Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book IV

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

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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