Fatal Unions: Marriage at Thebes

in Family in Flavian Epic
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Marriage is at the heart of Statius’ Thebaid. The hell of civil war, the epic’s theme, derives from the incestuous union of Jocasta and Oedipus. At the start of Statius’ epic Oedipus, contrary to Sophoclean tradition, is not in exile but is still present at Thebes; likewise Jocasta is still alive and dwelling in the palace. Their discordant, incestuous marriage is not just a mark of shame for past crime but a present, spreading contamination of all their children and their marital hopes. The Roman ideal of marriage was Concordia; the marriage of Oedipus and Jocasta represents Discordia, and Discordia too is the term that Statius commonly uses throughout the Thebaid to describe the Theban civil war; discord is the companion of shared rule, sociisque comes discordia regnis (1.130), as the poet cynically puts it. This essay will examine the interpenetration of the language of civil war with that of marriage and will discuss how, in the Thebaid, the continuing presence of Oedipus and Jocasta at Thebes blights the exogamous marriages of their children and destroys hopes for a new future for Thebes.