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Homework Suggestion: the Achilleid

Latin

Homework Suggestion: the Achilleid

Chiron teaching Achilles how to play the lyre, a Roman fresco from Herculaneum, 1st century AD

 

By André Bastos Gurgel, OAB

Introduction

Have you read the Latin epic poem the Achilleid? No? Well, neither had I until I bought a dictionary of mythology that happened to mention this overlooked work by the Roman writer Publius Papinius Statius. But after taking a look, it quickly became clear to me that this would make a great homework assignment for Latin students!

The author had planned for his Achilleid to be a lengthy epic poem about the life of the Greek hero Achilles, but sadly for us, he died before he was able to get past the second book. This work is known for being one of the main sources for the well-known “Achilles in Skyros” episode, in which Thetis, Achilles’ mother, disguises him as a girl to prevent him from going to the Trojan War, in which she knows he will perish. Achilles, however, is eventually found out, being more interested in weapons than feminine things like mirrors and perfume.

Who was Statius?

The main sources of information on Statius’ life are his own works along with a few poems by Juvenal. He was one of the major Roman epic poets of the Silver Age of Latin literature (AD 18-133). In addition to the Achilleid, he wrote another epic poem, the Thebaid, which narrates the assault of the seven champions against Thebes. Sadly for us, only fragments survive of some of his other works, like his De Bello Germanico (On the German War).

A Taste of His Style

Let’s take a quick look at the details of his particular style of writing. Although Statius is not as difficult as Vergil, he’s still best left to advanced students. His poetry uses the same meter found in Vergil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Iliad: hexameter. There’s no question that Statius was very fond of these other writers and was emulating them.

Magnanimum Aeaciden formidatamque Tonanti
progeniem et patrio vetitam succedere caelo,
diva, refer. quamquam acta viri multum inclita cantu
Maeonio (sed plura vacant), nos ire per omnem—
sic amor est—heroa velis Scyroque latentem
Dulichia proferre tuba nec in Hectore tracto
sistere, sed tota iuvenem deducere Troia.

Of great-hearted Aeacides, the Thunderer’s
offspring fearsome and forbidden to succeed
to his father’s heaven, do sing, goddess.
Although the man’s deeds are much famed in
Maeonian song (but more remain), that we
traverse the whole— so I crave—hero may
you wish, and that hidden in Scyrus we lead
him forth with Dulichian trump and do not
with Hector’s drag cease, but lead the warrior
down through Troy’s whole story.

Conclusion

It’s my sincere hope that more teachers will familiarize themselves with the works of this great writer and will pass these marvelous Latin verses on to their students.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
André Bastos Gurgel
André Bastos Gurgel, OAB (Order of Attorneys of Brazil), Academic Advisor for the Carmenta Online Latin School, is a life-long student of both modern and ancient languages. Mr. Gurgel is fluent in English, Portuguese, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Latin (the last of which he learned with Carmenta) and has a working knowledge of Danish, Hebrew, Ancient Greek, and Sanskrit. Mr. Gurgel is currently studying Old English through Carmenta as well.

Click here to read Mr. Gurgel’s full profile.

 

 

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