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Götter und menschliche Willensfreiheit

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Thomas Baier

III. Statius

Critiquing the critics: Jupiter, the gods and free will in Statius’ Thebaid

William J. Dominik

Texte intégral

  • 1 I express my gratitude to John Garthwaite and Kyle Gervais for their helpful comments on the penul (...)
  • 2 Burck 1986, 207–224.
  • 3 Burck 1986, 701ff.
  • 4 Kabsch 1968, 130.
  • 5 Gossage 1969, 80f.; Gossage 1972, 195, 200.
  • 6 Gossage 1969, 80f.; Vessey 1973, 82–91.
  • 7 Franchet d’Espèrey 1983, 102.

1The nature of Jupiter’s role in relation to other deities in Statius’ Thebaid has long been a source of contention among scholars of Statius, as has the position of humanity vis-à-vis the gods.1 This has been particularly the case since the renaissance in Statian studies in the second half of the twentieth century, which ushered in a new and welcome emphasis upon the Thebaid as a literary poem. In a seminal article Burck discusses the notion of fate in Tacitus and Statius.2 Burck emphasises the motivating role of Jupiter in the destruction of Thebes, argues that Thebes’ destruction is a demonstration not of justice but of wild rage and unrestrained vengeance, and draws attention to some of the general resemblances between the Rome of Tacitus and the Thebes of Statius.3 Kabsch contends that Jupiter is portrayed ambiguously.4 This view of Jupiter as a destructive or ambiguous deity is counterbalanced by Gossage, who describes Jupiter as a kind and good deity with consideration for mankind,5 and Vessey, who asserts that Jupiter is a just and impartial deity; both views are consistent with their Stoic interpretations of Jupiter’s role in the epic.6 Franchet d’Esperey similarly holds that Jupiter is a personification of good will.7

  • 8 Ahl 1982, 928; Ahl 1986, 2861. Hill 1996, 35f., erroneously interprets my comments on Ahl’s discus (...)
  • 9 Vessey 1992, xxii.
  • 10 Feeney 1991, 355.
  • 11 Feeney 1991, 371.
  • 12 Dominik 1994, 2 n. 6.
  • 13 Dominik 1994, 2 n. 6.
  • 14 Vessey 1973, 83, 91 (cf. 82–91, esp. 83–87); Vessey 1992, xxii.
  • 15 Vessey 1973, 83, 91 (cf. 82–91, esp. 83–87); Vessey 1992, xxii.

2Critical views began to shift in the last fifteen years of the twentieth century regarding Jupiter’s function in the Thebaid. Ahl observes that his moral role in the epic could not be described as positive.8 Though Vessey continues to uphold a positive view of Jupiter’s moral role,9 Feeney too notes the complete absence of morality in Statius’ characterisation of Jupiter10 and astutely observes that his actions and character reveal his sinister aspect.11 My own analysis of Jupiter’s character maintains that one of the reasons for the misunderstanding of Jupiter’s character is that some critics have had a tendency to accept the claims of Jupiter to benevolence and tolerance (cf. 7, 195ff.) without regard for the credibility of the evidence he provides in support of them and without regard for his actual and recounted actions in the epic.12 I have suggested that the view of a critic such as Vessey is shaped according to the Judaeo-Christian concept of retribution and guilt, which is based on the programmatic speech of Jupiter early in the Thebaid that human criminality demands divine retribution (1, 214–247).13 Vessey’s diction, which includes words and phrases such as ‘crime and punishment’, ‘guilt’, ‘sin’ and ‘King of Heaven’,14 is also evocative of a Judaeo-Christian perspective.15

  • 16 Ahl 1986, 2844, 2847.
  • 17 Hill 1990, 106; Hill 1996, 35; Hill 2008, 129, 141.
  • 18 Cf. Hershkowitz 1995, 60; Hershkowitz 1998, 265.
  • 19 Dominik 1994, 1–33, esp. 1–15.
  • 20 Delarue 2000, 291–306.
  • 21 Hill 1990, 106.
  • 22 Ganiban 2007, 50f.
  • 23 Ganiban 2007, 180.

