Latin Classics The Evolution and Transmission of Texts of Specific Works [by M. Buonocore]

Statius, Publius Papinius, c. 40-c. 96


The works of Statius considered by Dante among the regulati poetae along with Virgil, Ovid and Lucan, were illustrated especially between the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries. In fact, even if there was already also a certain diffusion of his works in the Carolingian period (for example, the famous manuscript copied at Corbie in the ninth century today in Paris (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, latin 8051); the Thebaid does not inspire many examples illustrated before the late Gothic age. Before the image, inserted to underline the most significant passages of the narrated history, we can cite the interesting case of the German codex, datable to the eleventh century and containing the Thebaid, in which neumas were placed to correspond to particularly important passages, not only therefore to mark the rhythm of reading but also to capture the reader’s attention and highlight the most prominent parts of the text (Cologny, Fondation Martin Bodmer, Cod. Bodmer 154).

The illustrative project of the Statian text can be considered a synthesis of the twelve books that make up the work, which narrate the struggle between the brothers Eteocles and Polynices for the succession of Oedipus’s throne in Thebes. What is thus worthy of note is the fight scene in the historiated initial of the ms. Vat. lat. 1615 (f. 1r), in which the brothers face each other in the space allotted by the letter, or the beautifully illuminated initials of the codex executed for Card. Giordano Orsini in 1402 (ms. Arch. Cap. S. Pietro H. 15), copied by the same scribe of another codex of the Tebaide (Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 91 inf. 10); Clogan, Medieval Glossed, p. 110; Avril, La Chronique, p. 13; Buonocore, Iohannes Bertus, pp. 419-420). At the beginning of the Vatican manuscript, before the series of numerous battle scenes, a tabular miniature with the marriage between Argea, the daughter of King Adrastus, and Polynices (f. 2r) (Badalì, Scheda nr. 83, p. 350; Buonocore, Iohannes Bertus, pp. 418-419).

The other text by Statius, the Sylvae, a poetic collection in five books of occasional themes including epithalamia, settings in villas and baths with references to classical sculpture, and invocations, had a completely different circulation (Reeve, Statius Sylvae). The work, which fell into oblivion during the Middle Ages, was put back into circulation only thanks to Poggio Bracciolini after the Council of Constance in 1415, which discovered a copy of it in one of the many trips made in those years between France, Germany and Switzerland.

The manuscript, Vat. lat. 3595, undoubtedly represents an exemplary illuminated manuscript of the highest quality. The text, derived from the printed edition by Domizio Calderini (Hain 14983), is accompanied by splendid miniatures closely related to the content of the work and by strong evocative power. Although the images constitute a sort of unicum in the brief illustrative tradition of the work, they certainly fulfill the primary function of the miniature as a visual synthesis of the text (Maddalo, Scheda nr. 139, pp. 478-481).

Vat. lat. 3595, ff. 3v and 4r

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