Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved
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- Book IV:1-38 Italy prepares for war
- Book IV:39-66 Hannibal exhorts his troops to battle
- Book IV:67-87 Scipio the Consul at the Ticinus (Ticino) 218BC
- Book IV:88-119 Preparations and an omen
- Book IV:120-142 Interpretations of the portent
- Book IV:143-188 Crixus the Celt causes damage
- Book IV:143-215 The death of Quirinius
- Book IV:216-247 Scipio the Consul attacks
- Book IV:248-310 Scipio the Consul kills Crixus
- Book IV:311-323 The two sides seek advantage
- Book IV:324-354 Hannibal on the rampage
- Book IV:355-400 Two trios of brothers die
- Book IV:401-416 Scipio the Consul rallies his troops
- Book IV:417-444 Jupiter orders Mars to intervene
- Book IV:445-479 Scipio the Consul is saved by his son Scipio
- Book IV:480-497 Sempronius Longus reaches the Trebia
- Book IV:498-524 The Battle of the Trebia River (218BC)
- Book IV:525-553 The armies engage
- Book IV:554-572 The death of Allius
- Book IV:573-597 The Romans are driven into the water
- Book IV:598-621 Fibrenus attacks an elephant
- Book IV:622-648 Scipio enters the river
- Book IV:649-666 The river-god reproaches him
- Book IV:667-689 Venus turns Vulcan against the river
- Book IV:690-703 Scipio and Sempronius retreat
- Book IV:704-721 Gaius Flaminius takes the helm (217BC)
- Book IV:722-738 Juno appears to Hannibal
- Book IV:739-762 Hannibal crosses the Apennines
- Book IV:763-807 Hannibal’s son chosen as victim
- Book IV:808-829 Hannibal rejects the sacrifice
Book IV:1-38 Italy prepares for war
News spread through the troubled cities of Italy
crying that the cloudy peaks and the rocky ridge
with its sky-threatening cliffs had been conquered,
the Carthaginians having descended from the Alps
by trackless ways, with Hannibal boasting a deed
that rivalled the labour of Hercules. Cruel Rumour
prophesied dire commotion, shaking the terrified
cities with wild reports, and growing as it passed,
moving more swiftly than the wings of the wind.
Fear, exaggerating what it heard, was quick to feed
the common talk on lies. Men applied themselves
suddenly to the business of war, as Mars swiftly
sounded out Italy, summoning up arms and men.
They renew their javelins, the steel freed from rust
takes on its savage gleam, and helmets laid aside
refresh their splendour with snowy plumes; spears
are strengthened with thongs, axes forged anew.
The breastplate, fashioned to divert many a thrust
and failed blow, is fitted to form an impenetrable
defence for the flesh. Some sit late mending bows,
some tame panting circling steeds with the whip,
and others whet blades on stone. Nor are men slow
to mend those walls that time has ravaged, bringing
stone, remaking hollow turrets dilapidated with age.
Missiles are stored in citadels, now the men hasten
to fetch oak-timber from the forests to repair their
gates with solid bars, and to dig the moats around.
Fear, their master, speeds the work, while terror is
loose in deserted fields. Homes are left behind, as
men carry ailing mothers on their shoulders, drag
along the aged at the end of their lives. They drive
before them wives with dishevelled hair, behind
them come little children with their shorter step,
clinging to their father’s hands. So the people flee,
passing on fear to each other, not seeking its cause.
Yet the Senate, though secretly alarmed by a war
so savagely begun, and this crossing of the Alps,
met the danger with unshaken minds and great
courage: inspired to pass through peril to glory,
and build, by strength of arms, such a monument
to Fame as Fortune had never granted in success.
Book IV:39-66 Hannibal exhorts his troops to battle
But Hannibal nursed his strength behind his defences,
the men being weary from their march, their muscles
stiff from the endless cold; while, by way of solace, he
pronounced to them that the way to Rome led now over
level ground, and the city was at their mercy. And yet,
he approved no pause in his own affairs and his plan
of campaign, he alone unable to suffer rest. Armed
Gauls, once before, in ancient times, had invaded
the fruitful lands of Italy, and spread terror by force;
then Tarpeian Jupiter, and the conquered Quirites,
had swiftly felt the shock of sacrilegious warfare.
But while Hannibal was trying to bribe the Gauls,
working on that people’s foolish hearts and fickle
ways, attempting to forge an alliance with them,
Scipio the Consul, was returning from Marseilles,
a Phocaean city, skimming the coast in a fast ship;
each of these great leaders had ended a hard task,
one on land, the other at sea, a more immediate
confrontation awaited, and our path to disaster
had begun. For when the Consul arrived, when
the armies came together, Fate ended all delay,
as the soldiers, roused by the sight of the enemy,
demanded the signal for a furious assault. Then
Hannibal’s voice rose loud above his vast host:
‘Have we not tamed all of distant Spain; neither
the Pyrenees nor the proud Rhone have scorned
to do our bidding, and Rutulian Saguntum burns;
we forced a road through Gaul, and you warriors
of Carthage marched, in arms, where Hercules
laboured to set foot; our horsemen have gained
the heights, trampled the ridges, and the Alps
themselves echoed to the snorting of our steeds.’
Book IV:67-87 Scipio the Consul at the Ticinus (Ticino) 218BC
Opposite him, the consul called his men to glorious
conflict: ‘Soldiers, the enemy drag their frozen limbs
with difficulty, weakened and frost-bitten by Alpine
snows. They may have threaded untrodden mountains,
and rocky chasms, but let them find how much higher
our ramparts are than Saguntum’s, and which task is
harder, climbing hills or breaking through your ranks.
