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the grief of the Argives and Polynices, who speaks of Tydeus' last action as prompted by excess of friendship to himself. There is a fight over the body, which would have been rescued by Hippomedon, had not the Fury, who has an interest in Tydeus' remaining unburied, raised a false alarm that Adrastus is in the hands of the enemy. Hippomedon, finding himself baffled, mounts the dead man's horse, and rides to the river Ismenus, where there is a furious combat, like the Homeric combat at the Scamander. The new Achilles, like his prototype, is in danger of being overwhelmed by the river-god, whose grandson he has killed. Juno begs that he may escape drowning, and Jupiter assents; but as soon as he has landed, he is overpowered and slain. Three of the Argive chiefs have now fallen, and a fourth is shortly to follow. The mother of Parthenopæus, away in Arcadia, forebodes the death of her son, and prays to her patroness, the huntress-queen. Diana goes to Thebes, where Apollo consoles her by telling her that he has himself had to lose his votary, Amphiaraus: she resolves, however, to avenge her favourite's death, from whatever hand it may come. It is, as our readers will have seen already, the story of Camilla over again. The goddess does her best to make his career a splendid one, filling his quiver with heavenly shafts, and sprinkling him with ambrosia, which is to guard him against every wound but the last fatal one. After he has inflicted many deaths, she attempts to stop him from going further, but in vain: and meantime Venus, who has been viewing her interference with jealousy, sends down Mars to order her away. Parthenopæus is struck down, and expires with a rather touching address to his mother, which closes the book.
Another night follows: as before, the Argives are dispirited, and the Thebans confident, insomuch that they contemplate a night attack on the quarters of the enemy. Meanwhile, the Argive matrons at home go in supplication to the temple of Pallas: and she resolves to trouble the Thebans, though she feels that she cannot conquer them. Accordingly, she sends down Iris to the cave of Sleep, which is elaborately described, and incites that drowsy power to fall on the hosts of Thebes, while the Argives are to be kept wakeful. Adrastus is moved by the advice of Amphiaraus' successor, who has been favoured with a vision of Amphiaraus himself, to send out a small band against the sleeping foe; and the new augur, with two others, and a company of thirty men, offers himself for the service. Not content with thus copying the episode of Nisus and Euryalus, as Virgil copied that of Ulysses and Diomed, Statius has chosen to remind us yet more pointedly of the deeds and fate of the two Trojan friends. The expedition has succeeded and
The Tenth and Eleventh Books.
is retiring, when two members of it, Hopleus and Dymas, companions respectively of Tydeus and Parthenopæus, resolve to look for their leaders' bodies. They find them, and are going off, each with his prize, when they are discovered. Hopleus is killed : Dymas offers to forego life and burial for himself, if his
may be buried. He is offered his own life and the body of his chief if he will tell what the Argives are intending; but he will not sink to the level of the Homeric Dolon, and stabs himself on the spot, Statius expressing a hope that he and Hopleus will be welcomed as kindred spirits by Euryalus and Nisus. The Argives make a furious assault on the town, and the Thebans retire within the walls, which they defend desperately. There are murmurs against Eteocles, and Tiresias is bidden to tell the future. He replies that Thebes may be saved by the death of the youngest of the posterity of Cadmus. The goddess of Virtue or Worth, a somewhat strange personage to introduce into a Greek legend, inspires Menceceus, the youngest son of Creon, to offer himself willingly for his country. Pretending to his father that he does not mean to comply with the oracular voice, he mounts the walls, addresses the gods, stabs himself, sprinkles the towers with his blood, and falls, not to the earth, but into the arms of Piety and Virtue, who waft his body gently down, while his spirit ascends to heaven. And now the poet girds himself to sing of the actions and death of Capaneus, and invokes the aid of all the Muses at once. That tremendous warrior climbs the walls, torch in hand, breaks off the battlements, and shatters Thebes with its own stones. The gods are in confusion, glaring at each other on each side of the throne of Jupiter. Capaneus dares them to hinder him: the sky darkens, but he presses on, declaring that the lightning will serve to rekindle his torch. A thunderbolt strikes him, and he begins to burn, first his crest, then his shield, and finally, his body; yet he still breathes defiance to heaven, and all but requires a second bolt to extinguish him.
