Thursday, February 12, 2015


Claire Stocks, The Roman Hannibal: Remembering the Enemy in Silius Italicus' 'Punica'. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2014. Pp. xii, 276. ISBN 9781781380284. £75.00.

Reviewed by John Jacobs, Montclair Kimberley Academy (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Hannibal, especially when envisaged as Hannibal ad portas (Rome's ultimate cultural nemesis), has been the enduring subject of countless histories and biographies by professional scholars and armchair historians alike. Until recently, however, most of these studies have tended to accept the ancient narratives as-is, treating them as (at times, vastly) different versions of an ultimately recoverable historical truth—rather than as literary works operating in the realm of "competing plausibility arguments". 1 In the book under review, based on her 2009 Cambridge University dissertation, Stocks undertakes just such a literary reading of the sources in order to (re)construct an engaging and enlightening cultural biography of Hannibal (and, therefore, "Hannibal") in his various (dis)guises across Greek and Latin literature. As her title implies, this process of cultural integration (hence the "Roman" in "Roman Hannibal") culminates in the memory of "Hannibal" presented by Silius Italicus in his Punica. The book nicely complements all of the recent scholarship on Hannibal in Livy's third decade (especially David Levene's 2010 monograph),2 as well as that on Scipio in the Punica (especially Raymond Marks' 2005 monograph),3 and should stimulate further research into the reception of Hannibal and other enemies of the state elsewhere in ancient literature.4

In her "Introduction: Silius Italicus and the Roman Hannibal" (pp. 1-5), Stocks summarizes the scope, nature, and purpose of her study, namely, to explore "Hannibal's status as a cultural icon in Rome's literature," especially in the Punica, where we see "a Hannibal that is both recognizable in terms of his earlier, primarily historiographic[,] incarnations and that cultivates models of epic heroism such as Homer's Achilles and Virgil's Aeneas" (p. 2). She acknowledges an emphasis on the Iliad and Aeneid at the expense of the Odyssey and Metamorphoses (p. 4 n. 9, but cf. p. 229 n. 23); otherwise, however, the readings aim to be all-inclusive, from Polybius, Livy, and the rest of the historiographical tradition(s), to Cicero, Horace, and the other major literary voices of the ever-changing Roman cultural milieu(x).

Chapters 1-4 outline the origin and development of the Hannibal/"Hannibal" dichotomy, as the rise and fall of the "historical" figure spawns a host of complementary "mythical" instantiations that, over time, transform Hannibal into "Hannibal" and, in so doing, make the man immortal. In chapter 1 ("The Roman Hannibal defined", pp. 6-12), Stocks explores the sheer power of his nomen and explains how his (super)natural force of character enables him to transcend the boundaries of space and time and, in the process, effect his transformation from history into myth. As she notes, "It is this idea of two Hannibals at work in Silius' epic that forms the central conceit to this book's exploration, and re-evaluation, of the Punica's Hannibal" (p. 11). Meanwhile, on the other side of the conflict, "Silius' idealised Roman uiri are shown as the positive, multiple, exemplars needed to offset the ostensibly negative, individual, Hannibal" (p. 12). Chapter 2 ("Before Silius: The creation of the Roman Hannibal", pp. 13-34) recounts the initial stages of this transformation from history into myth, beginning with Silenus and Sosylus, continuing with Polybius, and culminating with the reception of Hannibal in Latin literature from Cicero, Nepos, and Horace, to Valerius Maximus, Seneca the Younger, and beyond. Throughout, Stocks nicely complicates the analysis by considering "the Roman Hannibal as being both model for, and reflection of, Rome's uiri" (p. 18). In chapter 3 ("Silius' influences", pp. 35-52), she concentrates on Livy's third decade as the most significant historiographical "source" for the Punica and, in particular, on the complex relationship between Hannibal and Scipio, not just during the Second Punic War, but also after the war through their common fate of death in exile. Chapter 4 ("Epic models", pp. 53-79) then likewise recounts "the established exemplary heroes of Latin and Greek epic" (p. 53) behind the "Hannibal" of the Punica, beginning with Achilles and Hector (Homer), continuing with the earlier "Hannibal" of Ennius, as well as Aeneas and Turnus (Vergil), and Caesar and Pompey (Lucan), and culminating with the potential interaction between Silius's "Hannibal" and the "Medea" of the Argonautica, as well as the "Capaneus", "Tydeus", and "Parthenopaeus" of the Thebaid. On the firm basis of this wide-ranging intertextual investigation, Stocks concludes "that Hannibal's imitation of prior epic models and parallels with the uiri of Silius' own epic do not undermine his individuality; rather they accentuate it by affording him the singular position of being the one enemy who best exemplifies for Rome the ideal of Romanitas" (p. 79).

