Statius’ Achilleid, an unfinished poem about the live of Achilles, is among the least considered works of Latin literature. The surviving parts relate the hero’s childhood and as the Greeks wage war against Troy, his mother Thetis hides her son, disguised as a woman, on the isle of Scyros.
This fascinating episode touches on the matter of gender, sexuality and transvestism and has been depicted by later artists in a number of ways. While the fragmentary form of this 1,200-verse poem has deterred many scholars, the refined style, boisterous language and playful imagery of the Achilleid undoubtedly make it a masterpiece of imperial Latin epic.
Like all epic poets of antiquity, Statius must be regarded as part of a broader tradition of narrative poetry which includes Roman predecessors (such as Virgil’s Aeneid) as well as Greek; the earliest and most influential of these is of course Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, which date back to the eighth century BC. Statius explicitly engages in a dialogue with the Homeric tradition by presenting an epic account of the life of Achilles, the (anti-)hero of the Iliad.
This project aims to produce the very first, undergraduate-friendly, English commentary on the fragments of Book Two of the Achilleid, focusing on how Statius alludes to and creatively augments material from the Homeric poems. Book Two lends itself exceptionally well to this from of detailed philological analysis, since only 167 lines of it survive. Its brevity allows for the necessary depth to do justice to the poem’s original use of the Latin language, provocative treatment of mythological concepts, and innovative engagement with Homer.