About Publius Papinius Statius
Publius Papinius Statius (ca. 45, Naples – ca. 96 AD, Naples) was a Roman poet of the 1st century CE (Silver Age of Latin literature). Besides his poetry in Latin, which include an epic poem, the Thebaid, a collection of occasional poetry, the Silvae, and the unfinished epic, the Achilleid, he is best known for his appearance as a major character in the Purgatory section of Dante's epic poem The Divine Comedy.
Information about Statius' life is almost entirely drawn from his Silvae and a mention by the satirist Juvenal. He was born to a family of Graeco-Campanian origin; his Roman cognomen suggests that at some time an ancestor of his was freed and adopted the name of his former master, although neither Statius nor his father were slaves. The poet's father (whose name is unknown) was a native of Velia but later moved to Naples and spent time in Rome where he taught with marked success. From boyhood to adulthood, Statius' father proved himself a champion in the poetic contests at Naples in the Augustalia and in the Nemean, Pythian, and Isthmian games, which served as important events to display poetic skill during the early empire. Statius declares in his lament for his father (Silv. 5.3) that his father was in his time equal to any literary task, whether in prose or verse. He mentioned Mevania, and may have spent time there, or been impressed by the confrontation of Vitellius and Vespasian in 69. Statius' father was a Roman eques, but may have lost his status because of money troubles. At Naples, he was a teacher of Greek and Roman literature who attracted many pupils who were destined for religious offices in Rome. He died in 79 CE.
Birth and Career
Less is known of the events of Statius' life. He was born c. 45 CE From his boyhood he was victorious in poetic contests many times at his native Naples and three times at the Alban Festival, where he received the golden crown from the hand of the emperor Domitian who had instituted the contest. For the Alban Festival, Statius composed a poem on the German and Dacian campaigns of Domitian which Juvenal lampoons in his seventh satire. He is thought to have moved to Rome c. 90 after his father's death where he published his acclaimed epic poem the Thebaid c. 92. In the capital, Statius seems to have made many connections among the Roman aristocracy and court, and he was probably supported through their patronage. Statius produced the first three books of occasional poetry, his Silvae, which were published in 93 CE, which sketch his patrons and acquaintances of this period and mention his attendance at one of Domitian's Saturnalia banquets. He competed in the great Capitoline competition, although it is not known in what year, although 94 has been suggested. Statius failed to win the coveted prize, a loss he took very hard. The disappointment may have prompted his return to Naples around 94, the home of his youth. In existence is a poem he addressed to his wife, Claudia, the widow of a famous singer who had a musically talented daughter by her first husband, on this occasion (Silv. 3.5).
Later Years at Naples
Statius' first three books of the Silvae seem to have received some criticism, and in response he composed a fourth book of Silvae at Naples, which was published in 95. During this period at Naples, Statius maintained his relations with the court and his patrons,earning himself another invitation to a palace banquet (Silv. 4.2). He seems to have taken an interest in the marriage and career of his stepdaughter and he also took a young slave boy under his wing, as he was childless, who died c. 95. In that same year Statius embarked on a new epic, the Achilleid, giving popular recitations of his work (Juv. 7.83) only to complete a book and half before dying in 95 CE, leaving the poem unfinished. His fifth book of Silvae were published after his death c. 96.