Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book I

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved

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Book I:1-20 Invocation

I begin, and speak of that war by which the glory

of the scions of Aeneas was exalted to the sky,

and proud Carthage bowed to the rule of Italy.

Grant me the power, Muse, to recall the splendour

of our country’s deeds in ancient times, and tell

of the many heroes Rome supplied to that fight,

when those scions of Cadmus treacherously broke

the solemn truce, launching a battle for supremacy,

where it was long in question on which of the two

great citadels Fate would set the crown of the world.

Three times those Sidonian leaders in perverse war

broke their pact with our Senate, the treaty they swore

by Jupiter to observe, three times the faithless sword

led them rashly to shatter a peace they had approved.

Yet in this second war, each tried in turn to slaughter,

to exterminate, the other, and those granted victory

came closer to destruction: Scipio Africanus stormed

the citadel of Carthage, Hannibal besieged the Palatine,

and her walls alone ensured the salvation of our Rome.

The causes of such anger, of hatred long maintained,

of enmity passing from generation to generation, I

may reveal, in disclosing the intentions of the gods,

and start by tracing the origin of all these great events.

Book I:21-37 Juno, Dido and the origin of the Carthaginian wars

When Dido, long before, fled the realm of Tyre by sea,

a place polluted by her husband’s murder, her brother’s

guilt, she was destined to be driven to the Libyan shore.

There she purchased land, to found a new city, its cost

allowing her to enclose a coastal strip with bull’s hide.

Juno opted to create of these exiles, a nation, to last

forever, dearest of all to her, so high antiquity thought,

above Argos, and above the Mycenae of Agamemnon. 

But when she noticed Rome was raising its head among

the mightiest cities, even sending its fleets over the seas

carrying its victorious standards through the whole earth,

Juno, fearing their closeness, roused in her Phoenicians’

minds the frenzy of war. Yet the force of a first campaign

being countered, and their fleet being wrecked off Sicily,

Juno took up arms again for a fresh conflict; finding one

general to meet her need, as she began to stir earth and sea.

Book I:38-55 Juno inspires Hannibal to battle

And Hannibal now clothed himself in all the goddess’ anger,

she daring to set a lone leader against fate. Then, delighting

in that man of blood, and fully aware of the fierce whirlwind

of disaster approaching Latium, she spoke: ‘In scorn of me,

that Trojan exile brought Troy to Latium, with its ancestral

gods twice taken captive, and, as victor, secured a kingdom

for his Teucrians at Lavinium, yet lasting only till your banks,

Ticinus, overflow with Roman dead; till the Trebia, obeying,

flows back through the Gallic fields, red with Roman blood,

choked with their weapons, and their corpses; till Trasimene

shudders at its own pools turbid with gore; and till I witness,

from on high, Cannae, Italy’s grave, and the Iapygian plain

drowned in Roman blood, while Aufidius nearby, uncertain

of its narrowing course, can barely force a path to the Adriatic

for the shields, and helms, and the severed limbs of warriors.’

So saying, she inspired that youthful general to deeds of war.

Book I:56-69 The nature of the man

He was one, by nature, eager for action, yet an oath-breaker,

cunning beyond all, though of questionable fairness. Armed,

he was no respecter of the gods; bold to do wrong, scorning

the virtues of peace; and with a thirst for human blood alive

in his deepest marrow. Above all, in the flower of his youth,

he longed to erase that defeat off the Aegetes, a generation’s

shame, and drown their peace treaty deep in the Sicilian sea.

Juno inspired him, tormenting his heart with hopes of glory,

Already, in his dreams, he saw himself storming the Capitol,

or forcing a swift passage over the summit ridges of the Alps.

Often the servants sleeping at his doorway were troubled too,

afraid of some piercing cry that shattered the desolate silence,

finding their master drenched in sweat, contriving his battles

yet to occur, engaged in the throes of insubstantial warfare.

Book I:70-80 Hamilcar nurtures hatred in his son

When Hannibal was a child, his father’s passion gave birth

in him to this rage against Italy, Latium, the realm of Saturn,

launching his career. His father, Hamilcar, born of the ancient

Tyrian house of Barca, traced his ancestry back to King Belus;

for when Dido, widowed, fled from slavish Tyre, Barca, scion

of Belus, escaping the tyrant Pygmalion’s sword, had united

with her, a partner in every cause. Now, Hamilcar, nobly born,

a proven warrior, expert at feeding hatred, sowed seeds of war

in the child’s mind, once that child could speak and understand.

Book I:81-105 Hannibal at the Temple of Elissa (Dido)

At the heart of Carthage stood a temple, sacred to the spirit

of Elissa, Dido, that is, its founder, regarded with awe, of old,

by the people, encircled by yew and pine with their dark shade,

enclosing that shrine, and concealing it from the light of heaven.

