Rebecca A Deitsch (Harvard University)
In Statius’ Thebaid, Juno reverses expectations to emerge as the opposite of her Vergilian self. While she lacks her predecessor’s cosmic influence, her characterization has major ramifications for the divine politics of the Thebaid. I argue that a network of Vergilian intertexts establishes a Juno who rejects her literary past in every respect except one: she remains at odds with Jupiter. This continuing conflict highlights Jupiter’s tyrannical behavior and contributes to a negative portrayal of absolute power in the Thebaid.
The wrath and power of Vergil’s Juno are well-documented (e.g. Feeney, Hardie, and Farrell), and scholars note her influence in the Thebaid on Oedipus, Bacchus, Venus, and Jupiter (e.g. Hershkowitz and Ganiban). A debate rages over Jupiter’s nature in the Thebaid, with interpretations ranging from benevolent Stoic god to capricious tyrant (see Dominik’s summary). Statius’ Juno, however, is dismissed as weak and has never received systematic analysis. I demonstrate that the queen of the gods is an integral part of Jupiter’s presentation as an unjust ruler.
From the outset, the Thebaid compels the reader to measure Juno against her Vergilian past. In the proem, the narrator insinuates that she will reprise her role as antagonist with a reference to “savage Juno’s deed” (saeuae Iunonis opus, 1.12) in causing the death of Semele. This allusion to “savage Juno’s mindful wrath” in Aeneid 1.4 (saeuae memorem Iunonis . . . iram) leads us to expect a Juno who eagerly continues her vendetta against Thebes. Instead, Jupiter announces his intent to destroy Thebes and Argos (1.211-247), while Juno is opposed. Her first words in the Thebaid (1.248-251) echo those of her counterpart in the Aeneid (1.37-38, 1.50), but here she is the victim, not the instigator, of arbitrary injustice. This unexpectedness is strengthened by the reaction of Bacchus, who blames Juno for the war and assumes that she is resuming her Vergilian role (4.670-676, 7.155-156).
Throughout the Thebaid, Juno’s interventions in the main narrative evoke surprise as she assumes new intertextual roles and allegiances. For example, in Thebaid 9, Juno rescues Hippomedon from the river in a passage that reworks Aeneid 1 and likens Hippomedon to Aeneas and Juno herself to Venus. This departure from her Vergilian role continues in Thebaid 10, where Juno supports the besieged Argives, who are doubles for the besieged Trojans of Aeneid 9 (and the besieged Trojans of Iliad 10). Juno acts in response to the Argive women’s gift of a peplos, which reworks the Trojans’ gift of a robe to Athena in Iliad 6. Friend and foe are conflated in this network of intertexts, and Juno consistently rejects her wrathful past as she supports her quasi-Trojan protégés.
The constant juxtaposition with the Aeneid reinforces the oddity of Statian Juno’s behavior and makes Jupiter’s negative agency stand out. In a world where even Juno’s thirst for vengeance has run dry, Jupiter orchestrates a destructive war on a whim. Juno’s anti-Vergilian presentation brings into relief Jupiter’s departure from acceptable monarchical behavior and strengthens the Thebaid’s critique of absolute power.