Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book III

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

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Book III:1-31 Bostar consults the oracle of Ammon

The treaty with Carthage broken, and the walls of loyal

Saguntum, frowned on by Jupiter, overthrown, the victor

promptly visited those who live at the western limit of our

world, in Phoenician Cadiz. Nor did he neglect to consult

the prophetic minds and the prescient hearts of their seers, 

regarding the struggle for power. Bostar was told to sail

at once and to seek prior knowledge of destiny’s course.

From earliest times trust was placed in that ancient shrine,

rivalling Delphi’s cave, where horned Ammon sits on high

and, among the thirsty Garamantes, reveals the future age,

from his prophetic grove. There were sought good omens

for Hannibal’s campaign, an awareness of events to come

before they arrived, the changing fortunes of the conflict.

Then Hannibal prayed at the altars of club-bearing Hercules,

loading them with his spoils, recently seized as the victor

from out the smoke and flames of the citadel of Saguntum.

It was said, no idle tale, that the temple’s original beams

resisted decay, through ages no new hand was laid on them,

hence they delight in believing that the god dwells there,

preserving his shrine, and those who possess the right

and honour to penetrate deep within, forbid the women

to approach, banning bristling swine from the threshold.

There is no distinction among robes worn before the altar;

linen covers the body, the head gleams with a Pelusian

fillet. Loosely garbed they offer incense and, following

their fathers’ rule, the sacrificial robe bears a broad stripe.

Bare-footed, shaven-headed, their bed admits no other.

A fire on the stones serves the altars perpetually alight,

but no effigies, no customary likenesses of the gods,

fill the sanctuary with their majesty and sacred awe.

Book III:32-60 Hannibal at Hercules’ temple

The doors showed the labours of Hercules. There lay

the Hydra, her snake-heads severed, the throttled lion

of Nemea, displayed with gaping jaws. And Cerberus

guard of the Styx, who scares the shades with his fierce

baying, tore at his leash there, dragged for the very first

time from his eternal lair, and Megaera, fearing the fetter.

Nearby were the Thracian horses of Diomede, the wild

boar Erymanthus’ bane, and Diana’s bronze-footed stag

its antlers rising above the trees. And that very Antaeus,

child of Libyan soil, no easy conquest when standing

on mother Earth, lay there, and there the deformed race

of the Centaurs, half-horse half-man, and Achelous

river-god of Arcanania, bereft of a horn. Among them

Mount Oeta was seen burning with sacred fire, while

the flames swiftly carried the hero’s soul to the stars.

When Hannibal had sated his eyes with all the images

of that valour, he next perceived a marvellous sight.

The Atlantic Ocean suddenly surged towards the land

in a mass of rising waves and no far shore, the fields

were flooded with an oncoming tide. For when Nereus

emerges from his blue caverns, churning the depths

of Neptune’s waters, the whole sea erupts, and Ocean,

exposing his hidden bed, rushes on with fierce wave.

Then the deep abyss, as if roused by the savage trident,

seeks to cover the land with swollen sea. But soon

the waves turn back and retreat with the ebbing tide,

ships, robbed of water under their keel, are stranded,

and the benched oarsmen wait for the ocean to return.

The Moon stirs wandering Cymothoe’s realm, moves

the deep; the Moon, riding her chariot through the sky,

pulls and tugs at the sea, and so Tethys ebbs and flows.

Book III:61-96 Hannibal addresses his wife and son

These sights were viewed by him in haste; many things

troubling Hannibal. His first care was to remove the wife

who shared his bed, and their infant son at the breast,

from risk of war. They had wed when she was a girl,

he a youth, she was bound to him by love and memories,

but the child, born at the siege of Saguntum, had not yet

completed twelve cycles of the moon. Resolving to send

them both away, and remove them from warfare, he then

addressed them thus: ‘Oh, my son, hope of lofty Carthage,

and no less the Romans’ dread, I pray that you may prove

more glorious than your father, and make yourself a name,

with war-deeds beyond your grandfather. Already, Rome,

sick with fear, reckons up those years of yours to come

that will make mothers weep. If my prophetic spirit fails

to deceive my senses, a vast effort to win a world grows

in you. I note my father’s face, the threatening eye below

that frowning brow, the loud cries, elements of my own

wrath. If some god by chance halts my great campaign,

and, with my death, smothers it at inception, let it be

your task, my wife, to protect this pledge of war, when

he can speak lead him to my childhood scenes, let him

lay his youthful hands on Dido’s altar, and swear by his

father’s ashes, to wage war on Rome. Then when riper

age puts hairs on his cheeks, let him seek battle, tread

the treaty underfoot, and in victory demand a tomb for

me, on the Capitol. But you, whose loyalty I reverence,

who can look forward to glory and happiness from him,

leave now the danger and uncertainty of the battlefield.

relinquish hardship. We must face cliffs barred by snow,

and crags that reach the sky. We must turn to that labour.

a fiercer ordeal than war, that made great Hercules sweat,

and his stepmother Juno marvel, we must climb the Alps.

