Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book V

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

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Book V:1-23 The origin of Lake Trasimene’s name

Hannibal’s men had seized the Tuscan hills, unseen;

then filled the arc of woodland with hidden troops,

in the dead of night. To the south, spread the vast

extent of lake-waters, akin to a placid sea, covering

a wide area around in deep mud. This lake in ancient

times was subject to Arnus, son of Faunus, and now

in later days preserves the name of Trasimene. Her

father was Tyrrhenus, a Lydian, the pride of Tmolus,

who had formerly led Maeonians far over the waves

to Latium’s shores, and given his name to the area;

and he first accustomed men to the trumpet’s sound

by putting an end to the battlefield’s anxious silence.

Ambitious, he had raised his son for a higher destiny

(you were handsome enough, Trasimene, to compete

with the gods) but the nymph Agylle, eschewing her

maiden shame, seizing him on the shore, dragged him

down to the depths, her young heart, captivated by his

innocent beauty, swiftly inflamed by Venus’ arrows.

The Naiads comforted and cherished the lad in their

deep green cave, he trembling at her embrace in that

watery realm. From him, the lake, his marriage gift,

took its name, and its wide waters, privy to all their

wedded joy, still bear that appellation, Trasimene.

Book V:24-52 Hannibal sets a trap for Flaminius

And now the chariot of dewy night neared its dusky

goal, and Aurora, the dawn, the consort of Tithonus,

not yet emerged from her marriage-chamber, stood

shining at the threshold, at a time when the traveller

is less sure day has begun than that night has ended.

Flaminius, the Roman consul, was marching over

the uneven terrain, in advance of his own standards,

his cavalry racing after him, in confusion; his light

infantry not organised in separate companies, foot

and cavalry in a mass, a crowd of camp-followers

filling the air with fateful tumult, useless in war,

accustomed as they were to take flight from battle.

Moreover, the lake itself breathed out dense mist,

a blinding fog, concealing the view on every side,

and a lowering sky, among dark clouds, mourned

in night’s black robe. Nor did Hannibal lose his

cunning: his men in hiding, their weapons at rest,

with no attack of his to halt the enemy’s advance.

The way was clear, the unguarded shore stretched

ahead, as if in the quietude of peacetime, a shore

from which there would soon be no return, since

the path led into a trap, narrowing tightly as men

entered the gap, thus promising twin fates, there

the hills, here the lake barrier, holding them fast.

Meanwhile, alert on the wooded mountain slopes,

watch was kept for the Roman vanguard, ready

to strike if they took flight. So a sly fisherman,

by a glassy stream, weaves a light open wicker

basket, framing its belly carefully, gradually

tapering it from the middle, narrowing the end,

so the shaped entrance deceives, providing fish

ready access, but then denying them all escape,

so he can draw them, prisoned, from the water.

Book V:53-100 Corvinus advises delay

Meanwhile the consul, oblivious, driven on by fate,

ordered the standards to be advanced swiftly, while

the sun’s team lifted the fiery chariot from the sea,

scattering light. And now, renewed, little by little

its orb dispelling the mists, dark vapours sinking

into the ground, dissolved by a cloudless radiance.

But then the sacred fowls, the source, by ancient

custom, of the auspices of the people of Latium

when battle looms and they seek the gods’ intent

as to its outcome, those birds refused to eat, as if

foreseeing imminent disaster, and fled their food

with flapping wings. The sacrificial bull bellowed

endlessly, hoarsely and mournfully, then, when

the axe was raised high above its neck, it shrank

from the blow, running to escape the altar. Again,

when the eagle-bearers tried to pull the standards

from their mounds of earth, foul blood spouted

in their faces from the broken soil, Mother Earth

herself yielding from out her bloodstained breast,

this dark omen of oncoming slaughter. Moreover,

the Father of the gods, whose thunder shakes land

and sea, seized his lightning bolts from the forge

of the Cyclopes, and hurled them into Trasimene’s

Tuscan waters, till the lake, struck by celestial fire,

fumed over wide expanses, flame lighting the water.