Grant them their vain exploit, let the Alps confront
them when, routed in mighty battle, they crawl back
the way they came. The gods brought them here, led
them over the heights, merely to drench our Latium
with their blood, and leave their bones on enemy soil.
Tell me, is this war waged by a new altered Carthage,
or by that same Carthage that foundered in the waves,
lies drowned in the vast deeps off the Aegatian Isles?
So speaking, he diverted their march to the Ticinus.
That clear river in its shallow bed, free of turbulence,
holds pools of blue water, its bright stream flowing
so fresh and slow you would barely think it moves;
sliding so gently between shady banks, where birds
vie in their melodious singing, its gleaming waters
bring sleep, with its shining flood, to the passer-by.
Book IV:88-119 Preparations and an omen
Now, as the shadows fled and night ended, dawn
arrived and Sleep had fulfilled its destined hours,
the consul prepared to view the ground, the nature
of the hills nearby, and the character of the plain.
Hannibal owned to the same intent and the same
anxiety at heart. So the two generals approached,
accompanied by their swiftest cavalry squadrons.
When the clouds of rising dust showed the armies
were on the march, and the earth rang to the sound
of ever-nearing hooves, the trumpets drowned by
the eager neighing of the horses, both the leaders
cried out: ‘To arms and quickly, warriors to arms!’
Both showed restless courage, and the thirst for
glory, twin spirits in their love of war and conflict.
There was no delay, and soon they were separated
by only the space a thong-thrown lance can cover,
when suddenly all eyes and thoughts were turned
on the sky, where a portent appeared in the clear
and cloudless air. A hawk flying from the south
fiercely attacked a flock of doves, dear to Venus,
who to that same Dione’s favour owe their fame.
It had cruelly wounded and killed fifteen of them,
with beak, or talons, or fierce blows of its wings.
Nor was it sated, its ardour for fresh blood grew,
it drove the last dove hard, as she wavered in her
flight on weary wings, terrified by the slaughter,
until an eagle rising out the east forced the hawk
to seek refuge at last high in the billowing clouds.
Then the dove, unvanquished, turned and flew
to the Roman eagles, where the Consul’s son,
named Cornelius Scipio also, brandished his
gleaming weapons with boyish strength, then,
after calling thrice, and pecking at the plume
of his glittering helm, she returned to the sky.
Book IV:120-142 Interpretations of the portent
Liger the seer (a master skilled in perceiving
heaven’s warnings and foretelling the future
from the flight of birds) called out: ‘Hannibal,
like that bold hawk you will pursue Romans
within the Italian lands, carrying off plunder,
and shedding much blood. But restrain your
threats, for behold, Jupiter’s armour-bearer,
the eagle, withholds that realm from you. I
know you, mightiest of the gods. O Father,
be here, confirm the omen your bird offers!
For (unless the bird misrepresents the gods,
and his flight means naught) this boy will
forge conquered Libya’s ultimate fate, and
greater fame himself than that of Carthage.’
But, countering, the seer Bogus prophesied
good fortune for Hannibal, saying the hawk
was a favourable sign, while the slaughter
of the doves on the wing foretold disaster
for the Romans, the descendants of Venus.
And, to suit his words, he hurled the first
spear against the enemy, as if prompted by
the gods, and aware of the future. The dart
flying through the empty air above the wide
plain would have failed of its effect had not
Catus, eager to win glory in this first onset,
ridden his horse full tilt to meet it; the spear,
though sinking on its way, and about to fall,
found the mark, thus gifted it by the enemy,
piercing the temples offered by that brow.
Book IV:143-188 Crixus the Celt causes damage
The armies advanced, and a mighty clamour
overspread the field, as the riders gave their
chargers the head, and urged them onwards:
rearing, they galloped on, in stormy flight,
leaving barely a trace of their hooves over
the dusty plain. A swift squadron of Boii,
led by Crixus the Celt, far ahead of the rest,
struck the Roman front line, and blocked
its path with their immense bodies. Crixus,
proud of his ancestry, claimed descent from
Brennus, famed for the taking of the Capitol.
On his shield, the madman showed the Gauls
there on the sacred summit of the Tarpeian hill,
weighing out the gold. A gleaming torc shone
on his pallid neck, his garments were trimmed
with gold, his gauntlets showed stiff with gold,
and the like metal glowed on his helmet crest.
The mighty charge struck the men of Camerium
holding the front line, so the Boii overran their
close-packed spears in dense waves, meanwhile
the accursed Senones joined the Boii, swelling
their ranks, and the corpses of men, shattered
by the horses’ chests, rolled across the ground.
The field drenched, deep pools of blood from
men and horses, swallow the slippery prints
of the fighting squadron. Those half-dead are
killed outright by the weight of hooves, while
the wheeling horses scatter a hideous bloody
dew on the earth, the poor wretches’ armour
drenched with their gore. Proud Pelorus threw
the first javelin to find its mark, now stained
with the bright life-blood of young Tyrrhenus.
For the barbarian’s missile struck him as he
blew his trumpet to stir the soldiers’ hearts,
rouse their warlike courage and, at that sound,
face wounds afresh; piercing his throat with
a fatal wound, stifling the horn’s hoarse notes.
Yet a last sound issuing from dying lips, slid
through the curving instrument, while the lips
themselves fell silent. Crixus now killed Picens
and Laurus, not from equally afar, for though
Picens was killed by a shining spear, cut on
the banks of the River Po, Laurus was killed
by the sword. Picens had tried to turn away,
and escape his enemy by wheeling to the left,
but the dread spear pierced the rider’s thigh
and the unprotected underbelly of his fleeing
mount, inflicting a double death. Then Crixus
tore his weapon from Venulus’ bloody neck,
downed you, Farfarus, with the still-warm tip,
and you, Tullus, born by Velinus’ chill stream,
destined to be the glory of Italy and a famous
name, if the Fates had granted you longer life,
or if the Carthaginians had held to the treaty.