But if Fortune denies her favours, should my efforts falter,

I would wish you long life, and a prolonged old age; your

youth deserves that the Fates spin a thread beyond mine.’

Book III:97-127 Imilce, his wife, replies

So he spoke, and his wife, Imilce, replied. She was a scion

of Castalius of Delphi, who called a Spanish city, Castulo,

after his mother, which still bears the name of Apollo’s priest.

Thus Imilce traced her ancestry to that sacred stock. When

Bacchus, while conquering the Spanish tribes, took Calpe,

with his Maenads’ thyrsi and spears, one Milichus was born,

of a lustful Satyr and a Spanish nymph Myrice, and he held

a wide realm in his native land. He bore horns on his brow

like his father. It was from him Imilce inherited her nobility

and nationality, the name being corrupted in native speech.

She now spoke, her tears dropping slowly: ‘Do you forget

my life depends on yours, deny me a share in your deeds?

Does our marriage bond, our first nuptial joys, lead you

to believe your wife would fail to climb the frozen heights

with you? Trust in a woman’s strength; no labour is too

great for wedded love. Yet, if you judge by gender alone,

insist on leaving me behind, I will yield to, not hinder,

fate; I ask the god to bless you: go, prosper, favourable

prayers and powers be with you, and amidst the battle

and the glare of arms, remember, keep in mind the wife

and child you relinquish. For indeed, I fear the Romans,

their firebrands and weapons, less than I fear yourself,

you, who rush fiercely against their blades, and expose

yourself to missiles; nor are you satisfied by victory,

your solitary ambition knows no limits, thinking death

in peacetime unworthy of a soldier. Trembling grips

my limbs, yet I fear none who meets you face to face.

But may you, Father of Battles, have mercy, avert all

evil from him, and keep his life safe from the Romans.’

Book III:128-157 Hannibal seeks to calm her fears

By now they had reached the shore, and the ship rowed

landward, sailors hanging from the spars, was gradually

trimming her sails to the breeze, when Hannibal, keen

to allay her fears, and lighten a mind sick with frantic

worries, spoke in this manner: ‘My loyal wife, forget

the tears, your anxieties, the end of life is fixed for all;

whether in peace or war, our first day leads to the last. 

Their blazing spirit grants a few men eternal fame on

people’s lips, and such the heavenly Father destines

for the skies. Shall I suffer the Roman yoke, Carthage

in servitude? My father’s shade spurs me on, rebukes

me in the darkness of night; that altar and the horrid

sacrifice are before my eyes, the brief and transient

hours forbid delay. Shall I sit here, and let Carthage

alone hear my name, and all the world know me not?

Am I to abandon the heights of glory for fear of death?

What difference between dying and the life obscure?

But fear you no rashness in my hunger for fame: I too

value life, and glory delights in old age, when a man

is still celebrated for his deeds after many a long year.

You too may expect great rewards from this new war;

if the gods so grant, all Tiber, and the Roman women

and the Trojans rich in gold, shall serve you.’ As they

spoke together, their tears mingling, the helmsman,

trusting the waves, called to the reluctant wife from

his lofty perch at the stern, Torn from her husband,

she is borne away. Intently their eyes meet and gaze,

until, as the swift ship speeds away over the water,

the shore recedes, and the sea consumes the sight.

Book III:158-182 Mercury is sent to rouse Hannibal

Now Hannibal prepared to turn from love to the business

of war, swiftly returning to the walls of Cadiz, surveying

them, examining each section intently, until his strength

was exhausted by ceaseless effort, and he could compose

his warlike mind for sleep. Then the all-powerful Father,

in order to test the Roman people amidst danger, to raise

their fame to the skies through fierce warfare, and repeat

their ancestors’ ordeal at Troy, spurred on the campaign,

troubling Hannibal’s quiet rest, sending him nightmares.

Mercury, god of Cyllene, flew swiftly through the dewy

shades of night, carrying his father’s message. Without

delay, he approached Hannibal, who lay soothing his

body in untroubled sleep, and issued this sharp rebuke:

‘Oh, ruler of Libya, it is wrong for a general to spend

the whole night slumbering: war is waged by vigilance.

Soon you will see the Roman fleet emerge to plough

the waves, their warriors speeding far over the deep,

while you so slow to start, linger in Spain. Are you

sated then with glory, and with that memorable feat

of arms, such was your labour in conquering Greek

Saguntum? Stir yourself, and if your heart is capable

of bold action, come with me, be a companion to my

call; do not look back (such is Jupiter’s command),

I will set you victorious before Rome’s high walls.’

