Thebaid: A Song of Thebes

Translated, with Introductions, Commentary, and a Glossary by Jane Wilson Joyce
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 544
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The Thebaid, a Latin epic in twelve books by Statius (c. 45-96 C. E.) reexamines events following the abdication of Oedipus, focusing on the civil war between the brothers Eteocles, King of Thebes, and Polynices, who comes at the head of an army from Argos to claim his share of royal power. The poem is long-each of the twelve books comprises over eight hundred lines-and complex, and it exploits a broad range of literary works, both Greek and Latin. Severely curtailed though he was by the emperor Domitian and his Reign of Terror, Statius nevertheless created a meditation on autocratic rule that is still of political interest today.

    Popular in its own time and much admired in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance-most notably by Dante and Chaucer-the poem fell into obscurity and has, for readers of English, been poorly served by translators. Statius composed his poem in dactylic hexameters, the supreme verse form in antiquity. In his hands, this venerable line is flexible, capable of subtle emphases and dramatic shifts in tempo; it is an expressive, responsive medium. In this new and long-awaited translation the poet Jane Wilson Joyce employs a loose, six-beat line in her English translation, which allows her to reveal something of the original rhythm and of the interplay between sentence structure and verse framework.

    The clarity of Joyce's translation highlights the poem's superb versification, sophisticated use of intertextuality, and bold formal experimentation and innovation. A substantial introduction and annotations make this epic accessible to students of all levels.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5932-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    J. W. J.
  4. General Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxxviii)

    P(ublius) Papinius Statius, author of the Thebaid, was not, like so many Roman men of letters, a member of the Senate, involved in public life and the necessary jockeying for postings, power, and prestige. Rather, his was a quiet and studious life—or so he paints it in his collection of elegant occasional verse, the Silvae;¹ most of what little we know about Statius is gleaned from these five books.²

    Long out of favor, the poetry of Statius is just now coming back into its own. Although his completed epic, the Thebaid, directly influenced poets of the Middle Ages and...

  5. Thebaid: A Song of Thebes
    (pp. 1-346)

    The Prologue of Book I stands as the gateway to the whole epic. Here the tone is fervent uncertainty. The Poet invokes Muses not once but twice; though he “burns to unfold” his chosen subject, “the guilt of Thebes,” he cannot find a gateway of his own to a manageable portion of the Theban narrative. What he needs, the Poet makes clear, is guidance; inspiration he has.

    The one thing the Poet is certain of is that he is not ready to chant the exploits of his ruler, whose “Jovian Wars” have presaged both his current godlike reign and his...

  6. Commentary
    (pp. 347-458)
  7. Glossary
    (pp. 459-494)
  8. References
    (pp. 495-502)