Statius’ Thebaid recounts the Argive expedition and the fratricidal war between Oedipus’ sons and the resolution of the first part of the war through Theseus’ intervention and the burial of the dead soldiers. Recent studies have focused on the dark overtones of the poem, highlighting the prevalence of nefas as a keyword (Ganiban , Augoustakis ), as well as of prouidentia and clementia for the resolution of the miasma in the end (Bessone ). The Underworld and the Furies take over the nefarious landscape of Thebes and chart an irreversible path towards the abomination of the fratricide in the second half. Less attention, however, has been paid to the polysemy of fides in the poem, a word that appears twice in the scene of the duel between the two brothers (disce arma pati nec fidere laetis, 11.551; uiuisne an adhuc manet ira superstes, / perfide, 11.568-9); in addition the personified Fides, soon to be vanquished together with the personified Pietas, is mentioned by Tisiphone in 11.98-9. In this paper, I wish to conclude the panel on fides in Flavian poetry by studying the role of fides in Thebaid 5, Hypsipyle’s “narrative” digression in Nemea and the death of baby Opheltes. As has been observed (Vessey , Ganiban , McNelis , Augoustakis , Walter , Gervais ), the Lemnian digression prefigures the war in Thebes, and as such the occurrence of fides functions as a signpost in the narrative that foreshadows its semantic permutations in the poem: fides becomes easily manipulated and inane in the course of the Thebaid; as the previous panelists have demonstrated, the politically loaded word amply interrogates the intentions of the imperial regime to safeguard various hierarchies.
As the thirsty Argive soldiers are led to the waters of Langia by the former queen of Lemnos, Hypsipyle, they are regaled by a long narrative, as she “quenches” their curiosity. Hypsipyle’s narrative includes the horrific slaughter on Lemnos, her concealed salvation of her father, Thoas, and her subsequent exile to Nemea. The first occurrence of fides in book 5 points to the conspiracy formed among the maddened Lemnian women in a green grove (sanxere fidem, 5.155). Soon Hypsipyle builds a fake pyre in the midst of the house allegedly to burn her father’s remains: her astuteness wins credence and results in her assumption of the duties of queen: his mihi pro meritis, ut falsi criminis astu / parta fides, regna et solio considere patris / (supplicium!) datur (5.320-2). While the Lemnian women bind their nefas through fides, Hypsipyle fashions her narrative to underscore her innocence and seeming lack of participation in the folly perpetrated by her fellow citizens through astus: accessi, saepe ante deos testata fidemque / immeritasque manus; subeo (pro dira potestas!) / exsangue imperium et maestam sine culmine Lemnon (5.323-5). Then the island returns to normalcy through matriarchy, but the arrival of the Argonauts upsets the Lemnian women, especially since this is but a brief stop in their voyage: their departure constitutes a step back, as the Minyans break the pact (non promissa fides, 5.474), and unrest returns to the island. Hypsipyle considers that she pays heavily for the pietas and fides exhibited on Lemnos when Opheltes becomes the first victim of the war, killed inadvertently by a snake, while the nurse entertains the Argives: dum patrios casus famaeque exorsa retracto / ambitiosa meae (pietas haec magna fidesque!), / exsolui tibi, Lemne, nefas (5.626-8). The display of pietas and fides are inevitably accompanied by nefas in Hypsipyle’s mind, especially since fides, “the tie which binds those who have a reciprocal relationship with one another outside familial contexts” (Pomeroy ), becomes violated by astus, treachery and lies, and ultimately has to be expiated by death.
Fides in Flavian Poetry