On Silivs Italicvs

Classical Quarterly 3 (04):254- (1909)
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Abstract

Before proceeding to consider certain passages of Silius in detail I should like to enter a protest against the undue disparagement which has been meted out to this poet. The letter of Pliny , containing reflexions suggested by the voluntary death by which with stoical fortitude he sought release from the agony of an incurable tumour, presents to us a character which if not great was attractive; the character of a wealthy and kindly noble, who had made no enemies; one whose house was the resort of men of letters; a devotee of poetry, who worshipped Vergil with almost religious veneration; a lover of the beautiful, who found his pleasure according to the accepted Roman fashion in amassing works of art and tasteful country mansions. Pliny's terse criticism of his poem ‘scribebat carmina maiore cura quam ingenio’ is more just than that of modern critics. Though Silius is not a great poet, a poet he is, with merits distinctly his own. His Punica is hardly an epic proper, but is rather a chronicle in verse: as such its author displays considerable skill in the clearness with which he marshals the mass of events, and in the realistic force of his descriptions, especially that of the plague , and those of the numerous battles, and particularly of the sea-fights ; and in the elaboration of geographical detail, where the vividness of the topographical presentation shows a well-trained eye and no common literary power The numerous episodes which enliven the poem, such as the legend of Pyrene , the killing of the monster serpent , the pretty description of Pan , are executed with much imaginative fancy which recalls the manner of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Again there is a dignity and sustained elevation of language which results not unfrequently in vigorous, well-turned phrases of no ordinary merit. Such are the expression for an echo xiv. 365 ‘clamat scopulis clamoris imago,’ or for breaking through the ranks of the treacherous Greeks xvii. 425 ‘periuria Graia resignat,’ or again the fine line describing the sobbing sound made by water rushing into a wrecked ship's hull and out again xiv. 550 ‘mox sua ponto | singultante anima propulsa refunditur unda.’

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