Statius, Thebaid 467-524

05/22/08

Permalink 05:09:42 pm, by Chris Jones Email , 642 words, 1898 views   English (US)
Categories: Statius' Thebaid I

Statius, Thebaid 467-524

Thebaid text (new window) for this post. I laid out my rationale for this series in a previous post.

Summary: Adrastus diffuses the quarrel and invites Tydeus and Polynices into the palace. The king discovers these two will fulfill a prophecy regarding his house and draws up a celebratory banquet.

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I have to first point out the repetition of the mitis epithet for Adrastus (677 here and earlier 448). He’s true to his name with a charming observation that includes a tricky relation of grammatical tenses:

Forsan et has venturus amor praemiserit iras,
Ut meminisse iuvet.

“Perhaps even a future affection has sent ahead these quarrels
So that it might delight (you) to remember (them).”

We’re talking about something in the future (amor venturus) sending quarrels into the past (praemiserit) so that it is (now or in the future) delightful to remember them (meminisse iuvet). It seems sensible to declare praemiserit perfect (potential) subjunctive, but normal sequence of tenses would demand imperfect iuvaret in the ut clause, not iuvet. Nevertheless, I think the mix of perspectives here calls for a bending of strict sequence in favor of clarity: (1) The delight of memory is clearly a future event from Adrastus’ point of view, even if (2) the impersonal subject amor venturus sees all these events as happening in the past. The alternative is to declare praemiserit future perfect indicative ("shall have sent ahead"); plausible–and it preserves grammatical sequence–but it seems to make the timeline more confusing, and I guess I’d rather bend grammar sensibly that become its slavish victim.

The effect of Adrastus’ calming words is illustrated in the nice, brief simile of winds dying at sea. Statius begins with the vigorous words ventis and decertata but these soon give way to their abated counterparts laxatis and aura. This parenthetical simile is punctuated by the second half of line 481: passi subiere penates. Subiere in particular is a loaded word, reminding me of subicio and sub iugum; they aren’t just entering the house, they have become submissive to the king.

Inside the hall Adrastus can get a good look at their cloaks and realize the meaning of the boar-and-lion portent mentioned in line 397. It seems a little cheap to introduce a prophecy and have it fulfilled just a few lines later; by contrast, the fulfillment of the harpy’s prophecy to Aeneas nec tu mensarum morsus horresce futuros (Aen. III.394) comes some four books later in the second half of the poem. Adrastus’ recognition is neatly described using the slight oxymoron laetus…horror - “a happy shiver/dread".

The thanksgiving prayer to Night–spoken as Adrastus tendens ad sidera palmas–(498-510) is fairly well done IMO. 498-501 contains an extended description of Nox, then 502-504 mentions the specific object of thanks culminating in the request Adsistas operi tuaque omina firmes. From this, Adrastus promises a host of sacrifices that reflect his unusual vow to Night: Nigri…greges and Volcanius ignis sprinkled with lacte novo. Taken out of context, these things seem like bad sacrifices, and to the Roman ear they were items associated with the underworld (according to NovaRoma.org, they were typical domestic sacrifices to the Manes, though I haven’t checked all the sources). It’s ironic that as Adrastus speaks in praise of augury (fides tripodum; the latter word was a nickname for oracles) he doesn’t recognize the bad mojo he’s invoking.

The passage closes with a lengthy description of preparations for a celebratory banquet. Lines 517-523 switch abruptly between five different groups to create a bustling scene: pars take care of the furnishings, a pars set the tables, alii arrange the lamps (an interesting omen, as they need to tendunt auratis vincula lynchis), his labor is to cook the meat, and his grinding the grain. Using historical infinitive here (except for tendunt) intensifies this immediacy, and before you know it we’ve moved from the setup to the feast itself.

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