Prayers in the "Punica" by Silius Italicus
by: M. Horatius Piscinus
Ti. Silius Italicus (26-101 CE) was born in the time of Tiberius, became famous in the law courts (Martial vii 63), rose to become consul in 68 CE, the year of Nero’s demise, and gained a good reputation as proconsul of Asia. He admired Cicero’s oratory, even so much as to buy one of Cicero’s houses and maintain rites for him (Martial xi 48.2). Silius had even greater admiration for Virgil. When he found Virgil’s tomb at Napoli in neglect he purchased the site, restored the tomb, and there each year made a pilgrimage to keep Virgil’s birthday, 15 October, with ceremonies greater than his own. Suffering from a recurring incurable disease (clavus), Silius in his seventy-fifth year abstained from taking food, which was thought a brave and virtuous act.
It was in his later years, retired to his estates, that he wrote the Punica. He would recline on his couch to recite parts of the poem to his dinner guests and friends, among them Plinius Secundus the Younger, whose letter (iii 7) provides most of the details about the life of Silius. Plinius did not think much of Silius’ poetry. It took great effort to write, but lacked inspiration. Still for us today it has much information to offer.
The following prayers come from Silius’ epic on the Second Punic War. At different places he calls upon a Muse, Calliope by name, the Muse of epic poetry. At other places various characters, both Roman and Carthaginian, call to the gods. Thus for context the speaker of the prayer is given in parentheses.
1.3-4 (Silius) Grant me, O Muse, that I may record those glorious deeds of ancient Italy.
Da, Musa, decus memorare laborum / antiquae Hesperiae.
1.505-7: (Murrus of Saguntum) Hercules, Founder of our city (Saguntum), you who are called Alcidus, in whose footsteps we now reside on this hallowed earth, avert the threatening storms from our land.
Conditor Alcide, cuius uestigiasacra / incolimus, terrae minitantem auerte procellam.
1.639-42 (Saguntum delegate before the Roman Senate) Far away from these walls of Rome, I pray O celestial gods, keep off that deadly right arm of the stripling (Hannibal) and confine him in war against us (at Saguntum).
procul his a moenibus, oro, / arcete, o superi, nostroque in Martetenete / fatiferae iuuenem dextrae! qua mole sonantis / exigit ille trabes! et quantus crescit in armis!
2.372-4: (Carthaginian Senate) You Gods of Carthage, if never we merited to be thus punished, then prevent this sacrilege, and preserve the might of our general unfettered.
di, procul o, merita est numquam si talia plecti / Carthago, prohibete nefas nostrique solutas / ductoris seruate manus!'
2.484-7: (Hercules addresses Fides) Goddess more ancient than Jupiter, virtuous glory of gods and men, without whom there is no peace on earth, nor on the seas, sister of Justice, Fides, silent divinity within the hearts of men and women.
Ante Iovem generata, decus divumque hominymque, / qua sine non tellus pacem, non aequora norunt, / Iustitiae consors tacitumque in pectore numen
2.531-42: (Juno addresses Tisiphone) Daughter of the nurturing Night, with your right hand lay low these walls, and in their pride fell these people by their own hands. Juno bids it. She brings Herself on nearby clouds and will watch your zealous execution of all She asks. Use the bolts that confound the gods and even Highest Jupiter, and that make Dis Pater in the lowest depths tremble, with flame and monstrous serpents and your hideous hissing that shuts the mouths of Cerberus with fear; and, with frothing bile and venom and whatever other vicious compound you make, and everything abundantly painful and wrathful to you boil up in their hearts, to swiftly heap up the Rutilians' thread and send all of Saguntum to Erebus. May this be the cost for Fides' gentle descent upon them.