Book III:183-213 His vision of the Serpent

And now Hannibal dreamed that the god took his arm

and drew him joyfully in haste to Italy, Saturn’s land,

when suddenly he was surrounded by noise, a sibilant

hissing of savage tongues, filling the sky behind him.

Then, in intense fear, forgetting the god’s admonition,

deeply troubled, he looked back. Behold, a dark serpent,

hissing with fatal blast, sweeping along, in vast embrace,

woodlands, shattered trees, dragging the rocks through

pathless tracts. Huge as the snaky constellation Draco,

which flexes its coils around the Great and Little Bear,

encompassing both with its course, the serpent stretches

its jaws to a gaping vastness, and lifts its crest as high

as the storm-swept mountains. The fury of the bursting

heavens redoubled the sound, hurtling down torrents

of rain mixed with hail. Terrified by this apparition

(for neither sleep nor the power of night gripped him,

since Mercury, his caduceus dispelling darkness, had

mingled light and shadows) Hannibal asked the god

what this dreadful monster meant, and where it went

with that body burdening earth, whom its jaws sought.

Mercury, born in the cold caves of nurturing Cyllene,

answered: ‘You witness the war you prayed for. You,

are followed by mighty conflict, ruined forests, fierce

storms in an angry sky, the slaughter of men, and vast

destruction, and a sorrowful fate for the Roman people,

that race of Trojan Mount Ida. Just as the scaly-backed

serpent laid waste the mountains, hurling the uprooted

trees over the plains, sprinkling the wide earth with its

foaming venom, so you will conquer the Alps, hurtling

down to shroud Italy in war; and, with like noise, you

will uproot their cities, and raze their shattered walls.’

Book III:214-240 Hannibal sets out for Italy

Sleep and the god left him roused by these incitements.

A cold sweat gripped his body, while with fearful joy

he thought of the dream’s promise, reviewing the night.

Soon he sacrificed to Mars and the King of the Gods,

in thanks for the favourable omen; but first Mercury,

god of Cyllene, was rewarded for his counsel, with

a snow-white bull at the altar. Then Hannibal ordered

the standards to be raised at once, a sudden clamour

filled the camp with the tremor of discordant voices.

Now, Calliope, render famous those peoples stirred

to this dread campaign, led against Latium’s realm;

and the cities of untamed Spaniards Carthage armed;

and the squadrons she mustered on the African shore,

daring to claim the reins of power, to impose a new

yoke on nations. Never did a fiercer tempest blow,

impelled by angry winds. No more violently raged

that fatal war that launched a thousand ships when

a world was gripped by fear. First to the standard

marched the warriors of Tyrian Carthage, slender

of limb, and denied the honour of tall stature, yet

trained to deceive, and never slow to lay hidden

traps for the enemy. Then, carrying a rough shield

they fought with the short sword; went bare-footed

and unbelted, and dressed in red to hide with art

their blood, shed in war. Hannibal’s brother Mago

lead them, clad in purple, shining above them all,

to his chariot’s rumbling, a living brother in arms.

Book III:241-264 The Carthaginian troop list: North Africa I

Besides Carthage, Utica poured out her men, the earlier city

founded long before Byrsa, the ancient Carthaginian citadel.

Next Tunisian Clypea, its wall, bordering the sea, built by

Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse, its ramparts shield-shaped.

But all eyes watched Sychaeus, Hasdrubal’s son, their leader,

his heart swelling with vanity, because of his mother’s line,

his uncle Hannibal’s name ever-present on his proud lips.

The soldiers of sea-washed Berenicis (Benghazi) were there,

nor was arid Barce absent, of thirsty springs, whose men

are armed for battle with long smooth pikes; Cyrene also

roused its scions of Battus for the fight, treacherous folk

descended from Peloponnesian stock, and led by Ilertes,

quick to counsel but slow in war, once praised by Hamilcar.

Then Sabratha and Phoenician Leptis had sent their people,

while Oea had sent Africans mixed with Sicilian colonists,

and Lixus the men of Tingis (Tangiers) from its wild shore.

Next were Vaga and Hippo dear to kings of old, Ruspina

guarding itself from flooding by its distance from the sea,

and Zama, and Thapsus enriched now with Roman blood.

All these forces Antaeus led, a giant in a giant’s armour,

serving Hercules’ fame by his deeds and name, his head

towering high above the heads of his marching soldiers.

Book III:265-299 The Carthaginian troop list: North Africa II

The Ethiopians were there, a people who know the reaches

of the Nile, and dig magnetic ore, theirs the sole power

to mine the iron intact by bringing their loadstones near. 