Here, they said, the Queen had long ago relinquished mortal cares.

Statues in ancient marble stood about, of Belus their pro-genitor,

and all his line; Agenor also, the nation’s glory, and Phoenix too,

who gave am enduring name to Phoenicia and the Phoenicians.

Here too the Queen sat, joined at last, eternally, to her Sychaeus;

while at her feet lay Aeneas’ deadly gift, that Phrygian sword;

and a hundred altars stood there, sacred to the gods of heaven,

and the lord of Hades below. And there, the priestess in Syrian

robes, with streaming hair, summons up the power of Acheron,

and Proserpine, Enna’s goddess. The earth moans and a hideous

hissing erupts from the shade; while unlit fires flare on the altars.

Then the dead, roused by magic spells, fly through empty space,

while Elissa’s marble face is damp with moisture. Summoned,

at his father’s order, Hannibal was brought there to the shrine;

On entering, Hamilcar examined the boy’s manner and bearing.

No pallor blanched his face at the Massylian priestess’ frenzied

cries, nor at the dark rites of the temple, its blood-stained doors,

nor the flames mounting higher to the sound of her incantations.

His father stroked the boy’s head and kissed him, rousing his

courage by exhortation, filling his mind with these incentives:

Book I:106-122 Hamilcar inspires his son

‘My son, the relics of the Trojan race revive and oppress Cadmus’

descendants, us, the children of his stock, with their unjust treaties.

If fate will not allow my sword to cleanse dishonour from our land,

you must choose this for your path to glory; go, then, and take up

a widespread war bringing death to the Romans; may those Tuscan

peoples already rue your birth, and when you, my son, rise up,

may the mothers of Latium prove reluctant to bear more children.’

So he inspired the boy, and imposed a vow, not easy to discharge:

‘When I come of age, I will chase the Romans with fire and sword,

and re-enact the fate of Troy. Not the gods, not that pact that bars

the sword, not the high Alps, nor the Tarpeian Rock shall deny me.

This I swear, by the war-god’s power, and Elissa, by your shade.’

Then a dark sacrifice was made to the triple goddess, the priestess,

seeking reply, opening the still-breathing body in haste to question

the spirit fleeing from the inner organs that she had swiftly bared.

Book I:123-139 The prophetess tells of the future

And when she had entered into the minds of the gods, enquiring

by means of her ancient art, then she cried aloud, bearing witness:

‘I see Apulia’s Aetolian fields, covered far and wide with Roman

dead, and the waters dyed red with their Trojan blood. How vast

the mass of cliffs that rise to the stars, your camp pitched there,

on the airy ridge! Now, your army plunges down from the hills;

smoke rises from trembling cities, lands beneath Western skies

burn with our Punic fires. See, how the Eridanus runs with blood!

Grim is the face of their leader, dead, on a heap of men and arms,

third to kill an opposing general, bear rich spoil to the Thunderer.

Ah, what storm rages with pounding rain, the skies torn, the fiery

aether flickering! The gods prepare great things: the throne of high

heaven thunders, and I behold Jupiter in arms.’ Yet Juno, then,

prevented her knowing more of what was to come, the entrails

ceased to speak to her, events and the long toil again concealed.

Book I:139-181 Hasdrubal in Spain

Hiding his plan for war deep in his thoughts, Hamilcar made for

Gibraltar and Cadiz, at the end of the known world; yet, leading

Carthaginian standards as far as the Pillars of Hercules, he fell,

in furious battle. Meanwhile the cause passed to his son-in-law,

Hasdrubal, who in fierce frenzy attacked the wealth of the west,

the Spanish people, all those who lived beside the Guadalquivir.

Harsh that general’s heart, a man of inappeasable anger, the fruit

of power for him was cruelty; lusting savagely for blood, madly

believing it glorious to be feared. Nor could tame punishments

assuage his rage. For Hasdrubal, scorning gods and men, nailed

Tagus, of ancient race, high on a wooden cross, a man of great

spirit and proven courage, displaying the unburied body of their

king, in triumph, to a grieving people. Tagus (his name derived

from their gold-bearing river) mourned by the nymphs of Spain,

by every cave and shore, might have granted it precedence over

Maeonian Pactolus, Lydia’s pools, and its plains of streaming

gold, turned yellow by the sands of the overflowing Hermus.

First to enter the fighting, ever last to lay down his weapons,

no sword or swift-flung spear could halt his course, as he rode

tall on his charger, with loosened reins, urging the creature on,

galloping in triumph, Tagus, his golden armour known to all.

Now, his servant, seeing his master’s body nailed in hideous

death to the fatal tree, secretly stole Tagus’ favourite sword,

ran to the palace, and struck savage Hasdrubal time and again.

Then the Carthaginians, a race delighting in cruelty, inflamed

by anger and torn with grief, rushed to bring him to torture.

