Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book VI

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

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Book VI:1-40 Bruttius hides the eagle

Now, on eastern shores, the Sun yoked once more

the team he had loosed in the west off Tartessos

plunging his flames into darkness, and the Seres,

the nation first revealed by sunrise, began again

plucking the cocoons of silk from their branches;

and now the dreadful havoc was visible, clearer

the work of war’s insanity: the chaos of horses,

weapons, men, their hands still dipped in their

enemies’ wounds. The ground was littered with

shields and crests, headless bodies, and swords

shattered against hard bone, nor could one fail

to see the eyes of the dying seeking light in vain.

Then, the lake itself was foaming blood, floating

dead littering its surface, forever denied a grave.

Yet, in defeat, Roman virtue was not wholly lost.

Bruttius, his wounded body revealing his ill-luck

in the battle, slowly raising his head from a pile

of wretched corpses, his strength often failing,

dragged his scarred limbs through the carnage.

Lacking wealth, noble birth and eloquence, still

his sword was sharp; and none of the Volscians

had ever won greater glory by dying heroically.

He chose, as a beardless lad, to join the army,

had been noticed by fierce Flaminius when he,

finding better fortune, was victor over the Celts

and crushed them. Honoured then, Bruttius had

guarded the sacred eagle in every battle; which

glorious role sealed his fate. Facing certain death,

unable to deny the Carthaginians the eagle and,

seeing destiny was against them and the battle

about to end in utter defeat, sought to bury it,

and entrust it to the earth a while. But feeling

a sudden blow, he covered it with his failing

limbs while he was dying, and so concealed it.

Yet as day returned, from the Stygian darkness

and fitful sleep, he raised himself using a spear

snatched from the nearest corpse and, exerting

all his strength, dug at the earth all drenched in

blood around, which shifted easily, then bowed

to the image of the unfortunate eagle, placed in

the hollow, smoothing the sand over it with his

trembling hands. Then yielding a last weak breath

to the empty air, bore his brave spirit to Tartarus.

Book VI:41-61 Laevinus gnaws at the dead

Close by was seen an infamous show of rage,

that makes a claim on our verse. Laevinus,

from the heights of Priverno, who held the

honourable post of centurion, lay dead across

the corpse of Tyres, a Nasimonian. Retaining

neither sword nor spear, Fate having robbed

Laevinus of weapons in the fight, his wrath

had still found a means of unarmed combat,

since he had bitten his enemy savagely, his

teeth doing the work of steel, to assuage his

anger. Tyres’ nose was already ripped, the

eye-sockets torn by the cruel jaws, the ears

had been bitten from his savaged head, the

forehead badly gnawed, while blood flowed

from Laevinus’ yawning mouth; nor was he

satisfied until the breath left his gaping lips,

and dark death denied his open maw its fill.

While hideous strength displayed its wonders,

the mass of wounded fugitives were hounded

toward a different fate, slinking away furtively,

by night, on pathless tracks through the dark

woods, and across the empty fields, terrified

by every sound, even a bird stirring a breeze

with its light wings. They were all robbed of

sleep and peace of mind and, panic-stricken,

were driven on now by fierce Mago, now by

Hannibal troubling them with merciless spear.

Book VI:62-100 Serranus, Regulus’ son, finds refuge

Serranus, bearer of a famous name (his father

was Regulus, whose fame ever increases with

the passing centuries, remembered for having

kept his word to the perfidious Carthaginians)

was now in the flower of his youth, and yet,

alas, he had entered the war against Carthage

in the shadow of his father’s fate, and now,

badly wounded, sought to return to his dear

home and his unfortunate mother. None of

his comrades remained to ease his grievous

hurt, and under the cloak of night, leaning

on his broken spear, he made his silent way

to Perugia’s fields. Weary, he knocked at

a humble door, regardless of his fate, where

one Marus (who had served under Regulus

long ago, Fame hearing of his skill in battle)

was not slow to leave his bed, and appeared,

holding a light, lit at Vesta’s humble hearth.

He recognised Serranus, a pitiable sight, as

his failing steps were supported by means

of that shattered weapon, while Marus had

already heard with sorrow of the dire event:

‘What evil, I see?’ he cried. ‘O, I have lived

 too long, I was born to too much suffering.

You, Regulus, greatest of men, I have seen

your aspect terrify the citadel of Carthage,

even though you were captive there, your

death a crime bringing shame on Jupiter

himself, such that the razing of Carthage

could never expel the grief from my mind. 

