Women in Statius' Thebaid




Lupack, Susan M.

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The women in Statius' Thebaid are striking characters. Statius gives them real roles to play; they don't just sit in the background of the epic waiting for the men to decide all the issues. Instead, they take active roles in the action and succeed in affecting the world around them. It is remarkable that Statius has his women make such a mark when you consider that the main concern of the Thebaid is the war between Argos and Thebes caused by the fraternal strife of Oedipus' sons. War and politics are realms traditionally associated with the actions of men. And yet, in the Thebaid, Statius has three major female characters, Argia, Antigone and Jocasta, who take an active role in directing events within those realms. Many other women throughout the epic also make their voices heard. Vergil also presents female characters who affect the political world. Dido is queen of Carthage in her own right and Amata is one of the main forces that starts the Italian war. But these two women stand out in the Aeneid precisely because they alone possess such power. In contrast, Argia, Antigone and Jocasta stand within a great nexus of influential women, both common and noble, whose voices are of central importance to the meaning of the epic. The question remains, how did Statius manage to incorporate his female characters into the world of war and politics without their presence seeming inappropriate to his readers? Was Statius working with certain societal mores that dictated the parameters within which his characters could act so that they wouldn't strain the belief of his readers, and if so, what were those parameters?