There was no rest from fire, and white-hot irons, at the hands

of his torturers, countless blows of the lash, tearing the flesh

to ribbons, iron penetrating to the marrow, flames scorching

the wounds. Dreadful to see and tell, his limbs were stretched,

by the tormenters’ arts, far as the rack demanded, but though

his blood poured out, though those shattered limbs steamed

with vapour, his mind remained intact; enduring, despising

his suffering, like a spectator, mocking the men for flagging

at their task, crying out aloud to be crucified with his master.

Book I:182-219 Hannibal takes command in Libya

While this wretched punishment was meted out to a man who

scorned it, the army of Carthage fearful at the loss of its leader,

with a single voice vied in their eagerness to appoint Hannibal;

their desire incited by the image in him of his father’s courage,

by the rumour rife among the people that he was sworn to war,

by his youthful daring, the fervour that became it, by his mind

equipped with cunning, and the power of his native eloquence.  

The Libyans were the first to hail him aloud as leader, and then

the Pyrenean tribes and the warlike Spaniards quickly followed.

His heart at once swelled with pride and confidence, at the vast

extent of land and sea he ruled. Libya, on the Tropic of Cancer,

scorched by the southerly Aeolian winds and the heat of the sun,

is part of a vast offshoot of Asia Minor, or earth’s third continent.

Bounded, to the fiery east, by the Nile, which enters the swollen

sea through seven mouths; to the north-west, viewing the Great

and Little Bears, viewing Europe over the strait that lies between

the dividing Pillars of Hercules, Libya is blocked by the ocean,

Atlas forbidding his name from extending further, Atlas, who

would bring the sky crashing down if he moved his shoulders.

His cloud-capped head supports the stars, and his lofty neck

holds erect the celestial firmament forever. His beard is white

with frost, pine-woods with their vast shade crown his brow,

winds ravage his hollow temples and foaming rivers stream

from his stormy jaws. Further, the deep sea attacks the cliffs

on either side and, when the sun, that weary Titan, has bathed

his exhausted steeds, hides his fiery chariot in the steamy ocean.

But south, where Africa spreads her thirsty plains, burnt Libya

bears only the plentiful poison of its snakes; though where

a temperate region blesses the fields, the land is unsurpassed

by Sicilian Enna’s crops, or those of the Egyptian farmers.

There the Numidians roam widely, without use of the bridle

since the light whips they flick between their horses’ ears

direct them in their sport as efficiently as our use of the bit.

That is a land fostering wars and warriors, nor do they trust

to the naked sword alone, dipping the blade in poison also.

Book I:220-238 Spain allied to Carthage

His second army of Spain was provided by European troops,

his allies, won to the cause by his father Hamilcar’s victories.

There the chargers filled the plain with their neighing, there

the mettlesome horses drew chariots primed for battle; none

sped more furious over the course, not even at Elean Olympia.

Spaniards are prodigal of life, and prepared to hasten death on.

When a man lives on beyond the years of his youthful strength,

impatient with age, he scorns to endure decline, and so he has

recourse to a blade in his own right hand. In Spain every kind

of metal is mined: veins of electrum, of gold and silver mixed,

the yellow tint revealing a mingled origin, and the rough terrain

yields dark iron ore. Though heaven hides these roots of crime,

the covetous Asturians plunge deep down in the bowels of earth,

tunnelling, and sadly emerging as yellow as they gold they dig.

The Duero and Tagus there challenge the gold-bearing Pactolus,

as does the Guadalete, spreading glittering sand over the Gravii’s

land, mirroring for them the loss of memory crossing dark Lethe.

Yet Spain is not unfitted for crops, nor inhospitable to the vine,

and there is no country where Minerva’s olive-trees rise higher.

Book I:239-270 Hannibal begins his campaign

Once these Spaniards had yielded to the Carthaginian general,

and he held the reins of government, then with his father’s skill

he won men’s friendship; leading them by force, or by bribery,

to reverse the Senate’s decrees. He was ever the first to suffer

hardship, first to take to the march, or to bear a hand when

a rampart was quickly raised, nor slow to anything that spurs

a man to glory: denying natural sleep he would spend the night

armed and alert, lying awake on the ground, in his general’s

cloak, vying with the toughest veterans of the Libyan army;

or, riding tall leading the winding column, showed his power;

or endured bare-headed the bitter rain and the sky’s thunder.

When he rode his startled mount amidst Jove’s lightning bolts,

that flared through the downpour, expelled by blasts of wind,

the Carthaginians watched, as the Spaniards shook with fear;

nor was he wearied by the dusty road, nor the fiery dog-days.

When Sirius shone, and the earth was scorched and cracked

by the sun’s fierce light, when the air was dried by the blazing

orb at noon, he thought it unmanly to lie on the moist ground

in the shade, but endured thirst, and avoided the springs he saw.

