University of Tasmania
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Female monsters and monstrous females : readings of monstrosity in Statius' Thebaid

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posted on 2023-05-28, 10:01 authored by Duroe, IJ
In the early stages of the Thebaid, Statius provides graphic descriptions of three female monsters: in book 1 the Fury Tisiphone and the hybrid snake-woman Apollo sends against Argos; and in book 2 the Theban Sphinx. In their wake, the poem contains several further representations threatening femininity which evoke these monsters in language, imagery, and theme. Not only representing the troubled and troubling women of the Theban household, Statius infuses his epic with images of disturbing femininity seemingly disconnected from the Theban mythological cycle, namely Thessalian witches (implicitly, Lucan's witch, Erichtho) in book 3, and the Lemnian murderesses in book 5. While recent Statian scholarship has examined the representation of femininity in the Thebaid with a view to unpacking the ambiguous, often threatening portrayals of female grief in the poem, studies have often separated the theme of femininity from that of monstrosity. Utilising aspects of the developing field of monster studies (recently brought into contact with Classics by Lowe (2015), Felton (2012), and Murgatroyd (2007)), this thesis analyses the textual and cultural significance of Statius' 'monstrous-feminine'. In Chapter 1 I argue that Statius' three female monsters appear early in the text not only to portend the violent horrors about to unfold and signify the chthonic powers that dominate the epic, but also to embody physical and behavioural transgression and disorder, giving these themes a particularly feminine edge that overshadows the subsequent characterisations of prominent females in the text, and establishes Statius' own version of the monstrous-feminine. In Chapter 2 I argue that female figures such as the Theban mothers Ide and Jocasta, along with Argia and the Argive mourners, and the Lemnian women of book 5 are connected to the theme of monstrosity in the poem, and vital to a pervasive anxiety within the epic that relates to maternity, cyclicality, and regression. In Chapter 3 I argue that, in his formulation and utilisation of monstrosity, Statius employs archaic (but nevertheless prevalent) tropes of misogyny to create an epic overwhelmed by a feminine horror that speaks to Flavian anxieties regarding regression and repetition, and broader Roman anxieties relating to power, gender, the body, and identity.


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