An Analysis of Statius' Role in Dante's 'Purgatorio'
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An Analysis of Statius' Role in Dante's Purgatorio
While there is no historical evidence proving that Statius the Latin poet ever converted to Christianity, it is convenient for Dante to imagine such a conversion for it confirms one of the medieval poet's beliefs namely, that poetry is a gateway to God and that Virgil is a worthy guide. This paper will show how Dante chooses to use Statius as a Roman poet in the mold of Virgil, who is yet saved by his belief in the Redemption of Jesus Christ whose coming Dante likely believed was prophesied in Virgil's Aeneid. Statius was a first century Roman poet who wrote after the same fashion as Virgil, but whose life begins after the crucifixion of Christ had already been recorded. Thus, Statius, as Roman and poet, is in a position not open to Virgil, whose life is ended before Christ's mission is fulfilled. Dante uses Statius as a kind of emblem of pagan death and Christian resurrection and is his way of enshrining the work of Virgil on the staircase to Paradise, even if Virgil the poet is consigned to spending eternity in the First Circle of Hell with the other virtuous pagans. Statius is introduced in the Purgatorio by way of a mighty tremor in Mount Purgatory: "And here even as Luke records for us / That Christ, new-risen from his burial cave, / Appeared to two along his way a shade / Appeared; and he advanced behind our backs" (Purgatory 21.7-10). Dante not only combines the entrance of Statius with Biblical reference to