Alas for idle warnings, omens that purport, in vain,

to alter fate! Alas for the heavens disputing uselessly

with destiny! And now Corvinus spoke, the famous

orator, that noble name, whose golden helmet bore

Apollo’s bird, that raven which commemorated his

ancestor’s glorious fight. Inspired by the heavens,

and alarmed by the soldiers’ fears, mixing warning

with entreaty, he began: ‘By you, the flame from Troy,

by the Tarpeian Rock, by the walls of our dear Rome,

by the fate of our sons dependant now on the outcome

of this battle, we beg you, Consul, yield to the gods;

await the right time for battle. They will grant us

the field and the time for conflict, do not disdain

to simply await the gods’ favour. When the hour

shines that will bring blood and disaster to Libya,

these standards will need no force to raise them,

the fowls will delight in eating without fear, then

sacred Earth will cease to vomit blood. Will you

disregard your experience in war, the power that

cruel Fortune holds at this moment? The enemy

are positioned opposite, and front our vanguard,

as the wooded heights threaten to close the trap,

the south can offer us no refuge due to the lake,

the narrow lakeshore provides a constricted path.

If you are pleased to compete in cunning, delay

battle; Gnaeus Servilius will soon be here with

his swift troops, holding equal power with you

as consul, his legions as strong. Guile is needed

in war: a strong right arm earns a man less praise.’

Book V:101-129 Flaminius defies the omens

So said Corvinus; and all the officers added words

of entreaty, each man possessed by disparate fears,

praying, now, that the gods might not continue to

oppose Flaminius, now, that Flaminius might not

oppose the gods. This roused the general’s wrath

to greater fury and, on hearing that Servilius was

near, he raged: ‘Did you not see me rush to meet

the Boii in battle, when that fearful horde brought

us so much peril, the Tarpeian Rock almost under

siege again? How many enemies then, how many

bodies I laid low born by Earth in anger, whom

a single wound could not kill! Their huge limbs

were scattered over the plain, while their mighty

bones still speck the ground. Is Servilius, arriving

belatedly to claim a share in my glorious deeds?

The gods give warning? Never imagine the gods

are like yourselves, trembling at the trumpet call.

The sword is augur enough against this enemy,

and the work of a Roman right arm fine enough

auspices for a Roman soldier. Is this your wish,

Corvinus, that the consul hide behind a rampart

and do nothing? Shall this Hannibal now occupy

Arezzo’s high walls, next raze Cortona’s citadel,

head for Clusium, then at the last make his way

unharmed to the walls of Rome? Idle superstition

is unbecoming in an army; courage the only deity

planted in the warrior’s heart. Ranks of the dead

surround me in the dark of night, their unburied

bodies rolled, in Trebia’s stream, to the River Po.’

Book V:130-164 He readies himself for battle

No more delay. Surrounded by his officers, beside

the standards, inexorable, he donned his armour for

the last time. His strong helm was made of bronze,

covered in a tawny walrus pelt, above a triple crest

of Suevi-hair, hanging down like a flowing mane,

on its summit Scylla, flailing a heavy broken oar,

her savage canine jaws gaping wide. It was that

famous indestructible trophy that Flaminius had

taken for his own, after he overcame and killed

Gargenus, King of the Boii, and which he now

wore proudly in every battle. Then he donned his

breastplate; its chain links were embossed with

plates of tough steel ornamented with gold. Now

he took up his shield, once dyed by slaughtered

Celts, stained with their blood; a she-wolf was

shown there in a moist cave, licking a child’s

limbs as though he were her cub, suckling that

mighty scion of Assaracus, Romulus, destined

for the heavens. Finally, he buckled his sword

at his side, and seized a spear in his right hand.

His war-horse stood nearby, champing proudly

at the bit, its back clothed in a Caucasian tiger’s

striped skin. Mounting, he rode from company

to company, in that narrow space, filling it with

his exhortations: ‘Yours is the task, yours will

be the honour of carrying Hannibal’s head on

a pike through the streets of Rome, for your

sires to see. That one head will be enough

for all. Let each recall the sorrows that urge

him on: a brother, alas, my brother, dead on

Ticinus’ shore, or a son, my son, unburied,

sounding the depths of the River Po. Let each

remind himself; but if any be free of the wrath

roused by private sadness, let him be stirred

by public grief, let these things sting his heart

to anger: the Alps overpassed, and Saguntum’s

dreadful fate, and the near approach by those

forbidden to cross the Ebro, to the very Tiber

itself. For while you hold back, delayed by

the augurs, by soothsayers idly examining

the victims’ entrails, it simply remains for

Hannibal to pitch camp on the Tarpeian Rock!’

