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Appropriate Transgression: An Intertextual Approach to Problems of Genre and Heroism in Statius' Achilleid

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posted on 2021-11-13, 03:17 authored by Mason, Hanna Z. C.

Statius’ second epic poem, the Achilleid, deals with a subject matter that is particularly problematic: Achilles’ early life, in which he is raised by a centaur in the wilderness and then disguises himself as a woman in order to rape the princess of Scyros. Recent scholarship has also pointed to other problematic elements, such as Achilles’ troublesome relationship with his mother or the epic’s intertextual engagement with elegiac and ‘un-epic’ poetry. This thesis extends such scholarship by analysing Statius’ use of transgression in particular. It focuses primarily upon the heroic character of Achilles and the generic program of the Achilleid as a whole.

The first chapter focuses upon Achilles’ childhood and early youth as a foster child and student of the centaur Chiron. It demonstrates that the hero’s upbringing is used to emphasise his ambiguous nature in line with the Homeric Iliad, as a hero who is capable of acting appropriately, but chooses not to. Achilles’ wild and bestial nature is emphasised by its difference to the half-human character of Chiron, who might be expected to be act like an animal, but instead becomes an example of civilisation overcoming innate savagery, an example of what Achilles could have been. The second chapter discusses the ambiguities inherent in a study of transgression, in the light of Achilles’ transvestite episode on Scyros. Numerous intertextual allusions construct various sets of expected behaviours for the transvestite youth, but his failure to live up to any of them portrays him as a truly transgressive hero. In this way, he is similar to Hercules or Bacchus, whose heroism is constructed partly upon their transgressive natures and inability to conform to societal custom. In the final chapter, the study of transgression is extended to Statius’ generic program, associating the epic with elegy. Statius employs many elegiac tropes, and makes numerous allusions to the poetry of elegists such as Ovid and Propertius. In particular, elegiac poetry’s peculiar trope of constructing and emphasising boundaries in order that they may be crossed (thus making the poetry feel more transgressive) is mirrored in the Achilleid. In this way, the Achilleid’s engagement with transgression is considered to be, in part, a method for presenting an innately problematic hero to Statius’ Flavian audience in an accessible and interesting manner.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


Pomeroy, Arthur; Masterson, Mark