BMCR 2019.07.20

Hannibal ad portas: Silius Italicus, ‘Punica’ 12,507-752. Einleitung, Übersetzung und Kommentar

, Hannibal ad portas: Silius Italicus, 'Punica' 12,507-752. Einleitung, Übersetzung und Kommentar. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2018. 405. ISBN 9783825368685 €78,00.

Silius Italicus’ Punica has recently seen a growing number of commentaries, and the present volume by Kortmann is a very good addition.1 This partial commentary on the last part of Punica 12 is a revised version of the author’s dissertation at Münster and is prefaced by an extensive introduction before the commentary itself, followed by bibliography and indices.

In the introductory pages (about 80 pages), after a brief introduction to the book, Kortmann embarks on the task of offering a contextualization of Punica 12 and in particular the last third of the book, the climax of Hannibal’s unsuccessful attack against Rome, generating the famous Hannibal ad portas anxiety for so many centuries afterwards (celebrated in its Virgilian transformation into Turnus ad portas). This discussion is well informed, rich in references to extensive bibliography on the topic beyond Silius’ epic. Hannibal is examined as the protagonist of this episode of course and by extension the ‘hero’ of this part of the poem, a hero with strengths and apparent weaknesses, which will lead to his eventual downfall by the end of the Second Punic War. Rightly related is the issue of Hannibal’s theomachic tendencies in this (and other) episodes as he becomes ready to attack the moenia Romae. The role of the gods is also discussed by Kortmann: Jupiter defends the very seat of his power on the Capitoline and affirms the religious sanctity of Rome (47); Juno knows fate and, though fighting rigorously to delay it, she points out to her protégé that this war is greater than a human can undertake ( maior bella capessis (12.703). Kortmann also comments on the role of the Romans themselves as indicated in the text and the Senate in particular.

In the following section of the introduction, Kortmann examines Silius’ literary technique. The poet’s reorganization of the materials already found in Livy is helpfully and systematically provided in a chart that traces what Silius imports and what he invents for this part of his narrative. But of course Silius is primarily a poet and as an epic poet in a long Greco-Roman tradition he creates an innovative episode that replays elements from the sack of Troy in Aeneid 2. Scholars and students of Silius will find particularly interesting the section on prefiguration, that is, those intratextual references that prepare the reader for the climax of the narrative in Book 12 to the effect of inner cohesion.

In the final part of the introduction, Kortmann identifies five motifs employed by Silius to bring coherence to his narrative and round off this great episode as the definitive moment of Hannibal’s failure to accomplish the aims set in Book 1 of the Punica, namely to penetrate Rome, the seat of Roman power. The first of these symbols are the landmarks of the city: its walls and gates; the seven hills and the Capitolium are the second. The very vision of the captured city ( urbs capta) is enlivened before the reader’s eyes, a constant fear about to be actualized till the very end when Jupiter repudiates the daring Carthaginian general away from Rome. Intriguing I found Kortmann’s observation with regard to the fourth motif used in this episode: days, nights, and the number three, as well as the fifth symbol, which is the storm, all working against Hannibal, undermining his effort to take the city.

Kortmann’s text follows the authoritative Teubner edition by Delz (1987) with a few changes. The German translation that accompanies the Latin is flowing in a style easily accessible to non-German speakers. Following the text and translation, Kortmann appends an overview of the last third of Book 12, before the actual section of the commentary begins.

The commentary itself offers everything a reader could be looking for in Silius’ text by means of useful introductory notes, as well as philological discussion of textual issues and literary analysis. Unlike many modern English commentaries, Kortmann uses footnotes to relegate some materials of secondary importance to the understanding of the lemmata (though admittedly many important points can also be found in these footnotes). It is noteworthy that Kortmann makes full use of prior editions and commentaries, such as Ernesti (1792) and Ruperti (1795-8), as well as Spaltentstein (1990), in addition to the various reviews and additional textual notes published since Delz’s edition (e.g. n. 539 corrects the typographic error lenitur in Delz to leniter). This reader was persuaded by several of Kortmann’s proposed emendations (as, for instance, in 631 with ense or the adoption of Lefebvre’s 1781 venturam caeli rabiem at 669). In a few cases, I disagree with Kortmann’s textual readings, as, for instance, at 572 where inflexit (with a dative) does not really improve on Delz’s induxit (as Kortmann also seems to recognize in n. 572); or at 685 with the adoption of minis, for which I feel ambivalent and likely to be persuaded by Horsfall’s participle minans. Of particular help, however, I found the introductory notes to passages, such as at 518-40, 627-36, or 708-24; these prepare the reader well for the detailed discussion that follows and are of great use for students studying the text for the first time. All three indices are bound to be of use to the reader who will be using this commentary and will be navigating back and forth through several passages.

Overall, this is a very good edition to be consulted by students and scholars of Flavian epic and of Silius in particular for the decades to come.


1. This commentary did not take into account N. Bernstein’s commentary on Book 2 (Oxford, 2017), presumably published too late to be consulted by Kortmann. There are a number of commentaries in progress: on Book 3 by A. Augoustakis and R. J. Littlewood (Oxford); N. Bernstein on Book 9 (Oxford); C. M. van der Keur on Book 13; J. Jacobs on Book 15 (Oxford); A. Roumpou on Book 17.