Statius was a Latin poet, born in Naples in 45 AD. His father, a Greek and a teacher of rhetoric, immigrated to Naples in the first half of the first century. Statius was something of a child prodigy, quicking rising to fame as a poet. Since his father taught members of the senatorial class, his skills became known to the upper classes.
From his boyhood he had won many poetic contests in Naples, three times in Alba, where he received the golden crown from the hand of the emperor Domitian. But, in 94 AD at the great Capitoline competition Statius failed to win the coveted chaplet of oak leaves. No doubt the extraordinary popularity of his Thebais had led him to regard himself as the supreme poet of the age, and when he could not sustain this reputation in the face of rivals from all parts of the empire he accepted the judges verdict as a sign that his day was past, and retired to Naples. In a poem he addressed to his wife on this occasion there are hints that Statius was suffering from a loss of the emperors favor. He may have felt that a word from Domitian would have won for him the envied garland, and that the word ought to have been given. In the preface to the Silvae there is mention of detractors who hated Statius' style, and these may have succeeded in inducing a new fashion in poetry at court. He appears to have relished thoroughly the role of court-poet.
Statius' poetic expression is, with all its faults, richer on the whole and less forced and more buoyant than is to be found generally in the Silver Age of Latin poetry. Statius is at his best in his occasional verses, the Silvae, which have a character of their own, and in their best parts a charm of their own. There are thirty-two poems, divided into five books, each with a dedicatory epistle. Of nearly four thousand lines which the books contain, more than five-sixths are hexameters. The subjects of the Silvae are varied. Five poems are devoted to flattery of the emperor and his favorites. Six are lamentations for deaths, or consolations to survivors. Another group of the Silvae give picturesque descriptions of the villas and gardens of the poet's friends. In these we have a more vivid representation than elsewhere of the surroundings amid which the grandees of the early empire lived when they took up their abode in the country.
The epic poems of Statius are considered less interesting. They are the product of long elaboration. The Thebais, which the poet says took twelve years to compose, is in twelve books, and has for its theme the deadly strife of the Theban brothers. There is also preserved a fragment of an Achilleis, consisting of one book and part of another.
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