Noctis alumna, / hos muros impelle manu populumque ferocem / dextris sterne suis; Iuno iubet, ipsa propinqua / effectus studiumque tuum de nube videbo. / Illa deos summumque Iovem turbantia tela, / quis Acheronta moves, flammam immanesque chelydros / stridoremque tuum, quo territa comprimit ora / Cerberus, ac, mixto quae spumant felle, venena / et quidquid scelerum, poenarum quicquid et irae / pectore fecundo coquitur tibi, congere praeceps / in Rutulos totamque Erebo demitte Saguntum. / Hac mercede Fides constet delapsa per auras.
3.115-6: (Imilce prays on behalf of her husband, Hannibal, on his departure) I pray the Gods bless you. Go and prosper; go with the favor of the Gods and my prayers.
deus annuat, oro: / i felix, i numinibus uotisque secundis
3.126-7: (Imilce) But You, O (Mars) Father of Warfare, have pity on us, turn evil aside from us and preserve (my husband’s) life as inviolable to all Trojans’ assaults.
sed tu, bellorum genitor, miserere nefasque / auerte et serua caput inuiolabile Teucris.
3.222-27: (Silius) Hand down to fame, O Calliope, the peoples called forth by this frightening enterprise and born against Rome, the realm of Latinus.
Prodite, Calliope, famae, quos horrida coepta / excierint populos tulerintque in regna Latini.
3.565-7: (Venus addresses Jupiter on Rome's behalf) Give us an abode, Father, where at last the ashes and sacred relics of fallen Troy may rest, and where the rites of the royal Lares and the mysteries of Vesta may be safely kept.
Quo Troiae extremos cineres sacremque ruinam / Assaracique larem et Vestae secreta feramus, / da sedem, genitor, tutisque iacere.
4.126-7: (The augur Liger) I recognize You, Mightiest of the Gods; Be present now, Father, and confirm the omen of Your eagle.
nosco te, summe deorum / adsis o firmesque tuae, pater, alitis omen.
4.669-70: Scipio raised his hands to Heaven and called out: "Gods of our country, by whose favor Dardanian Rome is preserved."
Ingravat ad caelum sublatis Scipio palmas: Di patrii, quorum auspiciis stat Dardana Roma.
5.75-6: (Silius on Flaminius) Alas, in vain the fruitless warnings and portents seek to hinder destiny. Alas, for the Gods cannot contend against the Fates.
Heu uani monitus frustraque morantia Parcas / prodigia! heu fatis superi certare minores!
6.102-7: (Serranus) If You have not yet condemned the realm of Quirinus, O Father, if You do not yet despise the Tarpeian Heights, then look down on the desperate plight of Italy and the Ausonian ruins, turn at last to the troubles faced by the Ilians with a merciful eye.
Si culmina nondum / Tarpeia exosus damnasti sceptra Quirini, / extremas Italum res Ausoniamque ruentem / aspice,' ait 'genitor, tandemque aduerte procellis / aequos Iliacis oculos.
6.113-6: (Serranus) I swear by the Manes, spirits of my ancestors, whom I fitly worship.
Testor, mea numina, Manes dignam
6.466-72: Then [Regulus] lifted hand and eye together to the heavens, "O Giver of Justice and Rectitude, You who steers the course of the lingering stars of destiny, and Fides, no less divine to me, and Juno of Tyre, You Gods I invoked to witness my oath that I would return. If now I am permitted to speak words that will befit me, and by my voice protect the hearths of Rome, willingly I will go to Carthage, keeping my promise to return and endure whatever punishment is prescribed.
Tum palmes simul attollens ac lumina caelo: / "Iustitiae rectique dator, qui cuncta gubernas, / nec leuior mihi diua Fides Sarranaque Iuno, / quos reditus testes iurata mente uocaui, / sit mihi fas me digna loqui Latiosque tueri / uoce focos: ibo ad Tyrios non segnior," inquit / "stante fide reditus et saluo foedere poenae.
