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The War with God: Theomachy in Roman Imperial Poetryby Pramit Chaudhuri
Synopses & Reviews
By examining literary accounts of theomachy (literally "god-fight"), The War With God provides a new perspective on the canonical literary traditions of epic and tragedy, and will be of great interest to scholars in Classics as well as those working on the European epic and tragic traditions. The struggle between human and god has always held a prominent place in classical literature, especially in the closely related genres of epic and tragedy, ranging from the physical confrontation of Achilles with the river-god Scamander in Iliad 21 to Pentheus' more figurative challenge to Dionysus in Euripides' Bacchae. Yet perhaps the most intense engagement with theomachy occurs in Latin literature of the 1st century AD, which included not only the overreachers of Ovid's Metamorphoses and Hannibal's assault on Capitoline Jupiter in Silius Italicus' Punica, but also, in the richest and most extended treatments of the theme, the transgressive figures of Hercules in Seneca's Hercules Furens and Capaneus and Hippomedon in Statius' Thebaid. This book, therefore, explores the presence of theomachy in Roman imperial poetry, focusing on Seneca and Statius, and sets it within a tradition going back through the Augustan age all the way to archaic Greece. The central argument of the book is that theomachy symbolizes various conflicts of authority: the poets' attempts to outdo their literary predecessors, the contentions of rival philosophical views, and the violent assertions of power that characterized both autocratic authority and its opposition. By drawing on evidence from literature, politics, religion, and philosophy, this project reveals the various influences that shaped the intellectual and cultural significance of theomachy: from Stoic and Epicurean debates about the gods to the divinization of the emperor, from poetic competition with Vergil and Homer to tyranny and revolution under the Julio-Claudian and Flavian dynasties.
Epic and tragedy, from Homer's Achilles and Euripides' Pentheus to Marlowe's Tamburlaine and Milton's Satan, are filled with characters challenging and warring against the gods. Nowhere is the theme of theomachy more frequently and powerfully represented, however, than in the poetry of early imperial Rome, from Ovid's Metamorphoses at the beginning of the first century AD to Statius' Thebaid near its end. This book — the first full-length study of human-divine conflict in Roman literature — asks why the war against god was so important to the poets of the time and how this understudied period of literary history influenced a larger tradition in Western literature.
Drawing on a variety of contexts — politics, religion, philosophy, and aesthetics — Pramit Chaudhuri argues for the fundamental importance of battles between humans and gods in representing the Roman world. A cast of tyrants, emperors, rebels, iconoclasts, philosophers, and ambitious poets brings to life some of the most extraordinary artistic products of classical antiquity. Based on close readings of the major extant epics and selected tragedies, the book replaces a traditionally Aeneid-centric view of imperial epic with a richer dialogue between Greek and Roman texts, contemporary authors, and diverse genres. The renewed sense of a tradition reveals how the conflicts these works represent constitute a distinctive theology informed by other discourses yet peculiar to epic and tragedy. Beginning with the Greek background and ending with a look ahead to developments in the Renaissance, this book charts the history of a theme that would find its richest expression in a time when men became gods and impiety threatened the very order of the world.
About the Author
Pramit Chaudhuri is Associate Professor of Classics at Dartmouth College. He is the co-editor of Reception and the Classics: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Classical Tradition (2012).
Table of Contents
1. Theomachy in Greek Epic and Tragedy
2. The Origins of Roman Theomachy: Lucretius and Vergil
3. Theomachy as Test in Ovid's Metamorphoses
4. Deification and Theomachy in Seneca's Hercules Furens
5. Theomachy in Historical Epic: Disenchantment and Remystification in Lucan's Bellum Civile
6. Paradigms of Theomachy in Flavian Epic: Homer, Intertextuality, and the Struggle for Identity
7. The War of the Worlds: Hannibal as Theomach in Silius Italicus' Punica
8. Theomachy and the Limits of Epic: Capaneus in Statius' Thebaid
9. The Politics of Theomachy
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