A translation of Silius Italicus’

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A Translation of Silius Italicus’ Punica in the English Restoration
Examples of a continuation of Classical Latin epic poems, considered incomplete, can be found in Maffeo Veggio’s sequel to Virgil’s Aeneid, Thomas May’s Supplementum Lucani, or Giovanni Battista Pio’s supplement to Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica. Thomas Ross (1620-75), the Keeper of Charles the Second’s libraries while the king was in exile on the European continent during the English Civil Wars, produced a translation of Silius Italicus’ Punica (Second Punick War), first printed in 1661, a year after the Restoration of his patron to the throne (second edition in 1672). Ross’ translation is a royalist response to the English Civil Wars, as the author was an entourage and active participant in the intrigues plotted to restore the monarchy. But most importantly, in addition to his translation of the seventeen books of the Punica, Ross appends a Continuation in three books, taking the story ‘left untouched’ by Silius down to the death of Hannibal. Critics have previously discussed the relevance of Ross’ translation for Charles, since the Latin epic’s heroes function as exempla for the king during the turmoil of the Restoration. As Daemen-de Gelder and Vander Motten observe, “in 1657 it was by no means clear whether the Royalist side would share the fate of Carthage or ultimately emerge victorious, like Rome” (2008, 35). Charles could be identified as either Scipio or Hannibal, the conqueror or the conquered, while Ross shares Silius’ pronouncement that this war would determine the fate of the world: quaesitumque diu, qua tandem poneret arce / terrarum Fortuna caput (Pun. 1.7-8). This paper explores the literary value of Ross’ Continuation, a development and completion of the themes and characterization encountered in Silius. In particular, I shall examine an episode in Book 1 of the Continuation featuring Imilce, the wife of Hannibal, who is for ever separated from her husband, as he is now fleeing the African continent, seeking refuge in Asia Minor.

Ross fashions Imilce after Silius’ portrait in Punica 3 and 4. In Punica 3, Imilce and Hannibal are separated, as the Carthaginian general sends his wife and baby son back to Carthage for safety. In a speech that has been studied for its prophetic overtones, as well as for its overt criticism of the general’s martial enterprise (Augoustakis [2010], 196-237), Imilce urges her husband not to pursue his campaign any further; in Punica 4, Imilce stops the sacrifice of her son, a fulfillment of ancient Carthaginian rites, and succeeds in having the matter resolved by Hannibal himself who vows to sacrifice many Romans instead of his son. When Hannibal returns to Carthage in Punica 17, Silius exclusively focuses on the final battle at Zama; we never see Imilce again. Ross exploits this gap by means of Imilce’s reappearance in his Continuation. Ross, however, emerges as a careful and subtle reader of Silian portraiture; Imilce now tries to stop her husband but uses Hannibal’s own arguments to persuade him, namely that his son should be the continuator of the war against the Romans: ... and, if thy Breast / With Thoughts of sworn Revenge be still possest, / (Since Fortune courts the Young, and Thou art now / In Years, to which She seldom doth allow / Her Smiles) derive thine Anger to thy Son, / Instruct him here, at Home, what’s to be done / To perfect Thy Desires, and at thy Death, / Into his Breast, with thy Departing Breath, / Inspire (my Hannibal) thy mighty Spirit, / That so He may entirely Thee Inherit, / And live the Fear of Rome (Continuation Book 1 pp. 16-17). While Ross draws on the prophetic elements of Imilce’s portrait in Punica 3 and 4, he presents Hannibal as an unremorseful stubborn who annuls the promises made in Punica 4, namely to hand down the power of imperium to his young son (at puer armorum et belli seruabitur heres. /
spes, o nate, meae Tyriarumque unica rerum, / Hesperia minitante, salus, terraque fretoque
/ certare Aeneadis dum stabit uita memento [Pun. 4.814-17]). Moreover, Ross criticizes Charles II, the Merrie Monarch, who does not marry until 1662 (to Catherine of Braganza, who nevertheless bears no children), a year after the publication of the translation. Charles acquires notoriety for the hedonism of his court, as well as for at least twelve illegitimate children by various mistresses.

Works Cited

  • Augoustakis, A. (2010), Motherhood and the Other. Fashioning Female Power in Flavian Epic. Oxford.

  • Bassett, E. L. (1953), “Silius Italicus in England,” CPh 48: 155-68.

  • Daemen-de Gelder, K. and Vander Motten, J-P. (2008), “Thomas Ross’s Second Punick War (London 1661 and 1672): Royalist Panegyric and Artistic Collaboration in the Southern Netherlands,” Quærendo 38: 32-48.

  • Ross, T. (1661 and 1672), Second Punick War (accessed from Early English Books Online).

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