Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book II

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

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.


Book II:1-24 Hannibal rejects the Roman mission

Now the Roman vessel carried the leading senators out over

the blue waters, with those strict orders of the mighty Senate.

Quintus Fabius made one, a scion of Hercules who recalled

three hundred ancestors swept away in a day by the tempest

of war, when Fortune frowned on the patrician cause, staining

the banks of the Cremera with their blood. Accompanying him,

was Publicola, a descendant of mighty Volesus, of the Sabines

out of Sparta, sharing the responsibility with his colleague.

Publicola’s name attested a friendship for the common people,

his ancestor first on the roll of consuls of the Roman Republic.

But when Hannibal heard that the envoys, with lowered sails,

were entering harbour, bringing the Senate decree, demanding

peace though late, to a raging war, demanding his punishment

according to treaty, he swiftly ordered armed men to position

themselves along the shoreline, with their banners threatening,

shields fresh-dyed with blood, and weapons red from slaughter.

‘This is no time for words,’ he cried, ‘the whole land resounds

to the blare of the Tyrrhene trumpet, and the groans of the dying.

Let them sail back while they can, not rush to join the besieged;

beware what anger, and weapons hot from killing allow, what

the sword dares in action.’ Thus scorned by Hannibal, the envoys,

driven off along the hostile coast, turned and made for Carthage.

Book II:25-55 Hannibal addresses and inspires his troops

Hannibal shook his fist at the ship as its sails were spread, crying:

‘By the gods, it is my head, mine, that vessel seeks to carry over

the sea! Alas, for blind hearts, and minds swollen with conquest!

An impious land demands a Hannibal, in arms, for punishment.

Without their asking, I will come; they’ll see more than enough

of me before long, and Rome which now defends foreign cities

will tremble for her own gates and her own hearths. Though they

retreat once more to the lofty cliffs that defend the Tarpeian Rock,

captives, they shall not ransom their lives a second time for gold.’

These words inspired his men, and they fought with greater fury.

At once the sky was darkened by clouds of missiles, the towers

of Saguntum rang beneath a dense hail of stones. Their ardour

drove them to wage war within sight of the receding vessel,

while the walls were still visible from its deck. But Hannibal,

conspicuous, his wound exposed to view, demanded himself

as scapegoat for his troops, in furious complaint, repeatedly:

‘Oh, comrades, they demand my person; and Fabius at the stern

displays my chains, the anger of an imperious Senate seeks me.

If you weary of our task, if the war we wage is culpable, hasten

to recall that Ausonian vessel from the waves. I will not resist,

hand me to torture with my hands in fetters. For why should I,

who trace my lineage to Tyrian Belus, I, the master of all these

peoples of Libya and Spain, why should I not be made a slave?

Why not let the Romans rule forever, and spread their tyranny

proudly over all the world for all the generations yet to come?

Why should we not tremble at their word and obey their bidding?’

But his warriors groaned aloud at this, and deflecting the evil eye

onto all that Trojan race, with their clamour, increased their wrath.

Book II:56-88 Asbyte the daughter of Hiarbas enters the fray

Daring Asbyte, daughter of Hiarbas the Garamantian, had come

with the troops from Marmarica to fight against Rome, among

the loose-robed Libyans, and the tribes speaking Egyptian too.

Hiarbas was the son of Ammon, and his extensive power ruled

the caves of Medusa, Phorcys’ daughter, and the Macae living

beside the Cinyps, and the Cyrenians the cruel sun scorches.

The Nasamones, hereditary subjects, and ever-thirsty Barce,

and the groves of the Autololes, and the shores of treacherous

Syrtes, and nimble Gaetulians, riding free of reins, obeyed him.

He had built a marriage-bed for the nymph Tritonis, who bore

this princess, who claimed Jupiter as her ancestor and derived

her name from Jupiter Ammon’s oracular grove. She, a virgin,

forever slept alone, and spent her early years in the forest chase;

nor had the wool-basket softened her hands, nor had she plied

the spindle, but she loved the woods, and Diana the Huntress,

and urged on the swift horse with her heels, killing wild beasts

without mercy, even as the Amazon bands in Thrace traverse

Rhodope, and the lofty forests on Pangaeus’ stony ridge, tiring

the Hebrus with their speed, unmarried, scorning the Cicones,

the Getae, the royal house of Rhesus, and the Bistones with

their crescent-shaped shields. Conspicuous in her native dress,

her long hair bound with a golden gift from the Hesperides,

her right breast bared for battle, and the glittering cover of her

Thermodontion shield shining on her left arm protecting her

in battle, she urged on her smoking chariot to furious speed.

Some of her company drove a team of two, while others rode

on horseback; some of the princess’s companions had already

submitted to the bond of marriage, but more were still virgin.