3While Ahl views Jupiter as an incompetent and risible deity, he acknowledges his power and the danger he poses to man and god alike.16 Hill, who focuses upon book 1 in two of his three discussions of the role of Jupiter, goes further by insisting that he is not merely an ineffective deity but also is ‘bumbling’, ‘pompous’ and a ‘blustering buffoon’ who evinces ‘weakness’ and ‘stupidity’.17 Hershkowitz picks up on this trend and contends that Jupiter lacks supremacy over the cosmos.18 Since Jupiter can hardly be in control of proceedings if he is viewed as laughable and buffoonish, it is natural to attribute the motivating roles in the epic to other deities. Contrary to the views of these critics, I have maintained not only that the text reveals Jupiter as anything but a benevolent, merciful, just, ineffective or buffoonish deity but also that he plays the critical motivating role in the epic and deities such as the Furies and Mars form part of the supporting cast rather than usurp his destructive role.19 Recently Delarue argues more or less along the same lines by acknowledging that Jupiter at times appears as a terrifying deity and by illustrating how this autocratic deity formulates his plan in clear terms to punish Argos and Thebes and then successfully brings it to fruition; however, Delarue essentially agrees with those critics who shape their view of the Thebaid according to the concept of retribution and guilt and therefore views Jupiter’s punishment of man as just.20 Despite the view of Hill that there is neither an effective authority in the cosmos nor a coherent plan21 and the recent comments of Ganiban that Jupiter is unsuccessful in guiding the epic22 and loses his power and control of the cosmos,23 the main speeches and actions of Jupiter (1, 214–247, 250–282, 285–302; 3, 229–252, 295–316; 7, 6–33, 195–221) demonstrate his supremacy over the other divine powers and that he is in control of events insofar as he is determined to bring about his stated objective for the destruction of Thebes and Argos (cf. 1, 241–247; cf. 1, 224–226, 3, 244–252). Invocations of Jupiter in the epic as omnipotens (3, 471), summe sator terraeque deumque (3,488) and summe deum (11, 210) enhance this impression.

  • 24 Cf. Hershkowitz 1995, 59; Hershkowitz 1998, 262.
  • 25 The text cited throughout is that of Hall / Ritchie / Edwards 2007.

4Jupiter convenes his first council of the gods (1, 197 ff.) in order to proclaim his policy concerning the fate of Thebes and Argos (1, 214–247). Although Hershkowitz holds that Jupiter’s initial decree to destroy the Theban and Argive houses is wholly gratuitous,24 his subsequent pronouncements and actions suggest otherwise. At the second Olympian council (3, 218–259) the force of Jupiter’s commands to Mars to incite the cities to war (3, 231–233) and to the other Olympians not to interfere with his plans (3, 239–241) is so powerful that the gods are dumbstruck (3, 253f). As I have discussed, the subsequent natural simile is especially effective in stressing the complete dominance of Jupiter over the other gods (3, 255–259):25

non secus ac longa uentorum pace solutum
aequor et inbelli recubant ubi litora somno,
siluarumque comas et abacto flumine nubes
mulcet iners aestas; tunc stagna lacusque sonori
detumuere, tacent exhausti solibus amnes.

  • 26 Hill 1996, 40.
  • 27 Hill 1996, 40.
  • 28 Hill 1996, 40.
  • 29 Hill 1996, 40.
  • 30 Hill 1996, 40.
  • 31 Dominik 1994, 2, 7f., 15–21 passim, 24, 164.

5Hill subsequently declares there is nothing in this passage to suggest Jupiter’s omnipotence.26 He thinks the simile refers only to the end of the storm (longa uentorum pace, 3, 255), but he misinterprets its significance by ignoring the preceding two lines and the first two words of the simile (3, 253–255):27 dixit, et attoniti iussis. mortalia credas / pectora, sic cuncti uocemque animosque tenebant: / non secus .... The words non secus (3, 255) illustrate that the gods maintain silence in the same way that a storm subsides. Hill asserts that the gods are silent because they know that Jupiter’s ‘bluster’ will ‘blow over’, which will allow them to revert to their usual state.28 Not only is there nothing in the text to support this suggestion,29 but it is also clear that the Olympians are dumbstruck and reduced to mere mortals in the presence of Jupiter. Hill further argues that subsequent events confirm that there is no basis on which to interpret the simile as an analogy for Jupiter’s power and control over events,30 but in fact the opposite is repeatedly shown to be the case – here and throughout the epic.31

  • 32 Hill 1996, 40.
  • 33 Dominik 1994, 25–29.
  • 34 Hill 1996, 41.

6Hill cites Venus’ complaint to Mars about the war god’s impending action against Thebes (3, 269–291) as evidence of Venus’ defiance of Jupiter’s decree not to interfere with his plan for the destruction of Thebes and Argos,32 but she does not actually do anything. In any case, Mars responds by contending that the power of Jupiter is so great that he can ill afford to contravene his commands and those of the Fates (3, 304ff); in any event, he proclaims, the course set down by Jupiter cannot be altered (3, 311f). In an allusion to the natural simile that describes Jupiter’s omnipotence (3, 255–259), Mars describes how the earth, sky and sea trembled before the cosmocrator as he spoke (3, 308f.) – hence the subsidence of the storm in the simile – and the gods concealed themselves in procession (3, 309f). Mars understands that any attempt to oppose the decree of Jupiter would ultimately prove futile. The war god knows that he has a limited degree of freedom to exercise his power, provided that his actions are in accordance with the will of Jupiter. Therefore Mars is able to promise Venus that he will assist the Theban forces on the battlefield in the forthcoming war with Argos (3, 312–315); while he declares he can do this because it does not contravene the wishes of the Fates (3, 316; cf. 304f), the narrative (e.g., 1, 212f.) and various characters (e.g., Amphiaraus, 3, 471, 488) show Jupiter as the chief authority of human destiny.33 Hill interprets the simile following Mars’ speech to mean that he is the equal of Jupiter (3, 316–321):34

