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Hannibal's Bloody Homecoming in Silius' Punica

Andrew McClellan

Florida State University

Book 17 of Silius Italicus’ Punica brings the poem to a close with a striking juxtaposition. The victorious general Scipio Africanus leads a triumphal parade through the streets of Rome, and the final image of the parade (17.644: imago) is an effigy of Hannibal fleeing over the fields of Zama (643-4). I argue that Silius is toying with long-held Greco-Roman associations linking funeral and triumphal processions (e.g. Sen. Consol. ad Marc. 3.1: funus triumpho simillimum; Flower, 107-9; Beard, 284-6). Despite Hannibal not physically being in Rome (or even being dead), that his imago is paraded along with other “images” comprising his once mighty Mediterranean influence points to a funeral procession and the public display of ancestral imagines.

The dual triumphal and funereal close underscores imagery evocative of Hannibal’s (unrealized) death that punctuates book 17, particularly through allusions to earlier epic death scenes or imagined death scenes. My topic builds upon recent scholarship treating Hannibal’s dense intertextual “allegiance” to earlier epic heroes/anti-heroes (e.g. Klaassen, 99-106; Tipping, 83-92; Fucecchi, 1990, 2011; Stocks, 61-70). Like Odysseus and Aeneas, Hannibal is caught in a sea-storm and wishes he had been killed in battle (Pun. 17.260-7; cf. Od. 5.299-312; Aen. 1.94-101). The Homeric and Virgilian models are later abandoned, however, when Hannibal retrospectively reimagines his earlier potential demise through the lens of Lucan’s Caesar and Pompey. Like Caesar in Lucan’s sea-storm, Hannibal wishes he had died at sea, rejecting the value of funeral rites (Pun. 17.559-60; BC 5.668-71). He delivers a threat to Rome and the gods which doubles as a self-eulogy modelled on Caesar’s speech (Pun. 17.606-15; BC 5.661-8). But Hannibal’s wish to have been a shipwreck victim also echoes the actual fate of Pompey’s corpse off the Pelusian shore in BC 8. These important allusions have gone unnoticed (Pun. 17.559-60): aequore mersum | texissent scopuli, pelagusque hausisset et undae!; (BC 8.708-10): pulsatur harenis, | carpitur in scopulis hausto per uolnera fluctu, | ludibrium pelagi. Hannibal will survive and threaten/scorn the gods like Caesar, but he will lose the war and conjure images of death, mutilation, and defeat like Pompey. These are Hannibal’s last lines in the poem.

We have to weigh, then, two conflicting commemorative “images” of Hannibal at the poem’s close, both contextually funereal: first, his self-eulogy, indicating eternal fame through tyrannical fear; second, his funereal imago crystalized in shameful flight from Zama in Scipio’s quasi-funeral pompa through Rome. This conflict is a product of clashing intertextual models aimed at destabilizing our reading of Hannibal and our interpretation of the poem’s ending. Especially powerful are the competing allusions in Silius’ characterization of Hannibal to both Lucan’s Caesar and Pompey. Silius has constructed Hannibal as an epic anti-hero aiming to conquer Rome like Caesar, but fated to failure like Pompey.

My analysis of Hannibal’s characterization necessitates mediation through Silius’ handling of his nemesis Scipio, and scholars have debated just how positively we should view Scipio as a purveyor of Romanitas, uirtus, and as a proto-princeps in the poem (Dominik, 444-5, with additional bibliography). Hannibal is an enemy of Rome and always by definition a villain, but if we feel a strong urge to read Lucan’s Pompey into his demise, then there must be at least a hint of Lucan’s victorious/villainous Caesar in the Scipio who defeats him, though scholarship has been quiet on this front. This point is made stronger by considering the figure of Scipio in light of the violence of the civil wars that brought about the establishment of the Flavian dynasty. I conclude by looking at Silius’ final lines concerning the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus (17.653-4), a site equal parts guarantor of Scipio’s divinity and, by evocations of its destruction in 69 CE, an emblem of the horrors of Caesarism, for which Scipio functions as a prototype. As my paper demonstrates, Silius’ characterizations of Scipio and Hannibal are intricately layered with competing allusions to earlier internecine epic.

Session/Panel Title

Bloody Excess: Roman Epic

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