Likewise present were the sunburnt Nubae, whose bodies

testify to the merciless orb, wearing neither bronze helms

nor thick steel breastplates, nor armed with bows, who veil

their heads in folds of linen, and with it cover their limbs,

and hurl missiles, their tips steeped in venomous juices,

disgracing the blades with poison. Now the Macae learn,

men from the River Cinyps, how to pitch a tent in camp

in the Phoenician manner; shaggy-bearded warriors, backs

clad in bristling wild goat-hide, who bear curved javelins.

The Adrymachidae though, bore a multi-coloured shield,

and a sword fashioned in the shape of a sickle, a greave

on the left leg. They fed on rough fare, ate a meagre diet, 

with their pitiful foodstuffs roasted on the burning sand.

The Massyli, westernmost dwellers on this earth, came

with their glittering standards too, from the Hesperides.

Before them went fierce Bocchus, the hair of his head

curling in close locks, who had seen the sacred garden

by the sea, its golden fruit gleaming among green leaves.

And the Gaetulians left their sites for Hannibal’s camp,

who are accustomed to live among packs of wild beasts,

calming the fierceness of untamed lions by their speech;

building no huts, they live in wagons, migrating from

place to place, carrying their nomadic gods with them.

A thousand wing-footed squadrons sped to join the force,

with horses swifter than the wind, taught to obey the whip.

So when the Spartan hounds fill the thickets with baying,

or an Umbrian dog with its keen powers of scent drives

wild creatures along the mountain track, a herd of deer,

fleeing before them, scatters headlong both far and wide.

Acherras led the Gaetulians, with sad face, frowning brow,

for he was brother to that Asbyte so recently slaughtered.

Book III:299-324 The Carthaginian troop list: North Africa III

Then the Marmoridae appeared, clashing their weapons, a race

with magical powers, at whose spells the snake lost its venom,

and at whose touch the horned serpents lay still and harmless.

Next, the raw warriors of Baniura, poor in iron they are content

to harden their spear-points over a meagre fire, eager for battle,

mingling wild cries with fierce speech. And the Autololes, too,

a fiery race of nimble runners, unmatched by the swift warhorse

or the rapid running river; so fast their speed they vie with birds,

and when they have scoured the plain in flight, you would seek

their footprints in vain. In camp were seen those who eat sweet

fruit from a tree famous for its juice, the tempting lotus berry.

And the Garamantes who fear the maddened snakes spewing

black venom in the immense wastes. Legend has it that when

Perseus killed the Gorgon and carried off her head, her dread

blood dripped from it over Libya, till the land ran with snakes

of Medusa. Choaspes led their thousands, a native of Ithacan

Djerba proven in war, whose lightning-quick right hand ever

bore a javelin, a famous weapon. Here the Nasamones came

from the sea, men who dare to attack wrecks on the waves,

and snatch spoils from the deep. Here came those who dwell

by the deep pools of Lake Tritonis, where Pallas the virgin

warrior goddess sprang from the water, as the legend goes,

anointing Libya first with oil from the olive she discovered.

Book III:325-343 The Carthaginian troop list: Iberia I

All the furthest nations of the west were there, moreover.

The Cantabrians above all, proof against cold, heat, hunger,

conquering every hardship. In their weak and white-haired

old age these people take strange pleasure in cutting short

their years of debility by choosing death, unable to endure

life except in arms: for war indeed is their only reason for

living, and they hate to exist in peace. Astyr the ill-fated

charioteer of Memnon son of the Dawn, was represented

there, for drenched in Aurora’s tears he had fled far from

his own land to the opposite side of the world. Asturian

horses are small, not notable in battle, yet pick up speed  

without rattling their rider about, or with docile manner

draw a carriage quickly in peacetime. Cydnus led, ready

to scour the heights of the Pyrenees in the hunt, or offer

his Moorish javelin in battle. The Celts were there, too,

who, as Celtiberi, have added the Hiberi to their name.

To die in battle is glorious to them, to cremate the body

of such as do a crime, since they believe the spirit goes

to the gods if some ravenous vulture eats the dead flesh.

Book III: 344-377 The Carthaginian troop list: Iberia II

Rich Galicia sent its men, knowledgeable in the reading

of entrails, the flight of birds, the lightning, who delight

now in crying out barbarous chants in their native tongue,

now in stamping the ground with their feet, clashing their

sounding shields in time to the dance. Such the pleasures

and sport of the men, and such their solemn entertainment.

All other effort is performed by women; the men consider

it unmanly to sow seed in the furrow or turn the soil with

a plough. But Galician wives, un-resting, perform every

task but military service. These men, and the Lusitanians

drawn from remote forests, were led by young Viriathus,

a name made famous much later in warfare against Rome.

