of exchange that governs his epic. With the traditional epic exchange of vita for fama subverted, continued life—particularly Polynices’—is purchased with great expenditure of human lives. Lives are figured as commodities to be consumed, often in the form of a spectacle that renders every witness, including Statius’ reader, complicit. Statius represents himself as an overliver of the Latin epic tradition, a belated poet working in a tradition that has, for poetic as well as cultural and political reasons, run its course and exhausted its own creative possibilities, a stance that allows Statius to claim a position as the final innovator in the genre.

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Available to all on Tuesday, January 10, 2023

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