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Virtual Epic: Counterfactuals, Sideshadowing, and the Poetics of Contingency in the Pvnica

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Chapter Summary

On the eve of the battle of Zama, Silius reports a widespread belief about the opposing generals, Hannibal and Scipio. Counterfactuals in the Punica, and elsewhere in classical epic as well as other genres ancient and modern, produce a variety of effects which this chapter explores: they emphasize and simultaneously problematize the importance of great individuals, blur the distinction between apparently divergent scenarios, and above all produce a poetics of contingency held in tension with the teleological tendencies of all narrative, and especially of epic. It argues that the Punica's self-fashioning as an epic of turning-points makes counterfactuals particularly and perhaps uniquely fundamental to its poetics of contingency. Silius combines allusion to Virgil's near-disaster and Lucan's near-salvation with a perversion of the final generation which heralds in the Golden Age in Eclogue 4.

Keywords: Hannibal; Punica; Scipio; Silius; Zama

10.1163/9789004217119_015
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