Nor were the Cerretani slow to bear arms, they had fought

for Hercules, nor the Vascones, helmetless, nor was Ilerda,

a city that later saw that Roman madness in the civil war;

nor the Concanians, who prove, by their savagery, descent

from the Massagetae, opening their horses’ veins to drink.

Now Phoenician Ebusus (Ibiza) is in arms, the Arbacians,

fierce fighters with dart or slender javelin, the Balearic

islanders, Tlepolemus their sire, with Lindus in Rhodes

their native place, waging war with sling and flying lead;

and men sent out by the cities of Oene and Aetolian Tyde,

called Gravii by corruption of their former name, the Graii.

New Carthage, founded by Teucer long ago, sent warriors,

and Emporiae a colony of Marseilles, and Tarragona, place

of vines: its vintage yields to no others but those of Latium.

Outstanding among these men were the Sedetanian soldiers,

with their shining breastplates, who live by the icy waters

of the Sucro, out of the high citadel of their city, Saetabis –

Saetabis which is proud to scorn the Arab looms, vying

in its weaving with Egyptian linen-makers. They were

commanded by Mandonius and Caeso, the famous tamer

of horses, and their joint effort held that force together.

Book III: 378-414 The Carthaginian troop list: Iberia III

Balarus displayed the squadrons of Vettones on the open

plain. In their country, where springs are mild and the air

is warm, the herds of mares, mating in secret, conceive

a mysterious progeny sired by the breeze. But their stock

is short-lived, old age arrives swiftly, and seven years at

the longest is the duration of their lives. Less light of foot

are the horses from Uxama with its Sarmatian walls, yet

the steeds that came from there to the war were tenacious

of life, their raw vigour found it hard to endure the bit,

or obey a rider’s commands. Rhyndacus led the men;

armed with spears, they adorn their helmets fearsomely

with gaping jaws of wild beasts; they spend their lives

hunting or live like their fathers by violence and plunder.

Gleaming above the rest were the banners of Delphian

Castulo; Seville, celebrated for its sea-going commerce

and its tidal estuary; Nebrissa which knows the thyrsi

of Bacchus god of Nysea, and is cultivated by nimble

Satyrs and nocturnal Maenads, wearing their sacred

fawn-skin and the mystic vine-leaves. Carteia armed

the scions of Arganthonius, once their king, longest

lived of mankind, fit for war for three hundred years.

Tartessos armed, it views Phoebus setting; Munda

too, due to reproduce Pharsalia’s suffering for Italy;

nor did Cordoba fail to honour its gold-bearing soil.

These men were led by blond Phorcys and Arauricus,

a warrior of influence among the corn-bearing lands,

men equal in age; born on those fertile banks where

Guadalquivir winds beneath the shade of olive-trees.

Such were the men the Carthaginian leader, Hannibal,

led over the plains darkened with dust, their bright

banners shining in the field, far as the eye could see,

riding in triumph, leaving a shadow over all the land.

So when Neptune glides in his chariot over the deep,

and directs his bridled horses to the far Ocean where

the sun sinks to rest, all the bands of Nereids emerge

from their caves, swim in rivalry as is their custom,

driving their gleaming arms through the pale water.

Book III: 415-441 Hercules in the Pyrenees Mountains

Hannibal now sought the leafy heights of the Pyrenees,

disturbing the peace of nations. From the leafy summits

of their storm-swept peaks, they command wide views,

and dividing Spain from Gaul form an eternal barrier

between two vast countries. The range takes its name

from a daughter of Bebryx, Pyrene, victim of his guest,

Hercules. For when he was seeking that distant country

of three-bodied Geryon, in the course of his fated labours,

he was overcome with drunkenness at Bebryx’s savage

court, and robbed her of her virginity, her beauty a cause

for grief. The god (if it is lawful to believe it) the god

was the reason for the wretched girl’s death, for, giving

birth to a serpent, at once she fled her beloved home,

in horror and dread of her father’s anger. She grieved,

in lonely caves, for that one night with her Hercules,

telling the dark forests of the promises he had made,

and, while she was lamenting her lover’s ingratitude,

stretching out her hands, summoning the hero’s aid,

she was destroyed at last by wild beasts. Returning,

in victory, having disposed of Geryon, he drenched

her lacerated limbs in tears, so distraught in his grief

he turned pale, seeing the face of a girl he had loved.

Then the mountain heights were shaken by his cries;

with loud lament he called for his Pyrene, while all

the cliffs, and haunts of wild creatures repeated her

name. Then with tears for the dead he laid her body

in the grave; nor will the centuries eclipse her fame,

the hills forever keep that name that brought tears.

Book III: 442-476 Hannibal crosses the Rhone and Durance

Now marching through mountains, dense pine-woods,

Hannibal left behind the realm of the Bebrycian king.

