Valerius Flaccus and the poetics of imitation

Wright, Thomas Lee, Department of Classics, University of Virginia
Courtney, Edward (Ted), Department of Classics, University of Virginia

This study examines several aspects of the imitatio of Valerius Flaccus in the composition of his Argonautica. Valerius, writing during the time of the Flavians, employs traditional scenes and characters from the epics of Vergil and Homer and grafts them to his model, Apollonius' Argonautica. The result is a more heroic account of the Argonautic saga and one that is steeped in traditional epic themes to suit the tastes of a literary age.

The first chapter focuses on the characterization of Jason. Valerius refashions Apollonius' Jason, a lackluster and resourceless hero, by using the character of Hercules within the context of the epic. Hercules serves not only as a parallel for Jason through the course of the poem, but also as a constant reminder to Jason and the Argonauts of heroism. The parameters of this heroism are largely defined by Vergilian allusion which Hercules evokes when he is both present and absent. The character of Hercules thus adds new heroic worth to Jason and crew.

The second chapter concerns Medea and the influence of Vergil's Dido on her characterization. To be sure, Vergil's heroine has a pervasive influence on Valerius' Medea on a verbal level - phrases and similes - and on a thematic level - the concept of a woman falling in love with a foreign man with tragic consequences. I examine specifically the concept of fama in the characterization of both women. For Medea, the neglect of her fama - - her dual status as maiden and witch - is precipitated by her alliance with Jason and results in an abandonment of her maidenhood with tragic consequences beyond the scope of the epic. Valerius adopts the important place of fama from Vergil's Dido who is similarly remiss in her concern for her reputation - but with tragic consequences which are immediately felt.

The third chapter examines the influence of Homer on the fifth and sixth books of Valerius' poem. In his account of the civil conflict in Colchis, Valerius compresses scenes and characters from the Iliad to create a Trojan War before it has ever occurred. He includes traditional Homeric topoi -- aristeiae, a duel, a divine apparatus on either side, a T£ixo0KO7ii(x - but always innovates in the employment of these traditional scenes. In this Trojan War Jason moves from the inefficacy of an Agamemnon to the fierceness of an Achilles through similes. The duel between Anausis and Styrus for the hand of Medea finds a parallel in the duel between Paris and Menelaus for the hand of Helen. Helen on the walls becomes Medea. Telamon stands in for his son Ajax in the battle over the body of Canthus. It is through their own Trojan War that Jason and the Argonauts prove themselves as warriors.

It is clear that Valerius is true to the epic tradition in employing traditional scenes and characters from the epic canon. By doing so Valerius subscribes to a fashion begun by Lucan in his Pharsalia. Valerius, unlike his Neronian predecessor, uses Vergil and Homer to more positive ends. He revitalizes Apollonius' characters to make Jason and the Argonauts more heroic and Medea more Roman for his Flavian audience. The result is a poem which is true to the epic canon and innovative in its use of imitatio.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

Thesis originally deposited on 2016-03-14 in version 1.28 of Libra. This thesis was migrated to Libra2 on 2017-03-23 16:35:11.

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