Sanne van den Berg

Stylish Deaths: Stylistic Anchoring in Flavian Epic

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Death scenes are standard features in epic and often climactic passages in the text. The Flavians adapt the death scenes of their predecessors and innovate, both in language and theme. This project focuses on the style of death scenes in Flavian epic and uses this as a starting point for a re-evaluation of Flavian style.

Even though the Flavians have seen an upsurge in interest, judgments regarding style are still frequently based on earlier, sometimes quite negative, assessments. When aspects of style are discussed in modern commentaries, the focus is often on one author, and rarely on unifying factors beyond ‘mannerist’. This project argues that we can delve into the Flavian epics in new ways by looking at the style and narration of their death scenes.

Death is a ‘stock element’ of epic. Death in Flavian epic is anchored to the tradition of death-scenes in epic, starting with the Iliad’s battle deaths. Furthermore, deaths are often in dialogue with other deaths through intertextuality (e.g. General Paullus’ funeral in Silius Italicus’ Punica interacts with cremations in Virgil’s Aeneid). Simultaneously, descriptions of death in Statius’ Thebaid, Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica, and Silius Italicus’ Punica are distinctively Flavian. They divert from earlier tradition by radically including more episodes on suicide and death in civil war, reflecting the turmoil of the 1st century AD and the prominence of political suicide. Flavian death scenes are anchored in the literary past while rooted in the present socio-political experience.

Is what is special about Flavian literary style given to it by the socio-political context, is this a literary world created by the Flavians and heavily dependent on their predecessors, or both? This is one of the questions that make Flavian death scenes ideal type-scenes for investigating style in relation to the anchoring innovation framework. Using an interdisciplinary perspective (combining traditional stylistic research with linguistics and narratology), I will analyse how the Flavians narrate death and how their style impacts the stories they tell.