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  • The Poet at War:Ennius on the Field in Silius's Punica
  • Sergio Casali

In Punica 12.387-414, Silius introduces Ennius as a centurion fighting in the Roman army under the command of Titus Manlius Torquatus during the rebellion of the Sardinians led by Hampsagoras against the Romans (215 B.C.E.). Livy 23.40-41 narrates the same events, but without any reference to Ennius.1 This is the text in Delz's Teubner edition (1987):

Non equidem innumeras caedes totque horrida facta sperarim tanto digne pro nomine rerum pandere nec dictis bellantum aequare calorem. sed uos, Calliope, nostro donate labori nota parum magni longo tradantur ut aeuo facta uiri, et meritum uati sacremus honorem. Ennius, antiqua Messapi ab origine regis, [End Page 569] miscebat primas acies, Latiaeque superbum uitis adornabat dextram decus. hispida tellus miserunt Calabri: Rudiae genuere uetustae, nunc Rudiae solo memorabile nomen alumno. is prima in pugna (uates ut Thracius olim, infestam bello quateret cum Cyzicus Argo, spicula deposito Rhodopeia pectine torsit) spectandum sese non parua strage uirorum fecerat, et dextrae gliscebat caedibus ardor. aduolat aeternum sperans fore pelleret Hostus si tantam labem, ac perlibrat uiribus hastam. risit nube sedens uani conamina coepti et telum procul in uentos dimisit Apollo, ac super his: "nimium iuuenis nimiumque †superbi sperata hausisti†. sacer hic ac magna sororum Aonidum cura est et dignus Apolline uates. hic canet inlustri primus bella Itala uersu attolletque duces caelo, resonare docebit hic Latiis Helicona modis nec cedet honore Ascraeo famaue seni." sic Phoebus, et Hosto ultrix per geminum transcurrit tempus harundo.

I cannot hope to tell of all the countless deaths and horrible deeds in a way appropriate to their importance or find words that are a match to the ardor of the combatants. But you, O Calliope, grant me this as a reward to my work, that I may hand down to posterity the scarcely known deeds of a great man and pay the right tribute to the sacred poet. Ennius, a scion of the ancient stock of King Messapus, was fighting in the front lines, and his right hand was adorned with the superb insignia of the Roman vine. Calabria, a rugged land, sent him; ancient Rudiae gave him birth, Rudiae that now owes all her fame to this son of hers. He fought in the front (like the Thracian poet long ago, when Cyzicus attacked the Argo, who laid down the plectrum and shot Rhodopeian arrows) and had made himself conspicuous by slaying many of the enemy; the ardor of his right hand was growing with the number of his victims. Hoping to win everlasting glory by disposing [End Page 570] of such a dangerous foe, Hostus flew at Ennius and strongly hurled his spear. But Apollo, seated on a cloud, laughed at his fruitless attempt and sent the weapon wide into the distant air. Then he spoke: "Young man, you had too high and too great a design (?). This man is sacred; he enjoys the great protection of the Muses, and he is a poet worthy of Apollo. He will be the first to sing the Italian wars in a noble verse and shall exalt the leaders to the sky; he will teach Helicon to repeat the sound of Roman poetry and will not be second in honor and reputation to the old man of Ascra." So Phoebus spoke, and Hostus was struck by the avenging arrow that pierced both his temples.

In this article, I analyze how Silius fashions the figure of Ennius in this passage as a warrior-poet from a reading, and an interpretation, of Virgil. In particular, I show how Silius's Ennian narrative develops a critical discourse with two sections of the Aeneid by offering a series of interesting interpretations of those two passages.

It is, however, first necessary to address an issue that is fundamental to the correct evaluation of the nature of Silius's poetical and "exegetical" project, namely, the fictionality of the Ennian narrative in the Punica. Famously, Cornelius Nepos states (Cato 1.4) that Cato encountered Ennius in Sardinia and took him to Rome in 204 B.C.E., that is, ten years after the Sardinian rebellion put down by...


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