Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book IX

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

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Book IX:1-38 Paullus delays, Varro rouses the men

Though Rome was troubled by these portents

and the gods revealed in vain their signals of

approaching disaster throughout Italy, Varro,

as if the omens for the coming battle were all

positive and favourable, refrained from sleep

that night, brandishing his sword at shadows,

blaming Paullus for inaction, while longing,

in the dark, for the blare of the war-trumpets.

Nor was Hannibal any less eager to engage.

Prompted to an evil fate, our soldiers burst

from camp, and a skirmish ensued; Macae

warriors, who had been foraging in the plain,

let loose a cloud of arrows. Here Mancinus,

delighting in leading the attack and staining

his sword with enemy blood, fell, and many

a man with him. Though Paullus claimed, on

the contrary, that the entrails of the sacrifices

were inauspicious, and the gods unfavourable,

Varro only halted the charge because alternate

days’ command of the army by the consuls,

denied him the authority to rush to his doom,

yet this only gave those men about to perish

a day’s reprieve. So, they returned to camp,

Paullus lamenting, knowing that tomorrow

this madman would command, and he had

saved his men’s lives to little purpose. For

Varro, deeply angered, resenting this delay

in furthering the battle, addressed him thus:

‘Is this how you show gratitude, Paullus,

and repay me for saving your life? Is this

my reward for rescuing you from the law’s

clutches and a jury determined on mischief?

You might as well order them to surrender

the swords and spears you withdrew from

the attack to the enemy, now, or disarm

these men yourself. But, men, I saw your

faces wet with tears when Paullus told you

to turn your backs in retreat. Don’t await

the customary sign for battle; let each man,

when the sun’s first rays strike the summit

of Garganus, command himself, and seek

out his own path of action.  I myself will

throw open the gates without delay. Rush

on, swiftly, reclaim this day’s lost work.’

So, in his excitement, he aroused a fatal

desire for battle in those frustrated troops.

Book IX:39-65 Paullus warns Varro

Now Paullus, no longer seemed the same

man in mind and aspect, but as one who

stood after a battle, the field strewn with

Roman corpses before his eyes, as that

looming disaster imposed on his vision;

like some mother stricken and senseless,

with all hope of her son’s life lost, who

holds in a last embrace his limbs which

are not yet cold. ‘By the walls of Rome,’

he cried, ‘so often shaken; by these good

men the Stygian shadows now surround;

refrain, Varro, from marching to disaster.

While the gods’ anger passes, the wrath

of Fortune ebbs, be happy if these raw

recruits can learn to endure Hannibal’s

name and not freeze at sight of the foe.

Can you not see how the sound of his

approach drives the blood from their

shocked faces instantly, as the swords

fall from their hands at the trumpet’s

sound? Though you believe Fabius is

weak and an idler, every soldier he led

to war beneath his banner is here today,

while as for Flaminius and his men –

well, let heaven avert the evil omen!

Open your ears to the god, even if your

mind is set against my warnings and my

entreaties. Cumae’s priestess, long ago

in the days of our ancestors, prophesied

all this, and her knowledge announced

you, and all your madness, to the world.

Now I too will tell of your fate, to your

face, and in no uncertain terms: unless

you hold back the standards tomorrow,

you will seal the words of Apollo’s Sibyl

with my blood; and this field no longer

be known because of Diomede the Greek,

but you, the Roman consul, if you live.’

And tears sprang from his burning eyes.

Book IX:66-119 The story of Satricus and his sons

A crime committed in error also left its

stain on that night. One Satricus, taken

prisoner by Xanthippus, and enduring

slavery in Libya, had next been given

to the king of the Autololes, amongst

the prizes given that king to recognise

his valour. Satricus was born in Sulmo,

and had left two infant boys there, still

suckling at their mother’s breast; these

sons were called Mancinus and Solimus,

a Trojan name, as their distant ancestor

was a Trojan follower of Aeneas, who

founded a famous city and called it, after

himself, Solimus, though when peopled

later by Italian colonists that name was

shortened to Sulmo. Satricus now went

to war, amongst the barbarian host and

following his king; the Libyans happy

to employ him on occasion to interpret

for them in speaking with the Romans.

