Should You Follow Your Spouse? Statius Ask His Wife to Leave Rome

Could This Be Statius and Claudia, reconciled?

Everyone has celebratory limits.

Wine is the drink of the gods, sacred to Bacchus, but Diet Coke is sacred to women, especially to self-conscious dieters and consumers of cocktails of prescription drugs.   Over the holiday weekend we quaffed Diet Coke and perused movie listings.  We smuggled cans of Diet Coke into a theater, so as not to pay $5 for a drink.  

The holiday celebration was mellow, but Labor Day is the end of summer.  Reading poetry, sacred to Apollo, seemed the best way to bridge the seasons.  And so I perused a Latin poem by Statius (ca. 45-96 A.D.) written to his wife Claudia.  I was startled by the resonance and the relevance of the married couple’s struggle.  

The Romans are alien in many ways—all those weird rituals, praying to the Lares and Penates (household gods), consulting sacred chickens…  But men and women had the usual problems in marriage.  Where should they live? Must the woman follow the man to a different city? In this particular poem (Silvae, III.5), Statius tries to persuade his wife Claudia to leave Rome and retire with him to Naples, his hometown. I had never considered that Romans  faced this issue, except in cases of exile. (See my post, “The Cost of Banishment:  Cicero, Ovid, and Aeneas in Exile.”)

Of course one cannot take a poem literally, but Statius paints a vivid picture of his wife’s resistance.  Claudia has no desire to leave Rome.  She loves Roman culture, the theaters, the temples, the architecture, and hanging out with their unmarried daughter, who needs to find a suitable husband.

Statius is charming and seductively concerned.  “Why are you sad by day, my wife, why during our companionable nights  do you sigh anxiously with the care of insomnia?”

He charmingly compares her to heroines of myths.  He says Penelope would have happily followed Odysseus to Troy during the Trojan War if he had allowed it.  Statius reminds Claudia that it was the sight of her beautiful eyes that brought him back from the brink of death during an illness. 

He also shamelessly uses PR psychology.  Naples is as good as Rome: two theaters, many temples, walks among elegant columns, athletic games every five years, and nearby Baiae, a famous resort in Campania. 

“But this is enough, wife, I’ve said enough,  Naples made me for you; she bound us as allies for long years.  Is not the mother and nurturer of both of us worthy to be seen?  But I am ungrateful to add more arguments and cast doubt on your character:  you will come, dearest wife,  you will even come ahead of me; without me, the river Tiber, leader of waters, and the houses of arms-bearing Romulus (Rome) will appear worthless.”

We are sure there is a happy ending, though one wonders what Claudia had to say.    I imagine a celebration of  their amores et conubia (love and marriage) followed.

N.B. The prose translation is mine.