Biography of Cayo Silio Itálico (ca. 23-101)

Latin poet, born about the year 23, whose full name was Tiberius Catió Asconio Silius Italicus. Author of the Punica, epic about the second war Punica, in seventeen books written from the 88.


The life of Silius Italicus passed between the principalities of Tiberius and Trajan, around the year 23-101 d. C. Pliny the younger (Epistle III 7) and martial (epigrams VII 63, 66 VIII; (IX) 86; XI 48 and 49) are the key biographers of this author. The text of Pliny is a heartfelt obituary, a brief sketch of the poet newly drawn his death known in his Neapolitan retreat. Marcial, friend of the poet, gives more literary than vital news. According to one source, these are the most important data of his life: Silius Italicus was born into a family wealthy, perhaps installed in the North of Italy. He developed a splendid political career, first as a lawyer, then how consul during the 68, the same year that he died the madman Nero, and, finally, during the 77 as proconsul of Asia. As for their ideals, he was follower of the Stoic school. Moreover, the neoestoico philosopher Epictetus estimated it as the best philosopher of the Romans. During the tyranny of Nero, his fame lost prestige, since that it was rumored that he had been tell-tale. On the death of the Emperor, he was supporter of Vitellius, who rewarded him with the Government of Asia. After the murder of this, it accommodated their loyalty to Vespasian. It was lauded with the title of "Prince of the city" (princeps civitatis), while Buchanan's perform their duties as such. Tired of public life, he retired to the Campania region to devote himself fully to his poetic vocation. He spent much of his fortune to buy villas, decorated with many statues and images and, in addition, enriching with good libraries. In fact, he acquired an estate of Cicero in Tuscolo, near Rome, and the tomb of Virgil, near Naples, he worshipped as a God. It was left to die slowly from starvation around the 101, seventy-five years of age, boring fight against an incurable tumor. Of the two children he had, the largest reached the consular rank, while the youngest, Severo, died before him, after having held two consulates.



The judgment of Pliny on his poetry "scribebat carmina maiore cure quam wit" ("wrote poems with more careful wit") has heavy as a slab on the Punica, only work by Silius Italicus. And the same opinion was H. E. Butler (in his book Post-Augustan poetry from Seneca to Juvenal) twenty centuries later, who in 1909, claimed be Silio "it is, above all, known as the author of the more long and worse of the Roman epics that remain". However, modern criticism has called into question such assertions. Among others, F. Ahl, M. A. Davis and A. Pomeroy (joint article "Silius Italicus", collected in the book Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, 1986) have advocated the enormous literary value of the Punica. For these scholars, Silius was a cult poet, who undertook an arduous task with enormous creative power and original thinking after a lifetime devoted to politics and poetry. For this reason the Punica have a texture and very different from the Aeneid of Virgil or the Pharsalia of Lucan quality.

The Punic constitute a carmen continuum ("extensive epic poem") which follows, more than to any other, the footsteps of Virgil's Aeneid. If the argument was different: the Roman feats during the Second Punic War (218-201 b.c.), the end, however, was identical: glorify Rome. In this sense, Marcial considered Silió heir of Virgil (epigrams XI 49), although his pen was not as dexterous as the of the mantuano. The theme of the Second Punic War was rich in dramatic events that had been already showing by Tito Livio in the 21-30 books of his work Ab urbe condita (from the founding of Rome). Silius was nurtured, in terms of data, mostly Livio, but closely followed the path of Virgilio both in form and in the trappings of the traditional epic topics. Indeed, Silius took the prediction of Dido, versed by Virgil in the Aeneid, IV 622-29, that would come an Avenger of the Carthaginian people who fight against Rome to start his epic at this point. The poet, in this way, continued at the time the epic poem by Virgil. But to poeticize the Second Punic War as the traditional epic and, especially, cannons with the Aeneid as a model, Silius Italicus committed, for many, a serious mistake: wanting to mold the traditional epic to the historical facts. Homer had sung the legendary Achilles, Ulysses and Aeneas from Virgil exploits, hence in this legendary cosmos conventional topics of the epic (descent into hell in the hero, funeral games, consultation of those guys or the objective correlative between the present facts and myths of the past) had its natural context. However, the battles of Hannibal and Scipio Africanus, the heroes of the Punica, had nothing to do with mythology. Accordingly, the intervention of the gods in human affairs as well as the mitograficas scenes are strange in the Punica. Lucan had preferred with better break with machinery divine when composing his Pharsalia, where versifica the history of the civil war between Pompey and César with the epic meter par excellence: the hexametro.

Structure and arguments of the Punica

Seventeen books of the Punica recounted the second Punica war with the following distribution:

Book I: Silió back the origins of the hostilities between the Carthaginians and the Romans to the determination of the goddess Juno to end the power of Rome. The chosen for the company is Hannibal, who was educated at the hatred to the Romans. The war begins in Spain, where Hannibal attacks Sagunto, allied city of Rome. A Roman Embassy then warns the Carthaginians to lay down the attack, if they do not want to provoke a war.