Now when opportunity arose to revisit

his native Sulmo, with hopes of seeing

his home again, he summoned night’s

aid then stole from the hated camp. He

fled unarmed, since carrying his shield

might betray his absence, starting out

without a weapon and then, examining

the corpses on the field, appropriating

weapons from a dead man. Now fear

was lessened, although, unbeknown to

him, the corpse he had despoiled, from

whose inanimate body he had stripped

the prizes he now bore, was that of his

own son, Mancinus, killed by Libyans

some hours before. Behold, when night

fell, when the Roman camp was asleep,

the other son, Solimus, following a turn

of guard duty at the gate, went to search

for the body of his brother among that

litter of corpses on the field, wishing to

bury the ill-fated lad in secret. He had

not gone far when he saw an armed man

approaching from the Punic camp, and

in his surprise seized the opportunity to

hide behind the tomb of Aetolian Thoas.

Then seeing no more of the enemy, but

merely a lone man walking in the dark,

he sprang from hiding and hurled his

javelin at the father’s unprotected back.

It struck: his father, Satricus, believing

he was pursued by some Carthaginians,

and that his wound was of their making,

looked round anxiously to find its author.

But when the perpetrator, Solimus, came

near, running in his youthful vigour, sad

to note the moonlight reflected from that

shield full in his face, the shield his father

took from Mancinus, clearly recognisable.

Now Solimus, flaming with sudden anger,

cried: ‘No true son of Satricus, no patriot

from Sulmo, no true brother to Mancinus

would I be, nor a worthy scion of Trojan

Solimus, should I let this enemy escape

unpunished! Must he sport noble spoils

stolen from my brother? Shall this thief

carry off that glorious armour from our

Pelignian house, before my eyes, while

I am still alive to intervene? It is to you,

Acca, my mother, I must carry it, to ease

your grief, so that you might set it forever

on your son’s grave!’ So, with a loud cry,

he rushed forward, his sword unsheathed.

Book IX:120-177 The dying Satricus issues a warning

But sword and shield were already slipping

from Satricus’ grasp, his mind and senses

stunned, frozen with horror, on hearing Sulmo

named, his wife, his boys; and a terrible cry

emerged from his lips in dying: ‘O, my son,

spare your hand, not that I might live (for

to wish that would be wrong) but that you

might not bring a curse upon it, shedding

your father’s blood. For I am your father,

Satricus, that son of Solimus captured

long ago by Carthaginians, and only now

I return to my native place. You, my son,

have done no wrong. It was a Carthaginian

at whom you hurled that spear so hastily,

though I had stolen from that hated camp,

and was hurrying home, eager to look on

your mother’s face again, having snatched

this shield from the dead. Now, my only

living son, carry it back, purged of guilt,

to set on your brother’s tomb. But let your

first care, my son, be to warn your general,

Paullus, to prolong the war, and to deny

Hannibal all opportunity for battle, for he,

delighted by the divine omens, longs for

quick engagement and mighty slaughter.

Entreat him to contain Varro’s madness,

for they say he is urging his standards on.

That will be solace enough for me, as

my wretched life is ending, to have at

least warned my countrymen. And now,

grant the father you have found and lost

in the selfsame hour, one last embrace.’

So saying, he loosed his helm, clasping

his son, who stood in terror, motionless,

his arms trembling. Fearing for that son

who was horror-stricken, he sought for

words to heal the shame of the wound

inflicted in the darkness, and to excuse

the blow: ‘No one was there to see, no

man knows. Has not the night’s shadow

concealed the error? Why tremble thus?

Clasp me to your breast, instead, my boy.

I, your father, pronounce you innocent,

and ask you to close my eyes with your

own hand, and mark an end to trouble.’

The youth groaned aloud in his distress,

finding no voice or word to make reply:

yet he hastened to stop the dark blood’s

flow and bandage the wound with a strip

torn from his clothes while his tears fell.

At last a complaint issued amidst those

groans: ‘Father, is this how cruel Fate

returns you to your country, and to us?

Is this how she restores father to son,

and son to father? How much happier

my brother’s fortune, whom death has

denied the recognition of his father. I,

whom the enemy did not kill, oh, it is I

who recognised him in wounding him!