Chapters 5-8 build on this exploration of the earlier literature in order to illustrate how "in this one epic hero [i.e., Silius's "Hannibal"] are combined the mortal and mythic aspects of the Roman Hannibal" (p. 80). First, in chapter 5 ("Silius' Roman Hannibal", pp. 80-102), Stocks tackles all of the major "character" scenes relevant to a reading of "Hannibal" and his fraught relationships with Juno, Dido, and his father, Hamilcar, from Hannibal's first appearance in the epic and swearing of the oath of eternal enmity in Punica 1 to the ecphrasis of his shield during the siege of Saguntum in 2, from the tearful parting from his wife, Imilce, and son in 3 to the (possibly spurious) digression on Dido and Anna (Perenna) in 8. Next, in chapter 6 ("Out of the darkness and into the light", pp. 103-132), she pursues a complementary study of "Hannibal" on the battlefield, from the siege of Saguntum (especially the single combat with Murrus) to the battles of the Ticinus, the Trebia, and Trasimene, from the long drawn-out struggle with Fabius to the climactic showdown with Paullus and Varro at Cannae. Then, in chapter 7 ("Hannibal's decline after Cannae: Separating man from myth", pp. 133-146), Stocks charts Hannibal's swift and sudden descent after his decision to head for Capua instead of Rome: while Hannibal and his men fritter away their time with wine, women, and song amidst the wealth and luxury of their winter quarters, Hannibal's brother Mago essentially returns to Carthage to celebrate his triumph, premature as it is, in his place. Finally, in chapter 8 ("Imitators and innovators", pp. 147-166), now that Hannibal has irrevocably altered his war plan and irredeemably condemned his mission to failure, Stocks examines how Marcellus assumes the role of "Hannibal" in Punica 14, the mini-epic within the epic, especially in his sack of Syracuse as a replay of Hannibal's earlier sack of Saguntum. Throughout, as she traces Hannibal's rise and fall, Stocks emphasizes time and again "that it is only Hannibal himself that undergoes this process of success followed by failure, whilst his mythic status continues to grow and evolve" (80, cf. pp. 132 and 146).

Chapters 9-11 tie together all of the threads of the argument thus far through a more in-depth consideration of the relationships between the Barcidae and the Scipiadae in general, as well as between Hannibal and his brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, and even between Hannibal and his "brother-in-arms" Scipio. Chapter 9 ("Band of brothers", pp. 167-181) briefly touches on the meaning and symbolism of brothers in and for Roman culture, especially the tension between "fraternal pietas" and "fraternal conflict" (p. 167) as it manifests itself in the fratricide of civil war (including the potential resonances of this theme in and for Flavian Rome); thereafter, Stocks demonstrates how both Hasdrubal and Mago play a much more prominent part in Silius's version of events than in other accounts and, accordingly, how Hannibal's younger brothers both have the "potential to emulate and hence rival" (p. 170) their older sibling, even the "potential to rival Hannibal and usurp his mythic identity" (p. 181), as Hannibal himself fades further and further into the background of the conflict. Chapter 10 ("The 'lightning bolts' (fulmina) of war", pp. 182-217) examines how Scipio comes to the fore, especially after his visit to the Underworld in 13, and how he essays to supplant Hannibal as "Hannibal" through his sack of New Carthage in 15 and his untrammeled successes in battle in 16; inevitably, the two men must themselves meet in battle, and, while Scipio may emerge the victor at Zama, it is the imago (17.644), the myth, of Hannibal that dominates Scipio's triumph back in Rome. Finally, chapter 11 ("The man and his myth: The self-defined Roman Hannibal", pp. 218-230) revisits some of the key moments in the (self-)fashioning of the Hannibal legend, culminating in the Carthaginian's proud declaration after his defeat at Zama: vivam (17.612 and 615).

