Reading Epic: An Introduction to the Ancient Narratives

By Peter Toohey | Go to book overview

10

ROMAN EPIC AND THE EMPEROR DOMITIAN

EPIC AND TYRANNY

The emperor Domitian (ruled AD 81-96) was a monster. That is what Suetonius believed (not so Jones 1972, 1973, 1974; or Waters 1964). But whatever else Domitian may have been responsible for, he did preside over a literary renaissance (Coleman 1986). Of the writers active in the 90s (amongst others Tacitus, Quintilian, Pliny, and Martial) there survive the epics of three important writers. Statius wrote in twelve books a Thebaid (composed between c.79 and 91), a mythological epic dramatizing the conflict between Oedipus' sons, Eteocles and Polynices. Silius Italicus wrote a long historical epic, the Punica (composed during the 90s), on the second Punic war. Valerius Flaccus took up the subject of Apollonius of Rhodes' epic. Of this incomplete mythological epic (composed between c. 80 and 92/3) eight books survive.

The three epics trade on nostalgia for a better, more heroic era. Their uncontroversial subjects may match uncontroversial lives. None suffered like Naevius, Ovid, or Lucan. It would, however, be over-simple to say that Statius, Silius, and Valerius lived lives that were closely attuned to imperial politics and that they made themselves safe by choosing imperially acceptable themes (compare Ahl 1984). The major preoccupation of Statius, Silius, and Valerius is to comment on the exercise of power and the maintenance of empire. Statius takes things even further. He deliberately undercuts a mythological appeal to nostalgia. Perhaps recent history helped shape his bleak vision. The Civil War after Nero's death-on which his father may have written, Silvae 5.3.195-204-offers a real correlate for the strife between the two brothers in the Thebaid (Burck 1979:308).

-186-

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Reading Epic: An Introduction to the Ancient Narratives
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - Epic- The Genre, Its Characteristics 1
  • 2 - Homer, Iliad 20
  • 3 - Homer, Odyssey 44
  • 4 - Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 68
  • 5 - Beginning Epic in Rome 90
  • 6 - The Alexandrian Miniature Epic 100
  • 7 - Virgil, Aeneid 121
  • 8 - Ovid, Metamorphoses 144
  • 9 - Lucan, the Civil War 166
  • 10 - Roman Epic and the Emperor Domitian 186
  • 11 - Ends and Beginnings; Late Ancient Epic 211
  • Appendix- The Epic and the Novel 224
  • Bibliography 230
  • Index 242
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