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Alexey Ovchinnikov
Alexey Ovchinnikov

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"Poetry for the eyes" is a felicitous definition of Ovid's epic. The Metamorphoses are a model for the Achilleid in this as in other aspects, (1) like the themes of deceit, transformation, and gender fluidity; the spectacle of appearances, matched by ambiguity in language; the provocation of the proem, with its program of a cyclic epos and a carmen deductum (finely spun song); the dialogue with alternative genres, like elegy and comedy; and, in addition, the lightness of tone, irony, and detachment towards the characters, first and foremost Achilles. The greatest Greek hero is here the object of a witty attitude that recalls Ovid's epic, and of cleverly provocative jokes evoking the narrative about him in Metamorphoses 12 and 13, as well as his appearance as an exemplum in the Ars amatoria. Statius shares with Ovid multiple modes of literary self-consciousness and, in his whole work, is indebted to his experimentations; in the Achilleid he owes him, inter alia, an exercise in poetry as a feast for the eyes.

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In the same years when he composed his second epic, the Flavian poet experimented with the ekphrastic poetry of the Silvae: an epideictic mode of poetry based on visual evidence, transfiguration of reality into mythic images, and a rhetoric of wonder. Like the celebratory gesture of occasional poetry, the subject matter of the Achilleid also lends itself to a poetics of vision, of stupefying vision: the Scyros episode above all, with its ingredients--ambiguity, disguise, simulation, unveiling--is a sequence of intriguing images and lively scenes, exploited by a rich figurative tradition, as well as by dramatic poetry, like Euripides' Skyrioi. Statius presupposes this visual (and scenic) heritage, which is part of the artistic experience and material culture of his contemporaries, and vies with it in another medium.


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