Friday, June 15, 2018


Stefano Briguglio, Fraternas acies: saggio di commento a Stazio, Tebaide, 1, 1-389. Millennium, 9. Alessandria: Edizioni dell'Orso, 2017. Pp. 454. ISBN 9788862748032. €40,00 (pb).

Reviewed by P.J. Davis, University of Adelaide (

Version at BMCR home site

The twenty-first century has already given us commentaries on several sections and books of Thebaid (Gervais on Book 2 [2017], Parkes on Book 4 [2012], Steiniger [2005] and Micozzi [2007] on 4.1-344, Augoustakis [2016] on Book 8, Pollmann [2004] on Book 12). Given that the only previous commentaries on Book 1, those of Heuvel (1932) and Caviglia (1973), appeared well before the poem's now standard text (Hill [1983, 1996]) and the more recent and more radical editions of Shackleton Bailey (2003) and Hall (2007-8), a commentary on Thebaid's first book is clearly needed, particularly because an epic's first book is programmatic, laying down the rules for reading the books to come. Briguglio's work, a revision of his PhD thesis, offers just over half of Book 1.

But if the segment which Briguglio examines is short, his discussion has the great merit of making us want more. Briguglio gives us a lengthy Introduction (72 pages) which avoids some of the topics traditional in this genre. There is, for example, no account of Statius' life or of previous treatments of the Theban myth. And there is virtually no description of the textual tradition, a subject discussed in massive detail elsewhere (e.g. in Hall's three-volume edition [2007-8] and in the three volumes of Anderson's The Manuscripts of Statius [revised edition 2009]). On the other hand, Briguglio gives us a detailed examination of the ways in which Statius introduces the poem's key themes and images, sets up the literary models from which he will work, and explains how episodes in the first half of Book 1 foreshadow events later in the poem. In other words, this Introduction focuses on Statius' rules for reading Thebaid.

Briguglio begins with structure, noting correspondences between the journeys of Polynices in Book 1 and Argia in Book 12 and connections between Adrastus' narrative at the end of Book 1 and the role of Theseus at the poem's end. Then follows a relatively brief discussion of Statius' use of Virgil and Ovid as models and a far more detailed account of his exploitation of Lucan and Seneca. As Briguglio notes (pp. 10-11), Thebaid is obsessive in its recollection of the Theban past and so it is not surprising that Seneca's tragedies (especially Oedipus and Phoenissae) are fundamental to the epic's poetic program. Briguglio's examination of the poem's first action, Oedipus' prayer to Tisiphone, explores its use of key terms such as pulso and ordior in order to analyse Oedipus' quasi-authorial role (p. 23). Briguglio then extends this analysis with discussions of Laura Micozzi's concept of 'diffused memory', in this case Statius' use of sustained allusion to Lucan's Erictho episode, and, stepping outside the boundaries of Book 1, of Ruth Parkes's treatment of the raising of the dead in Book 4. Then follow discussions of the ways in which the concept of civil war is embedded in Statius' description of landscape and storm in Book 1, and of Statius' use of elegiac motifs to underline the poet's transformation of the traditional opposition between love and power. When Briguglio does give us the expected discussion of language and style, we get not a catalogue of stylistic quirks, but a careful analysis of the links between Statius' choice of rhetorical figures and the poem's thematic preoccupations.

Briguglio's list of differences from the texts of Hill and Hall suggests that his is commendably conservative, being much closer to Hill's than Hall's. A list of differences from Shackleton Bailey's Loeb edition would have been helpful here. Although Briguglio gives us a translation, he places it after the Latin text. I know that some scholars prefer this layout. But it does make it more difficult to compare the Latin with Briguglio's translation. Unlike most editors, Briguglio does not break up the text into paragraphs, but prints it as a continuous whole.

Given the length of text (389 lines), the Commentary is long (274 pages). The primary focus of the Commentary, as you might expect from the Introduction, is literary. The frequency of conjecture in Hall's edition, however, makes avoidance of textual matters impossible. Thus, for example, Briguglio quickly dismisses Hall's conjecture indigena for ingenti at line 40 as inappropriate and rightly condemns his alto for alio at line 45 as 'banal'. In literary matters Briguglio is particularly sensitive to the poem's verbal and metrical texture. He also pays attention to wider issues, the poem's politics, for example, its focus on the craving for power, its use of literary models (especially Lucan and Seneca, but also Greek tragedy, Virgil, Horace and Ovid) and its awareness of its place in the literary tradition. The Commentary is long, but Statius' writing is dense and there is much to unpack. Future readers of Thebaid will need to consult Briguglio's work.

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