Scholars have recently emphasized the poem’s position within Flavian Rome as the new national epic that looks at the anachronistically challenging heyday of the Roman republic at the end of the Second Punic War (cf. Marks 2005, Bernstein 2008, Augoustakis 2010). As Augoustakis has recently demonstrated (2010), Silius recalibrates the dark moments of Roman republican history with a view to the future in store under the empire, while he points to the deterministic decline of the Roman state, after Hannibal’s defeat. With reference to Campania and its capital, Capua, and the election of two consuls from the region after the Social War, Silius dramatizes the episode of Capua’s defection to the Carthaginians as a direct result of the denial to admit men from the periphery to the consulship in Rome. In this paper, I shall discuss the references to Campania throughout the poem and the prominent role of the region in the Capua episode in Punica 11. Silius showcases Campania as a place within Italy where politics and poetic activity intertwine to promote the region as a birthplace of prominent politicians that advance to the highest office in Flavian Rome and as a locus of otium for poetic activity. At the same time, however, the synergy between Capua and Rome, foreshadowed by the poet and set at a later age, beyond the scope of the poem, is interrogated by Silius, who questions the myth of an ostensibly seamless Italian unity.
In the course of the Punica, Campania is defined as the space where Hannibal settles down, before he sets out to ravage extensively the territory. In 6.651-52, for instance, the region receives Hannibal and significantly slows down his destructive path: donec pestiferos mitis Campania cursus / tardauit bellumque sinu indefensa recepit. Simultaneously, Campania is the place of Scipio’s estates, as well as of his future exile, and as such it offers a plethora of sites that keep Hannibal entertained during his sojourn there (6.653-716). The seventh book takes place in Campania, and the poet exploits aetiological digressions on the topography of the region, such as the myth of Falernus (7.162-211), to underline the fertility and singularity of Campania for republican as well as Flavian Italy (Littlewood 2011, 93-94). Most importantly, however, Campania receives prominent mention in the catalogue of Italian forces (8.524-61), as diues opum … diues auorum (8.524): Scipio has trained the Campanians for war and is portrayed as their leader in the catalogue. Silius indulges in many references to the various cities in Campania, but also underscores the otherness of its space as an Oscan territory. Scipio’s association with Campania endows him with the qualities that will later make him a great fighter and politician (8.551-52).
In the eleventh book, Campania becomes once again the ground of political developments in the course of the war, namely it becomes the site of Hannibal’s own decline: by entering Capua, the Carthaginian’s army is given into sloth and luxuria and therefore begins to lose its momentum and eventually the war (Fucecchi 1990). Here Silius introduces the significance of Campania for Italian politics, when after the Social War the people of Capua, now citizens, become eligible for the consulship at Rome (11.123-29). Coupled with allusions to Virgil’s fourth Eclogue and Lucan’s tomb of Pompey (Augoustakis 2010, 110-12), Capua’s future is anticipated as a felicior aestas, which nevertheless must first endure the turmoil of the Punic Wars and survive the notoriety of the city’s defection. In other words, Capua and Campania undergo the same transformation as Rome, from defeat to victory. Whether or not Silius celebrates the election of one of his fellow-countrymen from Campania to the consulship in Flavian Rome (or even alludes to Capua as his own patria, cf. Vessey 1984), the Flavian poet memorializes Campania and its capital as the fertile ground for poetic activity and a political fermentation.