Book II: Quinto Fabio maximum, at the head of a diplomatic mission sent to Carthage, fails to deter the Carthaginian general, so it declares war. It follows an oratory duel between the Carthaginians Hannon and gestate, first contrary to the war, the other to please. The Sagunto, although under the protection of the goddess Fides, cannot withstand the grueling siege of Hannibal, which triumphantly entered in Sagunto with the help of Juno and the fury Tisiphone when all its citizens have died.

Book III: in the central part of this book Silió catalogs the Carthaginian troops and their allies, recognizing its military successes, also because Hannibal crosses with his army the Pyrenean and Alpine mountain range. Rome is so terrified. Meanwhile, Venus, benefactor of the Romans, asked explanations to Jupiter, who says it plans to weigh the courage of men with this war and, in particular, that of the Romans, who have been losing their warlike virtues and their lust for glory.

Books IV - V: Both books display a feverish war activity. In book IV of Hannibal's two overwhelming victories in the battles of Ticino and Trebia on troops acaudilladas by Publio Cornelio Escipión is versifican. In the 5th book general Gayo Flaminio is also defeated at the battle of Trasimeno due to their wickedness.

Books VI - VII: they are an interlude of peace after so agitated the previous action. Silius composed a retrospective excursus in Book VI to praise the heroic deeds of Atilio Regulus during the first Punic War. Ends the Book VI with the appointment of fifth maximum Fabio as dictator. For his part, Book VII includes delaying strategies of Fabio, that earned the nickname Cunctator ("retarder").

Books VIII - IX: resume the fast-paced action with the narration of the defeat of Cannae. The blame for the tragedy the consul Terentius Varro frameworkis, again, the incompetence of Chief of the army.

Book XI: this book as in the case of books VI - VII serves as a anticlimático moment. Hannibal based his camp in Capua and Venus intercedes for the Romans, by sending the deities of love against the Carthaginians.

Book XII: thanks to Marcelo Roman, finally, due to Hannibal in the battle brought near Nola. Despite the defeat, Hannibal goes to Rome with renewed vigor.

Book XIII: Aníbal fails to conquer Rome and, in addition, loses Capua. Silius, then, tells of Publio Cornelio Escipión and his brother Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio deaths in Spain. The katabasis or down to hell in the African Publio Cornelio Escipión is then counted. There takes place a nekyia (Greek term to designate the necromancy, or divination of the future through the spirit of the dead), where his mother Pomponia, loved by Jupiter, reveals his divine status among other things.

Book XIV - XVII: the Roman winning streak continues along these books: the fourteenth reports of the capture of Syracuse by the general Roman Marcelo; the 15th book, on the other hand, informs us of military successes in Spain the young Scipio and Claudio Neroand Livius Salinator victory in the battle of Metauro, near the Italian city of Siena; the sixteenth book is delayed in the description of different funeral games, essential in the traditional epic cliché; Finally, the work concludes in the seventeenth book with the definitive defeat suffered by the Carthaginians at Zama.

Language and style

He has blamed old age of Silius whichever your style, often, tautological and lacking in poetic estrus; as said by Pliny, "more care than ingenious". However, its simple expression is also due to the admiration that the poet felt by Virgil and his effort to attach Bare analyst prose to his epic poem. This clarity of language moves away from the Baroque style then fashionable and that both his contemporaries Lucan, VALERIUS FLACCUS or Estaciócultivated. His hexametrico art stands out for a gimmicky use of espondeos feet, technical in which emulates Virgil better than any other epic of its time.


Contemporaries of the poet, and Apollinaris Sidónio later in the 5th century, Pliny the younger and martial, are the only writers that mentioned in antiquity the Silió Itático work. Martial, even refers to the Punica as "immortal Silió imperedecero books" (epigrams, VII, 63, 1). In the middle ages Silius was not completely forgotten, as they seem to prove the literary echoes found in the epic poem Waltharius (ca. 930), which narrates legends nibelungas. The Florentine humanist Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) discovered a manuscript of his during the Council of Constance (1416 or 1417). From that moment, the Punica was edited by other humanists (Domizio Calderini, Pomponio Leto or Bartolomé Fonti), which made the work be shared throughout Europe. He had a reception fruitful in England where he was frequently read and imitated. However, the negative criticism about his work, especially the French Julio César Scaliger (1484-1558) in his seven books of poetry (Lyon 1461), undermined his prestige and spread elsewhere in Europe. The German poet Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862) covered again the scene of "Scipio at the crossroads between virtue and pleasure" (15th 1-149), which was also the inspiration for a picture of the famed Italian artist Rafael Sanzio.



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A. J. Traver Vera