Where are you now, yet again, you gods?

Regulus, you offered yourself to the sword,

now a perjured Carthage places the hope

of your house at death’s door!’ He swiftly

laid the sick man on his bed and, with that

skill in healing he had learnt in war, now

cleansed the wounds with water, and now

soothed them with herbs, bandaging them

gently and wrapping them in wool, to ease

the stiffened limbs. The old man’s next care

was to slake the sad victim’s dreadful thirst,

and offer a little food to revive his strength.

As soon as this was complete, sleep at last

applied its balm, bringing sweet rest to all

his limbs. And before day dawned, Marus,

forgetting his years, hurried to treat the fever

the wounds produced, in the proven manner,

his anxious loyalty supplying cool dressings.

Book VI:101-116 Serranus complains to heaven

Serranus, raising his sorrowful face to heaven,

with groans and tears, cried: ‘O mighty Jove,

if you have not yet doomed Quirinus’ realm,

scorning your Tarpeian heights, then behold

Italy’s imminent ruin, along with all things

Roman; turn a merciful eye on our troubles.

We lost the Alpine passes, since then there

has been no limit to our pain: Ticino dark

with our dead and the river Po; you, Trebia,

and grieving Etruria, made famous now by

Punic triumph. Yet why speak of them, for

behold, a heavier weight of evil: I have seen

Trasimene’s waves brimming with the dead,

with that sheer mass of corpses; and I have

seen Flaminius falling, amidst the onslaught.

I swear, by the shade of the father I worship,

I sought death then in killing the foe, a death

worthy of his noble suffering, but cruel fate

denied me the soldier’s death it denied him.’

Book VI:117-139 Marus tells of Regulus’ gifts to him

Meanwhile, as he poured out his complaints,

the old man tried to comfort him: ‘Brave lad,

let us bear pain and hard times in your father’s

manner. Such things are the will of the gods,

the wheel of fate as it moves on life’s steep

path brings us many a dangerous moment;

but yours are the title-deeds of your house,

both great and famous enough throughout

the world: your sacred father, little less than

a deity, gained his high honour by resisting

adversity, and never left the path of virtue

before his spirit unwillingly fled the body.

I had scarcely outgrown my boyhood years

when a first beard showed on Regulus’ face.

I became his friend, we spent years together,

until the gods saw fit to extinguish that light

of the Roman people, in whose noble breast

Fidelity assumed her benign place, holding

his heart in her embrace. He granted me this

sword, greatly honouring my valour, as well

as that bridle now black with smoke as you

see, though some glint of silver still appears;

and with those gifts no horseman sat above

Marus. Yet that lance was my greatest glory.

See me pour a libation of wine in its honour,

for it is worth your while to learn the reason.’

Book VI:140-204 Marus and the serpent

‘The turbid course of the Bagradas ploughs

the desert sands in its sluggish passage, no

river of Libya spreading its murky waters

further, or covering the plain more widely.

There, in that savage land, we were pleased

to camp on its shore, needing water, scarce

in that place. Nearby stood a grove of trees,

motionless and sunless, dark with Stygian

shadow, breathing dense fumes into the air

and yielding a foul stench. And within lay

a vile den, a hollow beneath the earth, set

deep in a winding cave, no light penetrating

its gloomy darkness. I recall it with horror.

A deadly serpent, spawned by the Earth in

anger, lived there; whose like generations

of humankind will scarcely see again; this

monster, hundreds of feet long, haunted that

fateful shore and its infernal grove of trees.

It sated its vast maw, and its belly pregnant

with venom, on the flesh of lions trapped

as they drank the water, or on cattle driven

to the river under the burning sun, or birds

downed from the sky by a foul corruption

of the air. Half-consumed bones covered

the ground, ejected in the shadowy cave

when it lay replete after dining vilely on

the prey it killed. When it chose to bathe

in the currents of flowing water, to cool

itself when fiery food engendered heat,

its head reached one bank before its tail

had plunged into the river-bed opposite.

