BMCR 2021.12.05

La mémoire culturelle de la deuxième guerre punique: Approche historique d’une construction mémorielle à travers les textes de l’Antiquité romaine

, La mémoire culturelle de la deuxième guerre punique: Approche historique d'une construction mémorielle à travers les textes de l'Antiquité romaine. Schweizerische Beiträge zur Altertumswissenschaft, 45. Basel: Schwabe, 2018. Pp. 337. ISBN 9783796537707 CHF 98,00.


The book under review, which is based on the author’s 2015 doctoral thesis, represents a timely and welcome contribution to the ever-expanding body of scholarship on the fraught relationship between history and memory and, more specifically, to the scholarship on the transformation of history into memory during the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. As Kubler herself puts it in the introduction, “Elle consiste à interroger la nature du souvenir collectif d’un événement décisif, la deuxième guerre punique, et son rôle dans la construction d’une identité commune qui définissait les valeurs et les normes éthiques de l’aristocratie romaine de la fin de la République, puis se prolongeait sous l’Empire, comme une référence à un passé glorieux constitutif de la supériorité romaine” (22). Accordingly, given the focus on collective memory, as well as on the peculiarly Roman obsession with exemplarity, the works of Jan and Aleida Assmann, Maurice Halbwachs, and Paul Ricoeur loom large throughout the study. Kubler examines the accounts of twenty Greek and Latin authors who wrote about the war and, in tracing the complex interplay between history and memory, adopts an eclectic approach, drawing on aspects of structural semiotics, narratology, and discourse analysis.

In chapter 1, “De la « mémoire collective » à la « mémoire culturelle » : une réflexion inscrite dans le champ scientifique des Memory Studies” (pp. 27–42), Kubler carefully delineates this methodology and elaborates on the shift from collective memory to cultural memory. “La présentation des enjeux, des apports et des limites du concept de « mémoire collective » s’articulera autour de trois axes structurant les débats théoriques sur la « mémoire » : la mémoire individuelle opposée à la mémoire collective ; le rapport entre la mémoire et l’histoire ; la mémoire et l’écriture de l’histoire” (29). She conducts a thorough review of the existing scholarship and expresses a decided preference for the concept of “social memory” as the basis for her own investigation into the relationship between individual and collective memory in ancient Rome. Here, I would have liked to have read more about how historical actors (e.g., Caesar crossing the Alps into Italy) consciously manipulate cultural memory/ies (e.g., of Hannibal) and about how successive layers of history (e.g., the events of A.D. 69) further complicate matters.

In chapter 2, “Mémoire culturelle et histoire dans la Rome républicaine” (pp. 43–54), Kubler revisits familiar themes, such as the role played by Fabius Pictor and Cato the Elder in establishing the moral-ethical purpose of Roman historiography, as well as the persistent emphasis on the mos maiorum and exemplarity, in order to evaluate the scope and nature of cultural memory in Republican Rome. For her, the Roman conception of history (and, by extension, historiography) is captured perfectly by Ennius’ moribus antiquis res stat Romana virisque. The discussion about Roman “lieux de mémoire” and “mémoire civique” (the author’s term for the ancient version of modern “political memory”), however, would have benefitted from giving more consideration to the pervasive impact of contested memories, especially during the civil wars of the Late Republic (e.g., the trophies set up by Marius which were then taken down by Sulla and subsequently restored by Julius Caesar).

In chapter 3, “Le corpus de sources sur la deuxième guerre punique” (pp. 55–94), Kubler introduces each of the twenty authors chosen for inclusion, from across many centuries and many different genres. She wisely acknowledges the inherent diversity of the collection, as well as the concomitant difficulty of comparing authors and texts. “La présentation du corpus de sources rend compte des stratégies narratives propres à chaque auteur. … [C]haque auteur se souvient du passé en fonction de son projet littéraire et de son temps” (55). Yet, she also paints a remarkably conservative picture of ancient historians faithfully copying across the generations out of reverence for the existing tradition. Suffice it to say, there are few scholars left who would subscribe to such a constraining view of ancient historiography. The list of authors includes Fabius Pictor, Ennius, and Cato the Elder, whom Kubler considers the three most “authoritative” sources for the conflict, because they are the oldest; L. Coelius Antipater, Q. Claudius Quadrigarius, and Valerius Antias; Polybius and Livy; Diodorus Siculus and Cornelius Nepos; Valerius Maximus, Frontinus, and Florus; Silius Italicus; Appian and Cassius Dio; Eutropius and Festus; and finally Orosius and Augustine. For each author or group of authors, Kubler offers brief biographical remarks, explains what textual material remains, and explores the evolving relationship between the history and memory of the war.

