Thebais, c. 90 (Thebaid, 1767)
Silvae, c. 91-95 (English translation, 1908)
Achilleid, c. 95-96 (English translation, 1660)
Publius Papinius Statius (STAY-shuhs) was a poet of the court of the Emperor Domitian (81-96) and wrote adulatory poetry for that ruler, who had no taste for verse. Statius’s father had been a poet, and the son began early and competed frequently, and usually successfully, in poetic contests in Naples. One clue to his success may be that the public never saw his verse until it had been approved by the Divine Emperor.
Victor at Domitian’s festival at Alba, where he was awarded the coveted gold wreath from Domitian’s hands, he entered the quinquennial Capitoline competition in 94, but failed to win the oakleaf crown. Discouraged, he returned to Naples, where he died in about 96.
It took Statius twelve years to complete the twelve books of his Vergilian poem Thebais, which tells of the battle between the sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices, for the throne of Thebes. Although it is at times marked by a certain turgidity, Thebais is a rich tapestry of the dark side of human ambition, murderous violence, and the mutability of fate. Only fragments remain of his epic about the early life of Achilles. Silvae is a collection of pleasant occasional verse about his friends, the emperor, and his wife, Claudia. He also wrote a birthday ode to Lucan, which is valuable because of its comments on earlier writers.