sic orsus aperto
flagrantes inmisit equos. non ocius alti
in terras cadit ira Iouis siquando niualem
Othryn et Arctoae gelidum caput institit Ossae
armauitque in nube manum: uolat ignea moles
saeua dei mandata ferens...

7But this passage merely illustrates that Mars drives his flaming horses no less quickly than an angry Jupiter hurls his fiery thunderbolt with its cruel mandate. There is no questioning Mars’ warmaking abilities: on numerous occasions he is shown destroying cities or inflaming or coercing people and even goddesses to violence (e.g., 3, 220f., 420f., 430f., 577–593; 7, 81–84, 105–139 (esp. 131–139), 234–236, 703f.; 8, 383–387; 9, 566f, 841f.; cf. 7, 22–25, 41–62, 172–174, 695–698). Contrary to being the equal of Jupiter, however, Mars in his role of agent provocateur is frequently shown acting directly under the order of the cosmocrator (e.g., 3, 575–577; 7, 10–33, 81; cf. 3, 234f).

8Jupiter’s stated purpose in instigating the conflict between the Thebans and Argives is the destruction of both races (1, 241–247; cf. 1, 224–226, 3, 244–252) and most of the major events of the poem further this aim. The execution of Jupiter's plan necessarily involves other deities, especially Pluto and the Furies, whose direct motivation, actions and interventions are responsible for much of the destructive human action and conduct in the poem. The role of Pluto in predetermining the horrible fates of various figures shows the importance of his position in the universe. It is partly through the unwitting agency of Pluto that the cosmocrator is able to bring his plan for the destruction of the royal houses to fruition. When Pluto imagines erroneously that his sovereignty as lord of the underworld has been violated by one of this brothers (8, 31ff), he commands Tisiphone to effect four grisly deeds: the fratricide of Eteocles and Polynices (8, 69–71; cf. 11, 387ff), the anthropophagy of Tydeus (8, 71f; cf. 8, 751ff, 11, 85–88), the decree of Creon outlawing the burial of the Argive corpses (8, 72–74; cf. 11, 661–664), and Capaneus’ challenge of Jupiter (8, 76f; cf. 10, 831ff, 11, 88–91). All the aforementioned crimes leading up to the fratricide of Eteocles and Polynices are instigated by one or more of the Furies at the behest of Pluto. All these specific actions fill out and therefore promote Jupiter’s general plan of destruction.

  • 35 E.g., Hübner 1970, 88; Ahl 1986, 2842.
  • 36 Cf. Dominik 1994, 28, where I suggested originally that maior could be rendered as ‘mightier’ in r (...)
  • 37 Franchet d’Espèrey 1983, 103.
  • 38 Hill 1990, 103f.; cf. Hill 2008, 133.
  • 39 Hershkowitz 1995, 59; Hershkowitz 1998, 261f.
  • 40 Ganiban 2007, 110.
  • 41 Hill 1996, 39 n. 17.

