In This Article Silius Italicus

  • Introduction
  • Biography
  • Reference Works on Silius Italicus
  • Bibliographical Guides
  • Manuscript Tradition and Texts
  • Translations
  • Commentaries
  • Date and Composition
  • Heroism and Protagonists
  • Reception of Silius Italicus after Antiquity

Classics Silius Italicus
by
Antony Augoustakis
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0163

Introduction

Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus, simply known as Silius Italicus, is the author of the longest extant poem in Latin literature, in seventeen books, titled the Punica (= Punic Wars), in which he recounts in verse the Second Punic War (218–201 BCE). The narrative includes the siege of Saguntum by the Carthaginians and the sack of the city; Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps; the destructive battles at the Ticinus, the Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae; Scipio’s trip to the Underworld; and Hannibal’s final defeat at Zama by Scipio Africanus. Silius Italicus is one of the three Flavian epicists (the other two are Valerius Flaccus and Statius). He composed his poem during the period of the Flavian emperors, in particular, during the rule of Domitian. A Renaissance of scholarly interest in Silius’s poem has been attested since the last decade of the 20th century with several published and forthcoming studies shedding light on different aspects of the complex historical poem.

Biography

Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus was a prominent Roman statesman, born around 26 CE. Silius’s biographer is the epistolographer Pliny the Younger, who reports the poet’s death in one of his letters (Ep. 3.7). Silius held the consulship in 68 CE and served as proconsul in Asia (c. 77 CE); after the end of his political career of thirty years, he dedicated his time to the composition of the Punica. Undoubtedly, Silius found himself in the midst of the turmoil during the last years of the life of Emperor Nero, and his career under the last of the Julio-Claudians attracted some criticism among ancient authors, especially since he was alleged to have served as a delator (Plin. Ep. 3.7.3). But the advent of the Flavian dynasty was a welcome change for many of the parties involved in the bloody civil war of 69 CE, and the new emperors of the Flavian clan, Vespasian together with Titus and Domitian, his sons and successors, are celebrated in the Punica as the family destined to lead Rome to new heights of glory (Sil. 3.593–629). Silius retired in Campania, where he dedicated his time to collecting books and art, keeping the cult of Virgil, and writing his epic poem (Plin. Ep. 3.7.8). On his life, see Miniconi and Devallet 1979 (pp. vii–xvii), Augoustakis 2010 (pp. 3–6), Dominik 2010 (pp. 428–431), and Littlewood 2011 (pp. xv–xix, cited under Commentaries). We do not know the exact date of the poet’s death, possibly around 101 CE, during the reign of the emperor Trajan. We know, however, that Silius ended his life by starvation, as Pliny the Younger informs us (Ep. 3.7.1–2), possibly because of an incurable cancerous stomach tumor (insanabilis clauus). Scholars have long debated the exact dates of the poem’s composition (see Date and Composition) as well as its state of completion, that is, whether it was ever finished.

  • Augoustakis, Antony. 2010. Silius Italicus, a Flavian poet. In Brill’s companion to Silius Italicus. Edited by Antony Augoustakis, 3–23. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

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    Analysis of the biographical information found in Pliny the Younger and further bibliographical references to the scholarship discussing Silius’s life.

  • Dominik, William J. 2010. The reception of Silius Italicus in modern scholarship. In Brill’s companion to Silius Italicus. Edited by Antony Augoustakis, 425–447. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.

    E-mail Citation »

    Very useful exposition and overview of Silian studies from the rediscovery of the Punica to modern times, with information on Silius’s life and contemporaries.

  • Miniconi, Pierre, and Georges Devallet. 1979. Introduction. In Silius Italicus: La guerre Punique: Livres I–IV. Edited by Pierre Miniconi and Georges Devallet, vii–cx. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

    E-mail Citation »

    Good amount of information on Silius’s life and the ancient authors who talk about Silius.

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