Book V:165-200 Hannibal springs the trap

So Flaminius ranted, and recognising a warrior

in the ranks donning a black helm, cried out:

‘Orfitus, it is for you to contend for this prize,

namely who shall bear the most welcome gift,

the spoils of honour that will hang aloft from

a blood-stained litter, to Jove. For why should

another right arm win such glory?’ He rode on,

and hearing a familiar voice in the line, called:

‘Murranus, you raise the war-cry, and already

I see you raging as you slaughter the enemy.

What glory awaits you! I pray you, use your

sword to set us free from this narrow prison.’

Aequanus was the next he knew, a priest from

Mount Soracte, outstanding in stature and arms,

whose task in his native land was, with delight,

to carry the offerings three times over hot ashes

unharmed, at that time when Apollo, defender

of his mother, takes pleasure in that blazing fire.

‘Aequanus,’ he shouted, ‘rouse a wrath worthy

of your wounds and deeds so you may always

tread the god’s coals unhurt, and as victor over

the flames, carry his offering to smiling Apollo.

With you beside me amidst the killing, I would

not hesitate to pierce the centre of that phalanx

of Marmaridae, or the massed Cinyphian cavalry.’

Flaminius refused now to maintain the appeals,

much longer, those speeches delaying the fight,

a fight that the Romans would lament long ages.

The dread trumpets sounded the signal together,

the bugle rent the air with its strident summons.

Alas the sorrow, alas the tears, still not untimely

after so many centuries! I myself shudder, as if

at imminent evil, as Hannibal calls to his men!

They hurtle down now from the concealing hills,

Asturians, Libyans, fierce Balearic sling-men,

hordes of the Macae, Garamantians, Numidians;

and then the Cantabrians, none readier than they,

swords for hire, to wage the war as mercenaries;

the Vascones too, disdaining to wear helmets.

Cliffs here, the lake there and now armed men,

shouting together, hem the Romans in, while

the encircling Carthaginians pass the signal,

from man to man, through all the hills above.

Book V:201-219 The Battle of Lake Trasimene (217BC)

The faces of the gods were averted; they gave

way, reluctantly, to all-powerful Fate; Mars

himself was amazed by that Libyan leader’s

good fortune, while Venus wept, all her hair

unloosed, and Apollo, transported to Delos,

soothed his grief there, on the plaintive lyre.

Only Juno remained, seated on an Apennine

peak, her cruel heart awaiting dire slaughter.

First, our men of Picenum, seeing the enemy

flow down like a cloudburst, with Hannibal

at the charge, themselves attacked, roused

to seek payment for their imminent deaths

in harassing their conqueror and, beyond

fear of losing their own lives, send victims

ahead to make atonement to their shades.  

As one, they combined to shower a cloud

of javelins onto the Carthaginians, who,

repulsed, lowered their shields weighed

down by the weapons. At this the Libyans

pressed more fiercely, fired by the presence

of their cruel general, exhorting each other

in turn till chest crushed hard against chest.

Book V:220-257 Lateranus and Lentulus combine

Bellona herself, goddess of war, roamed

amidst the battle, brandishing her torch,

her fair hair spattered thickly with blood.

A deathly murmur hissed from the dark

breast of the Tartarean deity, while war’s

dread trumpet with its mournful music

spurred on maddened minds to the fray.

Roman wrath was fuelled by adversity,

as, disaster looming, the abandonment

of all hope of salvation proved a harsh

incentive to fight fiercely, but the foe

were inspired by the power of the gods

and Victory’s smiling aspect, as they

continued to enjoy the fortunes of war.

Carried away by noble love of slaughter,

Lateranus penetrated to the very centre

of the fight, in wielding his right hand.

Lentulus, also, a youth of the same age,

more than eager for battle and bloodshed,

defying fate, though ill-matched amongst

a mass of foes, witnessing the tip of fierce

Bagas’ spear hovering about Lateranus’

neck, rushed forward, in quick support.

Lentulus, being the swifter, drove his

spear deep, proving a friend in adversity.

They eagerly joined forces, their brows

shining with equal light, heads held high,

and twin plumes flaring from their helms.

Syrticus, a Carthaginian, forced to confront

these two (for who would have chosen to

meet them in battle unless already doomed,

by the lord of Hades, to Stygian night?)

was rushing down from the heights bearing

a branch broken from an oak and, fiercely

brandishing that weighty knotted bough,

he burned with vain desire to kill the pair.