Then he boldly forced a path through the inhospitable

lands of the Volcae, ravaging them in his swift course

and reached the menacing banks of the swollen Rhone.

Rising on the snowy peaks of the Alps, the river flows

through Gaul, swelling to a vast stream, cuts through

the plains, all foaming, and rushes swiftly to its broad

estuary, and the sea. The Saône, whose silent current  

seems at rest, augments the Rhone, which embraces

these seemingly reluctant waters in a restless flow,

denies, as it rushes through the land, their own name

to neighbouring shores, and plunges them in the sea.

The soldiers readily plunged into the Rhone’s waters

no bridge can survive, some, head and shoulders held

high, protecting their weapons, other men competing,

with vigorous strokes of their arms, to cleave the flow.

The horses were haltered, then ferried over in barges;

nor did the elephants’ terror delay the crossing, since

the men tethered rafts along the river, covered their

decks with a layer of soil then, slacking the cables,

gradually, floated the rafts with their Libyan beasts

from the high bank, out over the deep water. At this

invasion of trumpeting creatures, the troubled Rhone,

feeling the burden of these dusky monsters, reversed

its flow, while rumbling darkly from its sandy depths.

Now the armies pressed on through Tricastini lands,

then marched on easily through the Vocontii country.

But here the Durance, turbid with rocks and branches,

hindered the general’s ready progress. Born in the Alps,

it bears, with a roar, uprooted ash-trees, and boulders

torn from the cliffs, in its raging course, obliterating

the fords in its deceptively altering course, such that

the traveller cannot cross on foot, no vessel is safe.

And now, swollen with recent rain, it snatched away

many armed men, whirling them in its foaming eddies,

drowning deep the lacerated bodies and mangled limbs.

Book III: 477-499 Hannibal approaches the Alps

But now thought of past efforts was lost in apprehension,

when they saw the Alps close at hand. The whole range

is shrouded by eternal rime and hoar-frost that encases

the ice of ages; the steep faces of the high peaks tower

against the rising sun yet the hardened slopes are never

melted by its rays. As far as the gulf yawns, that splits

our upper world from the shadowy realms of Tartarus,

reaching to the shades below and the pools of the dark

marshes, so high does the earth here rise through the air,

obscuring the sky with its shadow. There is no Spring

or lovely Summer here; only endless bare Winter keeps

these dreadful heights, driving on black storm-clouds

and rain confused with hail. Moreover, all of the winds

and gales find their home in this furious Alpine realm.

The eye is troubled by the soaring cliffs, the peaks

are lost in the clouds. Mount Athos piled on Taurus,

Rhodope on Mimas, Pelion heaped on Ossa, Othrys

on Haemus, must yield to the Alps. Hercules first

set foot amongst these untouched citadels, a sight

for the gods as he split the clouds, brought the high

mountains low, and with his sheer strength tamed

rocks untrodden in those long ages since their birth.  

Book III: 500-539 Hannibal forces the ascent

The soldiers moved slowly, and with uncertain step,

as if they were carrying impious arms, defying nature,

beyond the world’s sacred boundary, against the gods.

Their general countered all this (he being untroubled

by the Alps and their terrors, exhorting his men who

were faint with fear, lifting their courage, reviving

their vigour) crying: ‘Have you no shame, sluggards,

weary of victory and the gods’ favour, retreating now,

after glory won in the thick of war, before snowy peaks,

and yielding to mere cliffs? Now, oh now, my friends,

think that you climb now the walls of imperial Rome,

and Jupiter’s high Capitol. This labour shall grant us

an Italy and a Tiber in chains.’ Without more delay,

persuading them by promises of riches, he roused

the men to climb, commanding them to relinquish

the route forged by Hercules, to march over fresh

ground, ascending by a path of their own making.

He forced a passage where none had been, first

to conquer the heights, calling from the craggy

summit for the troops to follow. Then, wherever

the slopes were solid with frozen ice, the slippery

route over the snow-slopes thwarting them, he cut

steps into the resistant ground with steel. Melting

snow swallowed the men in crevasses, or rushing

from the heights buried the troops in avalanches.

Meanwhile a harsh north-westerly, on dark wings,

drove the snow, congealing in that opposing gale,

full in their faces; or the vast roaring of the raging

storm tore their shields away, and whirling them

upwards the spiralling gale blew them to the clouds.

The higher they climbed in their struggle to ascend

the ridge, the greater the effort. Conquering the one

height, wearily they see another rising before them,

and they cannot bear to look back at the hardships

they have overcome by toil, for such was the dread

with which the featureless snow struck their eyes;

as a single frozen whiteness met the gaze wherever

their sight could reach. So when a sailor mid-ocean

leaves the land he loves behind, when the flapping

sails on his useless mast can find no wind, he sees

only a boundless waste, wearily refreshing his eyes

by turning them to the sky, defeated by the depths.

