The Sublime in Seneca and Statius: Aesthetics, Excess, and the Canon

Thomas Bolt (Lafayette College)

Recent years have seen a resurgent scholarly interest in ancient aesthetics. In Latin literary studies, scholars have focused primarily on the sublime in the epic tradition from Lucretius to Vergil (e.g., Hardie 2013 and Hardie 2009). Yet Statius’ sublime, which can jarringly careen from serious to absurd in a short space (e.g, Venus’ accidental injury at the hands of Mars in Thebaid 3), seems to resist scholarly consensus. This paper seeks to construct a different lineage for Statius’ sublime through prioritizing Senecan tragedy and scientific thought. I argue that Seneca’s sense of the infinite nature of the universe (e.g., NQ 1.pref.7) influences Statius’ decision to re-deploy the sublime not as lofty and ennobling but as absurd and subversive. This paper closes by considering case studies from Statius’ Thebaid in which the poet debases the sublime as a means to reframe Vergilian influence on the canon.