Sunday, November 3, 2013


Renée Uccellini, L'arrivo di Achille a Sciro: Saggio di commento a Stazio Achilleide 1,1-396. Pisa: Edizioni della Normale, 2012. Pp. xxiii, 288. ISBN 9788876421938. €30.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Lee Fratantuono, Ohio Wesleyan University (

Version at BMCR home site

For over half a century, those interested in exploring Statius' Achilleid were perhaps likeliest to turn to Dilke's 1954 Cambridge edition, an admirable volume in many ways, though of course far removed from the important work of recent years on what once could be called argentine Latin verse.1 Students of this underappreciated miniature epic now owe a debt of gratitude to Uccellini for providing a reliable and helpful guide to the opening section of the poem, with an important bibliography that neatly summarizes the current state of scholarship on Statius' last work; the commentary is replete with engaged reflections on this bibliography. Uccellini is in full command of her predecessors, and her work should be the starting point for future discussions of the beginning of Statius' last poem.

Uccellini's Achilleid consists of an introduction, critical text, and commentary on the first 396 verses of Book 1: less than half of the long first book, and nothing of the fragmentary second. Especially fine are the brief introductions to each section of the narrative, where one will find the most extended literary criticism of the poem in what is otherwise a traditional, philological exegesis. The critical text is a judicious amalgam of the work of editorial predecessors, most especially Hall, Ritchie, and Edwards, with a detailed apparatus that is keyed to the sometimes lengthy textual discussions in the notes.2

The commentary is particularly rich in its comprehensive collection of parallel passages; the bulk of the notes amount to a series of such accumulations. But Uccellini avoids the vice of some commentaries, where such passages are assembled without much in the way of order or logic beyond mere chronology; her parallels are usually accompanied by references both to lexica and to scholarly discussions of vocabulary and style. The result is a valuable study of Statian word use (and also syntactical phenomena), as well as the history of poetic uses of language and the intertextual rationales for change over time and across genre. A summary of the more general findings of the commentary on vocabulary and style is conveniently found in the introduction. Alongside the expected consideration of Statius' debt to Ovid (besides his own Thebaid, Uccellini finds extensive borrowing and reworking from Catullus (and not only from Peliaco quondam). For Uccellini, the Achilleid charts a course (study of nautical imagery is especially detailed) for nothing less than a complete (epic) appraisal of the disparate poetic traditions of the best of the Achaeans: epic, lyric, and elegiac. Many of the notes constitute valuable miniature essays on the history of a particular word in the poetic tradition. Of special interest are the frequent references to the vocabulary entries in the Enciclopedia virgiliana, which is cited alongside the OLD and TLL. Specialized lexical treatments provide further material for oftentimes exhaustive references.

This close study of the vocabulary of the poem allows for consideration of the problem of the genre and poetic provenance of the work (epic, epyllion, Ovidian, epistolary, elegiac), and for the place of the Achilleid in the Statian corpus. Less attention is made to the relationship of the poem to its Domitianic setting, and there is no discussion of whether the poet's epic investigation of Achilles comments on the current state of the Flavian dynasty. There is relatively little on Statian metrical practices, but thorough discussion of textual problems that meshes effectively with the commentary's concern with matters lexical and grammatical. Scholars interested in the question of Statius' depiction of Achilles as an erotic figure, and the Achilleid as a potential series of amatory episodes, will find much of use in the commentary. Uccellini gives a fair amount of attention to the intertext between Statius' treatment of his protagonist and the depiction of Trojan era heroes in Ovid's Heroides, work that builds on Koster's important study.3

The introduction also considers the influence of both Homer and the epic cycle on the depiction of Statius' Achilles, as well as the tragic tradition (Attic, Republican, and especially Senecan) and some aspects of the lyric. The treatment of the reception of episodes from the Homeric Iliad in Roman epic is not jejune, though one might have wished for more investigation of the challenging mystery that is the Ilias Latina. Such wishes are born only out of admiration for the considerable learning that is on display here in both the introduction and the notes. This could easily have been a much longer commentary, but the effective editing skill Uccellini has exercised is in part the result of her command of the bibliography, which enables her to send the reader down not rabbit holes, but rather useful paths for further engagement. Those more familiar with the history of Statian scholarship will appreciate the non-polemic, respectful nature of the editor's interplay with her predecessors. Uccellini does not ignore the visual arts, references to bolstered by a strong command of the relevant mythographic material and the testimony of the astrological writers. Nor are questions of post-classical reception are not left unaddressed, though here (reasonably) the reader is referred to the available treatments of the medieval Achilles tradition.

Uccellini has composed the most extensive commentary available for the section of the Achilleid under consideration; the relatively brief notes of Dilke have given way to a full scale treatment of the narrative of Achilles' arrival at Scyros. Certain topics recur with frequency in the notes: discussion of animal imagery and vocabulary; astronomical lexical terms and uses; descriptions of loci amoeni; chromatic terminology and registers (on which Uccellini is especially strong); Statian rhetorical and narratological techniques; the depiction of immortals and the linguistic features of the verbal interactions of gods and mortals. The index locorum, and especially the index verborum, both of which are admirably detailed, are of particular use here. In short, this is a masterful addition to the growing bibliography on this short and intriguing work. This is a commentary that other composers of detailed notes on Latin poetic works will want to consult for parallel passages and word study. Students of Statius and scholars interested in the genre of the poem, the author's use of vocabulary and response to the diverse traditions and lore surrounding the great Greek hero, and the vexed question of the projected direction and intention of the intended whole will find much here to stimulate interest in and further investigation of one of the gems of Flavian verse.


1.   Dilke, O.A.W. Statius Achilleid. Cambridge, 1954; G. Rosati's Stazio Achilleide (Milano 1994, second edition 2002) introduction, translation, and notes constitute an important contribution alongside Dilke's to the exegetical tradition on this enigmatic work.
2.   Hall, J.B., Ritchie, A.L., and Edwards, M.J. P. Papinius Statius. Thebaid and Achilleid, Volumes I-II. Newcastle-Cambridge, 2007; Volume III, 2008.
3.   Koster, S. "Liebe und Krieg in der 'Achilleis' des Statius," in Würzburger Jahrbücher für die Altertumswissenschaft 1979, 189-208.

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