Fate should at least have allowed this

solace for my crime, to have spared me

the clear knowledge of our sad kinship.

It remains for the cruel powers above to

reveal his warning.’ For while his son,

was speaking wildly, the father, through

loss of blood, had released his last breath

into the empty air, and the youth raising

his eyes to the heavens cried: ‘O, Titania,

you, who witnessed the wrong performed

by my sinful hand, you, whose pale light

showed my weapon the path in the night

to my father’s body, you must no longer

be profaned by sight of my accursed face.’

So saying, he drove his sword into his

own flesh, yet, as the blood flowed from

the deep wound he stemmed it and wrote

his father’s message in crimson letters

on his shield: Varro, beware of battle!

Then, hanging it from his spear, flung

himself on his lamented father’s body.

Book IX:178-216 Hannibal exhorts his troops

Such were the omens of the battle to come,

sent from the gods above to the Romans.

Little by little, the shadows vanished, and

night that had witnessed all that occurred

yielded to roseate dawn. The Carthaginian

and Roman leaders summoned their men

to battle after their fashion, and such a day

began for our enemies as the centuries will

never see again. Hannibal cried; ‘You men,

need no words of exhortation, who have

marched from the Pillars of Hercules to

Apulia’ fields; nothing remains of brave

Saguntum; the Alps have yielded; while

the River Po, proud father of the Italian

streams, flows through a conquered land.

The Trebia is deep in corpses, Flaminius’

body lies low on Etruscan soil, and fields

no plough furrows are whitened far and

wide by Roman bones. A day now dawns

that brings wider fame, greater bloodshed.

Fame is enough and more than enough to

repay me for war’s labours; let yours be

the other spoils. All the wealth their ships

have brought from the Ebro, all that Rome

displayed in her Sicilian triumphs, and all

she holds that was snatched from Libyan

shores, all, without casting lots, is yours.

Take home all your right hands win: I,

your general, seek not honour in riches.

These Trojan robbers have conquered

and despoiled the world for centuries,

all for you! You, who trace your origins

back to Tyre and Sidon, I shall let you

choose the best land, and add it to your

prize, whether Laurentum’s acres tilled

by Roman colonists, or Syrtis’ fields

where the corn sprouts a hundredfold.

And I shall grant you those meadows

watered by Tiber’s yellow stream, wide

pasture land to graze our enemy’s flocks. 

To our allies of foreign blood who fight

under the Punic banner, I say, that if any

man raises a hand red with Roman blood

he shall thereafter be a citizen of Carthage.

Do not be deceived by the sight of Mount

Garganus, of Apulia’s soil, you stand now

before the gates of Rome, for though she

is far distant from this place of war, she

will fall here and now, and I shall never

need call you to arms again; from this

battlefield lies your road to the Capitol.’

Book IX:217-243 The Carthaginians prepare

So he spoke, then they demolished their

defensive ramparts and hastened to cross

the trenches in their way. Hannibal set

his lines in order, along the winding bank

of Aufidus, following the lie of the land.

The Nasimonians, in barbarous multitude,

stood ready for battle and held the left wing,

beside the Marmaridae, giants in stature;

fierce Moors; the Garamantes and Macae;

the Massylian warriors, and Adrymachidae

en masse, they who dwell by the Nile, who

delight in warfare, skins burnt black in that

merciless sun. Their captain and commander

was Nealces. Mago held the right wing where

Aufidus curves and bends upon itself with

meandering waters. Here the light troops

from beyond the rugged Pyrenees stood,

filling the river-banks with noisy tumult,

their round shields shining in the sunlight;

At the front the Cantabrians; bare-headed

Vascones; the Balearic slingers who hurl

leaden bullets; men of the Guadalquivir.

Hannibal himself, mounted, controlled

the centre manned by Carthaginian forces

and ranks of Gauls who had often bathed

in the River Po. But where the winding

waters of Aufidus swung about, granting

the troops no protection, there elephants

swayed to and fro, huge turrets, bulwarks,

on their dusky backs like a mobile rampart

their tall structures lifting to the heavens.

Lastly the Numidian cavalry were ordered

to roam about, moving from place to place

so rendering themselves active everywhere.

