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Silius Italicus and Homer

Arthur Pomeroy

While the Aeneid is clearly the most prominent intertext for Silius’ Punica, an important relationship with Homer, either directly or through Virgil, has long been noted (Juhnke 1972, including a listing of all parallels detected by commentators since the Renaissance at 371-410; Ripoll 2001). Rome is a new Troy and Hannibal and the Carthaginians the counterparts of Achilles and the Greeks. Yet Rome never faces an extended siege (rather, Saguntum as its surrogate suffers that fate) and, as in the closing books of the Aeneid, the role of Hector can be transposed from being that of the Trojan champion to the hero of the defeated army (that is, Hannibal) and the role of Achilles assumed by the victor (Aeneas, Scipio: Hardie 1993).

This paper will concentrate not on Homeric textual allusions, but on Silius’ use of the Iliad’s narrative of allowing the leader of the opposing forces to succeed in order to increase the kleos of the protagonist. In the case of the Punica, as long observed, the protagonist role is split among various Romans, although Scipio is most prominent. The Hector role is, however, restricted to Hannibal who in Book 12 even threatens the walls of Rome. In Homeric fashion, Jupiter notices this in passing (Pun. 12.605-8) and intervenes to ensure the safety of the city by announcing his displeasure through thunder – a theme taken from Diomedes’ attack on Troy (Il. 8.179-181) – and by creating storms that drive the Carthaginians back after they reach the Roman palisade. Eventually Juno shows Hannibal that Rome is being protected by the Olympians invisibly stationed throughout the city (a reversal of the revelation to Aeneas that the gods are destroying Troy in Aen. 2.604-18: Pomeroy 2000) and the Carthaginians are forced to withdraw. The Romans, whose youth and elderly have been defending the walls (Pun. 12.587-604) in the manner of the Homeric Trojans (Il. 8.517-22), now stream out in joy to visit the Carthaginian camp (12.744-9) – an inversion of Aen. 2.26-30, since this is now no trick, but a sign of true divine favour.

The prominence of Homer, alone of Greek poets, in the Punica can be seen as a deliberate strategy by Silius. Using the storyline of the Iliad, he is able to explain how Hannibal was able to succeed against the Roman commanders sent against him in line with divine purpose. However, Jupiter sets a limit to Hannibal’s victories and the attack on Rome is the turning point. In this way Carthaginian success enhances the glory of the Roman counterattack and Rome’s destiny through to the Flavian age is achieved. The choice of the Aeneid, itself a ‘Homeric’ text, and Homeric epic (especially the Iliad) as the dominant intertexts in the Punica can be understood as one manifestation of the Flavian cultural programme (cf. Marks 2005). Retelling the glories of Republican Rome fits well with a new Augustanism and the recall of Homeric epic both fits with the bicultural values of the Roman audience and distances the Punica from the Hellenistic excesses of the Neronian period.

Session/Panel Title

(Inter)generic Receptions in and of Early Imperial Epic

Session/Paper Number

30.5

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