Next he killed Remulus, and others notable
once in war, the Magii from Tibur, Metaurus
of Hispellum, Clanius with premeditated blows
of a spear, spoilt for choice as to where to strike.
Book IV:143-215 The death of Quirinius
The Carthaginians were excluded from the fight,
since the Gauls raged throughout the field; none
hurled a spear in vain, all transfixed the enemy.
Now, Quirinius, to whom retreat was unknown,
showed great daring though all around trembled,
choosing to face death, with fate so against him.
He spurred his mount with a spear-point, hurling
javelins with his huge arm, in hopes of clearing
a passage, and reaching Crixus, by main force.
Certain of death, he sought, with great courage,
a glory he would never boast of. Teutalus fell
before him, pierced in the groin, as the ground
shook beneath his vast weight. Then Sarmens,
who had vowed his auburn locks to Mars were
he victorious, hair that vied with gold, as well
as the tawny top-knot which crowned his head.
But the Fates dragged him down to the shades,
his locks unshorn, and his vow unheard, hot
blood drenching his pale limbs, as the moist
earth soaked red. Now Ligianus, undeterred
by the javelin that faced him, rushed forward
and whirled his sword full in Quirinius’ face,
rose as he struck, so that Quirinius’ left arm
was severed by the blow, at the point where
the sinewy muscles attach it to the shoulder,
leaving it hanging by a thread for a moment
over the slack reins in that quivering hand,
which yet clung to them with weakened hold,
as he unconsciously turned his mount aside.
Then Vosegus severed his head from behind,
carrying off the head and helm by the plume,
while saluting the gods with a native war-cry.
Book IV:216-247 Scipio the Consul attacks
While the Gauls were dealing death over the
field like this, the Consul summoned up his
troops in haste from their camp and, high on
his white steed, charged headlong at the foe.
He led men from every part of fertile Italy,
Marsians; soldiers from Cori; Laurentum’s
pride; Sabine javelin-throwers; hill-dwellers
from Todi who worshipped Mars; fighters
from Falerii too, clothed in their local flax;
those bred beside the orchards of Catillus,
beside the Anio, where the flow runs silent
under the walls of Hercules’ Tivoli; those
sent out from the misty fields of Cassino,
and those supplied by the Hernician hills,
a tough race dwelling by their icy streams.
So did the sons of Italy go forth to battle,
yet the gods had doomed these warriors,
fated never to return. Scipio the Consul
drove on his mount to where the central
vortex of the battle had swallowed them,
and, roused by the slaughter of his army,
he sent to the shades Labarus and Padus,
Caunus, and Brucus slain with difficulty
receiving many wounds, and Larus who
rolled his eyes in a Gorgon glare. Cruel
too the fate that felled brave Leponticus;
for, throwing himself fiercely in the way,
catching hold of the Consul’s reins, then,
though on foot himself, reaching up to
the rider’s face, he was felled by the heavy
sword striking the centre of his forehead,
his head being split apart to the shoulder.
Then Batus, striking wildly at Scipio’s
steed, warding it away with his shield,
was flung to the yellow sand by a blow,
his face crushed by the stamping hooves.
So the Roman general raged over that
plain, turbulent as when Thracian Boreas,
the north wind in triumph, stirs the whole
Icarian Sea to its depths, vessels founder,
sailors are hurled about the mighty waters,
and the Cyclades drown in a foaming flood.
Book IV:248-310 Scipio the Consul kills Crixus
With slender hope, and less chance of survival,
Crixus armed himself with contempt for death,
his bristling beard bright with a crimson foam,
his gaping mouth foaming white, in his fury,
his hair coated thickly with dust. He attacked
Tarius, who was fighting beside the Consul,
thundering around him, in a furious assault.
Tarius rolled on the ground, the fatal spear
forcing him over his horse’s neck, until he
was dragged along by the frightened beast,
his feet all entangled in the encircling girth.
Blood marked the plain, leaving long traces
there, his spear scoring the sand, unevenly.
Scipio the Consul praised the youth in death,
preparing himself to avenge that noble spirit,
when a dire sound met his ear; he knew by
the shout, not by the face, that it was Crixus.
As they met his anger rose, and he fixed his
eye on that victim he desired. Then spurring
his mount, while patting its neck to honour
and please it, he spoke to the creature thus:
‘Leave those lesser cattle till later, Garganus,
for the gods summon us to greater things.
See, the mighty Crixus? Now I promise you
the gift of that saddle-cloth, bright with Tyrian
purple meet for a savage, and the golden reins.’
So saying, he challenged Crixus to the combat,
demanding an open space to contest their duel.
His enemy, equally ardent, was no malingerer.
As the ranks on both sides gave way as ordered
leaving a clear space, they took the centre-field.
Like the Giant Mimus, the son of Earth, when
he fought on Phlegra’s plain, terrifying Heaven,
so Crixus raised cries from a half-bestial chest,
rousing his own fury with his hideous screams.
‘Were there none left to show you the strength
of arm the people of Brennus showed in battle,
once Rome was taken and burnt? Feel it now!’
Then, so saying, he hurled his knotted spear
with its fire-hardened tip, one strong enough to
level even a city gate. It gave a dreadful sound
as it flew but, thrown too far and the distance
misjudged, it soared over the Consul’s head.
Then Scipio replied: ‘Take this to the shades
below, and to your ancestor Brennus, tell them
how far away from the Tarpeian Rock you fell,
you who were not allowed to see the Capitol’s
sacred hill.’ So, adding power to his own spear,
making use of the thong and his horse’s speed,
he hurled it with an effort worthy of a giant foe.
