Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved
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- Book II:1-24 Hannibal rejects the Roman mission
- Book II:25-55 Hannibal addresses and inspires his troops
- Book II:56-88 Asbyte the daughter of Hiarbas enters the fray
- Book II:89-147 The death of Mopsus and his sons
- Book II:148-187 Eurydamas is killed by Asbyte
- Book II:188-232 Asbyte is killed in turn by Theron
- Book II:233-269 Hannibal kills Theron in retribution
- Book II:270-326 Hanno condemns the war
- Book II:327-377 Gestar replies advocating conflict
- Book II:378-390 Quintus Fabius declares war on Carthage
- Book II:391-456 The shield gifted to Hannibal
- Book II:457-474 The siege gains its grip on Saguntum
- Book II:475-492 Hercules pleads with the goddess Fidelity
- Book II: 493-512 Fidelity promises to aid Saguntum
- Book II: 513-525 Fidelity instils courage
- Book II: 526-542 Juno summons the aid of Tisiphone
- Book II: 543-579 Tisiphone pretends to be Murrus’ wife Tiburna
- Book II: 580-608 Tisiphone maddens the Saguntines
- Book II: 609-649 The Saguntines are driven to kill each other
- Book II: 650-664 Saguntum burns
- Book II: 665-680 The death of the true Tiburna
- Book II: 681-707 The fall of Saguntum
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