The death of Capaneus is felt to be a relief, not only by the Thebans, but by the gods. They congratulate Jupiter as they did after his victory over the giants, and even the Thunderer feels respect for one who knew so well how to hold his own. Far from being thrust down to Tartarus, which we feel would have been his sentence had he fallen into the hands of Virgil, he is received with honour by the whole infernal world, and refreshes his august spirit at the Stygian streams. Meantime, two of the Furies agree to bring about a combat between the brothers. Polynices challenges Eteocles, and Eteocles accepts the challenge, after a quarrel with Creon, who taunts him with cowardice. Various attempts are made to stop the meeting: Jocasta flies to her son; Antigone, from the tower, calls to her brother; Adrastus protests, and finding himself unheeded, makes his way from the field back to Argos; the goddess of Piety comes down and urges the two armies to interpose, but is driven from the scene by the Fury, who shakes her serpents and torches in her face. The combat is conducted like that in the Phenissæ of Euripides, except that, in Statius, Eteocles receives his death-wound first, and Polynices is stabbed while leaning over him and taking his spoils. Edipus emerges from his cell, and insists on being taken to the bodies. He repents of the curses he has invoked, and says that natural piety has returned to him, which he shows by wishing that he had his eyes back to be pulled out again in sign of grief. Creon, who has succeeded to the throne, with the insolence of an upstart monarch, bids him leave Thebes. He replies indignantly, Antigone submissively, and they are allowed to withdraw to Cithæron. The Argives retire in confusion from the Theban territory, and the Eleventh Book ends.
The story is now exhausted, and it is not easy to see why the poet should have prolonged it, unless perhaps in compliance with the practice of his predecessors. But there is a class of readers who are curious to know the sequel of every tale, who wish for a sixth act to Hamlet, and wonder what Edgar and Albany did after the death of Lear: and it may gratify these to find that Statius occupies a twelfth book with telling us that Creon buries his son magnificently, Eteocles obscurely, and Polynices not at all; that the widows of the Argive chiefs set out for Thebes to beg their husbands' bodies, but, on hearing of Creon's tyranny, turn aside to Athens, and implore the aid of Theseus; that Argia, Polynices' wife, goes to Thebes nevertheless, and is proceeding to lay out the corpse when she falls in with Antigone, who had come on the same errand; and that Theseus leads an army to Thebes, conquers it with little or no resistance, and kills Creon. The meeting of the husbandless wife and brotherless sister is strikingly told, and might have been admired had it occurred elsewhere: the conquering expedition of Theseus is hurried over in a couple of hundred lines, as if it were a trifling episode. The poet himself seems to feel his mistake : he tells us that he cannot describe how the Argive ladies severally wailed their dead : it would be an extensive subject even for a new poem, and after his long voyage he wants to get into port. And so he takes leave of his work, which is already approved by Cæsar, and studied by the schoolboys of Italy, and will, he trusts, have an immortality of its own, though a less glorious one than that of the Æneid.
Such is an outline of the principal work of a writer, who, in Characteristics of Statius' Style.