She herself displayed, before the ranks, mounts she had chosen

from the herds among distant huts; and close to the mound

she made circuits of the plain, while hurling her quivering

javelins through the air, planting them on the citadel’s summit.

Book II:89-147 The death of Mopsus and his sons

Time and again, she hurled her missiles beyond the battlements,

but old Mopsus could not bear it, and his twanging bow sent

Gortynian arrows flying from the high walls, inflicting deadly

wounds with their winged steel from the clear sky. He himself

was Cretan, journeying there from the caverns of the Curetes,

that ring with clashing bronze. When a nimble lad he would

attack the woodland glades of Dicte with his feathered shafts.

He would often bring down passing birds from the sky above;

he would wound from a distance and halt some stag, escaping

from nets strung across the ground; and while his bow still

sounded, the creature collapsed, startled by the sudden blow.

Gortyn had then more reason to boast of Mopsus than many

another bowman, even though her archers rival the Parthians.

But, lacking wealth, and unwilling to waste his life in the hunt,

he was driven abroad by his poverty, led by fate to Saguntum,

arriving a humble guest, with his wife Meroë, and his two sons.

Now Mopsus, between his boys, rained darts from his Cydonian

bow of horn on the Massylian warriors, while over the youths’

shoulders hung quivers of steel-tipped arrows, Minos’ weapons.

He had already killed Garamus and bold Thyrus; Gisgo, as he

attacked; fierce Bagas; and beardless Lixus not worth such skill.

So Mopsus waged war with a full quiver. Then he set his gaze

and turned his weapon on Asbyte, though his prayers to Jove

found no favour, having abandoned Crete, deserting the god.

For when Harpe, a Nasamonian girl, saw the deadly bow move,

she placed herself in the way of the distant danger, anticipating

death as she cried out, the flying arrow entering her open mouth

so that her virgin sisters saw the tip standing out from her neck.

Asbyte, grinding her teeth in wrath at the fall of her companion,

raised the girl’s limbs and drowned in tears the swimming eyes

with their failing light, then with all the power of her sorrow she

summoned her strength and hurled her javelin towards the wall.

With a sudden blow, it pierced, in flight, the shoulder of Dorylas,

Mopsus’ son, who tried to launch, from his taut bow, the arrow

which was poised in its tightened arc, but his grip had loosened

and, struck so suddenly, he fell headlong from the battlement,

darts from his upturned quiver cascading over his falling limbs.

His brother, Icarus, armed alike and standing near, cried aloud,

and prepared to avenge his lamentable death. But as he raised

his weapon in his eagerness to reply, Hannibal anticipated his

action, and struck at him hard, with a whirling mass of stone,

such that his limbs, numbed by an icy chill, refused to bear him,

his nerveless fingers returned to his quiver the arrow it lacked.

Then Mopsus, at the death of his two sons, caught up his bow

in grief and rage, and tried to bend it thrice, but thrice his arm

fell, and sorrow robbed him of his usual skill. Too late, alas,

he regretted leaving his own fair land, and eagerly clutched

the stone that struck Icarus. But, the old man, realising that

the feeble blows he dealt his own breast were in vain, that

his arm could not even terminate his deep sadness in death,

threw himself headlong from the heights of the vast tower,

and falling prone his dying limbs lay across his son’s body.

Book II:148-187 Eurydamas is killed by Asbyte

While this Cretan guest lay dying in a foreign war, Theron,

the custodian of Hercules’ temple and the priest at his altar,

urged on the defenders, and tried a fresh action, unbarring

the gates, and making a sudden attack on the Carthaginians,

in fierce fight. He carried no spear, and he wore no helmet,

but trusting in his broad shoulders, and youthful strength,

he smote the enemy with his club, without need for a sword.

A lion-skin covered his back, with the fearful head and its

open jaws topping his tall figure, and on his shield appeared

a hundred snakes twined about the Lernean monster, Hydra,

whose serpent-heads multiplied whenever any were severed.

He had driven Juba, and his father Thapsus, from the walls,

and Micipsa of illustrious ancestry, with Saces the Moor, 

and chased them headlong to the shore as they fled wildly;

and his right hand alone made the waters foam with blood.

Not content with slaying Idus, and Cotho of Marmorica,

Rothus and Jugurtha, he set his sights on Asbyte’s chariot,

the radiant cloak about her, and her brightly jewelled shield,

and he focussed his whole intent on that warrior maiden.

When the princess saw him approach with his blood-stained

weapon, she veered her horses aside, and wheeling to her left

escaping, flew over the plain like a bird, bisecting the field,

showing him her chariot’s back. As she vanished from sight,

her thundering wheels crushed the enemy ranks far and wide,

while her team, galloping like the wind, raised a cloud of dust

over the field, as she launched spear after spear in the chaos.