Book IX:244-266 Varro hears of the warning

As Hannibal positioned his eager forces, he

exhorted them endlessly; time and time again

rousing a man by reminding him of his past

deeds, boasting he knew the arm that hurled

each sounding javelin, promising to witness

as to what each man achieved. Meanwhile,

Varro sent out his men beyond the ramparts

and began the race towards disaster, Charon,

the ferryman over the pale stream of the Styx,

pleased to make room for the shades to come.

The vanguard halted, warned by those letters

of blood on the suspended shield, mute and

motionless before the omen. A dreadful sight

faced them: the ill-fated father and son locked

together, the son’s hand on the father’s chest

to hide the fatal wound. Tears were shed, and

their grief for Mancinus was redoubled by his

brother’s death; while the omen troubled them,

with the likeness between the faces of the dead.

Varro was soon told of that sad act committed

in error, its sorrowful result, and of the shield

with its warning against battle. ‘Tell Paullus

of your omen,’ he cried in anger, ‘he, whose

cowardly heart is full of fear, might be moved

by the infamous hand of a parricide, who when

the avenging Furies came, in dying, employed

his father’s blood, to write an impious message.’

Book IX:267-286 The Battle of Cannae (216BC)

Then, with threats, Varro disposed his forces for

battle. He himself with the Marsians, the Samnite

standards, and Apulians held the left wing opposite

fierce Nealces and the savage tribes he commanded.

In the centre (where he saw Hannibal was stationed)

Servilius was ordered to face attack, leading the men

of Umbria and Picenum. Paullus held the right wing

with the remaining forces. Finally, the young Scipio

had orders to repel any surprise attacks by the swift

Numidian cavalry, and told to scatter if they with skill

and cunning broke formation themselves. Now those

two armies closed, and the rapid motion, the neighing

horses, the loud clatter of weapons, raised a dull roar

through the moving ranks. So the sea, when the winds

rouse themselves in battle, filled with a fury powerful

enough to drench the stars, whilst churning in its bed,

breathes menacing sounds among the reefs and, driven

from its caves, stirs the restless water to eddying foam.

Book IX:287-303 The gods take sides

Nor indeed, with the cruel Fates in play, was that tumult

confined to earth; the madness of conflict invaded heaven

and drove the gods to war. Here Mars, Apollo at his side,

fought for the Romans, with Neptune, lord of the stormy

sea; and with them a frantic Venus, Vesta, and Hercules

stung by the slaughter at Saguntum’s fall; revered Cybele,

and Faunus and Father Quirinus, the native gods of Italy;

and Castor and Pollux who live in turn in the upper world.

For the Carthaginians, Juno, Saturn’s daughter, her sword

at her side; Pallas, born of Lake Tritonis’ Libyan waters;

Ammon their native god, with curved horns on his brow;

and a vast company of lesser deities too. As they moved

Mother Earth shook beneath their tread, some occupying

the neighbouring mountains, apart, some taking their place

behind a high cloud; emptying heaven, descending to fight.

Book IX:304-339 The armies engage and hold their ground

An immense clamour rose to the empty sky, as loud

as the shouts of the earthborn Giants who assailed

the heavens on Phlegra’s plain; as loud as the cry

with which Jupiter, the eternal Father, demanded

fresh lightning-bolts from the Cyclopes, while he

witnessed the Giants attack, they piling mountain

on mountain to storm the celestial realm. No one

spear was first hurled in this fresh, mighty onset,

rather a cloud of missiles hissed through the air

in emulation; while men on both sides, eager for

blood, were caught at once in the crossfire, many

dying before their swords could be drawn in anger.

In their zeal, they clambered over their comrades’

bodies, despite their groans, trod them underfoot.

Carthaginian pressure failed to dislodge the Roman

line or turn it, and nor could the solid Punic ranks

be pierced. As well might the sea uproot Gibraltar

with its pounding waves. Blows failed for lack of

space, the close-packed dead without room to fall.