7.78-85: (Matrons of Rome) Be present O Queen of the Heavenly Gods, we Your chaste daughters pray and bring forth this venerable gift, we, all the Roman women of noble name, have woven this mantle with our own hands, embroidered it for You with threads of gold. This veil You shall wear for now, O Juno, until we mothers grow less fearful for our sons. But if You will grant that we may repel these African storm clouds from our land, we shall set upon You a flashing crown of diverse gems set in gold.
'Huc ades, o regina deum, gens casta precamur / et ferimus, digno quaecumque est nomine, turba / Ausonidum pulchrumque et, acu et subtemine fuluo / quod nostrae neuere manus, uenerabile donum. / ac dum decrescit matrum metus, hoc tibi, diua, / interea uelamen erit. si pellere nostris / Marmaricam terris nubem dabis, omnis in auro / pressa tibi uaria fulgebit gemma corona.'
7.217-8: (Silius) Give fame, give, O Muse, to the man who was permitted to overcome two camps and tame both of their furor. (Silius referring to Fabius, the two camps being that of Rome and Carthage.)
Da famae, da, Musa, uirum, cui uincere bina / concessum castra et geminos domitare furores.
8.140-2: (Dido) Gods of the endless night, whose powers grow stronger with the approach of death, I pray, come to me, and gently admit a life spent in ardor among the Manes.
Di longae noctis, quorum iam numina nobis / mors instans maiora facit, precor, … adeste / et placidi uictos ardore admittite manis.
8.227-8: (Hannibal) Nymph Anna, our people’s grace, as holy to me as any divine numen, favor that which You bring forth with success.
Nympha, decus generis, quo non sacratius ullum / numen … nobis, felix oblata secundes.
9.168-72 (Solimus, son of Satricus) Then he raised his sad eyes to the heavens and said, "By this foul hand, Luna, have You witnessed this dreadful deed, O Queen of the starry heavens, Daughter of the Titans, as Your light directed my javelin in the darkness of night to my father’s body, no longer will these eyes of an accursed face profane your vision. (Satricus, escaping capture from Hannibal’s camp, so that he can warn the Romans, is mistaken for a Carthaginian and slain by his son Solimus, who then commits suicide.)
tum iuuenis maestum attollens ad sidera uultum / 'Pollutae dextrae et facti Titania testis / infandi, quae nocturno mea lumine tela / derigis in patrium corpus, non amplius' … / 'his oculis et damnato uiolabere uisu.’
10.432-8: (Scipio) O Father Jupiter who inhabits the Tarpeian Heights as His chosen abode next to the heavens, and You Juno, Daughter of Saturnus, who has not yet changed from Her hatred of the Trojans, and You, divine Virgin, whose gentle breast is harshly girt with the aegis of the terrible Gorgon, and all You Gods and Indigites of Italy, hear me as I swear by Your divine powers, and by the head of my father, who I hold no less to be a divine power, on my oath I swear.
Tarpeia, pater, qui templa secundam / incolis a caelo sedem, et Saturnia, nondum / Iliacis mutata malis, tuque aspera pectus / aegide Gorgoneos uirgo succincta furores, / Indigetesque dei, sponte en per numina uestra / perque caput, nullo leuius mihi numine, patris / magnanimi iuro:
10.553-4: (Hannibal) Father Mars, You who were not at all deaf to my vows, these men, survivors of the battle, dedicate to You the choicest armour of our victory trophies.
Et tibi, Mars genitor, uotorum haud surde meorum, / arma electa dicat spirantum turba uirorum.
12.390-2: (Silius) But grant me this, Calliope, in reward for our labor, that I may impart to later generations the great deeds of a noble man in his own time of life, and thereby merit a poet’s honor.
Sed uos, Calliope, nostro donate labori / nota parum magni longo tradantur ut aeuo / facta uiri, et meritum uati sacremus honorem.