Here fell Lycas, Thamyris, and Eurydamas of famous name,

a descendant of noble stock; whose ancestor, alas, long ago

had dared to hope for a splendid marriage with Penelope,

Ulysses’ wife, but was deceived by the arts of that chaste

woman, who unravelled the threads of her web each night.

He claimed Ulysses had drowned at sea, but the Ithacan

punished that speech with actual death, no lie, granting

the man a funeral, no marriage. Now his latest scion,

Eurydamas, was slain on the Iberian field, at the hands

of a Numidian princess; and the dark chariot resounded,

as it clattered over his shattered bones, on its swift course.

Book II:188-232 Asbyte is killed in turn by Theron

And now Asbyte returned to the fray, seeing Theron

standing apart, aiming her savage battle-axe straight

at the centre of his brow, she vowed the proud spoil,

Hercules’ lion-pelt, to you, Diana. Nor did Theron

hang back, rising up, in hopes of glory, in the face

of her very horses, thrusting the tawny lion’s mask

at them as they veered in fright. Frantic with fresh

terror at those menacing jaws, the team overturned

the heavy chariot. Then Theron leapt to stop Asbyte

as she tried to evade a fight, and struck her between

the temples with his club, spattering the smoking

wheels and the reins, flailing from the horses’ fear,

with brain-matter erupting from her shattered skull.

Then seizing her axe, eager to advertise her death,

cut off the girl’s head as she rolled from the chariot:

and his rage unsated, fixed it high on a pike for all

to see, ordered it borne before the Carthaginian line,

the chariot to be driven swiftly toward the city walls.

Theron, blind to his fate, deserted by divine favour,

fought on, though death loomed close. For Hannibal

arrived, anger and menace in every feature, maddened

and pained at heart by Asbyte’s death, and the vile

trophy of her head borne aloft. As his gleaming shield

of bronze shone out, and the armour on his swift limbs

clanged afar like the knell of doom, the defenders were

suddenly struck with terror, and fled towards the walls.

Blind anxiety drove on the frightened men, headlong,

as evening drives the birds, on rapid wings in the fading

light, from their feeding-grounds to their roosting-place;

or as the bees, heavy with nectar, hasten back to their

hives of dripping combs and fragrant wax, when rain

threatens the swarm, that’s scattered among the flowers

on Athenian Hymettus, and flying, in a dense cloud,

they mass, with loud humming noise, at the threshold.

Oh sweet light of heaven, why do men so fear the death

which is to come, the destiny imparted to them at birth?

Now damning their actions, they regret their emergence

from the gates and the walls’ protection; Theron can

scarce restrain them, with loud threats and now force:

‘Hold, men; the enemy is mine; mine the greater glory

this battle brings, now hold! My right arm shall drive

these Carthaginians from Saguntum’s roofs and walls:

simply stand as spectators, men; or if sharp fear drives

you city-wards, sad sight, shut the gates on me alone!

Book II:233-269 Hannibal kills Theron in retribution

But Hannibal speeding, in his headlong course, towards

the walls, as the defenders shook with fear for their safety

and despaired of life, chose to assault the city through its

open gates, delaying the battle and slaughter of his foes.

When that brave guardian of Hercules’ temple, Theron,

saw this, he ran forward, urged by fear, to forestall him,

But the Carthaginian’s anger grew fiercer: ‘You shall

meet ruin at my hands, nevertheless, good gatekeeper,

and in death throw open the city.’ Anger permitted no

more speech, as he whirled his gleaming sword about,

but the Saguntine warrior swinging his club first, with

a mighty effort, hurled it at the man; and his armour

rang harshly at that weighty blow, while the heavy

knotted club, striking the hollow bronze, rebounded.

Then, weapon-less, betrayed by an inconclusive stroke,

Theron roused his limbs to swift flight, and ran around

the walls trying to escape by speed. The fierce victor

pursued, hurling insults at the fugitive’s back, while

from the walls the women cried out, and their voices,

mingled with lament, rose from the high battlements.

Now they called Theron’s name, and now, too late,

wished they could open the gates for that weary man;

yet as they exhort him their hearts tremble with terror,

lest that might let the mighty enemy within the walls.

Hannibal struck the tired runner with his shield, then

leapt on him as he fell, showed him to the watchers

on the walls, then buried his fatal sword in the throat

of one who had opted to lose his life, while shouting:

‘Go, comfort poor Asbyte with this swift retribution!’

Then he drove away joyfully with her captured horses,

seizing them from before the walls, where the mass

of fugitives had used chariot and team as a defence

to block the entrance to the gates, then sped away

in the chariot to ovations from the Carthaginian lines.