Helms clashed violently against opposing helms,

sparking fire, as shields shattered against shields,

swords broke on swords, foot pressed against foot,

man on man. The ground was coated with a film

of blood, and dense darkness beneath the shower

of missiles hid the sky above. Those whom Fate

had positioned in the second line, attacked with

long lances and extended spears, as if at the front,

while those who stood in inglorious ranks behind,

strove to emulate those ahead by hurling javelins.

To the rear, shouting did the work of war, soldiers,

denied a chance to fight, hurling showers of abuse

at the enemy. Every kind of missile was employed,

stakes, burning brands, heavy javelins, while some

used slings, threw stones, or sent their lances flying.

Here an arrow went hissing through the air, or there

the falarica was in play, that can shatter city walls.

Book IX:340-369 The breaking of the Roman line

How can I hope, you Muses, whose devotee I am,

to recount that day for future ages in mere mortal

verse? Can you grant such utterance that I might

speak of Cannae with this single solitary voice?

If our glory pleases you, if you do not frown on

this great enterprise, summon up all your music,

and that of your sire, Apollo. If only you Romans

were to bear ongoing success with the spirit you

showed then in adversity! For, I pray that the gods

refrain from ever trying to discover whether this

Trojan race of ours could face such a war again!

And you, Rome, anxious then as to your destiny,

do not shed tears, I beg you: bless those wounds

that will ever bring you glory. For you will never

seem greater than then; your later prosperity will

only weaken you, such that only your  nobility in

defeat will preserve your fame. For now, Fortune,

ebbing and flowing on either side, thwarted both

armies, meeting zeal with uncertainty, the hopes

of Rome and Carthage long poised in the balance 

as the battle raged equally; like to when the winds

stir the green stalks, and bend the un-ripened ears,

and a sea of wheat, swaying to and fro, bows and

nods, glittering, bending slowly this way and that.

But Nealces, at last, with his horde of barbarians,

charged with a savage cry, broke the Roman line

and scattered it. The closed ranks parted, the foe

poured wildly through the gap at their frightened

enemy. Then a torrent of blood, in a dark stream,

poured over the plain, and the dead were struck

by many a spear, while the Romans, ashamed to

be felled from behind, turned to face some fatal

blow and, welcoming death, escaped dishonour.

Book IX:370-410 The deaths of Scaevola and Marius

Scaevola, always courting danger and equal to every

risk, stood in the front line at the centre of the field;

and, with so many dead, no longer wished for life,

but yearned for a glorious end worthy of his great

ancestor. Seeing the day was lost, and the toll rising,

he cried: ‘Life is brief, let me grasp what little of it

remains, for courage is an empty name if the hour

is insufficient to win a glorious death.’ So saying,

he gathered all his strength, rushing into the midst

of the fray while Hannibal was clearing a path with

his tireless arm. There he stabbed Caralis, who was

about to fasten his victim’s armour to a lofty tree,

and drove the sword to its hilt in his fury, so that

Caralis fell and rolled, biting alien soil, smothering

the pain of his dying, in the dust. Nor could Gabar

or Siccha, united in rage and valour, halt Scaevola:

for brave Gabar lost his right hand as he stood firm,

while Siccha, grief-stricken, hastening to his aid

incautiously, chanced to tread on the sword, and

fell dying beside his comrade, cursing too late at

fighting barefoot. At last Scaevola’s ascendance

attracted the deadly weapons of Nealces, who

springing forward swift as lightning, was eager

for the spoils of war owned by a famous name.

He seized a boulder, torn from a cliff by a torrent

and carried down from the high hills, hurling it

furiously at Scaevola’s face. The teeth rattled

shattered by that heavy mass, the features were

destroyed, blood and brain-matter gushed from

the nostrils, while the dark discharge, emitted

by the eyes, flowed down from the eye-sockets

in that mutilated face. Next Marius fell, while

trying to save Caper, his friend, yet fearful of

witnessing his friend’s death. Born on the same

day, natives of Palestrina, poverty the lot of both

families, they were school-fellows, and tilled

neighbouring fields. In likes and dislikes they

were one, theirs a lasting union of two minds,

where true concord made them rich in poverty.

They died together; of all their prayers Fate

granting but one, to fall side by side in battle.

Symatheus the victor won both sets of armour.