Unaware of the danger I approached, and

with me were Aquinus, of the Apennines,

and Avens, an Umbrian. We planned to

examine the grove and explore its peace

and quiet. But as we drew nearer a silent

dread penetrated our flesh, and a strange

chill froze our limbs. Nevertheless we

went on, praying to the Nymphs and to

the unknown deity of the river, and so,

anxious and full of fear, we dared to trust

our feet to the sacred grove. Behold, now

a Tartarean whirlwind, with a gale stronger

than a wild easterly, erupted from the mouth

and threshold of the cave. A storm poured

from the vast depths, mixed with the baying

of Cerberus. Struck with fear, we gazed at

one another: the ground rumbled, the earth

was shaken, the cave fell, as if the shades

of the dead were emerging. Huge as those

snakes the Giants were equipped with, when

they stormed the heavens, as the Hydra that

wearied Hercules by Lerna’s waters, or as

Juno’s dragon that guarded the golden fruit,

as huge it rose from that hole in the ground,

lifted its gleaming head to the sky, sprayed

its venom to the clouds, and fouled heaven

with open jaws. We scattered, tried to raise

a feeble cry, all breathless with terror, yet

in vain, its hissing filled the whole grove.

Then Avens, blind with fear, suddenly hid

in the vast trunk of an ancient oak, hoping

the dreadful monster might not find him,

his action foolish (but Fate gripped him).

Though I could scarcely credit it myself,

it wound its immense coils bodily round

that tree, and plucked it from the ground,

tearing it up by its roots. Then as Avens,

poor trembling wretch, called to us his

friends in a final utterance, the serpent

seized him, its dark throat swallowing

him with a gulp (I looked back), burying

him in its foul gut. And the unfortunate

Aquinas, trusting to the river’s current,

and swimming swiftly now as he fled,

was attacked mid-stream, the monster

carrying his body to the bank, and in a

vile form of death, devouring his flesh.’

Book VI:205-260 Regulus attacks the monster

‘So I alone was fated to escape that dread

and deadly monster. I ran as fast as grief

allowed, and explained it all to the general.

Regulus groaned aloud, in pity at the cruel

death of his men. Then, on fire as ever for

war, for battle and conflict with an enemy,

and burning with a passion for great deeds,

he ordered his men to arm at once, and his

cavalry, tested in many a fight, from camp.

He himself spurred on his swift war-horse,

and a body of shieldsmen followed at his

command, dragging heavy siege-catapults,

and the falarica, whose huge spike brings

down high towers. The thunder of horses’

hooves, flying over the grassy plain, now

encircled the deadly hollow and the snake,

roused by the neighing, slid from its cave

and a Stygian blast hissed from its evil

mouth. Its eyes flamed with a fatal fire,

its crest, erect, towered over the tree-tops,

and its triple-forked tongue flickered and

vibrated in the air, rising to lick the sky.

But, startled when the trumpets sounded,

it raised its immense mass from its coiled

form, twining its body in writhing loops.

Then it hastened to attack, unwinding its

tightened circles, now stretching its body

to its full length, suddenly reaching out

to the warriors’ distant faces, the horses,

startled by the serpent, snorting, tugging

at the rein, their nostrils’ breathing fire.

High above the terrified men, the snake

waved its head on its swelling neck from

side to side, now snatching them up in its

rage, now eager to crush them beneath its

immense weight. Grinding at their bones,

swallowing their bloody flesh, yawning

jaws drenched in gore, it would relinquish

each half-eaten body to find a new enemy.

Now men retreated at a signal, while that

serpent, victorious, attacked the troubled

squadrons from afar with pestilent breath.

But Regulus, quickly recalled the warriors

to battle, inspiring them with his words:

“Shall men of Italy, retreating before this

serpent, admit that Rome cannot match

such Libyan snakes? If its breath robs you

of all strength, if your courage melts away

at the sight of its open jaws, I will advance

boldly, tackling the monster single-handed.”

So he shouted, unafraid, sending his spear,

like lightening, hurtling through the air. It

sped on, doing its worst with greater effect

due to the fierceness of the creature’s lunge,

its point striking the monster squarely in

the head, lodging there, quivering. A cry

lifted to the heavens, a sudden clamour of

victorious voices rising to the skies above.

And now the earth-born serpent was mad

with rage, impatient of defeat and new to

pain, and feeling the steel for the first time

in all its long years, its swift attack, driven

by torment, might  have succeeded had not

Regulus, using all his skill at horsemanship,

wheeled his mount, eluding the threat then,

as the snake flexed its sinuous back so as

to follow the steed in its action, he tugged

with his left hand at the rein, and escaped.’ 