Book III: 540-556 A difficult passage to the ridge

Now, after the difficulties and disasters of the climb,

half-savage men showed their faces among the rocks,

filthy faces, with matted dirt fouling the tangled hair.

These Alpine tribes, emerging from caves in the rocks,

attacked them, flying through thorn-scrub with ease,

accustomed to the snow-fields and the pathless cliffs,

the beleaguered army prey to the nimble mountaineers.

Now the place had a different look: here the snow was

dyed crimson with blood, there the unconquered ice

gradually yielded to the warmth of those effusions;

and where the horses stamp their hooves, their feet

stick fast in the ground they pierce. Nor is falling

the only risk, for men leave flesh behind severed

by the cold, shattered limbs amputated by the ice.

Twelve days, twelve nights they spent in dreadful

suffering, before reaching the longed-for summit,

and pitching camp high on the precipitous cliffs.

Book III: 557-569 Venus complains to Jove

Now Venus, her mind troubled by doubt and fear,

addressed her father, breaking out in sad lament:

‘When will this punishment of the Romans end,

I pray, what limit do you set to their destruction?

After their wanderings over land and sea, when

will you grant them a fixed abode? Why should

this Carthaginian attempt to drive my offspring

from the city you conceded to them? He has set

Libya upon the Alps, threatens an end to empire.

Rome now fears Saguntum’s fate. Grant a place,

Father, to rest in safety, to which we may bear,

at last, the ashes and sacred relics of ruined Troy,

the household gods of Assaracus, the son of Tros,

and the flame of Vesta. Is it not enough for you,

our wandering the earth seeking a place of exile?

Or must Rome be captured, Troy fall once more?’

Book III: 570-629 Jupiter replies with a panegyric of the Flavians

So Venus spoke; and then her father replied thus:

‘Fear not, Cytherea, nor be troubled by the Tyrian

campaign; your offspring hold and long shall hold

the Tarpeian Rock. Yet I intend to test them with

this conflict, and try their courage in war. A race,

steadfast in battle, joying in conquering hardship,

are lapsing little by little from their ancestral glory;

those who never failed to yield blood for honour

and thirsted always for fame, now pass their time

in obscure inaction, spend their life in inglorious

silence, though my blood runs in their veins, their

virtue is slowly weakened and lost by the bland

poison of indolence. It is a mighty work, needing

immense effort to claim sole power over so many

nations. Already a time is coming when you will

see Rome ruling all, more glorious for these ills.

This action shall produce famous men, worthy

of my kingdom; you’ll praise Aemilius Paulus,

Fabius Maximus, and Claudius Marcellus, who

has pleased me by gaining the greatest of spoils.

These men, despite defeats, will win for Latium

so great an empire even their offspring will not

destroy it, for all their luxuries and fickle hearts.

Already Scipio is born who shall drive Hannibal

out of Latium, back to his native land, dispossess

him of all his armour before the walls of Carthage,

and then Cytherea, your folk shall reign long ages.

Later, heavenly excellence will spring from Cures,

and rise to the stars, a warlike house, nourished

by the olive that grows in Sabine lands, shall add

to the fame of the deified Julii. Vespasian, father

of that house, will grant Rome victory over Thule,

till then unknown to us, and be the first to send

an army through the Caledonian forests; he will

tame the Rhine, rule Africa with his energy and,

in old age, subdue the Judean palm-groves in war.

Nor will he go to the pools of Styx and the realm

deprived of light, but to the dwellings of the gods

and the honours we all enjoy. Then Titus, his son,

greatly excelling in strength of mind, will take up

his father’s task and be borne to the heights, his

head raised high to match his power. Still a youth,

he will end that conflict with the uncivilised tribes

in Palestine. But you, Domitian, ruler of Germany,

will transcend their deeds, already, as a child, feared

by blond-haired Batavians. The fire in the Tarpeian

Temple will not harm you, you will be saved for

mankind’s sake from the midst of impious flames,

and in the far future share in our heavenly realm.

The warriors of the Ganges will one day lower

their slackened bows before him, and Parthia will

display its empty quivers. He will ride a triumphal

chariot through Rome after conquering the North,

and triumph in the East, Bacchus yielding to him.

When the Danube refuses passage to the standards,

as the victor in Sarmatia he will control the river.

And he will outdo the sons of Romulus in oratory,

all who won honour by their eloquence; the Muses

shall bring him offerings, Apollo admire his verse,

a sweeter strain than that of Orpheus, who stilled

the Hebrus, moved Mount Rhodope. He will raise

a golden temple on the Tarpeian Rock, where now,

as you see, my ancient palace stands, and heighten

the summit of the shrine to reach our celestial home.

