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Dead and deader : the treatment of the corpse in latin imperial epic poetry McClellan, Andrew Michael


This dissertation examines the maltreatment of dead bodies in the epic poems of Lucan (Bellum Ciuile), Statius (Thebaid), and Silius Italicus (Punica). I focus on the depiction of corpses, their varied functions in each epic, and the literary engagement these authors have with the treatment of corpses in epics past, particularly Homer’s Iliad and Virgil’s Aeneid. I demonstrate the ingenuity with which these poets deploy corpses in their works by emphasizing the interplay and intertextuality between these authors, how they strive to be different from their epic predecessors and each other through their skillful elaborations on a major epic motif. The two main categories of maltreatment I analyze include the physical abuse directed at an enemy corpse and, similarly, the withholding or perversion of burial rites. In my Introduction I identify a major gap in scholarship concerning the treatment of corpses in Roman Imperial epic that my dissertation aims to fill. My project begins from a number of studies on corpse treatment in the Iliad, and my desire to provide a similar analysis of this theme for the Roman epics. Chapter 2 sets a baseline for epic corpse treatment by looking in detail at the Iliad and Aeneid, with the intention of establishing a normative framework which proves valuable for highlighting deviations from the norm in the treatment of corpses in Imperial epic. Chapter 3 analyzes decapitation in Lucan, Statius, and Silius, scenes which directly target and exploit less explicit constructions in Homer and Virgil. Chapter 4 looks at the wide array of burial perversions and abuses in Lucan, with a focus on Pompey’s fragmented burial rites. Chapters 5 and 6 analyze burial perversions in Statius and Silius, respectively, structured around Creon’s burial denial edict in the Thebaid and Hannibal’s warped funerals for Roman generals in the Punica. A brief Conclusion summarizes my findings, and looks ahead to further research on this topic. My project shows that encapsulated in the corpses and their treatment, these epics reveal a deep concern with violence, horror, life, and death, that reflects the larger disturbed functioning of each poet’s epic universe.

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