Book IX:411-450 Scipio rescues Varro

But the Carthaginians were not allowed to enjoy

their good fortune long. For Scipio, taking pity

on men whose backs were turned in flight, came

fierce and menacing, with Varro too the cause

of all this misery, and blond Curio, and Brutus,

a descendant of Junius Brutus the first consul.

With this support the men might have regained

lost ground, given a fresh effort, if a sudden

onslaught by the Punic leader had not checked

the ranks as they ran forward. Sighting Varro,

far off over the field, with the lictors in scarlet

tunics wheeling round him, Hannibal shouted:

‘I see a consul’s guard, I know those insignia:

those of Flaminius, not long ago,’ Thundering

on his huge shield in rage, he proclaimed his

fury. Alas for Varro! Death then, at Hannibal’s

hand, might have rendered him Paullus’ equal,

but heaven’s anger would not let him die thus.

How often, you gods, would he reproach you,

for saving him from the Carthaginian’s sword!

For Scipio, attacking suddenly, brought rescue

from imminent death, placing himself in danger

instead; while Hannibal, although the glory of

winning the general’s spoils was snatched from

him, was happy, now the chance of a duel was

offered him at last, to change his antagonist for

a greater warrior and punish Scipio for having

saved the consul his father’s life at the Ticinus.

Here, though reared in diverse lands, stood

two warriors as equally matched in prowess

as the earth has ever seen, yet in other ways

the Roman was superior, in duty and honour.

Mars, fearing now for Scipio, and Minerva,

for Hannibal, descended from a misty cloud

to the battlefield, that appearance of the gods

making men tremble, though the champions

were undismayed. Wherever Minerva turned,

a baleful light flashed from the Gorgon face

on her breastplate as the serpents, displayed

on the aegis there, let out a dreadful hissing.

Her blood-shot eyes blazed like twin comets,

waves of fire rolling from the mighty crest

on her helm, as Mars, driving the air before

him with a flourish of his spear, covering all

the battlefield with his shield, rose erect, his

armour, a gift of the Cyclopes, glowing with

Etna’s flames, his crest golden against the sky.

Book IX:451-485 Minerva rescues Hannibal

The champions, intent on battle and a close test

of each other’s courage, were nevertheless aware

of the advent of the armed gods, as both of them,

roused to greater fury, joyed at divine witnesses.

Minerva deflected a spear directed at Hannibal’s

front, while Mars, following her example, applied

it to Scipio, placing a sword forged on Etna in his

hand, and stirring him to greater efforts. At that,

the Virgin goddess became inflamed deep within,

a sudden fieriness suffused her savage aspect, and

eyes askance her furious gaze outdid the Gorgon.

Her aegis quivered and all the snakes there reared

their vile bodies, while her first furious onslaught

made even Mars retreat slowly from the conflict.

Then the goddess tore away a neighbouring piece

of the hillside and hurled the rugged mass of rock

angrily at Mars, such that the sound, borne far off,

terrified all the isle of Sason, shaking its coastline.

But the duel was witnessed by the lord of the gods,

and Jove was swift to send Iris, wreathed in mist,

to calm their excessive ardour, saying: ‘Goddess,

glide down, in haste, to Italy, and tell Minerva to

quench her wild anger at her brother, and not to

hope to reverse these fixed laws of Fate; and say

also, if she will not desist (for I know the power

and energy of that fiery mind) or abate her ire,

she will find my lightning bolts outdo the aegis.’

When Tritonis’ virgin goddess heard the message,

she was uncertain at first whether to yield to her

father’s weapons, then said: ‘I will leave the fight,

yet how will Minerva’s absence avert what is to

come? How will he avoid witnessing it all on

high, if raging slaughter grips Garganus’ fields?’

So saying, she caught up Hannibal in a dense mist,

and carried him to a distant part, then quit the earth.