Then the Numidian warriors, crazed with grief, hurried

Asbyte’s sad interment, granting the honour of a pyre,

seizing Theron’s body and, bearing it around her ashes

thrice and hurling his murderous club and his fearful

lion’s mask into the flames, left the corpse, its face

scorched, eyes disfigured, to the carrion-birds of Spain.

Book II:270-326 Hanno condemns the war

Meanwhile, those who ruled Carthage took counsel

regarding the war and the answer that should be sent

to the Roman people, the envoys’ threatening attitude

filling them with trepidation. They were influenced

on the one hand by loyalty to those oaths the gods

had witnessed, and to which their fathers had sworn;

on the other by the popular love for their ambitious

young leader, from whom they hoped for the victory.

But Hanno, Hamilcar’s foe of old, led the opposition,

criticising their eagerness and incautious favouritism:

‘All things, senators, make me afraid to speak (since

angry and unrestrained threats have indeed been made)

yet I shall not concede, though violence be contemplated.  

I will summon the gods to witness, giving notice above

of what the state’s safety, our country’s peril, demands.

Not only now, with Saguntum besieged and in flames,

have I prophesied evil; I have laid bare my anxieties,

I have warned you, and will warn you still while I live,

not to permit him to be exalted in arms, in war; I marked

his poisonous nature, possessing his father’s arrogance;

as he who forecasts the weather, watching the starry sky,

predicts to wretched sailors the imminent fury of the sea,

and not idly, when the North-westerly gale approaches.

He has placed himself on a throne, and seized the reins,

thus the treaty is broken by force, by force all obligation,

cities are shattered and distant Roman minds are stirred

against Carthage, peace is over. This youth is maddened

by his father’s angry shade, by that deadly oath he swore,

by the gods who oppose an unfaithful breaker of treaties,

and by the Massylian prophetess. Now, blinded and dazed

by new-found power, he shakes foreign cities to the core,

or are they foreign? Is it Saguntum’s roofs he surrounds,

(and so himself is accountable for the crime, without

involving his country in punishment) or is it the walls

of Carthage, I say, that now, even now, he attacks, laying

siege to you and yours with his army? We soaked the vale

of Enna in the blood of the brave, and could scarcely fight

the war without Spartan mercenaries. We filled Scylla’s

cave with wrecked ships, watched our fleet carried off

by the tide, with Charybdis whirling the benches round

and spewing them back from the depths. See, madman,

without fear of the gods in your heart, how the Aegatian

Islands and Libya, our limbs float far away! What then

are you aiming for? Is it fame for yourself at the expense

of your country’s ruin you seek? Perhaps the vast Alps

will sink flat at the sight of a youth in arms, the snowy

mass of the Apennines, too, will sink, whose summits

look up to the Alps? And suppose you reach, the plains,

vain fool. Their people own to a spirit that never dies,

that flame and sword cannot tire! You’ll not be fighting

there against colonists from Zacynthos. Their soldiers

grow to manhood in camp, their faces know the helm

before the golden down, nor do they relent in old age,

even those who shed blood over long years of service

hold to the standard, form a front, and challenge death.

I myself have seen Romans, pierced through the body,

draw the blade from their wound and hurl it at the foe.

I have witnessed their courage, how they die, and their

passion for glory. What bloodshed does Hanno not save

Carthage, if she resists war, chooses not to oppose them!’

Book II:327-377 Gestar replies advocating conflict

Gestar (who, harsh and impatient, had long been nursing

bitter anger, and had twice disturbed Hanno mid-speech,

trying to silence him) now replied: ‘You gods, does

a Roman sit in Libya’s council, the Carthaginian Senate?

He is not yet in arms, but in all else an enemy revealed!

Now he berates us with both the Alps and the Apennines,

now with Sicilian seas and the waves off Scylla’s shore,

he seems afraid of the very shades and ghosts of Italy;

he praises their deaths and wounds to the sky, and exalts

that nation. But they are mortal, believe me, though his

terrified heart trembles with vile fear. I was there, when

Regulus, the hope and pride of that Trojan race, amidst

the shouts of our people was dragged, both hands bound

behind him, to his dark dungeon; I was there when he

hung high on the tree, saw far Italy, from his tall cross.

In truth I feel no fear of the brows that wear a helmet

in boyhood, those heads that bear steel before their time.

We here, are not so slow to fight. Behold, our Libyan

cavalry, who vie in efforts beyond their years, who

ride their horses bareback! Behold, our general, Hannibal,

who pledged himself to war, the clarion call, and to bring

fiery death to that Trojan people, and fought his father’s

battle in spirit. Let the Alps touch the sky, the Apennines

raise their gleaming peaks to the stars, he will find a way

over rock and snow (I speak so that even this idle boast

may sting the traitor’s heart), across high heaven itself.