Book VI:261-293 Marus gains the lance as his prize

‘Now, I did not stand there motionless

a spectator of the action. My lance was

the second to transfix that monstrous

body; its triple-forked tongue often

flickering over the rump of Regulus’

tired steed; I threw my spear, swiftly

turning the serpent’s savage assault

against myself. The men followed my

example, vying to hurl their missiles,

shifting the snake’s anger from one to

another, until it was halted by a blow

from a siege-catapult. Then at last its

strength was shattered, its damaged

spine no longer able to raise its body

for attack, or lift its head to the sky.

We attacked more fiercely, and soon

a huge spike was lodged deep in that

monstrous gut, swift arrows robbing

the creature of its sight. Now the dark

chasm of that gaping wound emitted

a foul poison from the pierced flesh,

now the tip of the tail was pinned to

the ground with showers of missiles

and heavy pikes; yet still the serpent

threatened feebly with gaping mouth.

At last, with a hissing noise, a bolt

hurled from a siege-engine shattered

its head and the body, stretched far

along the river bank, lay still, a livid

venomous vapour escaping its mouth.

Then a mournful groan erupted from

the flood, spreading through its depths:

on the instant, cave and grove yielded

sounds of tears, echoed by the banks.

Ah, how savage were our losses, how

dearly we had yet to pay for that sorry

fight! How great our suffering, though

what retribution we had yet to witness!

Nor were the prophets of doom silent,

warning that as we had laid impious

hands on the servants of the Naiads,

that sisterhood dwelling in the tepid

Bagradas’ waters, trouble for us must

follow. It was then, that your father,

Regulus, gave me his lance, this lance,

in tribute and reward, for dealing that

second blow: this, Serranus, was first

to draw blood from the sacred snake.’

Book VI: 294-345 Regulus captured in the First War

Serranus’ eyes and face had been wet

with tears for some time, and now he

interrupted to declare: ‘If my father had

lived in our day, Trebia’s fatal banks

would not have overflowed with blood,

nor your waters, Lake Trasimene, have

swallowed so many famous warriors.’

Old Marus replied: ‘The Carthaginians

paid dearly in kind, and he took prior

vengeance for his death. For Africa, her

forces depleted, her treasure diminished,

stretching out her hands in supplication,

was only rescued when warlike Sparta,

sent Xanthippus to Carthage’s aid in an

evil hour. The general’s appearance was

naught, neither handsome of body nor

noble of brow, yet with meagre stature

went an admirable liveliness in action,

a physical strength to overcome giants.

He would scarcely have yielded to this

Hannibal, now so skilful in his warfare,

in the art of battle, in matching force to

cunning, and in preserving life despite

hardships in a hostile land. Oh, how I

wish that Taygetus, cruel to us, had not

trained him on the shady banks of their

Eurotas! Then would I have seen Dido’s

walls sink in flames, or not have grieved,

at least, for Regulus’ harsh fate, a sorrow

not to be expunged by death or the pyre,

but one I shall bear with me to Tartarus.

Their armies met in the field, battle raged

throughout the land; every mind angered. 

There in the midst Regulus did memorable

deeds, cutting a path with his sword, and

rushing into danger, dealing fatal wounds

at a blow; like a southerly gale shrieking

as it sweeps along dark masses of cloud,

the pitch-black sky menacing earth and

sea alike with impending ruin, till every

farmer and herdsman on wooded heights

trembles, every sea-captain furls his sails.

But Xanthippus, the Greek general, wove

deceit; concealing men amongst the rocks,

he suddenly ceased fighting and then beat

a feigned retreat, moving fast, as if in fear,

as a shepherd seeking safety for his flock

lures wolves, into a pit hidden by a fragile

covering of branches, by tethering nearby

a bleating lamb. Regulus was trapped, led

astray by that love of glory that inflames

noble hearts and a fallacious trust placed

in the god of war. He did not look to his

friends or supporting forces following on

behind, still pressing on alone and fired

by a mad desire for conflict, when a host

of Spartans suddenly appeared from their

place of ambush among the rocks, ringed

our general intent on battle, while behind

a savage force of warriors surged around.

O a dire day for Latium, marked in black!

Shame, O Mars, on you, that a man born

to serve you and your city of Rome was

doomed to a captive’s sad fate! I indeed

will never cease to mourn. That Carthage

should see you a prisoner, Regulus! That

the heavens thought you, Carthage, worthy

of such a triumph! What punishment do

the Spartans not deserve for such a trick?’

