Statius’ Medieval Celebrity

C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image:

“Statius, whose Thebaid appeared in the ‘nineties of the first century, ranked in the Middle Ages (as we have already seen) with Virgil, Homer, and Lucan. Like Lucan, he strained after the stunning phrase, less successfully, but also less continuously. He had a larger mind than Lucan, more true seriousness, more pity, a more versatile imagination; the Thebaid is a less tiring and a more spacious poem than the Pharsalia. The Middle Ages were quite right to accept it as a noble ‘historial’ romance. It was in many ways especially congenial to them. Its Jupiter was more like the God of monotheism than anyother being in the Pagan poetry they knew. Its fiends (and some of its gods) were more like the devils of their own religion than any other Pagan spirits. Its deep respect for virginity-with even the curious suggestion that the sexual act, however sanctioned by marriage, is a culpa which needs excuse (u, 233, 256)-appealed to the vein of asceticism in their theology. Finally, the vividness and importance of its personifications (Virtus, Clementia, Pietas, and Natura) brought it in places very close to the fully allegorical poetry in which they delighted. But I have shot my bolt about these matters elsewhere1 and at present Natura is my only concern.”

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