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Literature / Punica

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The Punica is Silius Italicus's only surviving work, possibly the first great Historical Fiction about the Punic Wars. It is a Latin Epic Poem in seventeen books, the longest ever found in that language, and serves as a sequel of sorts to The Aeneid.

The trilogy provides the examples of:

  • Adaptational Badass: Many historical characters who were originally generals and strategists are turned here into frontline heroes, the most ludicrous examples being Hannibal and Fabius, who kill many opponents personally.
  • Adaptational Intelligence: Lucius Aemilius Paulus is portrayed as being unambiguously on the side of Fabius about the right strategy against Hannibal, while in real life he was more indecisive and ultimately supported the approach that became the massacre of Cannae.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Hannibal's army in real life was your typical period Carthaginian force, meaning it was probably composed by Punic officers along with several bodies of Numidians, Libyans, Mauritanians and several tribes of Hispanics and Gauls, complete with horses and elephants. Its portrayal in the Punica, however, receives a massive upgrade in diversity, containing not only the aforementioned, but also troops of all kinds and almost every nationality considered minimally exotic at the time: Nubians, Ethiopians, Greeks, Phoenicians and peoples from just every corner of Hispania. It includes even warrior women and war chariots.
  • Agony of the Feet: The African soldier Sicca suffers it when he steps on a sword while barefoot.
  • Amazon Brigade: Asbyte, Hannibal's Libyan princess, leads a contingent of horsewomen and female war charioteers. Sadly, they receive little time on page and seem to return to Libya after Asbyte is killed.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • While Hannibal is described as cruel and a bit of a Blood Knight, the text also admits at some points that his only real crime is having been born in the opposite side of the war, and his service to Carthage is constantly compared to Scipio's and Fabius' to Rome.
    • Viriathus, Hannibal's Lusitanian captain, is explicitly described in the text as "the most magnanimous of the Iberian kings". This redeeming quality comes out weirdly just before he butchers Servilius Geminus and celebrates like a barbarian Blood Knight, so it is apparently meant to show that even the most brutal enemies of Rome are not necessarily completely evil.
  • Artistic License – Geography:
    • Silius often slaps names of rivers on characters who were supposed to inhabit its nearby lands, like Sicoris, Tagus (in which this is lampshaded), Bagradas and Rhone. However, some of his choices are strange, as there are two Spanish chieftains named Cydnus and Rhyndacus, which are names of Middle-Eastern rivers.
    • The mentioned Rhyndacus leads a force from the Celtiberian city of Uxama, which is then described in the text as having "Sarmatian walls." While it is unclear what did he mean by this, he seems to imply Sarmatians had somehow something to do with ancient Celtiberians. As in the previous, however, this might be a reference to ancient folklore connecting the Iberian Peninsula with the Persian land also called Iberia.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Silius doesn't hide the fact that he is naturally telling a pro-Roman story, so he tends to paint things in the most heroic light possible for Rome and the most villainous one for Carthage. The work also features loads and loads of the Rule of Cool and Adaptation Expansion expected in an Epic Poem, though in this case we cannot safely attest how much Silius is embellishing, tweaking or just plain making up, given that many ancient chronicles and books about the Second Punic Wars which he might have used for research have not survived.
    • Hannibal's army contains here a lot of northern Hispanian tribes, when it would have been much more likely to contain southern and eastern ones.
    • The poem doesn't describe the battles clearly, focusing more on the individual duels that happen on it, but the most detailed one, that of Cannae, is completely different from real life. This version of Cannae sees Hannibal putting the Africans on the left under a fictional character named Nealces, the Hispanics in the right under Mago, and Hannibal with the Gauls and a single elephant in the center, and he later turns the tide by bringing many elephants as reinforcements. To begin with, there was no elephants in the historical Battle of Cannae, and the deployment saw Hannibal with Hispanics and Gauls in the middle, Hanno with African cavalry on the right, and Hasdrubal (not Hasdrubal Barca) with Hispanic and Gaul cavalry on the left.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Every general has at least a moment in which he intervenes personally and kicks much ass in battle. Killing named warriors of the opposite side is an usual way to establish he is a man among men.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: Isalces, Mago's son-in-law or something like it, wields a giant double axe due to his juvenile vanity. His weapon is so cumbersome that the Roman Apius kills with him just a big stone, a classical Boring, but Practical weapon.
  • Badass Preacher: Bogus, a Carthaginian priest/diviner that also fights. He scores an important death on Ticinus before being felled by the Roman consul at Trebia.
  • Big Good: Fabius is the wisest and most competent Roman general, only surpassed by The Hero Scipio.
  • Blood Knight: Celts are portrayed this way, as in general in Roman media. Hannibal himself is often a bit too eager to kill Romans.
  • The Brute: The Punic side has a few near-superhuman giants who lay waste before being killed by some hero. This includes the Africans Otris and Maraxes, the Syracusan Poliphemus and the Cantabrian Larus.
  • Bullying a Dragon: A Roman mercenary named Christa tries to take down Hannibal with the help of his six sons, but Hannibal proves why he is in charge of the Carthaginian army and promptly decimates them.
  • Combat Pragmatist: At the end of the Battle of Trebia, a Libyan named Tires kills a Roman soldier, Levinus, by biting his face off while dying himself.
  • Continuity Snarl:
    • The text adheres to the probably apocryphal Roman tradition that Carthage callously executed their own mercenary general, Xanthippus, after he had successfully defended Africa for them in the First Punic War. However, Xanthippus's sons are shown fighting in the Carthaginian side without any ill feeling. This contradiction is never explained; if they were unaware of their father's fate or some similar Hand Wave, it is not stated.
