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Burial Scenes: Silius Italicus’ Punica and Greco-Roman Historiography

Antonios Augoustakis

In recent years, scholarship on Silius has emphasized the Punica’s position within Flavian Rome as the new national epic replacing the Aeneo-centric prototype by looking at the challenging heyday of the Roman republic during the Second Punic War. This paper sheds light on three episodes of cremation and burial in the poem with the goal to re-examine the Flavian poet’s relationship with his historiographical models, especially Polybius and Livy. Silius draws on several sources for such scenes, from epic poetry (Homer through Lucan and Valerius) to historiography (from Herodotus to Livy). In 1981, Erich Burck examined in detail the portrayal of epic burial scenes (Bestattungsszenen) from Virgil through the Flavian epicists, drawing some general conclusions with regard to a certain typology of epic descriptions of funeral and cremation/burial rites. But his analysis of specific episodes in the Punica is rather perfunctory and therefore unsatisfactory beyond the now trite assertions concerning Silius’ Virgilian aemulatio. My analysis addresses questions such as: why does Silius showcase these funerals as the climax point in his narrative? How does Silius want his reader to perceive the often antagonistic relationship between the Punica and its models in Greco-Roman historiography? How are we to interpret Hannibal’s actions of bestowing final rites on his Roman enemies?

Three burials will be considered in detail; all three are performed by Hannibal, and all three dead honorands are prominent Roman generals: Paulus (book 10), Gracchus (book 12), and Marcellus (book 15). For instance, in the case Aemilius Paulus, Silius’ account is drawn from Livy’s laconic description (Liv. 22.52.6), while the only mention in Polybius is a single phrase (Plb. 3.116.9). What Silius emphasizes in his narrative of Paulus’ burial by Hannibal is absence: the lack of the pomp and ceremony expected (Sil. 10.558–77): Hannibal provides a funereum decus, that is, the shield, the sword, the fasces, the secures for Paulus’ cremation. No ritual mourning by the wife or the children, no imagines, no proper farewell. Instead, Silius makes Hannibal deliver the laudatio funebris. Polybius informs us that the role of the laudator is usually performed by the son of the deceased (Plb. 6.53.1–3): if there is no son available, then τῶν ἄλλων εἴ τις ἀπὸ γένους ὑπάρχει. In this case, there is no kinsman nearby, and Hannibal fulfills the role of a kinsman. I submit that this is no ironic gesture on the part of the Carthaginian: Hannibal extols Paulus’ uirtus and facta, and this is clearly juxtaposed to the contempt with which he treats Fabius’ delaying tactiques or Varro elsewhere in the narrative. Hannibal’s laudatio responds to the demands of the genre as illustrated by Polybius (λέγει περὶ τοῦ τετελευτηκότος τὰς ἀρετὰς καὶ τὰς ἐπιτετευγμένας ἐν τῷ ζῆν πράξεις), or in Latin uirtute et factis (10.573).

In the description of Marcellus’ death, criticized by both Livy and Polybius as the result of inexplicably foolish decisions (Liv. 27.27.11 and 28.1; Plb. 10.32.7–10), Silius repeats some of the details of Paulus’ burial (Sil. 15.381–96): Hannibal’s laudatio funebris (attributed to Marcellus’ son by Livy) boasts of the eternal praise attained and adds the empty promise that the Carthaginian will always honor Roman generals in this manner. In an apostrophe, however, with the 2nd person subjunctive credas (389), Silius marks this funeral as a symbolic one: if you did not know, you could believe this is Hannibal’s own funeral. In Appian’s account (Hann. 50), Hannibal praises Marcellus; in Silius, Hannibal praises himself. In Paulus’ funeral, Hannibal had praised his opponent’s uirtus and facta, he now underscores his own magnanima uirtus.

By elaborating on Livy’s note and breaking away from the historiographical tradition which overall remains silent concerning this episode, Silius exploits the ambiguous traits of Hannibal’s character. As the poem progresses, Hannibal becomes all the more attentive to cremation and burial as an expression of respect but also as a signal of a deep anxiety concerning his own, uncertain future.

Session/Panel Title

Historical Poetics and the Intertext

Session/Paper Number

17.4

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