It flew through the many layers of Crixus’ linen
breastplate and through his shield made of hide,
and pierced his chest to the full blade’s length.
Crixus fell, his body stretched far on the field,
and the earth groaned, to his gigantic armour.
So Nereus roars, when masons build out above
the Tuscan shore hurling masses of rock from
the heights with a loud crash into the waters,
to counter the waves and the hidden currents
below, the depths split by the blow receiving
the mighty load as it falls into the angry sea.
Deprived of their leader, the Celts took flight,
all their confidence and ardour depending on
that single life. When a hunter on the heights
of Mount Picanus fires the wild beasts’ dens,
spreading his dark destruction through their
crowded lairs amongst the pathless thickets,
so the flames silently gather strength, while
the tops of the pines are gradually cloaked
in black smoke, the dense vapour eddying
to the sky; and soon they light the mountain
everywhere, and a crackling sound is heard,
wild beasts flee, and the birds, while cattle
startle in the depths of the distant valleys.
Book IV:311-323 The two sides seek advantage
When Mago, Hannibal’s brother, saw them run,
that the first attack had failed with that people’s
sole effort, he summoned his own men to battle,
his nation’s cavalry: who rode to him from every
side, those who rode to the bridle or used none.
Now the men of Italy wheel their mounts and fly,
now panic drives the Carthaginian horse to retreat;
either the one swing right in crescent formation,
or the other curve to the left, in a flanking move;
alternately they weave their sinuous ranks en masse,
and then un-weave them again, with skill, in retreat.
So when winds conflict, a northerly drives the sea
along, then in turn an easterly opposes, and with
alternate blasts the mighty deep flows to and fro.
Book IV:324-354 Hannibal on the rampage
The Carthaginian general rode up, gleaming with
purple and gold, round him Fear, Terror, Frenzy.
As he raised the bright disc of his Galician shield,
shedding a vast light on the field, hope and courage
fled, and fearful hearts felt no shame in retreating;
all were for flight, no longer desirous of a glorious
death, while praying the earth might swallow them.
So, when the tigress exits her den in the Caucasus,
the plain empties and the herds, afraid of her fearful
aspect, all seek a safe hiding-place, while she roams
triumphant through deserted valleys, retracting her
lips, and gradually baring her teeth, as if devouring
actual flesh, and with gaping jaws meditates carnage.
Neither Metabus, nor Ufens for all his greater stature
could escape Hannibal, though the latter ran swiftly,
while the former gave his horse full rein. For a spear,
with gleaming blade, sent Metabus to the shadows;
while the sword felled hamstrung Ufens, who lost,
at once, both his life and his reputation for speed.
Hannibal killed Sthenius, Laurus then Collinus
born in the cool lands, nurtured by Lake Fucinus
in its mossy caves, given leave to swim its waters.
Massicus, struck by a spear, was their companion
in death, born on the holy heights of the vine-clad
mount of that name, with the waters of the Liris
to drink, whose placid stream conceals its flow
and, unaffected by rain, brushes the silent banks
with its sparkling flood. Now furious slaughter
commenced, weapons scarcely sufficing in their
madness; shield clashes with shield, foot meets
foot, plumes waving to touch on the foe’s brow.
Book IV:355-400 Two trios of brothers die
A trio of brothers, born to fight, fought in the front
rank for Carthage, sons of Barce whom their fertile
mother bore to Xanthippus the Spartan, at the time
of the First War. Their hearts were swollen by pride
in the past deeds of those Greeks their father led,
the fame of Sparta, the fetter they fastened round
Regulus’ neck. The trio burned to prove by their
achievements their descent from a Spartan sire,
and visit after them the chill heights of Taygetus,
and swim at last, with the war over, in their native
Eurotas, bound to the laws and customs of Lycurgus.
Yet they never reached Sparta, for the gods and three
Italian brothers prevented it, a trio of the same age
the same courage, sent by the tall groves of Egeria,
and Aricia’s inexorable sacred shrine, a harsh Fate
denying them the sight of Diana’s Nemi once more.
Thus Xanthippus, proud bearer of his father’s name,
with Eumachus and Critias, his brothers, swept on
by the tide of battle, faced these Romans. As when
lions, warring in fury, filling the desert wastelands,
and the distant villages with their hoarse roaring,
send the Moors running for high crags, untrodden
ways, while the African mothers clasp their infants
to the flowing breast to still their cries, as the dire
sounds rise, as the lions’ shattered bones crack in
blood-stained jaws, their broken limbs straining
still in the grip of cruel teeth. Even so Egeria’s
sons, Virbius, Capys, Albanus sprang forward.
Now Critias, crouching down, stabbed Albanus
in the guts (all his innards suddenly spilling out
into his shield, a wretched sight), then Eumachus
struck at Capys, but though Capys gripped his
shield with all his might, as though it were fixed
to him, a cruel sword-stroke severed the left arm
that held it, and the hand not loosening its hold
still grasped its disc, clinging to it yet as it fell.
With two of the Romans dead, Virbius alone was
left to conquer. Pretending to step aside in fear,
he killed Xanthippus with the sword, Eumachus
with his unbending spear, so that with those two
slain, it became an equal fight. Each warrior now
ran his sword through the other’s chest, mutually
ending their conflict, by taking each other’s life.
Glorious in death were they, whom loyalty sent
to the shades. The centuries to come will desire
like brothers, their undying honour be recalled
from age to age, if my verse might but possess
the power to outwear time and, known to remote
posterity, Apollo choose not to deny me fame.
