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Silius Italicus, in full Tiberius Catius Silius Italicus (25 or 26 - 101), was a Latin epic poet.

Biography

Early life

His birthplace is probably Italicamarker, in the Roman province of Hispania i.e., Spainmarker. The conclusion has been drawn from his cognomen Italicus; but Latin usage would in that case have demanded the form Italicensis, and it is highly improbable that Martial would have failed to name him among the literary celebrities of Spain in the latter half of the 1st century. The conjecture that Silius derived from Italica, the capital of the Italian confederation during the Social War, is open to still stronger objection. Most likely some ancestor of the poet acquired the title Italicus from having been a member of one of the corporations of Italici who are often mentioned in inscriptions from Sicily and elsewhere.

In early life Silius was a renowned forensic orator, later a safe and cautious politician, without ability or ambition enough to be legitimately obnoxious to the cruel rulers under whom he lived. But mediocrity was hardly an efficient protection against the murderous whims of Nero, and Silius was generally believed to have secured at once his own safety and his promotion to the consulship by prostituting his oratorical powers in the judicial farces which often ushered in the doom of the emperor's victims. He was consul in the year of Nero's death (68), and is mentioned by Tacitus as having been one of two witnesses who were present at the conferences between Vitellius and Flavius Sabinus, the elder brother of Vespasian, when the legions from the East were marching rapidly on the capital.

After consulship

The life of Silius after his consulship is well depicted by the younger Pliny: He conducted himself wisely and courteously as the friend of the luxurious and cruel Vitellius; he won repute by his proconsulship of Asia, and obliterated by the praiseworthy use he made of his leisure the stain he had incurred through his active exertions in former days. In dignity and contentment, avoiding power and therefore hostility, he outlived the Flavian dynasty, keeping to a private station after his governorship of Asia.

His poem contains only two passages relating to the Flavians; in both Domitian is eulogized as a warrior; in one he figures as a singer whose lyre is sweeter than that of Orpheus himself. Silius was a great student and patron of literature and art, and a passionate collector. Two great Romans of the past, Cicero and Virgil, were by him idealized and veritably worshipped; and he was the happy possessor of their estates at Tusculum and Naples. The later life of Silius was passed on the Campanian shore, hard by the tomb of Virgil, at which he offered the homage of a devotee.

He closely emulated the lives of his two great heroes: the one he followed in composing epic verse, the other in debating philosophic questions with his friends of like tastes. Among these was Epictetus, who judged him to be the most philosophic spirit among the Romans of his time, and Cornutus, the Stoic, rhetorician and grammarian, who appropriately dedicated to Silius a commentary upon Virgil.

Though the verse of Silius is not wrapped in Stoic gloom like that of Lucan, yet Stoicism lends in many places a not ungraceful gravity to his poem. Silius was one of the numerous Romans of the early empire who had the courage of their opinions, and carried into perfect practice the theory of suicide adopted by their school. Stricken by an incurable tumour, he starved himself to death, keeping a cheerful countenance to the end.

Works

Whether Silius committed his philosophic dialogues to writing or not, we cannot say. Chance has preserved to us his epic poem entitled Punica, in seventeen books, and comprising some fourteen thousand lines.

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