‘Here, O Romans, are no Aegatian Isles,

no shore moved by sudden storms, nor

by conflict, to betray the sailor, decides

the outcome of this battle; you, victors

once at sea, learn how a Libyan warrior

fights on land, and yield to your betters.’

So saying, he pounded Lateranus hard

with the heavy bough, adding abusive

words to his attack. But Lentulus only

ground his teeth with rage, crying out:

‘Lake Trasimene shall sooner rise up

and mount these hills than his noble

blood stain that branch.’ Crouching

down, he stabbed Syrticus in the gut,

exposed above him by the latter’s

violent efforts, such that hot blood

burst darkly from the lungs, flowing

outwards through the gaping belly.   

Book V:258-286 The conflict rages

The same frenzy gripped other quarters

of the battlefield, their weapons raised

in mutual deadliness. So the tall Iertes

slew Nerius, while noble Volunx, rich

in land, was felled by Rullus. What use

to Volunx now were his mass of hidden

treasure, or his regal mansion gleaming

with ivory, or sole possession of whole

villages? What pleasure lay in his gains,

that desire for gold, never extinguished?

He whom Fortune once favoured, a man

to whom she brought heaped-up wealth

and rich gifts, Charon’s boat now ferries

naked to Tartarus. Near them was Appius,

a young warrior opening a path with his

sword, seeking glory where great courage

was wanted and none other strong enough.

Atlas confronted him, Atlas from Iberian

shores, distant dweller by the far western

seas in vain, for aiming his spear at Appius’

head only its very tip grazed the flesh, and

tasted that noble blood. Appius thundered

threats, his angry gaze shone with new fire,

he raged, and blazed against all before him,

his wound hidden by his helm, the flowing

blood enhancing his martial figure. Then

indeed you might have found Atlas, his foe,

trying to hide among his comrades, fearful

as a trembling hind pursued by a Hyrcanian

tigress, a dove furling its wings on seeing

a hawk in the air, or a hare plunging into

a thicket on sensing an eagle, wheeling on

outstretched wings through a cloudless sky.

A swift sword-cut slashed open his face, then

Appius, severing the head and quivering hand,

inspired by his success, chased a fresh victim.

Book V:287-343 The death of Appius

Isalcas, from the banks of the Cinyps, carried

a shining axe to war, hoping poor man to win

glory before the eyes of Mago, his prospective

father-in-law, proud of his Sidonian betrothed

and the vain promise of marriage after the war.

Fierce Appius turned his violent rage against

him, rising to his full height aiming his blow

at Isalcas’ head, while Isalcas tried to aim his

heavy axe at Appius’ brow. The more fragile

sword shattered against the Cinyphian helm,

so fierce the stroke, while Isalcas, equally as

unfortunate, only severed Appius’ shield-boss

with a failed blow. Appius, now breathing hard,

swung high a rock he could never have lifted

from the ground were it not for the strength his

wild anger granted, and crushed his enemy as

he fell backwards, ramming the heavy boulder

down onto the shattered bone. Mago, fighting

nearby, groaned as he saw him hit the ground,

the tears and sighs muffled by his helm as he

rushed towards him. That marriage promise,

the hopes of a grandchild, stirred his courage,

while he advanced, assessing Appius’ mighty

limbs and his shield; and a closer look at that

light that flashed from the surface of Appius’

shining helm, cooled his wrath for a moment.

So a lion, after racing down from the wooded

heights, crouches on the plain, gathers itself

surveying the horns of that fierce bull nearby,

despite the pangs of hunger driving him on:

and the lion stares at the ripple of that mighty

neck, considers the hostile eyes beneath that

shaggy brow, watches the bull’s readiness for

action, as it paws the dust, meditating battle.

Now Appius was first to brandish his spear,

and speak thus; ‘If you hold true, then never

break the pledge you made, a father-in-law

should keep his son-in-law company.’ Then,

swiftly piercing through shield and armour,

his spear stuck fast in Mago’s left shoulder.

The Carthaginian made no reply, but angrily

levelled his weapon, a notable gift from his

mighty brother, for Hannibal seized it from

Durius whom he overcame and killed below

Saguntum’s wall, giving it then to his brother,

Mago, to carry in battle, as token of a famous

fight. Anger adding to his strength, the huge

weapon pierced both Appius’ helm and face,

dealing a lethal blow, while bloodless hands

clutched at the wound, as if to grasp the blade.

Appius, noble name, lay dead on the Tuscan

field, and a vital part of Italy fell with him.

