Dynastic Triads: Flavian Resonances and Structural Antithesis in Silius’ Sons of Hamilcar

in Family in Flavian Epic
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Abstract

The strong moral bias of Roman historical epic exemplified in Silius’ Punica derives both from the patriarchal epic values but also from Rome’s pride in the superiority and efficacy of her mos maiorum. The younger Scipio is characterized by his devotion to fides and pietas, above all filial pietas, in the course of his Bildungsroman. This clear-cut model ethos within a Roman military dynasty provides a point of contrast for the more complicated, a Roman would say ‘perverted’, loyalties which drive the Barcid dynasty, specifically Hamilcar’s three sons, through their Italian campaign. To this end the poet deconstructs the historiographical view of the three Barcid brothers. Hasdrubal, whom the historians estimate an astute, perceptive military commander and a competent governor of Spain, makes his first appearance in Punica 15, when Rome is gaining the upper hand. In contrast with the rising Scipio, Hasdrubal, doomed by portents and dramatic twists of misfortune, shows character flaws which distinguish him from his two charismatic brothers. While Silius tarnishes the personality of Hasdrubal, he transforms Livy’s cruel and devious Mago into loyal, valiant and charismatic aide to Hannibal. His moral integrity and clear-sighted maturity after Cannae suggests, in a veiled reference to the Flavian dynasty, that the youngest brother has the potential to surpass his elders in military glory. Set in contrast with the invincible Scipio, however, Mago’s potential will never be realized: his final appearance is as a defeated fugitive, fleeing from Spain reconquered by Scipio.