Book IX:486-523 Juno releases the south-east wind

Meanwhile Mars, roused by the goddess’ return to

the heavens, renewed his purpose and, cloaked in

a mist, with his mighty hand, raised the Roman

fallen from the field to new life. They re-raised

the standards and began a fresh onslaught, while

fear gripped the enemy. But now, Aeolus, lord

of the winds, who holds them imprisoned in his

cave, he whom the gales that fill the sky obey,

yielded to Juno’s pleading, she offering him no

mean reward, and so let loose on the battlefield

all the fury of Vulturnus, the south-easterly that

rules the Apulian plains, whom Juno requested

as her means of revenge. First he plunged deep

in Etna’s crater and caught fire, then raised his

fiery face and flew, with a dreadful roar, above

Italy, driving a dense black cloud of dust before

him. Pitiful to say, the gale rendered the Romans

blind, dumb and helpless, as its wild force blew

the whirling clouds of burning sand in their faces;

delighting in its task, battling against the soldiers.

The men, their armour, and trumpets were felled

en masse, every lance bent backward by the blast,

and every missile they hurled falling behind them;

while the same gale aided the Carthaginian attack,

the howling wind accelerating their javelins, as if

hurled with the thong, and hastening their spears.

At last the men, stifled by dense dust, could only

mourn close-mouthed an inglorious path to death.

Vulturnus himself, his face concealed in darkness,

his blond hair deeply masked with sand, now spun

his victims round, his hissing wings blasting them

from behind, now struck them wildly in the front,

rattling their weapons against them, shrieking at

them with open mouth. If they were deep in battle,

raising their swords to an enemy throat, he foiled

the intended blow, dashed the upraised hand away.

Dissatisfied with merely spreading panic among

the Roman ranks, he drove the howling tempest

at Mars himself, twice making his crest tremble!

Book IX:524-555 Minerva and Juno upbraid Jove

While the wind in fury battled against the Romans,

and roused Mars to anger, Minerva, accompanied

by Juno, addressed Jove. ‘What tumult Mars raises

against the Punic army, see the carnage with which

he slakes his wrath. Why do you not send Iris now

to Earth? For my purpose there was never to crush

the Romans (let Rome rule, you have my pledge,

and there I would see the Palladium, my symbol)

only to ensure that the glory of our Libyan land,

Hannibal, not be killed in the flower of his youth,

and all that promise be extinguished in the bud!’

While Juno, angered by her endless task, added:

‘Yes, if you wish the world to know the vast extent

of your power, how far it surpasses the other gods,

well then, my husband, why not destroy all those

Carthaginian fortresses with your lightning bolts,

bury her warriors in a deep chasm of the earth, or

plunge them in the sea (I will beg for nothing)!’

Jupiter replied mildly: ‘You are battling against

fate, and both hold out unreasonable hope. My

daughter, that young Scipio against whom you

aim your hostile spear, will destroy the might

of Africa, win from that a name, and then bear

the laurels of Libyan conquest to the Capitol.

And Hannibal, whose courage and glory you,

my wife, augment (I speak his destiny) will

lead his forces from Italy. The turning-point

in all this slaughter is not far off: the day and

hour will come when he will regret he ever

crossed the Alps.’ So saying, Jove sent Iris

arcing down from Olympus, to recall Mars

while ordering him to quit the fight. Not

daring to disobey, Mars ascended through

the high clouds, protesting loudly, joying,

as he does, in the blare of the war-trumpet,

in blood, wounds, and the sound of battle.

Book IX:556-598 Hannibal deploys his elephants

When the field was free at last of warring gods,

Mars no longer occupying the plain, Hannibal

arrived, out of the far field to which he had fled

step by step from the celestial weapons, yet now,

shouting loudly, brought the infantry, cavalry,

heavy siege engines, and the elephants porting

defensive towers on their backs. Recognising

Minucius, who was attacking the lightly armed

warriors with his sword, anger flared across his

blood-stained visage, as he called out: ‘What

Fury, what god spurs you on to battle, daring

to face me a second time? Where now Fabius

who was once a father to you, who saved you

from my spear? Wretch, be happy if you twice

escape my hand!’ Then his spear, adding insult,

its power like a battering ram, pierced Minucius

in the chest, and quenched the reply on his lips.

Nor was steel sufficient to sate Hannibal’s fury.

The dusky elephants were now deployed, pitting

monstrous beasts against Romans soldiers. For

Hannibal rode along the line, ordering the Moors

who roused and controlled those Lucanian cattle

in war, to spur their charges on, drive the Libyan

herd forwards; and, trumpeting wildly, roused by

many a goad, the warlike beasts ploughed ahead.

