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Sparsis Mauors agitatus in oris: The Theme of Civil War in Punica 14

Raymond Marks

Thanks to the studies of Ahl, Davis, and Pomeroy and McGuire, it is widely acknowledged that Silius Italicus invites readers of his Punica to reflect on Rome’s history of civil strife. Scholars have since identified many references to civil war and allusions to texts dealing with the topic (especially Lucan’s Bellum Civile) and have shown that civil war is indeed a wide-spread preoccupation in the Punica (e.g., Dominik, Fucecchi, Marks 2008, 2010, Tipping). Focus has centered on Silius’ engagement with the theme in the Cannae books and on the Romans’ association with it there (8-10), but as attention is given to other parts of the epic, it is becoming increasingly clear that Rome’s story is not the only one informed by patterns of reference to civil war; the stories of Saguntum (1-2), Capua (11, 13), and Carthage (11-17) are as well, and these cities accordingly become, as Rome herself is in the epic, reflections of Rome as she would be later in her history, a city beset by internal strife and civil discord.

            The potential for civil war to regenerate itself, to spread, and to infect others, to turn them into other “Romes,” so to speak, is central to Lucan’s conception of the war between Caesar and Pompey as a kind of world war. While Lucan’s approach certainly underpins Silius’ portrayal of  Saguntum, Capua, and Carthage as “other Romes” in this regard, it is perhaps nowhere more evident than in book 14, which recounts Marcellus’ campaign in Sicily, including his successful siege of Syracuse. This book has received relatively little attention in discussions of the civil war theme in the Punica. Granted, it has been observed that the political conditions in Syracuse, which lead to the city joining the Carthaginian cause, are evocative of civil strife and that the sea battle toward the end of the book owes much to the sea battle at Massilia in BC 3 (e.g., Burck). But the theme of civil war is still more fundamental and pervasive than that, particularly in the aforementioned Lucanian sense. For one of the telling aspects of Silius’ treatment of Sicily is its eastern exoticism, its being a world very different from any other that the war affects in the epic, and this, when read in connection with the civil war theme, invites us to view the island as a distinctly “foreign” locus of the Second Punic War qua Roman civil war, much in the same way as places such as Massilia or Pharsalus become a locus of Roman civil war qua world war in the Bellum Civile.

            In support of this Lucanian reading of Punica 14, this paper re-examines and adds to the evidence for Silius’ program of allusion to Massilia in BC 3 and, further, looks at the book’s geographical and ethnographical digressions to show how they evoke Lucan’s treatment of Thessaly in BC 6 and his descriptions of Pompey’s army in BC 3 and 7. But in so referring us to the Bellum Civile Silius not only underlines the potential for civil war to affect those who stand outside the ciuitas Romana, but suggests that one may slip outside of the vicious circle of civil war and may halt its regenerative, totalizing force. This point is emphatically made at the end of the book when Marcellus exhibits clemency toward the vanquished Syracusans and restrains his troops from further killing and looting. By the combined effect of this portrayal of Marcellus and the book’s many evocations of civil war Silius suggests that a good, powerful individual can be instrumental in ending civil strife. The conclusion of this paper considers the “Flavian-ness” of this perspective and, specifically, how Marcellus’ victory at Syracuse might gesture to the Flavians’ own fashioning of Titus’ sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE as a victory over a foreign enemy that is bound up with the end of civil war.

Session/Panel Title

After 69 CE: Epic and Civil War in Flavian Rome

Session/Paper Number

75.4

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