Poetics of the First Punic War

Thomas Biggs
Latin poetry’s place in the ever-changing landscape of Ancient Roman memory


Poetics of the First Punic War investigates the literary afterlives of Rome’s first conflict with Carthage. From its original role in the Middle Republic as the narrative proving ground for epic’s development out of verse historiography, to its striking cultural reuse during the Augustan and Flavian periods, the First Punic War (264–241 BCE) holds an underappreciated place in the history of Latin literature. Because of the serendipitous meeting of historical content and poetic form in the third century BCE, a textualized First Punic War went on to shape the Latin language and its literary genres, the practices and politics of remembering war, popular visions of Rome as a cultural capital, and numerous influential conceptions of Punic North Africa. Poetics of the First Punic War combines innovative theoretical approaches with advances in the philological analysis of Latin literature to reassess the various “texts” of the First Punic War, including those composed by Vergil, Propertius, Horace, and Silius Italicus. This book also contains sustained treatment of Naevius’ fragmentary Bellum Punicum (Punic War) and Livius Andronicus’ Odusia (Odyssey), some of the earliest works of Latin poetry. As the tradition’s primary Roman topic, the First Punic War is forever bound to these poems, which played a decisive role in transmitting an epic view of history.
Thomas Biggs is Associate Professor of Classics at the University of Georgia.

Praise / Awards

  • “This is a fascinating study of Roman historical epic poetry and its development from early Latin literature onwards. . . . [Poetics of the First Punic War] is timely, lucidly written, and meticulously argued.”
    —Antony Augoustakis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • “[Biggs’] close readings of texts tend to be subtle, eye-opening, original and provocative, and in my view he strikes a fine balance between hazarding sharp insights and yet grounding them within controlled and sensible frameworks of interpretation.”
    —Gareth Williams, Columbia University
  • “Dr. Biggs is a major emerging voice in Latin literary studies, and his first book has already put him on the scholarly map.”
    —Alison Keith, University of Toronto
  • “Biggs offers a lively, timely account of the ways in which Romans reflected on the momentous naval events of the First Punic War, from the ‘new medium’ of literature in Latin in the late third century BCE through a variety of monumental forms down to the late first century CE. It is an eye-opening read for anyone interested in the origins of Latin literature, naval warfare, and cultural memory.”
    —Matthew Roller, Johns Hopkins University
  • "Tracing the literary and cultural memory of Rome's first war with Carthage (264–241 BCE), Biggs (Univ. of Georgia) succeeds in opening new perspectives on the historical epics of Rome, on literary history, and on cultural memory from the beginnings of Latin literature to the epic of Silius Italicus ...Densely argued, theoretically informed, and methodologically eclectic, this study successfully returns the First Punic War to a central place in Latin epic poetry and Roman cultural memory."
  • "...this is a rich book, written with outstanding clarity; it addresses crucial problems from various milestones of Roman history and literature. It will be worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the origins of Latin literature, cultural memory, and the poetics/politics of the Empire." 
    -Classical Review 
  • "Poetics of the First Punic War displays an impressive mastery of four hundred years of Roman poetry and culture. It makes valuable contributions to the study of virtually every topic it touches, and it stands to change the way we think about one of Rome’s earliest and most interesting poets."
    Bryn Mawr Classical Review
  • "B. is to be congratulated on a very fine and extremely stimulating study."
    Classical Philology
  • "Poetics of the First Punic War, by Thomas Biggs... is a pleasure to read" - Greece & Rome

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 264pp.
  • 9 illustrations, ganged.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2020
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-13213-3

Add to Cart
  • $80.00 U.S.

Related Products



  • Latin poetry, Roman poetry, Roman historiography, Latin historiography, Carthage, Punic, First Punic War, epic, Gnaeus Naevius, Livius Andronicus, Vergil, Aeneid, Silius Italicus, Punica, Propertius, Horace, Augustus, Octavian, rostra, rostral column, maritime, sea, oceanic, blue humanities, Mediterranean, memory, cultural memory, poetics, intertextuality, Roman history, Roman military history, Aeneas, Odysseus, Roman art, Middle Republic, narrative art.