Book VI: 346-363 Regulus is released on oath

‘Now the Carthaginian senate decided that

Regulus should be made to swear an oath,

and be sent as mediator to negotiate peace;

seeking to exchange him for their own men

taken prisoner in the war. So, without delay,

a ship, launched from the yard, was moored

in the waves close to shore, while the crew

felled pines in the woods to fashion fresh

thwarts and shape the oars, swiftly attached

the rigging, and ran canvas up the high mast.

On the prow they fixed a heavy iron anchor

with curved flukes. Cothon, above all, who

was a skilful sailor and the ship’s steersman,

inspected the vessel and checked the rudder,

as the triple beak’s gleaming bronze shone

over the deep, glittering above the waves.

At the same time, spears and other weapons

were brought on board, with equipment

to be used against the dangers of the sea,

if needed. The coxswain stood amidships,

near the stern, to call the oarsmen’s strokes,

dictating the rhythm of the oars, so that their

raised blades struck the echoing water in time.’

Book VI: 364-402 He reaches Italy

‘The crew having done their work, the hour

for departure come, the vessel being armed,

and the wind offshore, all rushed to watch,

women, lads, old men. Through the midst

of the crowd, under hostile eyes, Regulus

was brought, by Fate, for them to gaze on.

His calm brow met their sight, as calm as

when he first led his fleet to Punic shores.

I went with him, he making no objection,

and boarded sadly to share his ill-fortune.

He considered it a greater thing to counter

present evils, squalor, and poor food, and

a hard bed, than to defeat the enemy; nor

thought it nobler to flee adversity warily

than conquer it by enduring. I yet hoped

(though I well knew, had always known,

his fierce integrity) that if we wretches

were allowed to reach the walls of Rome,

see our homes, his heart might be moved

and melted by all your tears. I hid my fears

in my breast, believing that Regulus too

might weep and feel misfortune as we do.

When our vessel glided at last into our

native river, the Tiber, I watched his face,

the eyes that reveal the mind, and fixed

my gaze intently on him. If you can credit

this, my lad, he held the one expression,

amidst a thousand dangers, and in Rome,

and even in cruel Carthage under torture.

They came from every city in Italy to see

him, and when the crowd overflowed the

plain, they thronged the hills nearby, as

those tall banks of the Tiber resounded.

Even the Carthaginian senators with him,

tried to persuade that stern-minded man

to resume the dignity of his native toga,

but he stood there, once more unmoved,

while senators shed tears, while a crowd

of women and youngsters wept in sorrow.

On the river-bank the consul extended his

hand in friendly welcome as Regulus first

set foot on his native soil, but the latter

stepped back, warning the consul not to

sully his high office, but withdraw. Only

the haughty Carthaginians and the ranks

of their Roman captives, surrounded him,

the sight a reproach to heaven and the gods.’

Book VI: 403-414 He resists his wife’s grief

‘Behold, Marcia approached, with his two boys

the pledges of their love, made wretched by the

noble virtue her husband displayed to excess,

her hair disordered, her robes torn in sorrow.

(Do you remember that day, Serranus, or has

it lapsed from memory?) Seeing him there, in

his altered state, wearing those unsightly Punic

clothes, she fell with a loud cry, fainting, her

cold features the colour of death. If the gods

have pity, let them grant you, Carthage, to

witness such suffering wives and mothers.

Regulus addressed me calmly, ordering me

to keep him from the embraces of you two

children and his wife; he showed himself

impervious to grief, never yielding to pain.’

Book VI: 415-449 Marcia, his wife, complains

Serranus gave a groan and, close to tears, said:

‘My noble father, no less divine to me than

the god whose shrine is on the Tarpeian Rock,

if filial love grants the right of complaint, why

did you, so harshly, deny my mother and I this

consolation and this glory, to touch your sacred

face and receive the kisses from your lips? Was

it unlawful to clasp your hand in mine? These

present wounds would feel all the lighter had I

been permitted, O my dear father, to carry the

undying memory of your embrace to the grave.

I was but a child, Marus, yet unless my memory

errs his stature was more than human, long grey

hairs straggling from his head veiling the broad

shoulders, while an awesome air of nobility and

a dignity inspiring reverence dwelt in that brow

with its disordered locks. My eyes have never

rested on such a man again.’ Here Marus, hoping

to prevent Serranus’ efforts from affecting his

wounds adversely, cried: ‘Yes, and what when

he passed his own house by, driven to accept

the hospitality of the Carthaginians so inimical

to him? Round his own doors shields were hung,

javelins and chariot trappings, famed trophies

of a great victory adorning a humble house, and

his wife calling from the threshold: “Regulus,

where will you go? Here is no Punic prison you

might shun? This house holds the tokens of our

lawful marriage bed, our household gods guard

a hearth unstained by wrong. I have borne you

(where is the crime in this, I pray?) more than

one child, and the Senate and people all wished

us joy. Look back, here is your own dwelling,

from which as Consul, your shoulders gleaming

in purple robes, you watched the Roman lictors

in procession; from here you marched out to war,

returning often with the victor’s spoils, together

too we saw them being hung about its threshold.