Book IV:401-416 Scipio the Consul rallies his troops
But Scipio the Consul, while his voice still held,
shouted to halt the men straggling over the plain:
‘Where are you off to with those standards? What
fear has robbed you of yourselves? If it seems too
dreadful a fate to man the front rank and challenge
the enemy line, then stand behind me, soldiers,
quell your terror, and consider! These are the sons
of those our fathers conquered. Where do you run?
What hope is there in defeat? Can we seek the Alps?
Consider, Rome herself, of tower-crowned walls,
now stretches out her hands to you in supplication.
I see our parents killed, and our children enslaved,
I see the sacred fires of Vesta quenched with blood.
Keep this evil from us!’ Crying out, so, till the thick
dust choked his voice, he seized the reins in his left
hand, the sword in his right, and offering his breast
to the enemy, threatened to use that naked weapon
now on himself, now on those who refused to halt.
Book IV:417-444 Jupiter orders Mars to intervene
Jove, watching the war from the top of Olympus,
was deeply moved by the noble Consul’s danger.
He summoned Mars, and spoke to him as follows:
‘My son, unless you enter the battle, this, I fear,
will be that great general’s last fight. Snatch him
from the field, so ardent that he forgets himself
in the joy of slaughter. Halt that Libyan leader;
who seeks more from this Consul’s death, in his
wickedness, than from mounds of other corpses.
Moreover, see his son, that Scipio who already
trusts in his youthful strength in battle, aiming
at deeds beyond his years, and thinks that his
time for martial greatness seems slow to come.
Lead him to his first battle, teach him to dare
such things, let his first act be to save his father.’
So spoke the Sower of all things. Then Mars
summoned his chariot from Thrace, the land
of the Odrysae. He seized the shield that emits
flames of dreadful lightning, donned the helm
too heavy for any other of the gods to wear,
that armour which cost the sweating Cyclopes
much labour, and he brandished aloft the spear
sated with blood in the battle against the Titans.
His chariot spanned the field. With him went
Wrath and the Furies, and innumerable forms
of bloody death, while Bellona took the reins,
urging on his four horses with her dark whip.
A fierce storm rose in the endless sky, veiling
the earth, driving dark masses of stormy cloud.
Italy, the land of Saturn, shook and trembled
at the advent of the god, and Ticinus shrank
away from its banks, at the chariot’s thunder,
as that river flowed backwards to its source.
Book IV:445-479 Scipio the Consul is saved by his son Scipio
The Garamantian spearmen encircled the Roman
general, seeking to grant Hannibal a new prize,
the armour and the bloody head of the Consul.
Scipio, that Consul, aroused by the slaughter,
stood firm, resolved never to bow to Fortune,
violently returning spear for spear, his limbs
drenched with the enemy’s blood and his own.
The plume fell from his helm, the Garamantes,
drawing tighter, their weapons closer, until one
launched a missile whose cruel tip pierced him.
When his son saw that weapon now lodged in his
father’s body, at once his cheeks ran wet, and he
trembled and grew pale, his cry reaching heaven.
Twice he turned his own right arm against himself,
seeking to die before his father, yet twice Mars
turned his fury against the Carthaginians instead.
The intrepid lad rushed on through missiles and
enemies, keeping pace with Mars himself. Now
the ranks gave way and a wide passage appeared
through the field. Protected by the god’s shield,
he mowed down the host and, over the armour
and the bodies of the dead, he felled the warrior
who threw the spear, and many a life he took
before his father’s eye, in requisite vengeance.
Then he swiftly drew the spear from the hard
bone, carrying his father off on his shoulders.
Astounded at the sight, the warriors lowered
their weapons, the fierce Libyans gave ground
and the Spaniards everywhere; the noble rescue
of his father by such a youth brought wondrous
silence to the battlefield. Then Mars addressed
him from his high chariot: ‘You will raze that
citadel of Carthage, and force those Tyrians
to make peace. But nothing will surpass this
glorious day in all your long life, sweet boy:
blessings, o blessings on your divine nature,
true scion of Jupiter! Great things are yet to
come, but nothing finer can be granted.’ Then,
as the sun was already quitting earth, Mars
took to the cloudy sky, while darkness sent
the weary men to the confines of their camps.
Book IV:480-497 Sempronius Longus reaches the Trebia
The moon, descending, brought night to an end,
as her brother’s steeds breathed fire, and bright
rays from the eastern waves rose to the heavens.
Then the Consul, afraid of the deadly plain with
its level ground favourable to the Carthaginians
made for Trebia and the hills. Days of vigorous
marching followed, while Hannibal, on reaching
the River Po’s swift course, found the Romans’
pontoon bridge shattered, floating in midstream,
its cables cut. While seeking, by obscure paths,
a ford with easy approach on a quiet stretch of
the river, his men swiftly felled the nearby trees,
and built barges to ferry troops over the water.
Behold, the second consul, Sempronius Longus,
a scion of the Gracchi, now arrived, and camped
likewise in close proximity to the Trebia, being
summoned to make the long sea-voyage from
Sicilian Pelorus. This great man’s family were
famous for their courage, his many ancestors
being noted for titles won in peace and in war.
Book IV:498-524 The Battle of the Trebia River (218BC)
After pitching camp, in the fields over the river,
the Carthaginians brooked no delay, encouraged
by success and their leader’s taunts of the enemy:
‘Has Rome another consul, in reserve, a second
Sicily to fight for her? No, all Latium’s strength,
all the scions of Daunus are gathered here. Now,
let Italy’s leaders forge a pact with me, and insist
then on their rules and treaties. And you, Scipio,
granted life in the field, unhappy spirit, live on,
grant such glory yet again to your son; and, when
fate summons you, may death in war be forever
denied you. To die in battle is reserved for me!’