Likewise he would seize the rein and break any horse that tried

to throw him, for battle, loving the glory of some deadly wound,

swimming through the sounding boulders of an uncharted river,

then summoning his comrades across from the opposing shore.

He too was the first to stand on the rampart of a stormed city,

and when he rode over the plain where fierce battle was joined,

wherever he lanced his spear, a red swathe was left on the field.

So, resolved to break the treaty, he pursued the fate laid down, 

joyful meanwhile to bring war to Rome, and from the world’s

end, from its Western gate, strike hard at the very Capitol itself.

Book I:271-295 He attacks Saguntum (Sagunto, 219BC)

His war-trumpets sounded first before the gates of Saguntum,

Hannibal choosing to lay siege there in readiness for greater

battles to come. This city of Hercules tops a gentle slope not

far from the shore, its noble name sacred to Zacynthos, buried

on the lofty hill, who while returning to Thebes with Hercules

after the killing of Geryon, went praising the deed to the skies.

For that monster had three lives, armed with three right hands

on a single body, and bearing a head on each of its three necks.

never did earth see another whom a single death could not end,

for whom the Fatal Sisters would spin a third thread when two

had been severed. There in triumph he was displaying the prize,

calling the captive cattle to water in the noon heat, when a snake

underfoot discharged sun-distilled poison from a swollen throat,

and, fatally wounded, the Greek hero lay dead on Spanish soil.

Later, exiled colonists sailed there, driven by a southerly wind,

people from the isle of Zacynthos, encircled by the Ionian Sea,

once part of Ulysses’ kingdom. Then these tenuous beginnings

were buttressed by men from Apulia, lacking a home, sent out

by the famed city of Ardea, ruled by great kings, rich in its sons.

The freedom of Saguntum’s people was preserved by the treaty,

and their ancestral glory; Carthage being denied the city’s rule.

Book I:296-326 The commencement of the siege

Hannibal broke the treaty with Rome, setting his camp-fires near,

the wide plains trembling at his host. He himself, shaking his head

in fury, rode round the walls on his spirited steed, gauging the fear,

then ordered them to open the gates at once and quit the ramparts:

they were besieged, the treaty forgotten, Italy far away, nor should

they hope for quarter, should they be defeated in the battle to come;

ancestral decrees, law, justice, honour and the heavens themselves,

all were in his power now. A javelin hurled in eager haste confirmed

his words, piercing Caicus’ armour, as he stood on the wall uttering

idle threats. Skewered by the missile deep in his entrails, he fell,

his limbs giving way at once, and plunged from the steep ramparts,

delivering back to his conqueror the spear warmed with his blood.

Then, with a shout, a host of men followed their leader’s example,

shrouding the walls in a dark cloud of spears. Nor was their bright

courage hidden by their numbers; turning his face to his general,

each man fought as if her were the only one there. One hurled

a rain of bullets from a Balearic sling, swinging the light thong

thrice round his head then, standing erect, launching them high

for the air to take them; another’s strong arm, whirling stones;

a third flung a lance with the aid of a leather strap. Their leader,

before them all, conspicuous in his father’s armour, with vigour,

hurls a burning brand of smoking pitch, attacks with stake, spear,

stone, or fires arrows doubly deadly, dipped in serpent’s venom,

and exults in that deceit. So the Dacians, in hostile Scythian lands,

delight in tipping their darts with venom from their native country,

sending sudden flights over Hister’s banks, that is, the Danube.

Book I:327-344 He exhorts his troops

His next task was to encircle the hill with a line of turrets, surround

the city with a ring of forts. Ah, for Fidelity, once a power among

ancient peoples, now only a name here on earth! Steadfast, its men

stand firm, escape visibly denied them, and the walls encompassed.

For they think Italy worth that sacrifice, if Saguntum falls with its

loyalty yet confirmed. Now they exert all the force they can muster,

with greater ardour; the Phocaean catapult, its ropes stretched tight,

launches huge boulders with a roar, and when the vast engine’s load

is changed sends iron-tipped tree-trunks to shatter the standing lines.

A clamour rose on both sides. They joined battle, as fiercely as if

Rome itself was under siege; and above the clamour Hannibal cried:

‘We are thousands, a race born to fight, why do we stand here still,

in front of a host already conquered? Are we ashamed of our task?

So much for the delights of valour, and your general’s first effort!

Is this a reputation to resound through Italy, this the news we send?

Book I:345-375 Saguntum’s walls are breached

Fired by his words, their spirits rose, his thirst for the fight inspired

their hearts, while thoughts of Italian war to come, spurred them on.

They attacked the defences with bare hands and, thrust down from

the walls, left severed limbs behind. A high mound was piled there,

on which Hannibal placed groups of men, above, to menace the city.