I ask for no embraces, not one token the sacred

torch of marriage grants, but do not pass by your

own house, for your sons’ sake rest here tonight.”’

Book VI: 450-465 The senators receive him

‘While she wept, Regulus, evading her complaints,

shut himself with the Carthaginians in their quarters.

The sun had barely risen over those famous heights

of Mount Oeta in the east, evoking Hercules’ pyre,

when the Consul ordered the Carthaginians to be

summoned. Then we saw Regulus enter the Curia.

He himself reported to me, in a calm voice, all that

debate and his own address to the mournful House.

As he entered, the senators called him with voice

and gesture to assume his previous role and place,

but he refused, declining his former seat of honour.

Nevertheless, they gathered round, vying to grasp

his hand, begging him to restore so great a general

to his country. Let them trade the crowd of Roman

prisoners for him, so he who had worn those chains

in defeat, might with justice fire Carthage’s citadel.’

Book VI: 466-496 Regulus honours the promise

‘Then he raised his arms and eyes to the heavens:

“O source of justice and rectitude, who governs all,

O Fidelity no less divine to me, and Tyrian Juno,

whom I summoned to witness my promise to return,

if I am to speak words worthy of me, protect these

Roman hearths with my voice, then I must go no

less swiftly to Carthage, and stand by that promise

though knowing, full well, the penalty agreed on.

So cease to honour me to the State’s ruin. These

many years of war have wearied me, and the long

captivity in chains has sapped an old man’s strength.

Regulus is not the man he was, one un­-resting from

the hard task of war, you see the bloodless remnants

of a name. Carthage, that home of treachery, knows

what is left of me, would prefer these men, so young

and fierce in battle, rather than accept my aged flesh. 

Oppose their cunning, teach a people delighting in

deceit, how little my capture diminishes you, Rome.

Accept no peace that is not imposed in the manner

of our fathers. The Libyans demand, the message

they bid me bring, is that you should treat the war

as a stalemate, sign a pact favouring neither side.  

For myself, I would rather visit the Stygian shore,

than witness the Romans striking such a bargain.”’

Book VI: 497-520 He insists on returning to Carthage

‘So he spoke, immediately yielding himself again,

to Carthaginian wrath, while the senators accepting

so grave and credible a warning, dismissed the men

of Carthage, who hurried homeward, vexed at their

reception, and issuing threats against their prisoner.

A crowd accompanied the senators, shedding tears

and beating their breasts, the Field of Mars echoing:

ready to recall him, and rescue him by force, filled

as they were by righteous indignation. And when

Marcia saw him hastening to board that ship, she

uttered a dreadful cry of fear, as if at that moment

she was standing by his death-bed, and rushing to

the quay she called aloud: “Take me to share his

punishment and death, you Libyans; and husband

I beg one thing of you, by the children I bore you,

one simple thing alone, let me endure, at your side,

whatever suffering earth, sea, and sky may inflict.

Why flee from my unhappy self as far as Carthage?

I did not send Xanthippus the Spartan into battle,

nor were mine the chains clasped about your neck!

And take the children with me. Our tears perhaps

might turn aside the Carthaginians’ harsh anger;

or if the hostile crowd turns a deaf ear towards us,

then one hour will await you and your dear ones,

or if you are so set on ending your life, let us die

in our native land, companions as one to the end.”

But, as she spoke, the moorings were cast loose,

and the vessel began slowly to move from shore.

Then, indeed his wife, wholly distraught, raised

weary arms towards the water, and wailed aloud:

“Behold a man who boasts of keeping faith with

Libya’s wretched race, with our enemies! But

where now, perfidious one, is the pledge you

gave to me, the wedded loyalty you promised?”

Such were the last words of hers that reached

the ears of her inflexible husband; all the rest

was lost to knowledge amid the splash of oars.’

