The Geography of the Roman World in Statius' Silvae

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The Geography of the Roman World in Statius' Silvae

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Title: The Geography of the Roman World in Statius' Silvae
Author: Parrott, Christopher Alan
Citation: Parrott, Christopher Alan. 2013. The Geography of the Roman World in Statius' Silvae. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: This dissertation examines the poetic construction of geography in Statius' Silvae. As poems composed by Statius to praise his patrons, the Silvae are shaped by the social relationships of first-century Rome and reflect in many ways the worldview of contemporary Roman elites. In the Flavian era, political, military, technological, and commercial developments contributed to an increasingly important ideology of spatial control; the Empire was seen as encompassing the inhabited world, which was subject to Roman dominion and knowledge. Statius' treatment of geography in the Silvae, often dismissed as rhetorical embellishment, in fact presents a vision of the Empire and the world related to but distinct from this "official" geographical ideology. I develop this argument in a series of thematically organized chapters, in which I read the Silvae both collectively, to elucidate the worldview of the corpus as a whole, and individually, to demonstrate the ways in which Statius uses geography for particular poetic and social purposes. I first examine Statius’ general presentation of the Empire, which combines traditional imperialistic methods of viewing global space with contemporary political and military developments. In Silvae 3.2, an example of Statian travel narrative, the connection between military conquest and geographical knowledge is most extensively elaborated across Italy, the Empire, and the extra-imperial world. A discussion of the geographical significance of imported household luxuries shows how the poet establishes a correspondence between domestic and imperial spaces. Finally, I examine the association between geography and ethnicity in Silvae 4.5, in which Statius uses the ethnographical and poetic traditions to blur the distinction between native and assimilated identities. Statius regularly draws on the traditions of poetic and scientific geography, but he also updates his “map” to reflect the changing world of the Flavian era. But while Statius’ geography generally expresses the imperial vision of his patrons, it is not monolithic; he also constructs more private geographies, which complement this political and Rome-centered worldview. The geography of the Silvae thus also serves to enhance the poet’s personal friendship with his patrons, his praise of his various addressees, and his self-presentation as a learned poet.
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