The Madness of Epic: Reading Insanity from Homer to Statius

By Debra Hershkowitz | Go to book overview

6
Statius' Thebaid: Furor Without Limits

I

In the Aeneid, Juno's declaration flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta mouebo ('If I am unable to bend the heavens, I shall move Acheron', 7. 312) signals the shift in the emphasis of Vergil's poetic enterprise as much as it reflects the angered goddess' new resolve. Hatred, discord, and, most of all, madness come to the forefront of the epic as Juno summons Allecto from the underworld, bringing to the surface, as it were, the infernal forces which will guide the action of the second half of the Aeneid. Juno requests the Fury's services to produce strife between the Italians and the Trojans and thus sow the seeds of war, which Allecto does easily, spreading madness throughout Latium, and in doing so causing divinely sanctioned fata to give way to infernally produced furor. Significantly, however, this furor is sanctioned and limited by one divine figure, and is ultimately reinforced by another, Jupiter himself, the source and guarantor of fate. The smooth workings of fate in the universe of the Aeneid are destabilized by the addition of madness to the system, but the madness is an aberration which can and will be eliminated (outside the boundaries of the narrative of the epic) through the restorative workings of fate, albeit ambiguously, since fata and furor have been shown to be two sides of the same coin.

In the Thebaid, Oedipus' plea to the forces of the underworld and, specifically, to the Fury Tisiphone to cause discord between his sons (1. 56-87) parallels Juno's summoning of the Fury Allecto to cause discord between the Trojans and the Italians.1 Both Oedipus and Juno offer perversions of prayer to the underworld

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1
Cf. Hardie ( 1993), 62-3. Hill ( 1990: 102-6) draws a parallel between Oedipus' anger, and the actions is sets in motion and Juno's anger and the actions it sets in motion at the beginning of the Aeneid. On the scene cf. also Vessey ( 1973), 71-4; Ahl ( 1986), 2822-5; Dominik ( 1994b), 102-4.

-247-

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The Madness of Epic: Reading Insanity from Homer to Statius
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Oxford Classical Monographs i
  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations and Texts xii
  • 1 - Introduction: Fragments D'Un Discours Furieux 1
  • 2 - Vergil's Aeneid: the Romans and the Irrational 68
  • 3 - Homeric Epic: the Greeks and the Rational? 125
  • 4 - Ovid's Metamorphoses: Shifting Boundaries of the Divided Self 161
  • 5 - Lucan's Bellum Ciuile: Epic in Extremis 197
  • 6 - Statius' Thebaid: Furor Without Limits 247
  • Epilogue 302
  • References 305
  • Index of Passages 333
  • General Index 343
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