The lake quivered, and Trasimene withdrew

its retreating waters from the corpse; while

the dying man’s blood-filled mouth closed

on the weapon, murmuring as it bit the blade.

Nor did Mamercus fare better, wounded by

every foe, pierced in every limb: for he had

slain a standard-bearer, seized the heavy pole,

and borne it deep into the enemy ranks where

a fierce company of Portuguese were fighting,

and was rallying the wavering Roman eagles,

when those Lusitanians, driven to fury by his

daring actions, hurled every missile they had,

or could snatch from that ground covered so

densely with spears they could scarcely move,

at this doomed warrior, most finding nowhere

to pierce his body, his very bones were riddled.


Book V:344-375 Synhalus the healer attends Mago

Meanwhile Hannibal swiftly approached, roused

to anger by his brother’s wound. Seeing the blood

he sought to know from Mago and his followers

whether the spear had struck deep with full force.

Hearing good news, that the risk of Mago dying

was remote, protecting him with his shield, he

hurried him from the field, lodging him in camp

safe from the turmoil of battle. He then quickly

called upon the arts of the old healer Synhalus,

who surpassed all other men in treating a wound

with concoctions of herbs, or extracting a blade

from the flesh by incantation, or sending snakes

to sleep by stroking them; thus his name was

famous throughout the Libyan cities and along

the shores of Egyptian Syrtis. Father Ammon

himself, the god of the Garamantians, had first

taught his ancestor, Synhalus, long ago, how

to alleviate animal bites or grave spear-thrusts,

with his remedies. And his ancestor, in dying,

had revealed that celestial teaching to his son,

who transmitted his father’s art to the grandson,

in his honour; now this Synhalus followed in

succession, the great-grandson, no less famous.

He had added to the lore of Ammon by study,

and could point to many a statue of his ancestor,

that ancient follower of Ammon. Now, swiftly,

his soothing hand applied ancestral remedies

and, with his robes tightly girt as is the way,

he gently washed and cleansed the wound, as

Mago, thinking of the death and despoiling

of his enemy, dispelled his brother’s anxiety

with these words, making light of his noble

mischance: ‘Have no fear, my brother. You

can bring my hurt no better salve than this,

that Appius is dead, sent to the spirits below

by my spear. And should I lose my life that

act alone would prove itself sufficient for me

to follow my enemy, gladly, to the shadows.’

Book V:376-400 Flaminius counter-attacks

While the Carthaginian leaders were distracted,

this mishap removing them from the battlefield,

behind their defences, Flaminius, seeing from

a raised mound that Hannibal had left the fight,

and that dark battle-cloud retreating to the rear,

attacked the wavering foe with a chosen force,

both swiftly and furiously, such that the sudden

alarm split their already thinning ranks; then he

called fiercely for a horse, and rushed into battle

in the centre of the valley. Just as when Jove

afflicts the earth with pouring rain and crackling

hail, and stirs now the Alpine heights and now

the Ceraunian summits that touch the heavens

with his lightning bolts, earth, sea, and sky all

tremble together, and Tartarus itself is shaken

by a general commotion, so this sudden storm

with no less unexpected slaughter struck those

startled Carthaginians, cold terror penetrating

to their very bones at the sight of the Consul.

He rode through them, forging a wide passage,

felling the close-packed ranks with his sword.

Their discordant shouts and cries carried war’s

madness to the gods above and shook the stars.

So with roaring waves Father Ocean and wild

Tethys strike Gibraltar, that Pillar of Hercules,

driving tumultuous seas into the hollow caves

of the isle until the cliffs moan, and Tartessos,

far off by land, hears the breakers crash against

the rocks, Lixus too, over no small tract of sea.

Book V: 401-433 He kills Bogus and Bagasus

Bogus, who hurled the first swift spear against

the Romans beside the ill-omened Ticinus, was

the first to fall to his javelin as it stole silently

through the air, Deceived by false omens read

from the flight of birds, he had thought to live

long and see many descendants, but none can

delay by augury the day the Fates have chosen.

He fell in the battle, and looked to the heavens

with blood-filled eyes, calling on the gods, as

he died, to grant the long years they promised.