9The Furies, including Tisiphone, are portrayed as imposing their will on various human figures more frequently than any of the other supernatural powers. Some critics argue that the anonymous Erinys is represented as being more powerful than Jupiter in the speech of the anonymous shade (maior Erinys, 2, 20).35 From the vantage point of the anonymous shade, who himself is subject in the underworld to a god who demonstrates his own limited perspective (cf. 8, 31ff), the Fury could be viewed as more powerful than Jupiter; however, the adjective maior can also be read as expressing a certain degree without specific comparison to Jupiter or even as ‘greater’ in relation to Mercury (cf. 2, 1ff.).36 In any case, it is the important role of Tisiphone that leads Franchet d’Esperey to assert that her will is stronger than Jupiter’s;37 Hill to claim that Tisiphone is more effective than Jupiter;38 Hershkowitz to contend that Tisiphone plays a larger instigative role than he does;39 and Ganiban to maintain that Jupiter fails in his instigative role because Tisiphone is more forceful and successful in pushing the action forward.40 Certainly Tisiphone is shown on a number of occasions in this role, for example, when she drives Tydeus mad (8, 757f.) and is constrained to besmear himself with the brains and blood of Melanippus’ corpse (8, 760f). Similarly Capaneus’ insane challenge of Jupiter is shown to be instigated by her (11, 88–91). Tisiphone is shown on her own infusing Polynices and Eteocles with jealousy and hatred of each other and an insatiable lust for power (1, 123–138; 7, 466f). Although Hill holds that Eteocles is entirely responsible for his decision to send soldiers to murder Tydeus (2, 482–490),41 he and his brother are shown to be under the influence of Tisiphone almost from the beginning of the epic (1, 123ff). More generally Tisiphone is shown instigating warfare among the Greeks (8, 344–347). Tisiphone, however, is not the only Fury to assume an instigative role in the Thebaid; nor is she always shown to be the main inciter of the action. Despite the fact Pluto has ordered Tisiphone to bring four major events about, it is not certain if she does so on her own in the case of Creon, since the text only shows Theseus attributing the behaviour of Creon in denying burial to Polynices to an anonymous Fury (12, 590f). But in the crucial scene of the fratricide Tisiphone clearly does not act on her own (cf. 11, 150ff).

  • 42 Ganiban 2007, 180.
  • 43 Hershkowitz 1998, 263.
  • 44 Bernstein 2004, 67.

10At the beginning of the scene leading up to the fratricide (11, 57–579), Tisiphone expresses doubt about her ability to instigate the fratricide on her own unless she calls upon Megaera to assist her (11, 59–61). Jupiter, unsure of Tisiphone’s intentions as she seeks to rouse Megaera (11, 62ff), is shown looking for his thunderbolt as he prepares to inflict harm on any actual or perceived threat to his sovereignty (11, 68). The adverb iterum (11, 68) reminds the reader that a riant Jupiter (10, 907f), urged on by the fearful Olympians (910–920, esp. 910–912, 917f, 920), has only just finished striking down Capaneus with a single thunderbolt (921–930; cf. 93 8f). Ganiban argues that Tisiphone is more powerful than Jupiter,42 but this scene just prior to the fratricide, which features a diffident Tisiphone and Jupiter ready to use his thunderbolt again, shows otherwise. Hershkowitz notes Jupiter’s claim that he is weary of using the thunderbolt and that the Cyclops’ arms and forges are exhausted (cf. 1, 216–218),43 while Bernstein cites this claim as evidence of his lack of power,44 but the text shows the cosmocrator calling upon his thunderbolt without hesitation when he feels threatened. Jupiter’s calm and confident demeanour when he strikes down Capaneus suggests that he can deal with any threat to his sovereignty (10, 907ff.), whereas the other deities are shown turning pale and doubting the force of the thunderbolt during Capaneus’ onslaught (10, 917–920). This incident just before the scene of fratricide reminds the reader that Jupiter could prevent the duel with a single stroke of lightning directed against either Eteocles or Polynices. The cosmocrator acts horrified by the prospect of the fratricide (cf. 11, 125f.) and of the gods being witness to it (11,131–133), but he does nothing whatsoever to prevent it.

  • 45 Ganiban 2007, 182; cf. Ganiban 2007, 185.
  • 46 Bernstein 2004, 66.
  • 47 Ganiban 2007, 184.
  • 48 Bernstein 2008, 89.
  • 49 Ganiban 2007, 180.
  • 50 Lovatt 2005, 99.

11Ganiban interprets Jupiter’s response not to watch the fratricidal duel as fulfilling and even surpassing the response Pluto had desired (iuuet ista ferum spectare Tonantem, 8, 74) since he interprets the verb iuuet as being sarcastic,45 whereas Bernstein takes iuuet literally and therefore construes Jupiter’s refusal to watch as an invalidation of Pluto’s assumption that he would enjoy the spectacle.46 Whether iuuet is to be read sarcastically or literally makes no difference in at least one sense: Pluto has already shown his lack of awareness when he is under the mistaken impression that one of his brothers (8, 36), namely Jupiter (8, 4 If), has violated his realm. Regardless of how iuuet is to be interpreted, the scene further stresses Pluto’s complete ignorance of Jupiter’s grand design of destruction. All the deeds that Pluto commands the Furies to instigate have the effect of advancing – if unknowingly – Jupiter’s plan. Ganiban declares Pluto is the dominant deity of the Thebaid.47 Indeed, for a brief moment the narrative portrays Pluto as no less powerful than Jupiter (8, 82f): non fortius aethera uultu I torque et astriferos inclinat luppiter axes. But the underworld scene ultimately highlights Pluto’s powerlessness against Jupiter when the nether deity alludes to his brother’s decree that Prospermia could stay with him for only part of each year (cf. 8, 60–64, esp. 63f). Pluto’s purpose in commanding the Furies to effect the fratricide and other crimes is to avenge the imagined violation of his dominion, not to usurp his brother’s authority. Jupiter’s failure to prevent the fratricide does not represent an abnegation or a failure of his authority over events on earth, as Bernstein argues;48 rather, given Jupiter’s resolution to punish Thebes and Argos, it highlights his hypocrisy. Ganiban asserts that Jupiter basically flees the scene when the Furies promote the fratricide and describes his nature as ineffectual;49 however, Jupiter, who significantly is referred to as pater omnipotens (8,134) in the narrative, merely averts his gaze from the scene (8,134f.) after he commands the Olympians to do the same (8, 126). As Lovatt astutely observes, Jupiter’s command and refusal to watch the fratricide is a pretext to avoid assuming responsibility for its occurrence.50