But the besieged were armed with a missile that denied the enemy

the gates, needing many men to poise and direct it, called a falarica:

a wooden shaft, dreadful to behold, a tree-trunk cut from the heights

of the snowy Pyrenees, with a long iron head walls hardly withstood,

a beam wrapped with burning tow, smeared with pitch and sulphur.

Hurled, like a lightning-bolt, from the summit of the citadel’s wall,

it cut a furrow of flickering flame through the air, like a fiery meteor

plunging from sky to earth, with blood-stained tail, dazzling the eyes.

This weapon astounded Hannibal, often, with its swift blow, flinging

the smoking limbs of his soldiers high in the air; or striking the flank

of some vast tower in its flight, starting a fire then wholly consuming

the fabric, and burying men and arms together beneath its blazing ruin.

At last his men retreated from the rampart, beneath overlapping shields

in ‘tortoise’ formation, then secretly tunnelled, under a section of wall,

until it collapsed in ruins, and opened a breach in the city’s defences.

The ramparts built by Hercules fell with a dreadful sound, the huge

stones split apart, and a mighty rumbling echoed from the heavens.

So the airy cliffs of the high Alps resound, when a mass of rock falls

with a not unlike roar, as that avalanche furrows the mountain-side.

From the wreckage they strove to raise the rampart again, the fallen

wall between, except where here and there men fought in the midst.

Book I:376-420 Hand to hand combat ensues

Murrus darted out, the first of all, noted for his youthful looks; born

of Rutulian blood, but a Saguntine mother, the offspring of his two

parents combining Italian with Zacynthian ancestry. He now stopped

Aradus, who summoned his comrades with a mighty cry as Murrus

tracked his forward movement, the point of his spear piercing Aradus

between the breastplate and the helm; pinning him with the weapon

to the ground, Murrus taunted him too: ‘Lie there, false Carthaginian.

You would be first to take the Capitol? Not in your wildest prayers!

Now go make war on Dis!’ Then, brandishing his burning spear, he

pierced the groin of Hiberus opposite; and treading on Aradus’ face,

already convulsed in death, he cried: ‘O fearful host, this is the path

you must take to the walls of Rome: so go then, where you hasten!’

Then, as Hiberus renewed the fight, Murrus flourished his weapon,

and grasping Hiberus’ shield pierced the man’s unprotected flank.

Rich in land and flocks, unknown to fame, Hiberus had been wont

to wage war, with javelin and bow, against wild creatures, happy,

alas, among trees, and deserving of praise in a life of retirement,

if he had never carried his quiver beyond his ancestral forest.

Ladmus, in pity for him, arrived to deal a wound, but laughing

in derision Murrus cried: ‘Tell Hamilcar’s shade of the strength

of my right arm, which, when you dregs are slain, will gift you

Hannibal for company!’ Then, rising tall, he struck at the warrior

with his sword, piercing Ladmus’ bronze helmet, and rattling all

the shattered bones of his skull, under their covering. Next slain

by that hand in anger, was Chremes, his shaggy brow rimmed

and shaded by curling locks, making a rough cap of his hair;

then Masulis and Kartalo, still vigorous in battle in green old age,

not afraid to stoke a lioness, even in cub; and Bagrada, his shield

emblazoned with a symbol of the river which gave him his name;

and Hiempsal, one of those bold Nasmonians who dare to plunder

shipwrecks, and steal from devouring Syrtis; one and all were

killed; with Athyr, clever at leaching deadly venom from snakes,

sending fierce water-serpents to sleep with a touch, and proving

a child true-born, by its lack of fear shown, a horned snake nearby.

You too Hiarbas, neighbour to the sacred grove of the Garamantes,

your helm conspicuous for the ram’s-horn curved over your brow;

in vain you reproached the oracle, that often promised safe return,

and, in dying, blamed Jupiter Ammon for his deceitfulness to you.

And already the rampart had grown higher from the pile of corpses,

as the smoke rose from the ruins, drenched by the dark slaughter.

Then Murrus, with eager clamour, challenged Hannibal to combat.

Book I:421-455 Hannibal ranges the battlefield

But Hannibal was far away, where, unexpectedly, a band of warriors

had issued from the gates, fighting amongst both armies, ranging

far and wide, as if no sword or spear could deal him death or injury,

brandishing the sword that old Temisus, of the Hesperidean shore,

a powerful wizard, forged not long before with fire and incantation,

in the belief the steel was made stronger by the use of magic spells.

Hannibal seemed as mighty as Mars Gradivus, when the god roams

everywhere in his chariot through the land of the Thracian Bistones,

flourishing his blade that defeated the Giants, ruling over the flames

of battle with the snorting of his horses and the sound of their hooves.

