In this paper I analyze a single section of Statius' Thebaid, the extensive catalog of Boeotian allies (7.243–373), in order to determine the extent to which Statius relies on prose mythographic sources. Recent scholarship (e.g., van Rossum-Steenbeek 1998, Cameron 2004, Smith/Trzaskoma forthcoming) has asserted the importance and wide availability of mythographical works—that is, subliterary summaries and lists of mythical lore. Scholars have also begun to analyze Roman poets, primarily Ovid, with an eye to their use of prose mythographical works (e.g., Feeney 1999, Hardie 2005, Farrell, forthcoming). A close study of the Boeotian catalog will, I think, add to our understanding of Roman poets' use of mythographical sources and suggest that prose mythography was more important to Roman poets than previously recognized.
Catalogs in imperial Latin poetry are, of course, common; these set pieces were meant to put on display the erudition of the poets. But surely no writer could have retained, say, the names of Actaeon's 50 dogs (Ovid, Metamorphoses book 3) or Homer's catalog of ships (Seneca, Troades, Ode 4). These poets are instead dependent on lists that have been compiled from other sources. The passage on which I plan to speak is a case in point. Statius enumerates a vast number of allies that have come indefense of Thebes. Many of the names, as Juhnke (1972) points out, come from Homer's Catalog of Ships (Il. 2.482–877). The most recent commentator on Thebaid book 7, J.J.L. Smolenaars (Leiden 1994), goes even further, "Statius carefully studied Homer's treatment of the motif." This is entirely possible; according to papyrus finds (Cribiore 1994, 1996, 2001) Iliad 2 was the most intensely studied, and literary evidence suggests that some students were asked to memorize the catalog. Yet, there are numerous divergences from Homer's account. Some of these are Statius' own invention, but, as I hope to prove, some are due to Statius' consultation of mythographic writing.
One such category of divergence is found in place names. On 16 occasions Statius omits or adds a name to the Homeric list. In the latter case, Smolenaars, in his otherwise excellent commentary, thinks (p. 122) "Statius was probably drawing on Pliny's enumeration of Boeotian and Phocian towns." But it is highly unlikely that Statius is drawing on a Latin encyclopedia, which was itself compiled from mostly Greek sources. Rather, as I will argue, he looked to Greek mythography for grist for his mill.
To take one example: although Homer begins his catalog with the town Hyria, Statius begins with Tanagra and its king, Dryas, who Statius is keen to point out is the son of Orion. Why would Statius diverge from Homer's catalog at the very outset? First, ancient scholarship on Homer's catalog in the historical period established that there was no town in Boeotia by that name; second, the city of Tanagra had become by the 4th c. BCE the most powerful city in the region. But there is more, and the key is the mention of Orion. Many of our mythographical sources specifically call Orion the son of Hyrieus, thereby linking him to the Homeric town. Thus, Statius has cleverly both honored the largest and most powerful city in Boeotia while giving a nod to Homer through a clever allusion. Although Statius could have made this connection himself—i.e., this would be an example of his poetic artistry—he did not have to. It had already been done for him in a prose mythographic summary (schol.Il. 18.486, attributed to Euphorion; cf. Strabo 9.404):
á½™ριεá½ºς á½ Ποσειδá¿¶νος καá½¶ á¼ˆλκυÏŒνης μιá¾¶ς τá¿¶ν á¼Œτλαντος θυγατÎρων, á¾¤κει μá½²ν
á¼ν ΤανÎ¬γρá¾³ τá¿†ς ΒοιωτεÎ¯ας...
Other examples of mythographic influence will be noted in the course of the paper, in particular, Statius' artful association of the Thessalian Hypseus, son of the River Peneus, with the Boeotian river Asopus based on a little-known mythographical source.