In her Conclusion ("The crossing of the worlds: The move from internal to external narrative", pp. 231-234), Stocks summarizes the results of her inquiry, ending much where she began with a discussion about Hannibal's nomen ("name") and his nomina ("fame"—perhaps "names" = "identities", according to Stocks), especially as Hannibal himself attempts to frame the reception of his story through his final speech at Zama. Ultimately, Stocks concludes that "Silius' Hannibal emerges not only as the 'other' in which Rome sees a reflection of itself, but as a figure at times more Roman than the state's own uiri" (p. 232).

The book opens with a list of "Texts and translations used" (pp. xi-xii) and closes with a decent "Bibliography" (pp. 235-253), relatively complete "General index" (pp. 255-261), and very full "Index locorum" (pp. 262-276). The text is generally clean, apart from some slips in punctuation and orthography.5 The argument is, by and large, compelling and convincing, although I would like to see more attention given to the idea of cultural transmission as a two-way street, with Romans becoming Carthaginian just as much as Carthaginians become Roman. The notion of a "Roman Hannibal" all but demands a counterweight in a "Carthaginian Scipio": Stocks certainly acknowledges this, especially in the chapters on Scipio as the new "Hannibal", so perhaps she will return to this line of inquiry in a future work. Above all else, I am concerned about the purported dichotomy between the "mortal" Hannibal and the "mythic" "Hannibal": the distinction between the two is not always sustained throughout the work, and, even if it were, we do not have access to any "real" Hannibal, only to the "imagined" "Hannibal(s)" who haunt(s) the pages of the literature that recounts his famous exploits. These minor reservations aside, the book makes an important contribution to the scholarship on the Punica and deserves a wide readership both among Silianists and among students of Hannibal and his reception.6

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Roman Hannibal
1. The Roman Hannibal Defined
2. Before Silius: The Creation of the Roman Hannibal
3. Silius' Influences
4. Epic Models
5. Silius' Roman Hannibal
6. Out of the Darkness and into the Light
7. Hannibal's 'Decline' after Cannae; Separating Man from Myth
8. Imitators and Innovators
9. Band-of-Brothers
10. The 'Lightning Bolts' (fulmina) of War
11. The Man and his Myth; The Self-defined Roman Hannibal
Conclusion: The Crossing of the Worlds: The Move from Internal to External Narrative


1.   For the terminology, see R. Boyd and P. J. Richerson, The origin and evolution of cultures (Oxford and New York, 2005), 410-14 [the essay was originally published in 1987].
2.   D.S. Levene, Livy on the Hannibalic War (Oxford, 2010); see BMCR 2013.10.24.
3.   R. Marks, From Republic to Empire. Scipio Africanus in the Punica of Silius Italicus (Frankfurt, 2005); see BMCR 2006.08.31.
4.   For a comparable study of "Hannibal" in Livy and Silius Italicus, see Pauline Ronet's 2008 Sorbonne dissertation, La poésie historique sous le regard de l'histoire: Hannibal chez Silius Italicus et Tite-Live (non vidi). See also her article "Les comparaisons animales chez Silius Italicus: Hannibal, cet animal barbare," in M.-F. Marein, P. Voisin, and J. Gallego (eds.), Figures de l'étranger autour de la Méditerranée antique (Paris, 2009), 75-84.
5.   That said, something is clearly wrong with the page references to Levene's 2010 study, since the book comes in at under 500 pages (cf. p. 134 n. 1): perhaps they were taken from a typescript?
6.   Stocks omits a number of recent articles that perhaps ought to have been included at various points: J. Villalba Álvarez, "Ecos virgilianos en una tempestad épica de Silio Itálico (Punica XVII 236-290)," Humanitas (Coimbra) 56 (2004), 365-82; R. Marks, "En, reddo tua tela tibi: Crista and sons in Silius, Pun. X, 92-169," Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History 13 (2006), 390-404; and F. Stürner, "Silius Italicus und die Herrschaft des Einzelnen: Zur Darstellung Hannibals und Scipios in den Punica", in T. Baier (ed.), Die Legitimation der Einzelherrschaft im Kontext der Generationenthematik (Berlin and New York, 2008), 221-241 (among others).

No comments:

Post a Comment