Book VI: 521-551 Regulus’ death at Carthage

‘Then we sailed swiftly downriver to the coast,

and sailed out over the deep, cutting the great

waves over the vast expanse of water with our

hollow keel. Fearing a shameful end, I prayed

that violent seas might sink us, a wild easterly

drive us onto the rocks, so as to drown together.

But the gentle breath of mild breezes bore us on

to his torment, yielded us to the ire of Carthage.

I, unhappily, saw all, and was sent back to Rome

to tell of his punishment, the harsh price of my

release. Nor would I, even now, try to describe

the Carthaginians’ cruelty, they acting like wild

beasts, were it not that your father’s courage set

a nobler example than any man ever witnessed.

I am ashamed to add complaint to the suffering,

which I saw him endure calmly. You too, dear

boy, must never cease to be worthy of so noble

a descent, so check your tears should they start.

They fixed a wooden frame all round him, one

equipped cunningly with dense rows of spikes,

designed to give a painful jab from those ranks

of projecting metal, such that by that infamy

sleep was denied him, his flesh being pierced

deeply, on whichever side, in the grip of torpor,

he might lean toward, with the passage of time.

Refrain from tears, my lad: endurance outdoes

any triumph. His glory will live on throughout

the ages, as long as chaste Fidelity retains her

dwelling place in earth and heaven, as long as

virtue’s name is given reverence; for the day

will come when posterity will be amazed to

hear of that fate you, our noble general, took

upon yourself so lightly.’ So saying, Marus

tended the lad’s wounds, with sorrowful care.

Book VI: 552-573 News of Lake Trasimene reaches Rome

Meanwhile, Rumour, her swift wings dyed

with blood, wet from the crimson waters of

Lake Trasimene, spread true and false news

throughout Rome. Terrified, the populace

recalled the Allia, the savage Senones, and

the prospect of their citadel in enemy hands.

Baleful Fear broke free of all restraint, and

anxiety added to the chaos. Some rushed

to the walls, where a wild cry was raised,

that the enemy were there, spears, stakes

being hurled towards the imaginary foe.

Women, tearing at their grey hair, swept

with it the pavements of the high temples,

calling to the gods with prayers for their

dear ones, men death had already taken.

Neither day nor night granted rest. People,

loud with grief, lay scattered at the gates,

then followed the long ranks of returnees,

hanging on their words, setting no store

by favourable news, stopping and asking

a second time, or begging for information

with mute look, fearing to hear the answer.

Some weep dumbfounded at a grievous loss,

others fear the speaker’s lack of knowledge

or hesitation in replying. But when, as they

neared, survivors were recognised on sight,

their dear ones crowded round solicitous

in their delight, kissing their very wounds

wearying the gods with prayers of thanks.

Book VI: 574-592 Serranus finds his mother

There Marus, with laudable care, accompanied

Serranus through the crowd; and now Marcia

ran from the house she had not quit since her

husband’s death (for, shunning society, she

had endured life only for her children’s sake)

rushing out to mourn as she had done before.

Astounded, suddenly, at recognising Marus

and her son, she cried: ‘Noble friend to her

who is ever-faithful, you have brought one

of my dear ones home at least. Is the wound

slight, or did the cruel blade pierce right to

our very being? Whichever it is, thanks be

to you, O gods, as long as Carthage does not

drag him off, in chains, to a repeat of those

pains his father suffered. And you, my son,

how often have I begged you not to wage war

with the impetuous ardour your father showed,

nor be urged to belligerent action by his sorry

sense of honour. I have lived too long, and I

have paid a heavy price for that longevity. I

pray, if you gods have opposed us, spare me,

now.’ Meanwhile, as if the dark clouds of

disaster had already dispersed, the senators

discussed how they might yet address their

nation’s troubles, each vying to further war,

all fear dispelled by their imminent danger.

Book VI: 593-618 Jupiter intervenes

Their main task was to appoint some general,

on whom all Rome and the damaged edifice of

the State could rely, given the prospect of ruin.

It was Jove who granted Italy and Roman rule

a reprieve from disaster; for he had seen, from

high on the Alban Mount, Hannibal, swollen

with his success in Tuscany and eager to carry

his victorious banners against the walls of Rome.

Now, shaking his head, he spoke: ‘O warrior,

I, Jupiter, will never allow you to pass the gates

of Rome or tread her streets. You may fill those

Tuscan vales with the dead, and swell the rivers

with Roman blood, but I forbid you to approach

the Tarpeian Hill, or aspire to breach the walls.’