So Hannibal cried in fury, then sent, impatiently,
his Massylian light-cavalry close to the enemy
camp, to provoke the Romans to confrontation.
Nor were the latter prepared to owe their safety
to their ramparts, or let the spears strike closed
gates. They emerged, and ignoring the defences,
Sempronius, worthy of the Gracchi, rode ahead.
The breeze shook the horse-hair plume gracing
his Auruncan helm, and the scarlet-cloak, worn
by his sires, flared from his shoulders. Turning
to his men he called them on in a mighty voice,
and wherever the enemy were densely massed
against him, he burst through, and sped across
the plain, as a crashing torrent falls headlong
from the summit of Pindus to the vale below,
tearing away at the mountain with a vast roar,
the fragments rolling down, while the forests,
the wild-beasts, the cattle, are all swept away,
and the water foams loud in the rocky depths.
Book IV:525-553 The armies engage
Could I employ Homer’s glorious voice, or
Phoebus Apollo grant me the power to speak
with a thousand tongues, I could not tell of all
those felled by that great consul’s arm, or by
the furious rage of his Carthaginian opponent.
Hannibal killed Murranus, Sempronius slew
Phalantus, men skilled in war and battle of old,
each general fighting in plain sight of his rival.
Murranus came from the wind-swept heights
of Tarracina, you Phalantus from beside those
pure waters of sacred Lake Tritonis. So when
one-eyed Cupencus, who fought well enough
with the sight of the other, saw Sempronius,
resplendent in his consul’s cloak, he hurled
his spear boldly, planting it, quivering there,
high in the topmost rim of the consul’s shield.
Sempronius, boiling with rage, cried: ‘Fool,
forgo the sight that remains in that wild eye,
that shines from your mutilated face,’ with
this, he threw his spear with a straight cast,
the tip passing fully through the fated orb.
Nor did Hannibal’s right arm achieve less,
killing the wretched Varenus of the white
armour, Varenus who came from Bevagna;
for him were ploughed the rich soils of fertile
Fulginia where, as Clitumnus flows through
the spreading fields, their white bulls water
at its cool streams. But heaven was cruel,
Varenus won no recompense for those noble
victims bred with care for Tarpeian Jupiter.
The Spaniards were quick in attack, more
so the Moors, and Roman javelins matched
African spears in veiling the sky in darkness,
till the level field as far as the Trebia’s shore
was masked by falling missiles; the victims,
in that dense mass, denied the space to fall.
Book IV:554-572 The death of Allius
The hunter Allius, from Arpi in Apulia, rode
the field with his native horse and weapons;
attacking the enemy centre, while hurling his
darts with a true aim. A Samnite bear’s-hide
formed his shaggy cuirass, while his helm
was flanked by tusks from a great wild-boar.
He fought as if roaming the coverts in some
distant wood, or driving out the wild beasts
on Mount Garganus; but when Mago saw him,
and fierce Maharbal each at the same moment,
as two bears driven by hunger from opposing
cliffs fall on a bull fearful of twin antagonists,
their rage preventing their sharing the spoils,
so brave Allius was felled by their javelins.
The Moorish yew hissed through his sides,
and the points struck, centrally, in the heart,
such that neither spear could claim his death.
And now the Roman banners were dispersed
over the battlefield, while Hannibal herded
the frightened stragglers, a pitiful sight, to
the Trebia’s shore, impelling them onwards,
seeking to drown them in the river’s depths.
Book IV:573-597 The Romans are driven into the water
Then the ill-omened Trebia, obeying Juno’s
prayer, began a fresh assault on those weary
Romans, and roused its waters. The banks
collapsed, consuming the fugitives’ bodies,
sucking them into a treacherous quagmire,
nor could they fight free in their struggles,
their feet stuck fast in the clinging mud;
the mired depths held them captive, while
the crumbling banks smothered them, or
the uncertain swamp felled them blindly.
One after another, they struggled to mount
the slippery slope, each making his own
way up the insurmountable bank, battling
the crumbling turf, slipping downwards,
to bury himself beneath its ruinous fall.
One, a good swimmer, was time and again
close to safety, struggling with all his might
to reach the top, but just as he emerged from
the water, and grasped the turf at the summit,
a spear was thrown pinning him to the bank.
Another, lacking a weapon, grasped his foe
in his arms, struggling there, till they were
drowned together. Death, in that moment,
showed a thousand faces. Ligus was one
who fell on land; but his head hung over
the river’s flow drinking the blood-stained
water in long sobbing gasps; while Irpinus
had almost reached shore from mid-stream,
was shouting for the aid of a friendly hand,
when a horse, maddened by many wounds,
and impelled down the swift current, struck
him hard, and drowned the weary swimmer.
Book IV:598-621 Fibrenus attacks an elephant
Disaster was soon piled upon disaster, when
a line of elephants with towers on their backs
were suddenly urged into the waves. For they
drove on headlong into the water, like rocky
masses sliding down a collapsing cliff-side,
raising unanticipated fear, pushing the Trebia
on with their forequarters, bearing down on
the river’s foaming flow. Courage is tested by
adversity as, undaunted by the harsh ascent,
virtue climbs through hardship to glory. So
Fibrenus, unprepared to die a death devoid
of fame and honour, cried out: ‘Let my death
be seen, O Fate, not hidden beneath the flood.
Let us try whether there is anything on earth
a Roman sword cannot overcome, a Tuscan
spear not pierce.’ Then, rising up, he hurled
his cruel shaft, and planted it true in the eye
of one vast beast, so lodging it in the wound.