It is shameful to shun the path Hercules’ trod, to shrink

from reiterating that glory. Hanno exaggerates Libya’s

defeats and that first war’s devastation, and forbids us

from labouring in defence of freedom once more. Let him

lay aside anxiety and fear, and restrain his defeatist sighs,

he sounds like a helpless woman behind her house walls.

We, we shall march against the foe, determined to drive

our conquerors far from this citadel of Byrsa, even if Jove

is not on our side. Even if destiny is against us and Mars

has already quit ill-fated Carthage, I would rather die,

than deliver you, my glorious country, to eternal slavery,

rather, a free man, see the Acheron. For what does Fabius

demand, you gods! ‘Lay down your weapons, instantly,

and leave the captive city of Saguntum. Let your choice

troops set light to their piled-up shields, burn your ships,

abandon the sea completely.’ You gods, if Carthage is far

from meriting such punishment, prevent this wrong, leave

our general’s hands free to act.’ Then he took his seat again,

and the senate was granted the power to vote, as customary,

though Hanno demanded the spoils of war be relinquished,

and that Hannibal, the breaker of the treaty, be apprehended.

Book II:378-390 Quintus Fabius declares war on Carthage

Then, indeed, the senators, as excited as if the foe had burst

into the temple, leapt up and invoked the gods to visit evil

omens upon Latium. And when Fabius viewed the discord

in their hearts, and saw their faithless minds inclined to war,

he could no longer hide his resentment patiently, demanding

a swift decision, and once they gave him their attention, he

gestured to them that he carried war or peace in his hands,

demanding they choose, not cheat him with an ambiguous

answer, and when the senators refused to accept either, he

replied, shaking his robes as if pouring out battle and ruin

from his arms: ‘Take war, unhappy Libya, with an outcome

like the first.’ Then sailed home, bringing news of conflict.

Book II:391-456 The shield gifted to Hannibal

While this took place in the realm of Dido the exile, Hannibal

swiftly attacked those tribes whose loyalty was waning with

the war’s uncertain basis, then loaded with spoils summoned

his army back to Saguntum’s walls. Behold, the people who

live by the Atlantic shore, brought the general gifts, a shield

glittering with savage light, the work of Galician craftsmen;

a helm adorned with flickering plumes, on whose white crest

snowy feathers nodded, and waved; a sword, and a spear alone

destined to slaughter thousands, and a breastplate, with triple

gold bosses, a protection no weapon could pierce; fashioned,

this armour, of bronze and steel, rich with gold from Tagus;

with triumph in his eye, he delighted in examining each part,

pleased at the scenes depicted there of the origins of Carthage.

There, Dido was seen, founding the new city, with the men

of her fleet engaged on the work, sinking piers for a harbour,

others assigned sites for houses by venerable and righteous

old Bitias. They pointed to the skull of a war-horse dug from

the soil, hailing the omen with a shout. And, amidst all this,

Aeneas was visible, parted from his fleet and his followers,

cast up on shore by the waves, his right hand in supplication.

The unfortunate queen gazed at him avidly, with calm brow

and already amorous looks. Then Galician art had fashioned

the cavern, the lovers’ secret meeting-place; while to the cries

of mounted men and baying hounds, alarmed by sudden rain,

all the huntsmen were seen taking shelter, deep in the forest.

Near this scene, Aeneas’ ships were quitting shore, making

for open water, while Dido called to them, in vain, to return.

Then she, Elissa, wounded, stood all alone on a vast pyre,

tasking the future Carthaginians with avenging her in war;

while Aeneas, out at sea, saw the blaze, yet set sail to meet

his high destiny. Elsewhere on the shield, Hannibal prayed

to the gods of the underworld and, the Stygian priestess

beside him, made dark libation of blood, and swore to wage

war against those scions of Aeneas from his youth onwards.

Old Hamilcar was there too, exulting over the Sicilian fields,

such that you’d think him alive and stirring breathless battle,

ardour alight in his eyes, and his image grim and threatening. 

The left side of the shield revealed the Spartan cohorts also,

in sharp relief, led in triumph by the victorious Xanthippus,

who hailed from Amyclae, Leda’s city. And the nearby scene

showed Regulus, hanging nobly, beneath the depiction of his

sad torments, setting a true example of loyalty to Saguntum.

But about was a happier scene, herds of creatures in the hunt,

and engraved huts gleaming. Not far distant, a wild sunburnt  

sister of the dark-skinned Moors was soothing her companion

lionesses in native speech. A shepherd roamed over the plain,

and his flock made their way freely over the limitless pastures;

while, in the native manner, a Carthaginian herdsman carried

everything with him, javelins, baying Cretan hound, and tent,

flints to make fire, and the reed-pipe, that his cattle knew well.