the opinion of the elder Scaliger, stands above all Greek and Roman epic poets, save Virgil alone ; being superior to Homer in the quality of his verses, the number of his figures, the distribution of his characters, and the elaboration of his sentiments. To our readers, we fear, he will appear to have produced a medley of confused and exaggerated effects, crowding disproportioned incidents and overdrawn or underdrawn characters within the framework of a story, which may be a striking one, but which he did not invent, but borrow. He has been compared to Ovid, and with some justice, as both are apt to sacrifice taste to ingenuity, simplicity to show ; but while Ovid, with all his faults, tells his tale excellently, Statius tells his indifferently. Nor can we agree with the praise which has been bestowed by two eminent critics, Mr. Hallama and Mr. Merivale, on the structure of the Thebaid, as though it had the advantage of other epic poems in unity and greatness of action. The March to Thebes is one thing, the Siege of Thebes another: the former interests us only as the preparation for the latter, and to spend half the poem on it is really to fall into the error of the writer, who, as we said earlier in this paper, could not despatch that part of his subject under twenty-four books. It may be true that the incidents of the march formed a recognised portion of the Theban legend, and could as little be dispensed with in a traditional exposition of the story as the incidents of the siege ; but while we admit that there may be an excuse for the fault, we must not speak as if the fault had not been committed.
Our limits do not allow us to give our readers as adequate a notion as we should wish of the style of Statius. There is a family likeness among most, if not all, of the writers of the silver age; point, terseness, clever condensation, are characteristic of them all; their fault is a want of simplicity and repose. These characteristic features Statius may be said to exaggerate and distort. Everything with him is, so to say, of the second intention; thoughts are locked up in epigrams, facts in allusions. The great masters of this art were, we need not say, the writers of the corresponding period of Greek cultivation, the school of Alexandria. When Lycophron wants to describe Heracles, he speaks of him as one whom a dead man killed with swordless guile. But Statius is hardly less successful in darkening his meaning, when, at the outset of his poem, he says he shall 1 Poetics.
History of Literature of Europe.
3 Satis arma referre Aonia, et geminis sceptrum exitiale tyrannis, Nec furiis post fata modum flammasque rebelles Seditione rogi, tumulisque carentia regum Funera et egestas alternis mortibus urbes.-
Book 1. 33 foll.
content himself with speaking of the arms of Aonia, and the sceptre fatal to two kings, the fury that stopped not after death, and the flames that waged fresh war on the funeral pile, and the royal deaths that found no burial, and the cities that were drained by alternate carnage. Sometimes, in interpreting him, we have to balance probabilities between his love of the obscure and his love of the horrible; as when he tells us that the sons of Edipus trampled on their father's eyes as they fell from his head, and we are left in doubt whether he means what he says, or whether it is merely his way of saying that the sons insulted their father's blindness. But we shall exemplify the qualities of his style best by analysing a very short passage.
He is speaking of the Fury as she appears on earth.?
“ Centum illi stantes umbrabant ora cerastæ,
Turba minor diri capitis : sedet intus abactis
“A hundred uncoiled vipers shaded her brow, not half the multitude of that terrible head : deep in her sunken eyes sits an iron light, like as by Thessalian skill the agony of Phæbe glares red through the clouds." We want our readers to observe the choice of the word “ cerastæ" for the common angues or
serpentes ;” the enigmatical expression “ turba minor,” signifying that the snakes were innumerable, as one hundred was less than half their number; the boldness with which the light is called “ ferrea,” iron-red, and made to sit in the eyes; the exaggeration of speaking of the eyes as “ abacti,” driven away into the head; the novelty of making the labour of the moon look red, instead of the labouring moon herself; and the use of the recondite word “Atracian," from one of the tribes of Thessaly, for the ordinary word “ Thessalian.” We do not mean to say that most of these might not be paralleled from other poets, but we think it will be admitted that the allowance of strange expressions is large for three lines and a half.
It would be too much to say that the style of the silver age is essentially ill adapted to the production of broad pictorial effects in narrative. We are at once confronted by the fact that Tacitus, the most graphic historian of Rome, perhaps of any nation, belongs, not only by accident of birth, but by the quality
Nati, facinus sine more, cadentes calcavere oculos (Book 1. 238). There is a similar doubt about verse 72, “miseraque oculos in matre reliqui," which may only mean that Edipus blinded himself at the time of his mother's death.
2 Book 1. 103 foll.