Already Hannibal had sent Hostus to the shades, Pholus the Rutulian,

and huge Metiscus, with Lygdus and Durius and fair-haired Galaesus,

and the twins Chromis and Gyas. Came Daunus, none more skilful

at stirring the gathering with the charm of his eloquence, moulding

men’s thoughts with his oratory; none a wiser guardian of the laws;

mingling taunts with his blows: ‘What ancestral Fury drives you on,

man of Carthage? This is no Tyrian city built by a woman’s power,

bought for a price, no shore with a stretch of sand granted to exiles.

Behold a foundation here laid by the gods, and the allies of Rome.’

Yet even as he shouted out such boasts over the plain, Hannibal

grasped him with a mighty effort and tore him from amongst that

mass of warriors and their spears, then tied his hands behind him,

and reserved him for the punishment of a slow-maturing anger.

Then, reproaching his men, he ordered the banners to advance,

pointing the way, in his wild frenzy, through the heaped corpses,

calling each man by name, offering the proud city as their prize.

Book I:456-487 Hannibal and Murrus meet in the battle

But when fearful messengers told him that elsewhere on the field

the fighting was fierce to their detriment, and that the gods’ favour

was handing Murrus glory, Hannibal, abandoning the scene of his

mighty deeds, rushed away like a madman on his frenzied course.

The plume that nodded on his helm flared with deadly brightness,

as a comet with its fiery tale strikes fear in the hearts of fierce kings,

showering blood-red fire: a funereal torch shedding its crimson rays

in the sky, that heavenly body flares with a dreadful glowing light,

threatening earth with destruction. Warriors, weapons, banners, all

gave way before his headlong course, and both armies shuddered;

the fiery point of his spear gave off a deadly light, and his shield

flashed far and wide. So, when the Aegean Sea surges to the stars,

and, to a vast roaring northerly, along the coast, the tide carries

ashore the mounting water, sailors’ trembling hearts grow cold;

far off the wind resounds, the swelling storm and arching waves

passing amongst the shuddering Cyclades. Nothing halts his path,

not missiles from the walls, hurled at him alone, not smoking

brands in his face, nor stones hurled skilfully from war-engines.

As soon as he glimpsed Murrus’ gleaming helm, and his armour

of blood-stained gold bright in the sunlight, he shouted in rage:

‘Is this the man to delay Libya’s plans, hinder our great campaign,

shall Murrus impede our war with Rome? Soon, I will teach you

how vain your treaty proves, and its border drawn at the river Ebro.

So much for your untarnished loyalty, your observance of its rules,

leave me to deal with the gods, and their oaths I now disappoint.’

Murrus answered; ‘I longed for this meeting: my heart has long

required this battle, alight with the hope of killing you; take your

reward for your oath-breaking, seek Italy in the bowels of the earth!

For my right arm will spare you the long march to the Dardanian

lands, that path to Rome over the snowy Pyrenees and the Alps.’

Book I:488-507 Murrus offers a prayer to Hercules (Alcides)

Meanwhile, seeing his enemy drawing near, trusting to the heights

he stood on, Hannibal tore at the rampart, grasped at a large stone,

and hurled it at the climber’s head, with a swift downward action.

Murrus crouched low, struck by that rugged fragment of wall.

Then shame stirred his heart, nor did courage fail, aware though

he was of his harsh situation; gritting his teeth, he struggled

to ascend, clambering roughly over the stones barring his way.

But once Hannibal, clearer in the light, shone before him in all

his grandeur, it seemed the whole Carthaginian host were close

around him, all that dread force attacking, and his eyes dimmed.

A thousand flickering swords at once seemed to dance about him,

while innumerable plumes waved over the helm of his enemy.

Both armies cried aloud, as if all Saguntum glowed with fire,

and Murrus, in fear, dragged his limbs, faint at death’s approach,

and uttered a final prayer: ‘Hercules, our begetter, whose tract

of sacred ground we dwell on, avert this storm that threatens,

should I but defend these walls of yours with no lack of courage.’

Book I:508-534 Hannibal counters, and they fight

While he prayed, raising his eyes to the heavens in supplication,

Hannibal countered: ‘Hero of Tiryns, Alcides, consider, and aid

us more justly in our cause. If rivals in courage do not displease

you, invincible Hercules, you will see yourself in former days,

lend your power, and stand beside me as I destroy these scions

of the Trojan race, you who are famed for razing Troy long ago.’

So the Carthaginian spoke, while grasping his sword in anger,

and drove it to the hilt, then withdrawing the weapon, his dread

armour drenched with the blood of the dying man. In a moment,

the defendants rushed forward, shocked by their champion’s fall,

denying his proud conqueror their hero’s corpse and fine armour:

the force growing by mutual exhortation, they charged en masse.

Stones rattle down on his helm, spears strike his bronze shield,

they attack with stakes and compete to lift and hurl lead weights.