Saguntum rose there, eminent on its lofty hill, and a dense host

swarmed about, ranks of men attacking with quivering spears.

The Ebro flowed round the outer rim of the shield, enclosing

the broad surface with its winding curves, and Hannibal also

was shown, breaking the treaty by crossing the river, calling

on every one of the Carthaginian nations to war against Rome.

Now, proud of these new gifts, he fitted the clanging armour

to his broad shoulders, and with head held high, proclaimed:

‘Alas, what torrents of Roman blood must drench these arms!

How vast the penalty, their Senate, the arbiter of war, will pay!’

Book II:457-474 The siege gains its grip on Saguntum

By now the Saguntines had been weakened by the siege, time

had sapped the city’s strength, as they wearily awaited allied

help and the eagles. Then turning their eyes from the empty

sea, finding the shore as hopeless, they saw doom was nigh.

Profound destruction, rooting in their very bones, had settled

on them, while it consumed the starving people from within.

Hunger’s slow, secret poison, long endured, wasted the flesh,

and scorched their bloodless veins; the eyes receded in their

emaciated sockets; their bones extruded, scarcely covered by

the trembling sinews and pallid skin, and the withered limbs

were dreadful to see. They barely eased their thirst with moist

dew from the damp earth at night, and with fruitless labour,

tried to squeeze the sap from dry branches. Nothing was alien,

rabid hunger forced them to eat strange things, stripping their

leather shields bare, and gnawing the straps on their armour. 

Book II:475-492 Hercules pleads with the goddess Fidelity

Hercules looked down from on high, saw all this, and wept

for the situation of the stricken city. However, the power

of his mighty father made him fear opposing the decrees

of Juno his cruel stepmother. Thus hiding his intent, he

made his way to the threshold of sacred Fidelity, seeking

her hidden purpose. The goddess, who delights in solitude,

chanced to be in a remote region of the heavens, musing

on the high concerns of the gods. Then he who brought

calm to Nemea with the slaying of the lion, spoke to her

reverently: ‘Goddess, older than Jove, you glory of gods

and men, without whom peace is absent on land or sea,

sister of Justice, silent power in the heart, can you see,

unmoved, the dire fate of your own Saguntum, look on

a city that suffers such harsh punishment for your sake?

The people are dying for you, and the women, subdued

by famine, the men in sorrow, call on you alone, with a

single voice, your name sounds first among the children.

Bring aid from heaven, grant that the weary may live.’

Book II: 493-512 Fidelity promises to aid Saguntum

So spoke Hercules, Alcmena’s son; the goddess replied:

‘Indeed, I do see, nor do I set broken treaties at naught;

the day is fixed that will take vengeance on such evil.

But, hastening to quit the polluted earth, I was forced

to change my dwelling place and settle here, so fertile

the human species in its sins. I fled the impious kings,

who fear as they are feared; the frenzy for gold, the vile

reward for wickedness; and above all from races horrific

in their rites, living by violence like wild creatures, all

honour dissolved in licence, shame lost in darkest night.

Force they worship, the sword stands for justice, virtue

yields to crime. Behold the nations, none are innocent!

Partnership in crime alone preserves the peace. Yet, if

you wish the walls you built to offer a stout resistance,

and though damaged, not yet yield to the Carthaginians,

I will grant the only thing fate and future events allow,

I will ensure the glory of their death is transmitted to

posterity, and escort their noble spirits to the shades.’

Book II: 513-525 Fidelity instils courage

Then the austere virgin goddess sped through the gentle

aether, angered to find Saguntum wrestling with its fate.  

Entering the defenders’ minds, pervading their hearts

as ever, she filled their spirits with her divine power.

Then, piercing them to the very marrow, she possessed

them, inspired them with a burning passion for herself.

They take up arms, and make painful efforts to fight.

Unexpected strength is there, and they resolve to honour

the goddess dear to them, to sacrifice themselves for her.

An unspoken purpose fills the sufferers’ exultant hearts,

to endure worse than death, and imitate the wild beasts

in their appetites, making of sustenance inhuman crime.

But chaste Fidelity prohibits extending life by sinfulness,

the appeasing of hunger by recourse to each other’s flesh.

Book II: 526-542 Juno summons the aid of Tisiphone

Juno, Saturn’s daughter, by chance, was herself heading

for the Carthaginian camp, and seeing the virgin goddess

in the citadel of a race she hated, she rebuked her passion

for war and, distraught with anger, she swiftly summoned

dark Tisiphone, who, with her lash, torments the spirits

in the depths, and stretching her hands out cried: ‘Daughter

of Night, overthrow these walls by force, bring this proud

people low at their own hands; Juno it is commands, and I

will be near, to observe, from the clouds, your application

and your zeal. Yours be the weapons that trouble the gods,

even Jupiter supreme, and stir the Acheron, your torches

and hideous serpents, and that hissing, yours alone, which

makes Cerberus close his triple jaws in fear, that frothing

venom mixed with gall: whatever crimes or punishments,

whatever of wrath you nurture at your fecund breast, hurl

headlong at the Saguntines, despatch all that city to Erebus.