12During the duel itself Megaera acts upon Polynices three times (11, 150–154, 196–204, 403–405), whereas Tisiphone directly interferes with or prompts the action of Eteocles on two occasions (11, 382–389,403–405). Elsewhere Megaera is present in scenes that suggest her wrathful and cruel nature (e.g., 1, 476f; 3, 641). Often the Furies are referred to collectively in the narrative (e.g., 2, 7–10, esp. 10) and in the speeches of the characters as being directly or indirectly responsible for various actions that occur in the epic, for instance, when they instigate general warfare (e.g., 1, 227–229; 3, 630f.) or infect Laius with anger (2, 7–10, esp. 10), so it is impossible to ascribe individual responsibility for them. Sometimes the action is attributed in the narrative to an anonymous Fury, as when Erinys sets in motion the outbreak of hostilities (7, 564ff, esp. 562), or to one of the characters, as when Theseus ruminates aloud which Fury is responsible for Creon’s behaviour (12, 590f; cf. 8, 73f; 12, 184–186). At other times the Furies as a group are merely present or mentioned at scenes that are suggestive of their gruesome and destructive nature (e.g., 1, 597–599; 4, 643; 5,156f). As a group and individually the Furies, not just Tisiphone, are active throughout the epic in pushing the action forward. Attention is drawn to the role of Megaera and the Furies generally more often than it is just to Tisiphone.

  • 51 Hershkowitz 1995, 59f.; Hershkowitz 1998, 262–264.

13One reason critics maintain that Jupiter is ineffective is because of his supposed inaction. Hershkowitz argues that Jupiter is characterised by inactivity and implicitly reminds his audience at the first Olympian council that he has not actually done anything.51 But the troubles of the Theban house, including those of Oedipus and his sons, start long before the commencement of the Thebaid (cf. 1, 226–247), which picks up the story of the Theban house in medias res. Early on Jupiter asserts that he has been extremely active in the use of his thunderbolt against humankind (1, 214–221). While Jupiter claims responsibility for sowing the seeds of battle between Thebes and Argos, specifically the ambush of Tydeus that Eteocles orders (3, 235–238; cf. 3, 482ff), he is not shown directly fomenting violence and bloodshed (11, 23–25 is an allusion to the possibility); rather, he characteristically assigns this task to other deities such as Mercury (e.g., 1, 292–302; cf. 3, 235–238) and Mars (e.g., 3, 229–239). As the supreme authority Jupiter is in a position to order his fellow Olympians to carry out certain deeds but does not perform them himself.

  • 52 Bernstein 2004, 65.
  • 53 Hershkowitz 1995, 60; Hershkowitz 1998, 263.
  • 54 Hill 2008, 129; cf. Hill 1990, 105.

14Another reason advanced for Jupiter’s supposed ineffectiveness or even incompetence is his presumed lack of awareness. Bernstein holds that Jupiter’s belated determination to punish Thebes demonstrates his unawareness of events on earth.52 Hershkowitz also contends that Jupiter is not necessarily aware of Tisiphone’s recent actions (cf. 1, 88ff.) when he alludes to the persistent martial conduct of the Furies at the same council (1, 227f.),53 while Hill maintains that Jupiter does not notice anything until the Olympian council (1, 197ff.).54 Yet there is nothing in the text to indicate that Jupiter is not aware of the actions of the Furies. On a general level Jupiter himself suggests that the actions of the Furies are widely known (1, 227–229): quis funera Cadmi / nesciat et totiens excitant a sedibus imis / Eumenidum bellasse aciem. More specifically, it is clear that Jupiter is aware of present and future events that have been instigated by the Furies (1, 300–302), specifically Polynices’ exile from Thebes (cf. 1, 312ff.) and the future violation by Eteocles of the brothers’ compact of alternate rule (esp. 2, 428ff). In contrast to this awareness of Jupiter, it is apparent that Pluto is unaware of events in the upper world when he misinterprets the significance of the light admitted into the underworld during the descent of Amphiaraus (8, 31ff).

