Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)
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
- Book V:24-52 Hannibal sets a trap for Flaminius
- Book V:53-100 Corvinus advises delay
- Book V:101-129 Flaminius defies the omens
- Book V:130-164 He readies himself for battle
- Book V:165-200 Hannibal springs the trap
- Book V:201-219 The Battle of Lake Trasimene (217BC)
- Book V:220-257 Lateranus and Lentulus combine
- Book V:258-286 The conflict rages
- Book V:287-343 The death of Appius
- Book V:344-375 Synhalus the healer attends Mago
- Book V:376-400 Flaminius counter-attacks
- Book V: 401-433 He kills Bogus and Bagasus
- Book V: 434-456 The death of Othrys
- Book V: 457-474 Sychaeus the destroyer
- Book V: 475-509 The oak tree
- Book V: 510-529 The death of Sychaeus
- Book V: 530-550 Hannibal and Mago re-enter the fray
- Book V: 551-583 Hannibal rages over the battlefield
- Book V: 584-602 Hannibal laments Sychaeus’ death
- Book V: 603-626 The earthquake
- Book V: 627-643 Flaminius exhorts his troops
- Book V: 644-678 Roman defeat and the death of Flaminius
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