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Between Life and Death: Hannibal at the Center of the Margins in Silius’ Punica 17

Angeliki Roumpou

University of Nottingham

One of the clearest references of Rome’s interaction with the peripheral ‘Other’ in Flavian literature is Hannibal’s struggle in Silius Italicus’ Punica to conquer Rome and thus impose himself on ‘the centre’ (Augoustakis 2010; Pogorzelski 2015). Throughout the epic narrative Hannibal is shown as the main Carthaginian protagonist in opposition to the multiple Roman leaders, the last and most important Scipio Africanus who terminates the Second Punic war (most recently Stocks 2014; Robinson Telg Genannt Kortmann 2018). The aim of this paper is to show that although Hannibal remains the focus of the narrative, in the final book of the Punica he is shown in a liminal condition, marginalised in non-epic worlds, and struggling to re-enter the epic narrative (17.522-80, 597-605; 606-17). By using the narrative edges as a space of defeat and enervation (Lovatt 2015), Silius leads his external antagonist outside the frames of his epic narrative by exploiting the historical reality of Hannibal’s disappearance from the battle and his flight to the East (Plb. 3.11, Liv. 33.47). The references to Hannibal’s attempts to re-enter the epic narrative metapoetically allude to the poem’s open-endedness and possible continuation: Silius’ readers are standing at the threshold between an end and the possibility of a new beginning.

In the first part of the talk I will show that in the Punica Silius depicts Hannibal as the core and centre of the whole epic narrative (Marks 2005; Stocks 2014), to the extent that his absence from the battlefield in the final book of the epic signals the narrative’s end (17.512-8; 581-6) – the Punica loses its raison d’être. I will then move on to show the different occasions that reveal Hannibal’s liminality between life and death, and between the frames of this epic and beyond, which metapoetically reflect the liminality in the closure-beginning relationship. For example, Juno’s action to displace Hannibal to a pastoral world connects the epic with the first book of the Aeneid (Venus leading Aeneas in a pastoral world at Aen. 1.314-42); or Hannibal’s displacement on the top a hill by Juno, which makes him powerless and unable to act, and transforms the external enemy into an external viewer of the epic narrative. Hannibal becomes a spectator of the progress of the narrative still anticipating his future return (17.610-2 nec deinde relinquo│securam te, Roma, mei, patriaeque superstes│ad spes armorum uiuam tibi cf. Jupiter’s  prophecy for Hannibal’s return at 377-8 miscere hic sidera ponto│et terras implere uolet redeuntibus armis). Hannibal’s liminal condition at his final appearance in the epic and the references to his possible re-birth will lead to the final part of the talk, which examines the significance of closure as a powerful narrative space (already explored by Grewing/Acosta-Hughes/Kirichenko 2013; Rimell 2015; Spentzou & Fitzgerald 2018). I aim to show that Hannibal’s misplacement at the margins of the epic battle and the references to his future return reveal an open-ended Punica that offers his audience a different sense of liminality, an uncertainty and anticipation of what follows next.

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Hybrid Epicenters: Peripheral Adaptation in Flavian Literature

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