The plume was shorn from his head, the noble horsehair crest

that nodded over the dead was torn to pieces. Now the sweat

streamed from him, and bathed his limbs, and bristling spears

stuck fast in his scaly breastplate. No respite or shift of armour

was granted by this shower of blows. His knees shook; his tired

arms lost hold of his shield. Now, labouring deeply, his breath

steamed, a dense stream of vapour from parched lips; a groan

was heard, from the effort of the lungs, a cry lost in his helmet.

So the deadly wild boar, chased by the baying Spartan hounds,

blocked from the forest by the hunters, the bristling hair on its

back erect, makes its last stand, champs on its foaming blood,

and now, with a groan, dashes its twin tusks against the spears.

Yet courage masters adversity, and Hannibal is glad that valour

shines the brighter in times of trouble, risk is the price of glory.

Book I:535-555 Hannibal is wounded, but aided by Juno

Now the sky was cleft, and a sudden crash erupted from dense

cloud, shaking the earth, as Jupiter, with twin lightning-bolts,

thundered above and beyond the battle itself. Then a spear

flew from the clouds, through the blind torrent of the winds,

to punish war’s excess, the well-aimed tip lodging in his thigh.

Oh, Tarpeian Rock, you cliffs of Rome where the gods dwell,

and you, fires of Laomedon, you, Trojan altars, eternal flames

the Vestal Virgins tend, what did the heavens not promise you

with that missile hurled in vain! Had it only pierced that fierce

warrior deeper, the Alps would have remained a barrier to men,

and your waters, Allia, still rank direr than those of Trasimene.

But when Juno gazing, from the heights of the lofty Pyrenees,

at his youthful energy and fresh martial ardour, saw the wound

inflicted by the tip of that swift spear, she flew through the air

veiled in a dark cloud, to pluck the sharp weapon from the solid

bone. Hannibal hid the blood drenching his limbs with his shield,

and slowly, unsteadily, little by little, retreated from the rampart.

Book I:556-583 Saguntum sends for aid from Rome

At last, with night, welcome darkness shrouded the land and sea,

and parted the warring combatants by robbing them of the light.

But steadfast minds kept watch, and rebuilt the wall, night’s task.

The besieged were roused by their extreme peril, their courage,

greater at the last, in that desperate situation. So lads, old men,

and, here, a woman struggled, energetically, to aid the sad task,

in that dark time, while soldiers, wounds streaming blood, bore

stones to the breach. Now the senators and elder statesmen took

heed of their duty, meeting swiftly, and choosing envoys, urging

them to assist in these grievous times and bring help, requesting

the support of Roman arms in their extremity. ‘Go swiftly, drive

your ships with sail and oar, while the wounded beast is penned

in camp; we must use this brief respite from battle, and rise to

glory out of danger. Go swiftly, bewail the treaty and the ruin

of our wall, and bring us better news from our ancient home.

This is our last command: return, while Saguntum yet stands.’

So the envoys hastened their steps to the shore nearby, then,

with swollen sail, they steered a course over the foaming sea.

Dawn, old Tithonus’ dewy partner, was driving sleep away,

while the first breath of her sun-bright horses’ neighing stirred

the mountain-tops, as they tugged at their rose-coloured reins.

Now, high on the rebuilt walls, the besieged reveal their city

defended by turrets arisen in the night. All action ceased,

as the gloomy enemy paused their siege, their ardour for war

in abeyance, turning their thoughts to their leader’s danger.

Book I:584-608 The envoys travel to Rome

Meanwhile the Saguntine envoys had sailed far over the waves,

and the cloud-capped cliffs of Monaco’s promontory emerged

where Hercules’ hills rise above the sea. Thracian Boreas alone

lays claim to these rocks, that wild domain, and ever ice-cold,

lashes the coast, or strikes the Alps in strident flight. Where he

flows over the land from the glacial North, no wind dares rise

against him. He churns the sea in mad vortices, while breakers

roar, and the cliffs are buried beneath the up-flung waves; then,

too, in his course, he raises the Rhine and Rhone to the clouds.

Having escaped Boreas’ dire fury, they were now communing

together, about the succeeding dangers, in war and then at sea,

and conversing about the uncertain course of events: ‘Oh, Italy,

Oh, our country, Oh, glorious home of Fidelity, what does fate

hold for you? Does your sacred citadel still tower over the hills?

Or, you gods, alas, do its ashes, alone, recall that mighty name?

If the Carthaginians’ fires do not lick the heights of our temples,

if the Roman fleet still retains the power to aid us, then grant us

light airs, and stir the following breeze.’ So, night and day, they

grieved and wept, until their vessel reached Laurentum’s shore,

where father Tiber, enriched by the Anio’s waters, flows down,

a yellow stream, to the sea. From there they soon reached Rome.

