Naval battles in Greek and Roman epic

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This chapter surveys extant depictions of naval conflict in epic poetry, fragmentary and complete, with attention to intersections with epic predecessors and with works of prose historiography, tragedy, and lyric poetry. Epics that receive treatment include Choerilus of Samos’ Persica, Naevius’ Bellum Poenicum, Ennius’ Annales, Vergil’s Aeneid, Lucan’s Bellum Ciuile, Silius Italius’ Punica, and Nonnus of Panopolis’ Dionysiaca. This range extends from the Persian Wars to late antique Egypt, but it is striking for the lack of Homeric epic, wherein naval battles are completely absent, and the various Greek and Roman versions of the Argonautica. While a focus on ships and the maritime is nearly omnipresent in the genre, actual naval battles are far more restricted. Among other genres intricately tied to epic’s crafting of a grammar of naval conflict, historiography is the most influential. This study ultimately suggests that epic appears to have developed its own conventions and poetic uses for naval battle sequences, but that scenes of naval combat are also marked locations of generic interaction. A detailed exposition of relevant features is achieved through a close reading of the naval battles in Lucan’s Civil War (Lucan. 3.298–762: Massilia) and Silius Italicus’ Punica (Sil. 14.353–585: Syracuse).

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStructures of Epic Poetry / Epische Bauformen
EditorsC. Reitz, S. Finkmann
Publisherde Gruyter
ISBN (Electronic)9783110492590
ISBN (Print)9783110492002
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2019


  • Intertextuality
  • Epic poetry
  • Narrative patterns


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