Let that be the price of Fidelity’s descent from the heavens.’

Book II: 543-579 Tisiphone pretends to be Murrus’ wife Tiburna

So saying, the goddess, roused, spurred on the savage Fury,

urging her on by force against the walls; suddenly the hills

trembled all around, the waves along the shore roared more

deeply. Knots of scaly-backed serpents gleamed and hissed

about the Fury’s head, and coiled about her swollen neck.

Death stalked, opening wide his hollow jaws, throat gaping

to consume a doomed people: around him stood Mourning,

Lament with blackened breast, and Grief and Pain, and all

the Retributions were there, and Cerberus, sleepless guard

of the tearful realm, bayed from his triple throat. At once,

the Fury changed her shape, took on the likeness of Tiburna,

Murrus’ widow, aping her manner of walking and her voice.

Tiburna, robbed of her husband, grieved at the marriage-bed

rendered empty by battle, and the savage whirlwind of war.

She was of noble birth and derived her name from the blood

of Daunus. The Fury assumed her form and, hair dishevelled,

cheeks lacerated in token of mourning, rushed wildly among

the crowd, crying: ‘Where will this end? Have we not given

enough for Fidelity’s sake, and our ancestors! Oh I, myself,

in terrifying dreams, have seen my beloved Murrus drenched

in blood, I have seen the lacerating wounds, have heard him

speak dire words: “Wife, save yourself, and flee the disaster

of this wretched city, or if the Carthaginians in victory leave

no space for refuge, Tiburna, flee to me, among the shades.

Our native gods have fallen, we are ruined, the Punic blade

rules all.” My mind’s in horror, he is still before my eyes.

Shall I see not a stone of you survive, Saguntum? Fortunate

indeed was Murrus to die while his city yet lived, fortunate.

But we, we shall be slaves of the Carthaginian womenfolk,

and after the war, and the dangerous sea-passage, Carthage,

victorious, will behold us; and when death’s night befalls,

a captive I will be laid in the soil of Libya. But you, oh

warriors, whose courage prevents your being taken alive,

who find death a potent weapon against this savagery,

rescue your mothers from servitude with your swords.

Arduous the path that reveals virtue. Go then, be the first

to seize a glory unknown till now and difficult to attain.’

Book II: 580-608 Tisiphone maddens the Saguntines

When she had roused her troubled hearers with exhortation,

she approached the mound that Hercules, Amphitryon’s son,

had built on the mountain-top, a fitting tribute to the ashes

of Zacynthus, a landmark for sailors, high above the waves.

Then, what horror, at her summons, a serpent emerged from

its den in the depths of the mound; its body was sea-green

flecked with gold; its fiery eyes shone with blood-red flame,

and its jaws with flickering tongue gave out loud hissing.

It slid through the terrified crowds in the midst of the city,

then slipped from the high walls and as if in flight swiftly

headed for the shore near the city, where it then plunged

headlong into the foaming sea. Then indeed minds were

maddened, as if the spirits were fleeing the doomed site,

as if the very shades refused to lie in conquered ground.

The besieged were tired of longing for deliverance, their

sustenance condemned, the disguised Fury seizing them.

No less harsh than the gods’ remorselessness, is a death

delayed, and in their frenzy they find their life a burden,

and seek to sever its thread instantly. They vied to build

a pyre, reaching to the sky, in the midst of the city, here

they dragged or carried the rich products of a long peace,

and prizes sought by valour, robes women embroidered

with Galician gold, weapons brought by their ancestors

from Dulichian Zacynthos, and the statues of household

gods brought from ancient Ardea, city of the Rutulians;

all that the besieged still possess they throw on the pile,

and their shields and ill-fated swords, dig from the soil

hoards buried during the wars and, with pride, delight in

consigning the prize of victory to the consuming flame.

Book II: 609-649 The Saguntines are driven to kill each other

Once the deathly Fury had seen this heap she brandished

the torch she had lately dipped in Phlegethon’s fiery wave,

and hid the gods above with the dark of the underworld.

Then the undefeated people began that course of action

which their glory in misfortune renders forever famous.