A tower, freighted with men, their javelins, and

burning brands, topped every back, and a fierce

hail of stones showered far and wide on the field,

while the Libyans, on their perches, poured out

a shower of missiles from those swaying turrets.

The ranks of white tusks stretched out in serried

lines, while every tusk was tipped with a blade,

the points on the curving mounts flashing down,

slicing by. Here, in the wide commotion, a beast

sent its murderous tusk through Ufens’ armour

and flesh, carrying him shrieking through those

ranks of trampled men. Nor was Tadius’ death

easier, the point of a persistent tusk boring bit

by bit through the breastplate whose many linen

folds defended his body, then the elephant swung

the unwounded man on high, his shield clanging.

But brave Tadius, faced with this novel form of

danger, calmly turned it to good account, stabbing

the monster as he neared its forehead in both eyes

with swift thrusts from his blade. Maddened by

the deep wounds, the beast reared on its hind legs,

rising till it threw its heavy turret to the ground

behind. Pitiful it was to see that blind creature,

with all its armed men, crash suddenly to earth!

Book IX:599-619 The elephants escape to the river

The Roman general ordered his soldiers to hurl

burning brands at the warring beasts, and shower

the defensive turrets they carried with torches of

smoking sulphur. They obeyed swiftly, and fumes

and tongues of flames rose from the beasts’ backs;

fed by the roaring wind, fire devoured the turrets;

just as, when shepherds burn the grass on Pindus

and Rhodope, a fierce blaze grips the woodland,

the leafy heights burn, and suddenly the leaping

flames flare out along the whole ridge. Scorched

by hot pitch the elephants ran amok, trampling

a path through the ranks. None showed courage

enough to close with them, only daring to attack

from afar, with javelins and showers of arrows.

Maddened by the heat and pain the huge beasts

scattered fire high and low, until they plunged

at last headlong into the flowing river nearby,

but deceived by the shallowness of its waters

which had overrun the level plain, they carried

the flames far along the banks, in their course,

till finally the depth being enough to hide their

monstrous bodies, they sank beneath the surface.

Book IX:620-643 Paullus taunts Varro

But while battle was given, before the African

beasts were in flames, the Romans surrounded

them then attacked them from a distance with

javelins, stones and slings, like men besieging

a fortress, or attacking a camp on high ground.

Mincius showed bravery worthy of a soldier

and deserving of a better fate: he approached,

with drawn sword but his attempt miscarried,

as the monster, trumpeting, breathing hot and

hard, angrily wound its trunk round him then

raised him, brandished his body in that fatal

grasp, tossed him high in the air, and dashed

him, limbs crushed, pitifully, to the ground.

Amidst the fray, Paullus caught sight of Varro,

in the field, and taunted him: ‘Why do we not

close with Hannibal, we who promised Rome

he would walk with the chains round his neck,

before your triumphal chariot? Alas, for Italy!

Alas, for a foolish people granting the wrong

man their trust! Now they are suffering so, let

them decide whether they should have prayed

more dearly for Hannibal or Varro never to have

been born! As Paullus spoke, Hannibal charged

the fleeing Romans, as behind them the spears

of Carthage flew, and Paullus’ helm and shield

were struck as he watched, though the consul

only rushed then more fiercely against the foe. 

Book IX:644-657 Varro flies the field

When Paullus left him for the distant battle,

Varro was stunned, and wheeling his horse

cried: ‘Rome, it seems you are punished now

for granting me command while Fabius lives.

What thoughts though are these, has destiny

gone awry? Is this a hidden plan of the Fates?

I would end my life and all instantly but some

god halts the blow, and holds something other

for me in store. Shall I live to bear the consul’s

rods, broken, stained with my fellow-citizens’

blood, back to my land? Must I show my face,

through all the towns of Italy, in their anger?

Shall I, a fugitive from battle, see you, Rome,

once more, though Hannibal himself could

scarcely wish a crueller fate on me?’ But all

further protest was cut short, at the approach

of the enemy forces, as his war-horse, with

loosened rein, bore him swiftly from the field.

End of Book IX of the Punica