Nor was Bagasus allowed to exult and escape

unpunished, who slew Libo before the Consul’s

eyes; Libo, honoured by ancestral laurels, in

the full flower of his youth, yet the Massylian

sword severed the head with its downy cheeks,

as Bagasus, that savage warrior, sent the youth

to an early death. Yet, dying, Libo called out

to Flaminius and not in vain; for his enemy’s

head was instantly shorn from his shoulders,

neck and all, and now Flaminius delighted in

emulating the victor’s cruelty in his like end.

What god, O Muses, could tell of so many

deaths in fitting language? What poet could

forge a lament worthy of such mighty spirits?

Of the youthful warriors vying for a glorious

fate, of those raw deeds done on the threshold

of darkness, the fury in hearts pierced by steel?

One after another fell, in a vast clash of armies,

none free to despoil his foe or think of plunder.

They were driven by love of slaughter, while

Hannibal was detained by his brother’s wound,

and Flaminius spread ruin among the dense

ranks with sword and spear, now on horseback,

and now, still conspicuous, fighting fiercely on

foot, in advance of the eagles, and the banners.

The accursed valley ran with rivers of blood,

and the slopes, and the hollow cliffs, echoed

to the clash of armour, the snorting of horses.

Book V: 434-456 The death of Othrys

Othrys of Marmorica scattered the field, he

who brought superhuman strength to this

battle, causing the Romans to turn in flight

at the sight of his huge frame. Towering

above both armies, his gigantic head rose

on broad shoulders, his gaping mouth was

hidden by the shaggy locks hanging down

over his grim brow and a beard rivalling

those locks, while his hairy chest bristled

like to some creature’s rough matted hide.

None dared to challenge him or fight him

face to face; he was attacked, like a creature

on the open plain, from a safe distance, by

hostile spears. Finally, as shouting loudly

he charged with furious face at the backs

of some stragglers, a Cretan arrow, flying

silently through the air, pierced one grim

eye and stopped him in his tracks. As he

fled to the lines, Flaminius hurled a spear

at his back, which pierced the ribs, its tip

revealed protruding from the shaggy breast.

He now tried to extract it, where the point

of the bright steel showed, until in losing

much blood he fell prone in death, hiding

the blade, and a wide area, with his chest.

His dying breath stirred the dust around,

that blew over the plain, clouding the sky.

Book V: 457-474 Sychaeus the destroyer

Meanwhile, the fighting was no less fierce

among the wooded hills above, the groves

and slopes wet and slippery from the many

battles over steep ground. Sychaeus brought

death to the fugitives, wrought havoc with

bitter slaughter. His spear struck from far off,

slaying Murranus who in time of peace drew

the sweetest sounds of all from Orpheus’ lyre.

He fell amongst the trees, and in dying sought

his native heights, Aequana’s vine-clad hills,

and the soft health-giving breezes of Sorrento.

Sychaeus added another victim, to keep him

company, the victor rejoicing in the manner

of death, for Tauranus, among the stragglers,

reaching the wooded heights, leant his back

against an ancient elm-tree to shield himself

from danger, and with his last words called

to his comrades left behind, but Sychaeus

pierced him with a spear that, transfixing

his body, plunged into the trunk behind.

Book V: 475-509 The oak tree

What possessed you? Was it divine wrath,

or fatal panic, O warriors, that gripped you,

foregoing war, seeking refuge in the trees?

Fear is indeed a sorry counsellor in danger;

the dire outcome proves that panic delivers

ill advice. An ancient oak there lifted its tall

branches to the sky, raising a shadowy crown

high over the woodland, wide as a full grove

had it grown on the open plain, and covering

a broad space with its dark and leafy boughs.

A second oak as large beside it, had laboured

for centuries to reach the sky with hoary head,

its spreading trunk topped with a green dome,

a mass of foliage overshadowing the heights.

Here you fled, men of Enna, whom the king

of Syracuse had sent from the Sicilian shores,

not knowing how to preserve honour in death,

your minds gripped by extreme terror, and you

climbed high, your shifting weight bending

the swaying branches. Then, one clambering

after another to find safety, some fell to earth

(deceived by the treacherous oak, its rotten

boughs decayed with age) while others hung

high in the summit, terrified by the missiles.

Sychaeus, eager to bring them all to the same

ruin, changed weapons, caught up his bronze

battle-axe, setting aside his shield and, with

his allies lending a hand, the tree succumbed

to heavy blows, groaning and crashing down.

The unhappy victims tossed to and fro, while

the trunk was pounded, as a bird and its nest

are thrown about when a westerly gale rocks

ancient glades, scarcely clinging to the top

of the swaying foliage. At last the wretched

tree, a sorry refuge in distress, fell to a host

of axe-blows, crushing limbs in its wide fall.