12.643-5: (The Roman soldiers laid down their weapons, and holding up their hands to the Capitolium prayed to Jupiter for Hannibal’s death.) Grant, Mightiest of the Gods, that by Your hand, Father, the Libyan shall fall in battle to a thunderbolt, since by no other hand than Yours is there power to slay him.
Da, summe deorum, da Pater, ut sacro Libys inter proelia telo concidat: haud alia potis est occumbere dextra.
13.137: (Fulvius beseiging Capua) Come favorably, Diana, daughter of Latona, onto our undertaking.
Adsis, … Latonia, coeptis.
14.1-2: (Silius) Turn now your songs, Muses on Mount Helicon, to the cities along the Sicilian coastline lapped by the Ortygian Sea
Flectite nunc uestros, Heliconis numina, cantus / Ortygiae pelagus Siculique ad litoris urbes.
14.440-1: (Sabratha to Jupiter Ammon) Bring forth, Father, bring your aid, Prophet of Garamantes, and grant a certain flight for my missile that it may impale an Italian
Fer, pater, adflictis, fer … Garamantice uates, / rebus opem inque Italos da certa effundere tela.
15.159-62 (Scipio) Neptune, divine Lord of the Trident, on whose high seas we begin to cross, if my preparations are made justly, grant our fleet to sail safely, Father, and do not scorn to aid our labors. The war I now draw across the sea is a just war.
Diue Tridentipotens, cuius maria ire per alta / ordimur, si iusta paro, decurrere classi / da, pater, ac nostros ne sperne iuuare labores./ per pontum pia bella ueho.
15.362-3: (Scipio) Grant, O Most Highest of the Gods, that I may preside over offering to You the choicest spoils, taken from the Libyan general (Hannibal), and borne on these my son’s shoulders.
Summe deum, Libyco, faxis, de praeside nunc his, / his humeris tibi opima feram.
15.443-4: (Scipio, upon killing Sabura) Sacred Manes, your first sacrificial victim is cast to the ground.
Prima hostia vobis, sacrati Manes, campo iacet.
15.510-12: (Hasdrubal) I pray that this glory of arms may be so greatly crowned, and that no god shall begrudge us our success, that we may advance even onto the starry heavens.
Sit gloria dextrae felix tanta precor; neve usque ad sidera adisse / invideat laevus nobis deus.
16.83-5: Looking to the heavens (Scipio said), "No more do I ask of You today, heavenly Gods. You have brought forth the fugitives to arms, that is enough."
Suspiciens caelum 'Nil amplius' inquit / 'uos hodie posco, superi. protraxtis ad arma / quod profugos, satis est:
16.125-6: (Mother of Manissa) Thus may it be so, by the Gods in Heaven, may You favorably preserve Your portent. …May the light shine on his head for centuries to come.
Sic, sit, caelicolae, portentaque uestra secundi / condite … duret capiti per saecula lumen.
17.27-9 (P. Scipio Nasica welcomes the Magna Mater at Her arrival to Rome "after Her long voyage with his hands held up in prayer." But when the ship becomes stuck in the Tiber a priest calls out:) Spare your guilty palms from touching these ropes. Away from here, I warn you, go far away from hence, whosoever among you is unchaste, do not share in this sacred task.
Parcite pollutis contigere vincula palmis! / et procul hinc, moneo, procul hinc, quaecumque profanae, ferte gradus nec vos casto miscete labori.
17.35-40: (Then Claudia took up the ropes alone:) O Great Mother of the Heavenly Host, Genetrix of all the divine powers, whose children cast lots to see who should rule over land, and seas, and the stars, and the nether world of the Manes, if without violation my body is free of all unchaste crimes, may You be my witness, dear Goddess, and testify on my behalf of my innocence by the ease with which I now draw this vessel.
Caelicolum genetrix, numen, quod numina nobis / cuncta creas, cuius proles terramque fretumque / sideraque et manis regnorum sorte gubernant, / si nostrum nullo uiolatum est crimine corpus, / testis, diua, ueni et facili me absolue carina.