Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Purgatorio 21: Enter Statius

From a page about Dante's Statius:
Dante's aesthetic of poetry involves a theological presence as the prime motivator from which he writes. Coinciding with a need for a uniform government, Dante uses his poetry as a conversion to a higher purpose. Joan Ferrante claims "poetry was and is a tool of salvation for Statius, as it is meant to be for Dante's audience" (Political Vision of the Divine Comedy 238). If poets are the only fit guides to society, Dante places himself within "an epic tradition as successor to Statius and Virgil, [. . .] who deal with morality within the context of history."

According to Ferrante, three stages of Roman poetry exist. First, Virgil represents the world under an emperor preparing for the arrival of Christ and writes about the beginnings of Rome. Secondly, Statius represents a world growing toward Christianity and writes about civil war. Thirdly, Dante represents his contemporary Christian world without a central political power and writes about "the corruption of church and state and the ideal society that might be, and will return to earth with a message and a promise of salvation."

Statius...quotes from Virgil's Fourth Eclogue, (ll.64-73) as the source of his (Statius's) conversion: "when you declared: 'The ages are renewed; / justice and man's first time on earth return; / from Heaven a new progeny descends'" (Purgatory 70-72). Although Virgil was probably writing about an heir to the Emperor Augustus, Dante's Statius, aware of Christ, could read that poem of Virgil's against the grain, seeing more into it than one could who lived before Christ. Thus, Virgil accomplishes more for Statius than for himself-a powerful irony.
More on Statius' works, The Thebaid, The Achilleid (incomplete) and Silvae, here.

Something of his ornate style may be gleaned from this poem, To Sleep.

Biographical information on Statius here and here. Note that he was born in Naples, but due to a medieval mix-up, Dante has him hailing from Toulouse.

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