  • 55 Hill 1990, 104.
  • 56 Hill 1990, 106; Hill 2008, 130; cf. Hill 2008, 141.
  • 57 Bernstein 2004, 65.
  • 58 Hill 2008, 129.

15Critics have also attributed Jupiter’s alleged ineffectiveness to his slow response time and procrastination. Hill believes the description of Tisiphone responding swiftly to the prayer of Oedipus for vengeance against his sons demonstrates she is more effective than Jupiter,55 but the narrative only reveals that Tisiphone reacts to the situation more quickly than Jupiter employs his thunderbolt (1, 92f): ilicet igne louis lapsisque citatior astris / tristibus exiliuit ripis. Here the comparison between the reactions of Tisiphone and Jupiter is reminiscent of the reaction of Mars vis-à-vis Jupiter when the war god drives his horses as swiftly as Jupiter hurls his thunderbolt (3, 316–321). In both situations Jupiter is seen to respond no more quickly than his fellow gods, but this does not mean that he is less effective in his exercise of power. Hill also points out that Jupiter announces his grand plan for the destruction of Thebes and Argos after the Furies have already set events in motion,56 while Bernstein observes Jupiter does nothing for a few years after he declares his intention to destroy the cities.57 Acting belatedly is characteristic of the gods, not just Jupiter, and the consequences are often tragic. Apollo is described as remembering too late (sero, 1, 596) his union with Psamathe and so effectively abandons her to her death at the behest of Crotopus (1, 594–597); Minerva arrives on the scene too late (cf. iamque, 8, 758) to prevent the anthropophagy of Tydeus (cf. 8, 760f); and when Pietas attempts to intervene to prevent the fratricide (11, 457ff), Tisiphone accuses her of acting too late (sera, 11, 486), a belatedness that the Fury intimates goes back as far as the foundation of Thebes (cf. 11, 490). Incidents such as these demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the gods involved. In the case of Jupiter the situation appears to be different, however, on account of his role as the principal determiner of human destiny. Jupiter’s matter-of-fact allusion to his recent resolution to punish Thebes and Argos suggests that he does not view his belatedness as a strategic liability or mark of weakness (1, 224f): nunc geminas punire domos, quis sanguinis auctor / ipse ego descendo. And rather than being a reflection of his ‘indolence’, as Hill asserts,58 Jupiter’s belatedness is a manifestation of the capricious nature of his authority. He shows himself more than capable of instigating action when others are slow to act. It is Jupiter who is responsible for ending the delay of Adrastus by ordering Mars to incite Argos to war against Thebes (3, 229ff.) and it is Jupiter who ends the Argive delay in Nemea (4, 650–7, 195) by threatening Mars if he does not immediately incite the Argives to war against Thebes (7, 1ff.,esp. 22–33).

  • 59 Vessey 1973, 82.
  • 60 On the relationship between Jupiter and the Fates see Dominik 1994, 25–29.

16Naturally the Fates assume an important role in the unfolding of events in the Thebaid. At the second Olympian assembly (3, 241–243) and in a speech to Bacchus (7, 197f.) Jupiter claims that the Fates are responsible for the war in the Thebaid (3, 241–243; 7, 197f), whereas the comments of various characters suggest that he is the co-executor or superintender of fate (3, 304f, 316; cf. 1, 705–707; 3, 67–69; 5, 735–740, esp. 736, 739f), which leads Vessey to assert that the Fates are co-terminous with Jupiter.59 Other references by various characters (e.g., 3, 471, 488) and the narrative, which shows the Fates following the lead of Jupiter (1, 212f), point to him being the supreme arbiter of human destiny.60 Nonetheless the Fates intervene frequently in human affairs with disastrous consequences (cf. 3, 179f). These goddesses inter alia render Eteocles incapable of heeding the warning of Maeon on the ill fate of the party sent to assassinate Tydeus on his return to Thebes (2, 694f), which results in the deaths of forty-nine of his compatriots (3, 59–77, esp. 59–63, 75–77); they overwhelm the attempts of Adrastus and Amphiaraus to avert war (4, 3f); they weaken the resolve of Amphiaraus, who is against the war (cf. 3, 620–647); and they impel Creon against his will to believe the word of Menoeceus that he is returning to the city to seek aid for a wounded comrade (10, 727–737). On one occasion Atropos acts alone by making a violent attack upon the will of Amphiaraus (4, 187–195), who is against the war (cf. 3, 620–647). Like the aforementioned deeds of the Furies, these specific actions advance Jupiter’s general plan to punish Thebes and Argos.

