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Getting Ahead: Decapitation as Political Metaphor in Silius Italicus' Punica

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image of Mnemosyne

In Silius Italicus' Punica the Second Punic War is cast as a conflict fought over and between heads, and the decapitations in the epic thereby become ways of measuring the different trajectories and ultimate outcomes for each side in the war: the symbolic decapitation of Rome on the occasion of Paulus' death at Cannae in book 10 marks the low-ebb in the city's fortunes while the many decapitations perpetrated by Romans after Cannae reflect Carthage's own slide toward final defeat, an event that entails her symbolic decapitation too. Read in relation to this epic-wide program, Hannibal's abiding enmity toward Jupiter, the god of Rome's head, the Capitolium, gains greater clarity and purpose, as do his identification with Lucan's Pompey and Carthage's with Virgil's Priam toward the end of the epic. This concluding development is also succinctly recapitulated in the epic's final two lines, where an allusion to the final two lines of Bellum Civile 8 invites us to contrast Rome and Jupiter with Lucan's decapitated Pompey and to compare Carthage and Hannibal with him.

Affiliations: 1: University of Missouri-Columbia, Department of Classical Studies 420 General Classroom Building, Columbia, MO 65211, USA;, Email:


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