The monster followed the blow of the spear,
as it entered deep, with a hideous trumpeting,
raised its lacerated and bleeding head, threw
its rider, and turned its back in flight. Then
the Romans, daring to hope they might kill
the beast, attacked with javelins and flights
of arrows, until a wide expanse of its flanks
and shoulders was thick with wounds from
the sharp steel, and many a lance stuck deep
in its back and rump, so that, shaking itself,
a dense thicket of missiles quivered, until
at last when a lengthy effort had exhausted
all their weapons, it fell, its huge carcase
stemming the waters that broke against it.
Book IV:622-648 Scipio enters the river
Behold, Scipio the Consul plunges into
the river from the opposite bank, though
his movements are constricted, hampered
by his wound, dealing out death ruthlessly
to innumerable foes. The Trebia was lost
beneath the shields, the helms and bodies
of the fallen, with its stream barely visible.
Scipio felled Mazaeus with a javelin, Gestar
with his sword, then Thelgon of Cyrene;
his ancestors came from the Peloponnese.
Scipio hurled a javelin at him, snatched
from the flow, driving the whole slender
iron point right through his open mouth.
That blow made the teeth rattle within.
Nor did death bring him rest: the Trebia
bearing the bloated corpse to the River Po,
and the River Po to the sea. Thapsus, you
too fell, the grave denied you after death.
What help can it grant you now, that Garden
of the Hesperides, where the nymphs tend
the branches glowing with golden apples?
Now the swollen Trebia rose from its bed,
and drove the water from its depths fiercely
onward, with all its might; the current raged
with sounding whirlpools, and a fresh flood
followed, roaring. When Scipio saw this, his
rage grew fiercer, and he shouted: ‘O Trebia,
you shall pay most dearly, as you deserve, for
this treachery: I shall send your flow, divided,
through the Gallic lands, rob you of the name
of river, block the very springs you rise from;
never to reach the River Po and join its stream.
What sudden madness is this, that renders you,
O unhappy Trebia, a Carthaginian ally now?
Book IV:649-666 The river-god reproaches him
As the Consul spoke these taunts, a wall of rising
water struck him, the arching flood pressing down.
The Consul stood erect to meet the rushing wave,
while countering the swirling flow with his shield.
Behind him, with a roar, foaming water drenched
the tip of his plumed helm. The river-god, drawing
the ground from under his feet, denied him passage
through that flood to find firm footing; grinding
boulders issued their harsh sounds through the air;
waves, stirred to battle by the god, fought fiercely;
and the banks of the river were lost to view. Then
the river-god, head crowned with glaucous weed,
raised his dripping locks and spoke: ‘O arrogant
spirit, you threaten further punishment, to end
the very name of Trebia? How many corpses I
already bear, felled by your sword! Choked with
the shields and helms of your victims, I abandon
my true channel. See how my deep pools, dyed
red with blood, flow backwards. Restrain your
right hand, or else attack the neighbouring plain!’
Book IV:667-689 Venus turns Vulcan against the river
Vulcan was watching from a high hill, hidden in
the depths of a dark cloud, with Venus beside him.
Scipio the Consul, raising his hands to the heavens,
cried: ‘Gods of our native land, with whose favour
Dardan Rome is defended, have you saved my life
in the fight but now, only to die such a death as this?
Am I seen as unworthy to forgo my life in battle?
My son, restore me now, to danger and the enemy!
Let me fight and summon such a death as my land
and Gnaeus, my brother, will approve.’ Then Venus
sighed, moved by his prayer, and turned the fiery
strength of her invincible spouse against the Trebia.
Flames spread, burning along the banks, consuming
fiercely trees the flood had nourished many a year.
The groves were consumed, and victorious Vulcan
sent crackling fire spreading to the higher stands,
searing the foliage of the alders, pine and fir-trees,
leaving little of the poplars but the trunks, loosing
the birds that nested in the branches to the heavens.
The greedy flames sucked the water from the depths
and drank the river, while the blood on its shores
was dried and caked with the fierce heat. All about,
the rugged ground split and cracked into yawning
chasms, and a depth of ash settled on the river-bed.
Book IV:690-703 Scipio and Sempronius retreat
Father Eridanus, god of the river Po, was amazed
when his ever-running tributary ceased to flow,
and the sorrowing chorus of Nymphs filled their
innermost caverns with anguished cries. Three
times he tried to raise his scorched head, three
times Vulcan hurled a firebrand that drove him
beneath the streaming water, as thrice the reeds,
catching fire, left his head bare. At last his voice
was heard pleading, and his prayer was granted,
that the former flow might be retained. Finally,
the Consuls, Scipio and Sempronius, recalled
their weary men from the Trebia to the fortified
heights, while Hannibal paid to the Trebia high
honour, raising altars beside the friendly stream,
unaware of the greater gift the heavens intended,
or the sorrow Lake Trasimene prepared for Italy.
Book IV:704-721 Gaius Flaminius takes the helm (217BC)
Formerly, Gaius Flaminius had led a Roman army
against the Boii, won an easy triumph and crushed
a fickle tribe lacking in guile. But tackling Hannibal
was a far different matter. Juno now chose Flaminius,
born under an evil star, to lead Rome to deadly defeat,
as the leader of a weary nation, fit for the ruin to come.
On his first day as Consul, he seized the helm of state,
took control of the army; so a landsman, inexperienced
in rough seas and navigation, taking command of some
luckless vessel, does the very work of the gale himself;
the ship is thrown about by every storm, drifting wildly
over the deep, until her captain drives her onto the reef.
Thus the army was hastily equipped, and sent towards
Etruria, where stands Cortona, sacred to Corythus who
founded it long ago, and where colonists from Lydia
once mingled their ancestral blood with that of Italy.
Book IV:722-738 Juno appears to Hannibal
A warning from the gods of this move was not slow
in reaching Hannibal, that he might win greater glory.