17One of the guiding principles of the Thebaid is that it is possible to delay fate but not to forestall it, an idea that is characteristic of epic generally, including Vergil’s Aeneid, for example, when Juno recognises that she can delay, but not prevent, the foundation of the Latin empire and Lavinia’s marriage to Aeneas (Aen. 7, 313ff). In the Thebaid there is a natural concordance among the gods in terms of their dispositions and actions since the divine powers, with the exception of Pietas (cf. 11, 457ff.) and Clementia (12, 481ff), are essentially antagonistic to the human race and are shown propelling it headlong toward destruction. But the gods have no more free will than human beings except when their destructive plans and actions are consistent with Jupiter's grand design to punish Thebes and Argos. Bacchus realises that he cannot change the course of events set down by Jupiter to destroy the Theban race (excindere gentem: 4, 669) but only delay their fulfilment (4, 677; cf. 4, 686ff, 7, 219–221). Apollo informs Diana that nothing can be done to change the course of Parthenopaeus’ destiny (9, 659–662). As in the case of Bacchus concerning the fate of Thebes, the circumstances of Parthenopaeus’ death can either be forestalled for a while or changed, but the fact of his premature death remains unaltered; the most that Diana can do is to bring Parthenopaeus a little glory before his death and to exact revenge from his slayer (cf. 9, 663–667). Sometimes the delay permitted even to the gods is so short as to seem meaningless, as when Fortuna and Pietas, who disapprove of the fratricide, manage to delay it for a few moments (11, 447–496).

18On the human level in the Thebaid there is little opportunity to display meaningful free will since almost all of the major events that occur are attributable to the destructive machinations of the higher powers. The Thebans and Argives are largely portrayed as the helpless victims of a war instigated by Jupiter (e.g., 1, 241–246; cf. 1, 224f, 3, 248–251) to destroy their races. In general humankind is portrayed as being rational and non-violent when it is not under the direct influence of the gods – and even when it is. While the Argives are portrayed as being reluctant to leave their families and homes even though Bellona has already inspired them with a desire for war (4, 5–31), the Thebans are shown to be unenthusiastic in their preparations for war and give thought only to their families (4, 349–356) despite Mars' earlier instigation of martial violence (3, 420f, 430f, 577–593) and the prior possession of Thebes by the Furies (cf. 4, 642f).

19More specifically the human figures in the epic lack the will to perform destructive acts until the gods incite them to do so. Eteocles, Oedipus and Amphiaraus are a few of the more important humans subject to the destructive influence of the gods. Eteocles is shown early to be not only a victim of forces beyond his control but also content with his lot and unconcerned about the future (cf. 2, 92f.) before he is set upon by supernatural forces (2, 89ff, esp. 100ff); prior to Mercury’s apparent physical infection of Eteocles, there is no specific indication that the monarch would refuse to hand over the reigns of power to his brother. Oedipus is portrayed as bitter and vindictive when he is under the control of the Furies (1, 46–87, esp. 51f, 60–74; 7, 466–469, esp. 468), but is an entirely different person when the higher powers free him from their influence (cf. 11, 599ff, esp. 617–621). Amphiaraus, who is depicted as a pious, reverential and peace-loving uates (cf. 3, 411–496, 547–551, 570–575, 620–645; 5, 669–671, 733–752) until the gods set upon him and fill him with a desire for war and an insatiable blood-lust (cf. 4, 189f; 7, 692–781; 10, 206–211), is revealed once again as a pious and reverential priest (8, 90ff.) after he descends to the underworld (7, 816ff).

  • 61 Delarue 2000, 429, in response to my argument (Dominik 1994, xii) of the Thebaid being primarily c (...)
  • 62 Not three years, as Joyce 2008, xxx avers. Legras 1905, 141–144 proposes three years for the lengt (...)

20The general powerlessness of humankind and its lack of free will are given particular emphasis in the metadiegetic episodes through the intervention of Apollo (1, 562ff), Venus and the goddesses, especially the Furies (5, 85–169, esp. 155–158, 192ff.; cf. 445f.), which leaves both the Argives helpless and the Lemnians (with the exception of Hypsipyle) incapable of exercising their free will. The imposition of divine will upon humanity is seen consistently to be the major factor behind the weak and helpless state of humankind, its inability to control its own destiny, and its lack of free will. Far from being an epic about ‘human responsibility’, as Delarue maintains,61 the Thebaid shows the inhabitants of Argos and Thebes being manipulated by superhuman forces and having little control over their own lives. The most a figure can do such as Adrastus, who is uneager for war and seems resolved to avoid undertaking it if at all possible (cf. 3, 388–393, 440–449), is to delay its inevitable outbreak for over two years (cf. 4, 1–4; cf. 3, 712–720).62 While Juno criticises Jupiter for his belated-ness (1, 266–270, esp. 267: sera), it makes no difference to the eventual result: only the timing of individual events is in question. Belatedness and inevitability are central to the notion of Jovian control of human fate in the Thebaid.