In chapter 4, “La (re)construction de la deuxième guerre punique dans la mémoire culturelle,” (pp. 95–114), Kubler charts the major milestones in the development of cultural memory of the conflict across her chosen corpus. As she (re)affirms from the outset, “Celle-ci n’est pas immuable mais, comme la société dont elle est le produit, elle se modifie au cours du temps” (p. 95). Of the twenty authors, Kubler identifies twelve whose accounts serve as the foundation for the periodization of the war: the surviving evidence points to a progressive reduction in the stock of transmitted memories, with Livy’s monumental narrative playing the pivotal role in this long-term process. Across the corpus as a whole, Kubler isolates twenty-one major episodes (listed on pp. 98–99) which appear in a majority of the extant accounts; singles out Hannibal, Fabius, and Scipio from a large cast of characters as the major players in the conflict; and underscores the distinctive nature of the cultural memory of the Second Punic War as a memory of the city of Rome and its traditional values (virtus, fides, and pietas) during a time of war.

Chapter 5, “Une méthode d’analyse des sources textuelles élaborée à partir de la sémiotique et des recherches en analyse des discours” (pp. 115–132), functions as a transition between the general discussion in chapters 1–4 and the three case studies in chapters 6–8. As Kubler well demonstrates in this theoretically dense, but important, chapter, “La finalité de notre travail consiste à étudier l’évolution, sur la longue durée, du discours de la deuxième guerre punique, d’analyser les changements intervenus dans l’imaginaire et les représentations collectives de cet événement historique et de saisir les différents modalités de la mémoire culturelle à travers sa manifestation dans les objets textuels” (116). Accordingly, for the three case studies which follow, she identifies six authors (Polybius, Livy, Silius Italicus, Florus, Appian, and Eutropius) whose accounts offer sufficient evidence for her to trace the interplay between narrative and discourse across the transition from Republic to Empire, with special attention paid to the account of the war in Eutropius as the telos of the tradition in all senses of the term. Some of the theory discussed in the chapter does not seem strictly necessary for the case studies; regardless, it is refreshing to see the analysis go beyond Polybius and Livy.

For the three case studies, Kubler examines the various (and often quite conflicting) accounts of Hannibal’s march over the Alps (chapter 6, pp. 133–178), of the siege of Saguntum and the outbreak of the Second Punic War (chapter 7, pp. 179–248), and of the battle of Lake Trasimene (chapter 8, pp. 249–288). In the first half of each chapter, she reviews the historical evidence for the event, going through each and every author in chronological order. In the second half, she analyzes the evolving cultural memory of the event across four stages: historicization, exemplification, reduction, and subversion. The analysis can be, at times, overly schematic, even relentlessly teleological in plotting an unswervingly linear path from the beginning to the end of the tradition, with a seamless transition from history to memory. That said, in each case study, Kubler makes a number of interesting observations about individual authors and texts, as well as the corpus as a whole. Especially interesting are her intermittent observations about “un « conflit de mémoires », provoqué par les débats autour d’une éventuelle troisième guerre punique, soit à un moment où la mémoire du déclenchement de la deuxième guerre punique comportait des enjeux idéologiques et identitaires pour la société romaine” (p. 237). Livy’s use of the Second Punic War as an historical and historiographical template in books 31–40 (e.g., the comparison of Philip V at Abydos to Hannibal at Saguntum at 31.18.9) offers further evidence for this ongoing active interplay between the history and memory of the conflict.

Kubler skillfully ties together the various strands of the analysis in an efficient and effective conclusion which sets the stage for future work not only on the Second Punic War, but also on the First and Third. Some traces of the original thesis remain, from the detailed table of contents to the exhaustive treatment of the ancient sources in the case studies, but none of this appreciably detracts from the overall argument. In addition to the printed volume, supporting materials have been posted online (p. 19). The Second Punic War marked a turning point in Roman history, and, as this book ably demonstrates, the conflict played a dominant role in Roman cultural memory thereafter, especially during the transition from Republic to Empire.