O son of the deified, and the father of gods to be,  

rule then the fortunate earth with ancestral power.

Heaven will welcome you after a lengthy old age,

and Romulus as Quirinus yield, to you, his throne;

your father, your brother will set you between them,

and send out rays like the brow of your deified son.’

Book III: 630-646 Hannibal enters Italy

While Jove was revealing the course of future events,

Hannibal was descending the hostile slopes, trying

to gain a foothold on the trackless cliffs, and sliding

over wet rock. No enemy army opposed him; only

the menacing steepness of the drop, the boulders

against rock-walls troubled him. Men halted, as if

prisoned, lamenting the obstacles, the harshness

of the route. Nor could they ease their frozen bodies

in rest; labouring all night, forced to bear timber

on their shoulders, tearing ash-trees from the hills;

then, having cleared those slopes where the forest

was thickest, piling the wood in a heap, firing it till

the rock was eroded by fierce flame. Then the heavy

mass broke, splitting before the axe, with a groan,

opening ancient Latinus’ realm to the weary men.

After, these efforts, traversing the untrodden Alps,

Hannibal pitched his camp on the plains of Turin.

Book III: 647-714 Bostar brings the oracle’s response

Now, Bostar came bearing Jove’s oracular response,

full of joy having crossed the sands of the Garamantes

and roused Hannibal, as if he had seen Jupiter himself:

‘Great scion of Belus, whose might protects the walls

of our citadel from servitude, we saw the Libyan shrine.

The Syrtis, drenching the heavens, bore us to the gods,

and the land, fiercer than the sea, almost swallowed us.

From the very midst of the earth to the ends of the sky,

all is a barren waste. Nature forbids all elevation there,

in that limitless tract, save where a whirlwind, dense

with thickening sand, driving along in unsolid clouds,

builds a dune; or where a south-westerly escaping from

its cave, devastates the earth, and a fierce north-westerly,

driving the sea across the skies, falls on that plain, set

for their conflict, raising in turn heaps of blown sand.

We headed over these dunes by observing the stars;

for the way is lost in the light, but the Little Bear

that faithfully guides the Phoenician sailor, here

leads the traveller wandering over the sandy deep,

staring endlessly at the desert wastes around him.

Then, when we came, weary, to the tree-filled

oasis, and the groves and the gleaming temple

of horned Ammon, we were welcomed as guests

by Arisbas, who led us to his home. Beside this

shrine, is a wondrous marvel, a spring with water

which feels tepid at the rise and the close of day,

but cold when the midday sun lights the heavens,

and again this same spring boils at dead of night.

Then the old man showed us the sites filled with

the god, and fields that bear without the plough,

and addressed us as follows with a joyous heart:

“Bow down in prayer, Bostar, before these shady

groves, this roof that soars to heaven, these trees

where Jove has walked. For who in the world has

not heard of Jove’s gift, twin doves that perched

on Thebe’s lap? One flew to the shores of Chaonia,

and fills Dodona’s oak with prophetic murmuring.

But the other sailed the sky above the Aegean Sea,

flew on dark wings to the dark-skinned Libyans,

this bird of Venus electing a site for the temple.

Here, where you see the altar and the shady grove,

the dove, strange to tell, chose a ram, the leader

of its flock, and perching between the horns on

its fleecy head, prophesied to the Marmaridae.

Later trees sprang unannounced from the earth,

and a grove of ancient oaks, and as the branches

touch the sky, so they grew on the very first day.

Hence the grove is sacred, held in primal awe,

and worshipped with warm streaming altars.”

While we wondered at his words, the doors

of a sudden flew open with a tremendous crash,

the light at once grew brighter before our eyes,

and before the altar a priest stood, gleaming

in his white robe, and the people vied to enter.

When I had spoken the message I had brought,

behold, the god then entered into his prophet.

The quivering trees hummed with a deep sound,

and a murmur passed through the grove; then

a voice louder than any we know issued out:

“Libyans, who invade Latium, ready to wage

war against the Roman scions of Assaracus.

I see a hard campaign, fierce Mars mounting

his chariot now, his furious steeds breathing

dark flame against the West, blood streaming

from his reins. You then, who seek to know

the outcome of that conflict, its destined end,

advance your wings boldly, in glorious effort,

against Diomede’s Apulia, the Iapygian plain;

you will honour your Phoenician ancestors,

for after you, none shall wound the Roman

race more deeply, while their Trojan realm

still trembles to your victories. Nor shall

that race of Saturn ever live free from care,

while Hannibal breathes in the upper world.” ’

Such was the joyous prophecy that Bostar

brought, filling the army with lust for battle.

End of Book III of the Punica