    • The poem also identifies wrongly the falarica as a large ballista, but later describes it correctly as a handheld javelin.
  • Cool Mask: Celtiberian horsemen from Uxama are describes as wearing beast's jawbones in their helmets in order to scare away enemies.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Xanthippus, the Spartan general who saved Carthage in the First Punic War, is described as short and ugly.
  • Dark Action Girl: Asbyte, Hannibal's female lieutenant is almost sympathetic to the reader when she is chased by the brutal Mopsus.
  • The Dragon: Sychaeus, Hannibal's son-in-law and Hasdrubal the Fair's son, though only for a short time given that he is killed.
  • The Dreaded: The sole name of Hannibal is enough to make the entire Rome panic.
  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: A trait of the Carthaginian side, done presumably in order to make it more exotical and bizarre to the conservative Romans. Hannibal's army contains women and people of all skin tones, in marked contrast to the all white male Roman army.
  • Escape Artist: Hasdrubal Barca performs a couple great escapes with all his army, first against Nero (whom he deceived with negotiations while he secretly evacuated his forces) and Scipio (by retreating in the right moment in Baecula). He was still trying to perform one in the Metaurus when his luck finally abandoned him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Capua is portrayed a a city of pathetic hedonists, and even Hannibal himself is disgusted by it when he allies himself to them. However, he ends up adopting some of their lifestyle, which is said to be part of his downfall.
  • Frontline General: A staple of epic poems, not any less used here. Hannibal is directly at the front lines in Saguntum, cutting people down right and left (less so in other battles, but still), and Fabius has a similar Let's Get Dangerous! moment to rescue Minucius.
  • Generation Xerox: A Roman officer named Valerius Corvinus is said to be a descendant from the historical Valerius Corvinus who fought against the Gauls. A Hispanic named Viriathus killing a memer of the Servilia family also implies there was a family feud when Quintus Servilius Caepio later led a campaign against Viriathus the Lusitanian.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Tiburna, widow of the Saguntine chief Murrus, does a verbal variation of this in the city.
  • Good Counterpart: Both Fabius and Scipio are this to Hannibal, as stated several times in the text.
  • Groin Attack: Phorcys the Turdetanian is killed by Paulus while he attempted one against him, leaving him open for a downward cut.
  • Heroic BSoD: Hannibal has one when Sychaeus dies in Trebia.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • A Punic soldier named Gestar shields Hannibal from a spear thrown by Marcellus and dies of it.
    • The Roman Tadius is impaled by a weaponized elephant tusk in Cannae, but he blinds both of its eyes with his last breath.
  • Hit-and-Run Tactics: Cleadas, a Sidonian in Hannibal army's, uses the famed Parthian shot.
  • Human Pincushion: Hannibal's Lusitanians throw so many javelins at Roman officer Mamercus at Trebia that he ends up turned into this. Flaminius and Paulus later gets the same treatment.
  • Informed Ability: Arauricus the Turdetanian is introduced as a great warrior, but in his only battle appearance in Trebia, he flees from the Roman Viriasius and is killed by him.
  • Kid Hero: The battle of Syracuse introduces Podetus, a prepubescent prodigy captain who was also apparently a great athlete. However, he is killed by a rogue spear, and even the text pities him.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: The Gallaeci present Hannibal with a fancy shield, probably meant to be a decorated Celtic/Gaul style one.
  • Made of Iron: The African giant Otris is hit with an arrow in his eye in Trebia, yet he remains alive and functional enough to try to run away.
  • Manly Tears: Fabius sheds those after seeing Minucius going to be butchered in a Leeroy Jenkins moment.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: When Fabius Jr. tells his father to just watch while their political rival Minucius is butchered by Hannibal, Fabius reminds him that he is a fellow Roman after all and orders their forces to help him.
  • Noble Demon: Hannibal is portrayed as callous and hateful, but also honorable and loyal to his allies, as well as an adept of the stoic philosophy (which was a big deal for Silius, a fellow stoic), at least until Capua affects him.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: Hanno the Great, who refuses to send Hannibal reinforcements or supplies out of political rivalry.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted, as for instance, there are an Astur mercenary named Cydnus in Hannibal's army and a Carthaginian soldier of unidentified nationality and the same name in Syracuse. There is also a lieutenant named Nealces with Hannibal and an incestuous soldier of the same name.
  • Papa Wolf: Mago shows shades of this towards his son-in-law Isalces in his fight against Apius.
  • Pelts of the Barbarian: An interestingly heroic example is Alius, an Italian fighter who wears a bear skin and boar fangs in his helmets. He is such a good warrior that it takes both Mago and Maharbal to gang up on him to kill him.
  • Pendulum War: Perhaps the greatest departure from reality in the poem is the way Silius shows the war as a succession of epic duels between larger than life characters.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Fabius, highlighted becase he happens to be the only in the Roman Senate most of the time.
  • Scary Black Man: Tunger the Mauritanian, who rides a black war chariot with black horses that scares everybody. (Somewhat subverted because being a Mauritanian would mean he was just dark-skinned, not solid black.) Ironically, he gets scared himself of Cato's attack and is killed by him.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: A Roman hostage of Carthage named Satricus escapes from their camp, takes weapons of a corpse whom he doesn't know is of his son, and is killed by his other son believing he was a looting Punic. The latter takes his life and writes a message with his blood to tell Varro to avoid battle in Cannae, as his father said, but the message has become illegible by then.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: Fabius does this through his famed Fabian tactics, which involve denying pitched battles while at the same time using guerrilla. It makes Hannibal run low of supplies and his mercenaries become impatient.