Marcia is the name which Silius gives to the woman, otherwise unnamed in the ancient sources, who was the wife of M. Atilius Regulus (see Regulus 3), the Roman consul (see consular list) and commander captured by the Carthaginians during the First Punic War (264-241 BCE) and sent as a hostage back to Rome in order to persuade the Senate to agree to an exchange of prisoners. If the name “Marcia” is correct, then perhaps she was the daughter of Q. Marcius Philippus (consul 281 BCE) and his wife. Her husband was perhaps the most famous member of the gens Atilia, which, during the Republic, comprised three major branches: the Atilii Calatini, the Atilii Reguli, and the Atilii Sarani (later, Serrani). Together, Marcia and Regulus had two sons: C. Atilius Regulus held the consulship in 225 BCE, dying in the battle of Telamon against the Gauls, while M. Atilius Regulus II served as consul in 227 BCE and as consul suffectus (substitute consul) in 217 during the Second Punic War (219-201 BCE). This passage is significant for its portrayal of Regulus and his selfless “heroism”—first through the eyes of his young son and heir Marcus (called Serranus) and then powerfully through the voice of his wife Marcia. While Silius presents her as the traditional materfamilias (see Family essay), embodying the female virtues of probitas and pudicitia, an exemplum virtutis for all women, her words challenge the Roman ideal of male heroic individualism. Her pleas to Regulus to place his commitment to his family before his promise to the Carthaginians fall on deaf ears. Her emotional protest embodies the three binary oppositions that are fundamental to the structure of Silius' Punica: the opposition between Roman and Carthaginian; the opposition between public and private; and the opposition between fides and perfidia. While Regulus' fate is well known (upon his return to Carthage he was tortured mercilessly and died a terrible death), only Diodorus Siculus (24.12.1-3) mentions her after this, as the avenger of her husband's death, inflicting torture on the two Carthaginian hostages left in her care. Possibly because the historical record had little to say about Regulus' wife, Silius' Marcia is closer to the mythological archetype of the abandoned woman (Ariadne, Andromache, Dido) than to a Roman woman of the mid-3rd century BCE. The speech he writes for her represents her as a complex mixture of literary and historical models and as a strong and independent woman, fiercely protective of her domain. The Punica is written in dactylic hexameter; for further information about Silius' Punica, click here.
After the Roman defeat at Lake Trasimene, Regulus' wounded son Serranus, while in flight from Hannibal's forces during his return to Rome, comes upon the hut of one of his father's closest military companions. This companion, Marus, praises Regulus' epic feats in war and tells Serranus about Regulus' defeat at the battle of Tunis (255 BCE), his five years in captivity, and his return to Rome in order to seek an exchange of prisoners and/or a peace treaty (250 BCE). In this selection, Serranus sadly recalls in awe-filled language his father's physical appearance and his cold refusal to greet his family upon his arrival in Rome. Marus then takes up the story with the first of Marcia's three speeches, in which she testifies publicly to the family's worthiness to welcome Regulus back to his country and into his own ancestral home.
sunt concessa piis, cur hoc matrique mihique
435aedibus in parvis magni monumenta triumphi,
Marus describes Regulus' self-abnegation and heroic instructions to his fellow Senators neither to ransom him nor to accept Carthaginian terms for peace. As he prepares to board the Carthaginian ship in fulfillment of his pledge to return to Carthage, Marcia approaches, begging him to stay in Rome or bring her with him to Carthage. When she is ignored and the ship begins to depart, she charges her husband with perfidia; ironically, the last word which she speaks to the man who is elsewhere hailed as spes et fiducia gentis (2.342) is “Perfide.”
505nec nostris tua sunt circumdata colla catenis.
cur usque ad Poenos miseram fugis? accipe mecum
has inter voces vinclis resoluta moveri
atque hosti servare fidem! data foedera nobis
ultima vox duras haec tunc penetravit ad aures;
Click on the underlined words for translation aids and commentary, which will appear in a small window. Click on the icon linkto the right of the line for related images and information.