All things were subject to sleep, and oblivious to care,
when Juno appeared to him, as the goddess of nearby
Lake Trasimene, the hair on her moist brow crowned
with poplar leaves. She stirred that general’s mind
with fresh anxiety, breaking his sleep with a voice
he could not ignore: ‘Hannibal, O happy name, yet
cause of tears for Latium, if Fate had rendered you
a Roman, you would have joined the great gods!
Why hold back destiny? No delay! Only briefly
does Fortune favour great deeds. Let the streams
of blood you once vowed, when you swore war
on Rome before your father, flow from Italy’s
veins, regale your father’s shade with slaughter.
Once secure, pay me the honour that is my due.
For I am Trasimene of shadowy waters, ringed
by high mountains, where men of Tmolus live.’
Book IV:739-762 Hannibal crosses the Apennines
Cheered by this prediction, his men delighted
by divine aid, he swiftly led them over the high
Apennines, a mountain range bristling with ice,
lifting pine-clad summits to the sky above their
slippery slopes. Their forests were buried deep
in snow, the white peaks rising to high heaven
from the vast drifts. He ordered them onwards,
thinking his prior glory might be tarnished, even
lost, were any heights to stall him after the Alps.
They climbed the storm-swept passes, and rocky
precipices, but their toils did not end with their
passage, for the plains were flooded, the rivers
swollen with melted snow, the pathless fields
cloaked in slimy mud. And now Hannibal’s
uncovered head was buffeted by the savage
winds of this hostile clime, one eye weeping
over his cheeks and lips. He scorned treatment,
thinking the risk to his sight a fair price to pay
for the chance of battle. He cared nothing for
his looks, so long as their march progressed;
was ready to sacrifice even a limb, as the cost
of war, if victory demanded; he counted his
sight sufficient to reach the Capitol as victor,
and strike those Roman enemies near at hand.
After such sufferings in those savage places,
they found the chosen lake, where now, in war
he might fell a host of victims for his lost eye.
Book IV:763-807 Hannibal’s son chosen as victim
Behold, Carthaginian senators came as envoys;
they had good reason for their voyage, and bore
unpleasant news. It was the custom, in the nation
Dido founded when she landed, to offer human
victims to the gods, sacrificing, atrocious to say,
young children on their fiery altars. The lot was
cast, and the tragedy repeated every year, recalling
the offerings to Tauric Diana, in Thoas’ kingdom.
Now Hanno, Hannibal’s enemy of old, demanded
the general’s son as the fated victim chosen by lot,
though the warlike leader’s likely wrath struck fear,
with his formidable image there, before their eyes.
Their fears were amplified by Imilce, who tore at
her cheeks and hair, filling the city with sad cries,
and just as a Bacchante, maddened in the triennial
festival in Thrace, courses over the mountain ridge
of Pangaeus, inspired by the god deep in her heart,
so Imilce, on fire, cried aloud, among the women:
‘Hark, husband, wherever you are in battle in this
world, bring your standards here; here is an enemy
more dangerous and pressing. Perhaps, even now,
you stand, fearless, beneath the very walls of Rome,
parrying those quivering missiles with your shield,
or waving a deadly torch, firing the Tarpeian shrine.
Yet, in the heart of your native country, your only
son, your first-born child, is seized for sacrifice!
Go on, ravage the homes of Italy with the sword,
and travel paths denied to man! Go, break a pact
witnessed by all the gods! This is the reward you
win from Carthage, such the honour she now pays!
What kind of piety is this that sprinkles the altars
with its blood? Alas, your ignorance of the nature
of the gods is the prime cause of wickedness in
wretched mortals. Oh, go pray for lawful things,
offer incense, forgo your cruel and bloody rites.
Heaven is merciful and kin to man. Be content,
I beg you, with seeing cattle slain before the altar.
Or if it is your wish, and fixed and certain, that
evil is pleasing to the gods, take me who bore him,
fulfil your vows with me! Why take delight then
in robbing our Lydian land of his talents? If my
husband’s glorious career had been thus ended
by the fatal lot, long ago, would it not have been
as deep a loss as that battle off the Aegatian isles,
when Punic power was sunk far beneath the sea?’
The Carthaginian senators, caught between fear
of the gods and Hannibal, were induced to caution.
They left it to Hannibal himself, to reject the lot
or pay honour to the gods. Then, Imilce herself
terrified, was almost frantic with fear, dreading
the relentless spirit of her brave-hearted husband.
Book IV:808-829 Hannibal rejects the sacrifice
Hannibal listened closely to the message, replying:
‘Carthage, my parent city, how shall I repay you
in full, for your ranking of me as equal to the gods?
What worthy reward might I seek? I shall wage war
night and day; and many a noble victim shall I send
from here to your temples, out of the Roman people.
But my boy shall be spared for war, my heir in arms.
O you, my son, my hope and Carthage’s sole saviour
against the Italian menace, remember, oppose Rome
while you live. Advance; the Alps lie open; take on
my labours! Gods of my country, you too I summon,
whose shrines are drenched with blood, who rejoice
in that slaughter, that worship that terrifies women;
turn your joyful looks, your whole hearts, upon me,
for I ready the sacrifice on the greater altars I build.
Now, Mago, secure the opposing mountain ridge,
while you, Choaspes, approach the hills to our left,
and let Sychaeus lead his men through the woods
to the mouth of the gorge, while I swiftly encircle
you, Lake Trasimene with a flying force seeking
victims from this battle to be sacrificed to the gods.
For the clear promise of the lake’s deity assures me
of no small victory here, which you senators shall
witness, and then carry the news back to Carthage.’
End of Book IV of the Punica