Rutilius Gallicus was chief of police, poet and courtier of the Roman Emperor Domitian. He is a unique figure in that he can be studied in detail through both text and inscription, thereby fusing literature with history, and linking poetry with epigraphy. His recovery from a critical illness was celebrated in a sparkling poem by Statius, the poet laureate whose work is currently being read with new interest. As well as taking the reader on a tour across the city of Rome and the provinces, and through Flavian history and culture, Gallicus is by turns a sternly formal public servant, a delicate amateur poet and speaker, a workaholic chasing an early grave, the darling of his people, the strong-man of his tyrant Emperor, the miraculously resurrected patient of Apollo and a soldier-hero of the empire. How long could his luck last?
John Henderson is Professor of Classics, University of Cambridge and Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics of King's College, Cambridge. He is co-author (with Mary Beard) of Classics: A very short introduction (Oxford, 1995) and is the author of many books, including Figuring Out Roman Nobility: Juvenal's Eighth Satire (1997) and A Roman Life: Rutilius Gallicus on Paper and In Stone (1998), both published by University of Exeter Press.
Henderson brilliantly capitalises on the survival of both an inscription and a poem (Statius, Silvae 1. 4) about the high-ranking Rutilius Gallicus, the emperor Domitian's urban prefect. With this rare collusion of epigraphical and literary criticism he takes us on a dazzling excursion through Roman social and cultural history and imperial politics and poetics. The book also draws attention to the importance of Statius' Silvae as significant lyrical and cultural productions of Domitian's reign.
Some will feel that Henderson at times reads too much into the poem, but the reader of Statius must be sensitive to a variety of levels of subtlety. . . The notes themselves provide a full accounting of the intertextual references that abound in any Statian poem. All Latin is translated in a style that is true to Statius' mixture of wit and hyperbole. It would not be Henderson without some neat wordplay. My favourite? Commenting on Statius account of Gallicus' cure at the hands of Apollo and Aesculapius, Henderson writes, 'Not dead, just Asclepe!
Classical Review, Vol. 50, no 1
Henderson's analysis of the poem is excellent. There are the perceptive linguistic, stylistic and poetic analyses one associates with his work. In addition, there is an in-depth study of the mechanisms of the mythology of the piece, with illuminating comments on the concept of prayer in the work. We are warned that he might be writing 'skittishly' (p.16): this is a danger for the unwary and the pedestrian. But for the attentive reader the book sparkles with Donne-like or metaphysical conceits, helping to pin Statius' verbal dexterity down. And comparisons drawn from other poets, such as Horace on Maecenas, support what is deduced about Gallicus' relationship with Domitian.
Scholia, Vol. 8
... Like Statius' poem, erudite and entertaining, a salon piece.
JACT Review, Autumn
As reader you are, so to speak, spectator to a juggler who starts his routine with a few balls of epigraphic and poetic information and adds ball after ball of literary allusion and historical fact to the spinning whirl.
Journal of Roman Studies, Vol.90