Book I:609-629 The Senate assembles

The consul summoned the august assembly, its senators blessed

by restraint, by the fame derived from their victories, a Senate

equalling the gods in virtue. Brave actions and the sacred desire

for justice exalted those men of modest dress and simple food,

with hands not slow to exchange the ploughshare for the sword,

they were content with little, owning minds immune to riches,

often returning to a humble hearth from the triumphal chariot.

There at the Senate’s threshold, at the doors of the temple, hung

the spoils of war, arms taken from enemy generals, savage axes

from the battlefield, pierced shields, spears stained with blood,

and the bolts from city-gates. Here was witness to the Punic war,

and the battle of Sicily, all the ship’s prows that testified to how

Carthage had been expelled from the waves, her fleet destroyed.

Here too were the helmets of the Senones, and Brennus’ sword

that decreed, in an act of insolence, the weight of ransom paid;

and the armour too that was borne by Camillus in his triumph,

when those Gauls had finally been sent flying from the Capitol;

here also the prizes taken from Pyrrhus, that scion of Achilles,

his standards of Epirus; and horned Ligurian helmets; rough

shields brought back from the Spanish tribes, Alpine javelins.

Book I:630-671 Sicoris speaks for the Saguntines

In the robes of mourning worn by the suppliants, that spoke

of disaster and suffering in war, the senators seemed to see

before their eyes the very embodiment of Saguntum, seeking

aid in extremity. Then old Sicoris began his melancholy tale:

‘O people, famed for the sacredness of your treaties, whom

nations that bowed to your sword admit, with reason, to be

the seed of Mars, we have crossed the sea for no trivial cause.

We have seen our native city besieged, its walls trembling;

and seen this Hannibal, whom raging seas or wild beasts bore.

Oh, Heaven, I pray, keep that warrior’s deadly arm far from

our ramparts, while confining him to battle with us alone!

With what power they propel the thudding timber! How his

stature grows in conflict! Scorning the boundary of the Ebro,

crossing the ridges of the Pyrenees, he has roused Gibraltar,

stirs the tribes concealed in the Libyan desert, sets his sights

on greater cities than ours. If you fail to prevent this swelling

wave that rises in mid-ocean, it will break against your cities.

Think you that swift Hannibal, sworn to war, will rest content

with Saguntum’s conquest and submission as the only prize

for his campaign that breaches your treaty by force of arms?

Move quickly, with courage, to extinguish the nascent flame,

lest, as the danger grows, there be no time for intervention.

Yet oh, if no danger threatened, if the hidden sparks of war

were not glowing even now, could you scorn to offer help

to Saguntum, your kindred city? All Spain, all Gaul with her

swift horsemen, threaten, all Libya parched by the torrid zone.

I beg you, by the long-cherished origins of the Roman people,

by the household gods of Laurentum, and our relics of Troy,

preserve those faithful who were driven to exchange the walls

of Acrisius’ Ardea, for the towers of our Tirynthian Hercules.

It was your glory to aid Messina, against the Syracusean tyrant,

Hiero, and you considered it a tribute to your Trojan ancestors,

to defend the walls of Capua and drive off the Samnite forces.

Bear witness, you founts and hidden pools of the Numicius,

I too was once a dweller in Italy, and when Ardea sent out her

sons, in whom she was too rich, I it was who carried the sacred

relics, the hidden shrine of the house of my ancestor, Turnus,

and the name of Laurentum beyond the Pyrenees. Why should I

be despised like a limb cut and torn away from the main body?

Why should our blood alone atone for the breaking of the treaty?’

Book I:672-694 The Senate decides to send out envoys

Pitiful to see, when at last they ceased to speak, their unkempt

robes torn, they flung themselves down on the ground, palms

upraised. Then the senators took counsel and debated the whole

issue anxiously. Lentulus, proposed, as if Saguntum’s burning

roofs were before him, that they demand Hannibal’s surrender,

and if Carthage refuse, make war at once, ravage her territory.

But Quintus Fabius, that cautious reader of the future, no lover

of uncertain courses, slow to start wars and skilful at campaigns

where no sword was drawn, was the next to speak, suggesting

that, in so serious a matter, they should first discover whether

Hannibal’s madness had begun the war, or if the Carthaginian

Senate had commanded the army to advance; they should send

envoys to question and report. From the depths of his heart, like

a prophet, mindful of the future, and thinking of battles to come,

Fabius offered this advice. So will many a veteran ship’s captain,

spying, from the high stern, the signs that a north-westerly gale

might shred the canvas, reef his sails in haste. But tears and grief

mingled with resentment, made them all eager to bring fate on;

so senators were chosen to approach Hannibal and, should he

turn a blind eye to the treaty and fight on, then set a course for

Carthage, and declare war outright on men oblivious to the gods. 

End of Book I of the Punica