Strings, Triangles, and Go-Betweens: Intertextual Approaches to Silius’ Carthaginian Debates

P. Chaudhuri, J.P. Dexter, J.A. Bonilla-Lopez Dictynna 12 2015-01-01

This article examines a case study in Silius Italicus’ Punica using two distinct but complementary approaches to Flavian epic intertextuality: a methodological move to expand and further incorporate computational tools within philology, and a literary theoretical move to combine intertextuality and thematic interpretation. The case study focuses on the debates in the Carthaginian senate described in Punica 2 and 11, both of which Silius adapts from similar scenes in Livy while also drawing on Vergil’s Aeneid. Part 1 of the essay introduces a new tool for finding a range of inexact verbal parallels based on a bioinformatics technique known as sequence alignment. After comparing the method with two other computational tools, Diogenes and Tesserae, we assess our tool’s ability to detect intertexts in the Punica already noted in traditional scholarship. We then analyse a series of computationally identified parallels that have not been commented on previously and find that all three tools can reveal morphologically and syntactically similar phrases of apparent literary interest. Part 2 focuses on a feature of Silius’ triangulation of Livy and Vergil, the characterisation of the Carthaginian senator Hanno. Through allusions to Vergil’s Drances, Silius turns Hanno from a shrewd judge of Roman character and strength, as he appears in Livy, into a far more ambivalent, Quisling-like figure. Moreover, the effect of blending the two sources is to make more porous the distinctions between nationalities and other categories that structure the reader’s response to Hanno and to the Punica as a whole. In concluding, we suggest that the context in which these literary interactions take place - diplomacy and debate - itself figures the kind of negotiation taking place at a textual level between the various works and their worldviews. The conclusion unifies the methodological and theoretical parts of the essay under the rubric of “triangulation”, in part by drawing on the application of the term in the philosophy of Donald Davidson.