Notes

1 I express my gratitude to John Garthwaite and Kyle Gervais for their helpful comments on the penultimate draft of this chapter. I also thank Thomas Baier for inviting me to the congress at the University of Würzburg at which an early version was presented.

2 Burck 1986, 207–224.

3 Burck 1986, 701ff.

4 Kabsch 1968, 130.

5 Gossage 1969, 80f.; Gossage 1972, 195, 200.

6 Gossage 1969, 80f.; Vessey 1973, 82–91.

7 Franchet d’Espèrey 1983, 102.

8 Ahl 1982, 928; Ahl 1986, 2861. Hill 1996, 35f., erroneously interprets my comments on Ahl’s discussion of Jupiter as a dismissal of his views, whereas I was mainly suggesting that Jupiter is a more menacing character than Ahl and other critics indicate, including Hill 1990, 98–118; Hill 1996, 35–54; Hill 2008, 129–141. Although Hill (1996, 52) seems to question my analysis of Jupiter as a cruel tyrant, he refers elsewhere (Hill 1990, 105) to him as a ‘cruel’ ruler.

9 Vessey 1992, xxii.

10 Feeney 1991, 355.

11 Feeney 1991, 371.

12 Dominik 1994, 2 n. 6.

13 Dominik 1994, 2 n. 6.

14 Vessey 1973, 83, 91 (cf. 82–91, esp. 83–87); Vessey 1992, xxii.

15 Vessey 1973, 83, 91 (cf. 82–91, esp. 83–87); Vessey 1992, xxii.

16 Ahl 1986, 2844, 2847.

17 Hill 1990, 106; Hill 1996, 35; Hill 2008, 129, 141.

18 Cf. Hershkowitz 1995, 60; Hershkowitz 1998, 265.

19 Dominik 1994, 1–33, esp. 1–15.

20 Delarue 2000, 291–306.

21 Hill 1990, 106.

22 Ganiban 2007, 50f.

23 Ganiban 2007, 180.

24 Cf. Hershkowitz 1995, 59; Hershkowitz 1998, 262.

25 The text cited throughout is that of Hall / Ritchie / Edwards 2007.

26 Hill 1996, 40.

27 Hill 1996, 40.

28 Hill 1996, 40.

29 Hill 1996, 40.

30 Hill 1996, 40.

31 Dominik 1994, 2, 7f., 15–21 passim, 24, 164.

32 Hill 1996, 40.

33 Dominik 1994, 25–29.

34 Hill 1996, 41.

35 E.g., Hübner 1970, 88; Ahl 1986, 2842.

36 Cf. Dominik 1994, 28, where I suggested originally that maior could be rendered as ‘mightier’ in relation to the anonymous shade or as ‘too powerful’.

37 Franchet d’Espèrey 1983, 103.

38 Hill 1990, 103f.; cf. Hill 2008, 133.

39 Hershkowitz 1995, 59; Hershkowitz 1998, 261f.

40 Ganiban 2007, 110.

41 Hill 1996, 39 n. 17.

42 Ganiban 2007, 180.

43 Hershkowitz 1998, 263.

44 Bernstein 2004, 67.

45 Ganiban 2007, 182; cf. Ganiban 2007, 185.

46 Bernstein 2004, 66.

47 Ganiban 2007, 184.

48 Bernstein 2008, 89.

49 Ganiban 2007, 180.

50 Lovatt 2005, 99.

51 Hershkowitz 1995, 59f.; Hershkowitz 1998, 262–264.

52 Bernstein 2004, 65.

53 Hershkowitz 1995, 60; Hershkowitz 1998, 263.

54 Hill 2008, 129; cf. Hill 1990, 105.

55 Hill 1990, 104.

56 Hill 1990, 106; Hill 2008, 130; cf. Hill 2008, 141.

57 Bernstein 2004, 65.

58 Hill 2008, 129.

59 Vessey 1973, 82.

60 On the relationship between Jupiter and the Fates see Dominik 1994, 25–29.

61 Delarue 2000, 429, in response to my argument (Dominik 1994, xii) of the Thebaid being primarily concerned with ‘power’, not just the unfavourable aspects of the exercise of power in the form of its pursuit and abuse but also its consequences in terms of human suffering and impotence.

62 Not three years, as Joyce 2008, xxx avers. Legras 1905, 141–144 proposes three years for the length of the action in the epic as a whole.

© C.H.Beck, 2012

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