Statius and Semiramis

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Publius Papinius Statius, 45–96 CE

Statius, a great Roman poet, meets Dante and Virgil in Canto XXI of Purgatorio (as they’re leaving the Fifth Terrace), and accompanies them the rest of the way through Purgatory. In terms of recurring characters in The Divine Comedy, he places fourth, after Dante himself, Virgil, and Beatrice. Dante appears to claim he secretly converted to Christianity due to reading Virgil, though no other source bears this out.

Statius was the author of the great epics The Thebaid (12 volumes) and The Achilleid (the latter unfinished), and also wrote The Silvae (5 books). In youth, he won many poetry contests, and as an adult, he taught Greek and Roman literature.

Within his lifetime, he was very popular, although he had some critics who weren’t happy with his style. Throughout late antiquity and into the Middle Ages, he remained popular and influential. Giovanni Boccaccio and Geoffrey Chaucer were among those writers who wrote works inspired by him.

The name Statius is of Oscan origin, and may possibly derive from the word staít (s/he stands). If so, it would relate to the Latin word statuo (to set up/erect/cause to stand). Oscan and Latin are closely related languages.

Semiramis Receiving Word of the Revolt of Babylon, by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino)

Semiramis is a figure in Greek mythology, and was probably based on Shammuramat, the queen of the New Assyrian Empire. She ruled from about 810–805 or 809–792 BCE, and was one of the first known women to rule an empire. Her real husband was King Shamshi-Adad V, and her mythological husband was King Ninus. According to myths, she restored ancient Babylon and defended it by a high brick wall totally surrounding the city. She then built several palaces in Persia.

Sadly, Armenian legends portray her as a homewrecker and slut. I take stories like that with a dumptruck of salt, knowing how vilified powerful women throughout history have been. Men who behaved exactly the same way aren’t trashed nearly so much.

Semiramis appears in Canto V of Inferno, among the so-called carnal sinners in the Second Circle of Hell.

Semiramis is the Greek form of Shamiran, which is said to mean “dove-lover.”

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5 thoughts on “Statius and Semiramis

  1. Statius’ Achilleid is the oldest source for the myth of Achilles being dipped in the River Styx to grant him (partial) invulnerability; given the baptism-like nature of that story, it’s easy to assume Christian influence on Statius, and if there’s influence, there could have been more than that, in theory. Of course, Dante’s probably wrong about him secretly converting to Christianity, but it would be an interesting study to find out for sure one way or the other. (Not that there’s likely any way to do that…)

  2. I’m with you, sick and tired of the way women in history are treated. Pretty sad when you consider the things they’ve had to overcome to achieve what they have. Thanks for sharing, and so nice to meet you via the A to Z!

  3. Pingback: A to Z Reflections 2016 | Onomastics Outside the Box

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