Book V: 510-529 The death of Sychaeus

Now another face of death appeared. The oak

nearby, taking fire, was soon wrapped in flame.

Then, blowing heat, Vulcan wove fiery tongues

amongst the leaves, fierce eddies gliding across

the dry timber, scorching the topmost branches.

Meanwhile the missiles flew ceaselessly while,

grasping at blazing boughs, half-scorched men

fell moaning to the ground. Behold, Flaminius

appeared, wrathful, intending Sychaeus’ demise,

though the latter, fearing the risk of such a duel,

was the first to try the outcome with his javelin,

but the weapon struck the middle of the shield

lightly at the edge of its bronze spike, and was

prevented from piercing the frame. The Consul,

however, was not willing to trust in his spear

to win the desired result, and stabbed Sychaeus

deeply with his sword, past the rawhide shield.

His enemy fell, his blood-filled mouth biting

the dust as he died. Then, as the Stygian cold

spread through his body, he felt death gripping

his viscera, and his eyes closed in the long sleep.

Book V: 530-550 Hannibal and Mago re-enter the fray

While the battle progressed, with varying fortune,

not unmixed with tragedy, Hannibal and Mago

left their camp, advancing swiftly, banners flying,

eager to regain lost time in bloodshed and killing.

On came their troops, raising a dark cloud of dust,

the plain alive with whirling sand and, wherever

Hannibal forged his way, the surging gale, driven

by that tempest, blew around and clothed the high

hills in darkness. Fontanus fell, pierced in the thigh,

Buta, the minstrel, in his throat and the spear-point

emerged over his back; the former of rich ancestry

sadly mourned by his native Fregellae, the latter by

Anagni; and you, Laevinus, found no better a fate,

though less bold; not daring to challenge Hannibal,

choosing to fight Ithemon, captain of the Autololes,

considering him your equal; while despoiling him,

having brought him to his knees, the heavy ashen

spear shattered your ribs with its inexorable force,

and you fell instantly, your legs collapsing with

the blow, over the body of your prostrate enemy.

Book V: 551-583 Hannibal rages over the battlefield

The thousand men from Teano were not lacking

in bravery, led by Viriasius, who was unrivalled

in siting a camp, building a raft, attacking walls

with battering ram or planting gangways swiftly

against a tower. Hannibal saw him exulting in

his fierce skill (Arauricus, wounded, mistrustful

of his light armour, had fled in haste before him)

and his ardour was kindled, scenting the honour

of the fight, thinking this fierce warrior worthy

of hand to hand combat. As Viriasius drew his

spear from his victim’s body, Hannibal attacked

and stabbed him in the chest, crying: ‘Whoever

you are, you have earned my praise, you deserve

to die at no other’s hand but mine. Carry the glory

of your death to the shades. I would have let you

depart alive had you not been born of the Roman

people!’ Then Hannibal went for Fadus, and old

Labicus whom Hamilcar had once fought against

in Sicily and made famous by a noteworthy duel.

Oblivious to the years, forgetting his age, he came

to fight, young in heart, with undiminished ardour,

but his feeble blows in war displayed his weakness,

as straw crackles uselessly in the fire, blazes forth

without strength or effect. On learning the man’s

name from Hamilcar’s armour-bearer, Hannibal

shouted out exultantly: ‘Pay now for your part

in that first war; the famous Hamilcar employs

this arm to send you to the shades!’ So raising

a javelin high as his ear, he hurled it, then ran

him through as he writhed in pain. The blade

being withdrawn, blood stained his grey hairs,

while death brought his long service to an end.

Herminius too, in his first battle, was killed by

Hannibal, Herminius who would plunder Lake

Trasimene, floating his line out, over the glassy

reaches, to catch the fish to feed his aged father.

Book V: 584-602 Hannibal laments Sychaeus’ death

Meanwhile, the grieving Carthaginians lifted

the dead Sychaeus on his shield and carried it

to the camp. Hannibal on seeing them pass by,

hearing their sad cries, felt a premonition move

his heart, and asked: ‘O friends, why such pain,

whom have the angry gods taken from us now?

Can it be you, Sychaeus, burning with the love

of glory, too ardent in your first battle, whom

this dark day of death severs before your time?’

