Statius, Publics Papinius

, an ancient Roman poet who flourished in the first century, was born at Naples, and descended of a good family by his father’s side. His father was a rhetorician, a man of probity and learning, and also a poet, although none of his works are now extant. Our author discovered an early inclination for poetry, | which was so much improved by his father’s instructions, that he soon was introduced to the first geniuses of the age, and afterwards to the emperor himself, by his friend Paris, the player, at that time one of the chief court-favourites. His literary merit gained him so large a share of the emperor’s esteem, that he was permitted to sit at table with him among his ministers and courtiers of the highest quality, and was often crowned for his verses, which were publicly recited in the theatre. And, although he once lost the prize in the capitol, the frequent determination of the judges in his favour created him the envy of Martial; who piqued himself much on his extempore productions, and has therefore never mentioned Statius in his account of the poets, his contemporaries. The “Thebaid,” finished at Naples, and dedicated to Domitian, was received at Rome with the greatest applause, as Juvenal has told us in a celebrated passage, which, however, is thought bv some to have been nothing more than a sneer. In this passage, which begins

Curritur ad vocem jucundatn et carmen amicie, c.” Dr. Warton thinks it cannot be doubted that Juvenal meant to be satirical, and to insinuate obliquely that Statius was the favourite poet with the vulgar, who are easily captivated with a wild and inartificial tale, and an empty magnificence of numbers. Statius had, however, no sooner finished his “Thebaid,” than he formed the plan of his “Achilleid,” a work, in which he intended to take in the whole life of Achilles, and not one single action, as Homer has done in the Iliad. This he left imperfect, dying at Naples, about A. D. 96, before he had well finished two books of it.

When he was young, he fell in love with, and married a widow, daughter of Claudius Apollinaris, a musician of Naples. He describes her in his poems, as a very beautiful, learned, ingenious, and virtuous woman, and a great proficient in his own favourite study of poesy. Her society was a solace to him in his heavy hours, and her judgment of no small use in his poem, as he himself has confessed to us in his “Sylvas.” He inscribed several of his verses to her, and as a mark of his affection behaved with singular tenderness to a daughter which she had by a former husband. During his absence at Naples for the space of twenty years, she behaved with the strictest fidelity, and at length followed him, and died there. He had no children | by her; and therefore adopted a son, whose death he bewails in a very pathetic manner. It appears that he sold a tragedy called “A<;ave” to Paris, already mentioned, and that what he got by this and Domitian’s bounty had set him above want. He informs us that h’e had a small country seat in Tuscany, where Alba formerly stood. With regard to his moral character, from what we can collect, he appears to have been religious almost to superstition, an affectionate husband, a loyal subject, and good citizen. Some critics, however, have not scrupled to accuse him of gross flattery to Domitian: and that he paid his court to him with a view to interest, cannot be denied, yet his advocates are willing to believe that his patron had not arrived to that pitch of wickedness and impiety at the time he wrote his poem, which he showed afterwards. Envx made no part of his composition. That he acknowledged merit, wherever he found it, his Genethliacon of Lucan, and Encomia on Virgil, bear ample testimony. He carried his reverence for the memory of the latter almost to adoration, constantly visiting his tomb, and celebrating his birthday with great solemnity. His tragedy of “Agave” excepted, we have all his works, consisting of his “Sylvae,” or miscellaneous pieces, in five books, his “Tbebaid” in twelve, and his “Achilleid” in two.

Statins, by the general verdict of modern critics, is ranked among those authors, who, by their forced conceits, violent metaphors, swelling epithets, and want of just decorum, have a strong tendency to dazzle, and to mislead inexperienced minds, and tastes unformed, from the true relish of possibility, propriety, simplicity, and nature. Dr. Warton, in his “Essay on Pope,” who trarislatec part of the “Thebaid,” has many just remarks on authors of this cast, but allows that Statius has passages of true sublimity, and had undoubtedly invention, ability, and spirit. We must not confound Publius Papinius Statius, as some have done, with another Statius, whose surname was Surculus; or, as Suetonius calls him, Ursulus. This latter was, indeed, a poet, as ’.veil as the other; but he lived at Tolosa in Gaul, and taught rhetoric in the reign of Nero.

The best editions of Statius are these: that of Gronovius, 12mo, 1653; of Barthius, 2 vol. 4to, 1664; and the Variorum, L. Bat. 1671, 8vo. The best edition of the “Sylvac,” is that “cum notis & emendationibus Jeremiae Markland, | Lond. 1728,” 4to. There is an English translation of the “Thebaid” by Lewis. 1


Preface by Lewis. Crusius’s Roman Poets. —Vossius de Poet. Lat. Dibdin’s Classics. Bowles’s edition of Pope’s Works. Saxii Ooomast.