Tisiphone began it: indignant at some father slow to kill

his offspring, grasping the hilt in triumph, she drove in

the reluctant sword; and with dire sound flailed with her

Stygian lash, twice, three times. Unwillingly men stain

their hands with the blood of their kin, stunned with this

crime committed against their wish, and weeping over

the wickedness they have perpetrated.  Here, one mad

with anger, and the lunacy of matricide, that ultimate

suffering life allows, averts his gaze from his mother’s

breast; and there, another snatching an axe and raising it

towards the neck of his beloved wife, curses at himself

condemns his madness mid-stroke, and hurls the weapon

down, in stupefaction. Yet allowing no escape, the Fury

lashes him again, and hisses black turmoil from her lips,

so that all wedded love flees, the joys of married bliss,

and all their union plunges into darkness. Here, again,

one exerts all his strength to hurl a sufferer into the fire,

where the vertex, a black whirlwind, emits dense fumes,

dark as pitch. There in the crowd, ill-fated Tymbrenus,

eager to rob the Carthaginians of your father’s death,

raging, all piety gone awry, you lacerate those features

resembling yours, and desecrate limbs like your own.

Eurymedon and Lycormas, too, twin brothers, you slay

each other in your prime, child so exactly alike child

to their mother, that it was a sweet confusion for her

to call each by their right name, and know their faces.

Now, the sword that penetrates your throat, Eurymedon,

saves you from crime: as your poor old mother laments,

crying out, distraught with sorrow, mistaking whom she

sees: ‘What is this? Turn your blade on me, Lycormas’

behold Lycormas pierces his own throat with the sword.

Still she shouted, misled by the likeness of those two:

‘Eurymedon, what madness is this?’ a mother calling

her dead, by erroneous names, until at last, she drives

the steel through her own quivering breast, and sinks

down across the bodies of her sons in her confusion.

Book II: 650-664 Saguntum burns

Who might control their tears as they unfold the dire

events in that city, the monstrous acts deserving praise

as sacrifices made to Fidelity, the sad fate of the pious?

Even the Punic host, enemies unknown to compassion,

might scarce refrain from weeping. A city, long known

to Fidelity, with a god as its founder, falls, neglected

by the unjust heavens, amidst the perfidious weapons

of the Carthaginian people, and its own terrible deeds;

fire and sword run riot, whatever place is not aflame

is the site of wickedness. The pyre throws up a black

cloud of dense smoke to the heights. On the very crest

of the lofty mountain the citadel spared by former wars

is burning (from there the Punic camp, the shore, all

Saguntum can yet be seen) the temples of the gods burn;

Reflected flame lights the sea, fire quivers in the waves.

Book II: 665-680 The death of the true Tiburna

Behold, the true Tiburna in the midst of mad slaughter,

armed in her distress with her husband’s bright sword,

brandishing a burning torch in her left hand, with hair

disordered, erect, shoulders bare and her breast bruised

by cruel blows, striding over corpses to Murrus’ tomb.

So seems Alecto, the Fury, when the palace of infernal

Dis echoes to the note of doom, and his royal anger stirs

and vexes the shades, and she before the throne, before

the dreadful seat of the god, serves the Jove of Tartarus,

and deals out punishment. Her husband’s armour lately

recovered with much bloodshed, she sets on the mound

with tears; prays to the shades to welcome her, and adds

her burning torch, then rushing towards death cries out:

‘I myself bear this sword to you, among the shades, oh

best of husbands.’ Thus stabbing herself, she falls upon

the armour, speaking from open lips, enters the flames.

Book II: 681-707 The fall of Saguntum

Half-consumed by the fire, unfortunate in death, corpses

lay there, without distinction or order, mingled together.

See, when a lion, roused by hunger, with thirst un-slaked,

victorious at last, has stormed the sheepfold, it roars with

gaping maw and devours the helpless sheep, while streams

of blood spill from its vast jaws; then it will crouch down

on the dark heap of half-consumed victims, or gnashing its

teeth and panting hard, roam among the mangled carcases. 

Around it in a mass lie the flock and the Molossian hound

that guarded them, the shepherds, and the owner of sheep

and fold, their huts devastated and their roofs demolished.

Now the Carthaginians burst into a citadel left undefended

by utter disaster. Now the Fury, her task done, praised

by Juno, returns to the underworld, proud and exultant,

having carried off with her to Tartarus a host of victims.

But you, starry spirits, no later age can equal, you glory

of the earth, you revered company, go, adorn Elysium,

and the pure dwelling places of the virtuous. While he,

who won fame from unfair victory (be warned you nations,

break no treaties of peace, nor set power above fidelity!)

he, fearful Carthage shall see in full retreat, and banished

from his own shore, an exile, he’ll roam the wide earth.

Haunted in sleep by the shades of Saguntum, he’ll prefer

death at his own hands; yet, the steel itself denied him,

that once invincible warmonger, will bear, to the waters

of Styx, disfigured limbs, flesh rendered livid by poison.

End of Book II of the Punica