ca. A.D. 45-96

Roman poet

Statius was a popular Roman poet who enjoyed the patronage of the emperor Domitian. Known mainly for his epic poem the Thebaid, he also composed the Silvae, a collection of 32 occasional poems written to friends and officials.

Publius Papinius Statius was born in Naples, the son of a professional poet and teacher. Young Statius received his early education at his father’s school, which included a solid grounding in the Greek language and poetry. The family moved to Rome when Statius was a teenager. There both father and son impressed the Roman literary community. After his father’s death, Statius became a prize-winning poet in his own right, winning several awards for his recitations. He attracted the attention of Domitian, who became his lifelong patron*.

Although Statius wrote in Latin, his themes and literary perspectives were highly influenced by his Greek predecessors. For example, the The- baid—his 12-book epic poem—is about the curse that the Greek king Oedipus put on his sons. Published around A.D. 91, the Thebaid is the earliest of Statius’s surviving works and one that took 12 years to write. Throughout the work, Statius explores themes of human violence and madness, family trials, and civil war. Unlike other epic works, the Thebaid does not glorify war and its heroes but instead criticizes armed conflict as the surest path to self-destruction. Statius’s only other known epic was the Achilleid, an unfinished work about the early life of the Greek hero* Achilles. The Silvae was published after his death in A.D. 96. (See also Poetry, Roman.)

* patron special guardian, protector; or supporter

* hero in mythology, a person of great strength or ability, often descended from a god

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