This paper explores the way in which the city of Rome is reproduced in the Campanian landscape of Statius’ Silvae. In the final poem of the third book of his Silvae, Statius famously urges his wife to leave Rome and to retire with him in Naples. His praise of Naples is extravagant and his denigration of the city of Rome extreme. Statius juxtaposes the proelia of the “rabidi Circi” at Rome (3.5.15) with the “opaca quies” and “sordida numquam gaudia” of Naples (3.5.17). Carole Newlands has recently suggested that Statius views Naples as a “heterotopia,” a separate and protected earthly paradise that is a real alternative to the imperial capitol (2012, 141). But as John Henderson has noticed, Statius “fakes” a sense of closure in this poem (2007, 261). Statius published two more books of the Silvae, and Rome continued to feature prominently in his occasional poetry. This paper argues that escape from the city of Rome is impossible in the world of the later Silvae. Rome creates its empire in its image. In Statius’ descriptions of Campania, mirror images of Roman urban topography feature prominently and allusions to the city of Rome’s violent history are embedded in the very landscape.
In order to explore this phenomenon, I will use 5.3, Statius’ lament for his dead father, as a test case. Statius’ father, of course, was a Greek grammaticus and poet born in Velia and based in Naples. Statius makes clear that his father’s relationship to Rome was complex. Statius emphasizes that Velia, although Greek in origin, was “ Latiis ascita colonis” (5.3.126). The lament also identifies Velia as the location where the helmsman Palinurus fell from the boat during the Trojan expedition to found Rome (5.3.127-8). The Italian landscape is thus dominated by Rome and incorporated into its teleological and imperial narrative. Statius continues to thematize Roman colonization and expansion. In a catalogue of Campanian cities later in the poem, Statius describes Cyme/Cumae as the “Ausonii pridem laris hospita” (5.3.168). This epithet reminds the reader that Aeneas first landed in that Greek colony (Shackleton Bailey 2003, 361). The city of Rome itself contains similar reminders of a Trojan past. Statius makes reference to the “Dardanius facis explorator opertae” and the “Diomedei... penetralia furti” (5.3. 178-9), alluding respectively to the Pontifex Maximus’ guardianship of the sacred flame Aeneas brought to Rome from Troy and to the sanctuary of Vesta containing the Palladium. Rome’s Trojan past exists in both the city of Rome itself and in the Campanian landscape.
Contemporary Rome and Campania also resemble one another. Statius mentions two poems his father planned to compose. The first was to have been about the fight between Vitellius and Domitian on the Capitoline in 69AD and the second about the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD (5.3.195-208). The description of the two events is quite similar (Hardie 1983, 204; Newlands 2010, 117). Statius employs fire imagery to describe each scenario. He portrays the Fury of civil war throwing a torch from the Tarpeian rock in order to start a conflagration on the Capitoline (5.3.196). A few lines later, Statius describes with some vividness the effects of the “Vesuvina incendia” (5.3.205ff). The reader must imagine that both the Roman and Campanian landscapes end as charred ruins. Fire would obliterate the unique features of each landscape. Far from serving as an alternative to Rome, Statius’ Campania comes increasingly to resemble the imperial center. Statius’ Rome is a kind of infection that contaminates the surrounding landscape.
Rome: The City as Text