The mourners answering him with their tears,

and naming his killer, Hannibal spoke further:

‘Worthy of Carthage, and worthy of Hasdrubal,

you go to the shades; your noble mother will

mourn for you as your ancestors were mourned,

and when Hamilcar, my father, descries you in

the Stygian darkness he will not treat you as

any less than them. But my pain will be eased

by the death of our sorrow’s author, Flaminius.

He shall follow you to the grave, and vile Rome

will deeply repent, though all too late, that stroke

of the sword that tore the flesh of dear Sychaeus.’

Book V: 603-626 The earthquake

As he spoke, a cloud of vapour issued from his

mouth, and a deep murmur rose from his angry

breast, as boiling water filling a cauldron rages,

and the heated liquid overflows. Then he rushed

headlong into the fray, singling out Flaminius

for a sustained attack; nor was the latter slow

to accept combat. The battle was intensifying,

the pair now face to face on the field, when

suddenly the hills trembled, cliffs rang out,

the summits shook all along the ridge, pines

swayed on the forested slopes, and shattered

boulders plunged towards the armies. There

came a rumbling in the deep, as the caverns

of the earth split apart, showing huge chasms,

while the immense yawning gulfs revealed

the Stygian darkness, and that light they had

once known terrified the spirits in the depths.

Flung from its ancient bed, the dark lake rose

as high as the mountains, bathing the Tuscan

woods with moisture in a manner unknown.

Meanwhile storm and dire catastrophe razed

nations, destroying the cities of mighty kings.

Rivers ran backward violently to their source,

the waves of the sea reversed their path, while

the Apennine Fauns fled the hills for the coast.

Book V: 627-643 Flaminius exhorts his troops

Yet (oh, the frenzy of battle!) the warriors fought

on, and though staggering on the shaking ground,

tumbling down when the earth shifted, they still

hurled their missiles with uncertain aim at the foe.

Driven back at last, the Romans fled randomly

towards the shore and, robbed of purpose, were

pushed into the lake. Flaminius, who had been

parted from them by the earthquake, reached

them now, hurling reproaches at their backs:

‘What then, pray, what is left if you retreat?

It is you who are showing Hannibal the road

to Rome, you who allow him fire and sword

to use against the Tarpeian shrine of Jupiter!

Stand, men, and learn from me how to fight,

or if that is denied the brave, learn how to die.

Flaminius shall set posterity no sad example.

No Libyan, no Cantabrian shall ever behold

a consul’s back. If such a mad desire for flight

grips you, let mine be the breast that receives

every missile, and my spirit, parting through

the air, still be summoning you back to fight.’

Book V: 644-678 Roman defeat and the death of Flaminius

So saying, Flaminius rode against the dense ranks

of his enemies; opposing him, Ducarius appeared,

fierce in mind and looks. He was known as a brave

warrior of his tribe, and his savage heart cherished

resentment of old for that rout of his countrymen,

the Boii. On seeing the face of their conqueror, 

he shouted: ‘Is this the great terror of the Boii?

Let my spear discover whether red blood flows

when such a hero is wounded! You, my friends,

can never repent of offering this victim to our

noble dead: for this is he who rode his chariot

in triumph and herded our fathers to the Capitol.

The hour of vengeance summons him.’ Then

the consul was showered with missiles from

every quarter, and overwhelmed as he was, by

that hail of spears through the air, none dare

boast his was the throw that killed Flaminius.

The battle was decided by the general’s death;

for the foremost Romans closed ranks, angered

with both the gods and themselves at the fatal

outcome of the battle, thinking it more bitter

than death to witness a Carthaginian victory,

so that soon a pile of their bodies, weapons

gripped in hands red with the blood of defeat,

covered the corpse and the outstretched limbs

of their general, the mass of the fallen burying

the Consul as if forming a funeral mound. Now

the heaps of dead lay scattered there in the water,

throughout the woods, and along the dale deep

with blood, as Hannibal, with his brother beside

him, rode up through the midst of the slaughter,

crying: ‘See these wounds, see how they died,

each hand gripping a sword, each soldier in his

armour still pursuing the fight. Let our warriors

witness how they met their end! Their brows

still frown, the wrath engraved on their faces.

And I fear lest a land whose fertile nature it is

to breed such noble men is destined for empire,

and, from defeat itself, may conquer the world.’

Then he yielded to night, as the sun was setting,

and spreading darkness put an end to slaughter.

End of Book V of the Punica