Then from his right hand he sent lightning bolts,

four times, illuminating the Tuscan landscape,

cleaving the dark cloud rolling through the air,

forming a rift in the skies above the Punic army.

Nor was he content with deterrence: his divine

power inspired the Romans to set a solid shield

before Romulus’ city, granting Fabius Maximus

leadership of their bid for deliverance. Observing

military command pass to that general, Jupiter

reflected: ‘He will never succumb to jealousy,

or the sickening poison of the crowd’s applause;

cunning tricks, or desire for plunder and the rest.

A veteran soldier he will view victory or defeat

with a calm mind, equal to both war and peace.’

So the father of the gods returned to high heaven.

Book VI: 619-652 Quintus Fabius Maximus

This Fabius praised by Jove, cautious in action,

was never surprised in warfare, and how great

was his delight when he brought his soldiers

home with not one missing, no man readier

to guard them as his own dear sons, or sadder

to see the blood of his comrades shed in battle.

And yet, he ever emerged as victor, drenched

in the enemy’s blood, and returned to Rome

his army intact. He was of noble birth, his

ancestor kin to the gods. For Hercules, long

ago, returning from distant lands, drove his

prize (cattle, wonderful to see, that he had

taken from Geryon, a triple-bodied monster)

to the site where Rome now stands, as, they

say, Evander of Arcadia was building a home

on the Palatine, among the wild thorn-bushes,

he being king of impoverished subjects; and

his daughter, succumbing to the divine guest,

gave life to the first Fabius, a joy born of sin;

so the Arcadian woman’s blood was mingled

with that of the great hero, and she the origin

of a line descended from Hercules. Once, three

hundred Fabii of that house armed themselves

against their enemy; whom this Fabius of ours

surpassed in glory, through caution and delay,

proving a match for Hannibal, oh so mighty!

While Rome prepared for a fresh campaign,

Hannibal, warned by Jove, and abandoning

hope of breaching that city’s walls, headed

for those fields and hills of Umbria, where

Todi clings to the hill’s slopes and summit,

and Bevagna, low-lying on the wide plain,

breathes eddying mists, yet nourishes those

bulls for Jupiter’s altar. Next he traversed

Picenum’s fields, rich in olive-trees, seizing

much plunder, then allowed his wandering

army wherever spoil attracted, until mild

Campania arrested his destructive course,

and took the war to her defenceless breast.

Book VI: 653-697 Hannibal reaches Liternum

There, in the marsh country, Hannibal visited

the houses and temples of Liternum, viewing

the gleaming frescoes, records of the First War,

fought to the finish by our ancestors, and here

remembered in these paintings on the portico

walls, showing a succession of notable events.

First Regulus, arguing fiercely for war, as he

might not have done had he foreseen his fate.

Next Appius Claudius, the first to declare war

on Carthage in the traditional manner, crowned

here with laurel, leading a well-earned triumph

for his slaughter of their army. Close by rose

a tall column of white marble, decorated with

the prows of ships, trophies of victory at sea,

with Gaius Duilius, first to sink a Carthaginian

fleet, sacrificing and offering the spoils to Mars.

To Gaius were granted nocturnal honours, with

flaming torches and a flute-player attending him

after the banquet, as he returned to his humble

home to the sounds of a joyous tune. Here too,

Hannibal saw the last honours paid at a funeral

for his countryman: Scipio, victor in Sardinia,

was conducting the funeral of a Punic general.  

Next Hannibal viewed Roman soldiers routing

scattered ranks on the Libyan coast, Regulus

with gleaming crest at their backs; Autololes,

Moors, Numidians, Ammonians, Garamantes,

all surrendering their weapons and their towns.

Here, Bagrada, slowly flowing over the sandy

plain, foamed with the slime of that serpent,

the monster which fought the fierce squadron,

and waged war on Regulus. Elsewhere, that

Spartan general, Xanthippus, was drowning,

calling to the gods in vain, hurled overboard

by the treacherous crew on Carthage’s orders;

paying the penalty at last for you Regulus, by

dying deservedly, in the sea. Two Aegatian

isles had been added, rising amidst the waves,

the wrecks of shattered vessels visible around,

Carthaginian survivors floating on the deep,

while Gaius Lutatius, possessor of the waters,

drove captured ships ashore before the wind.

There too was Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar,

chained in a long file of prisoners, such that

the eyes of the crowd turned, in the painted

scene, on himself alone. And there discerned,

was the statue of Peace, those altars profaned

by the swearing of that treaty mocking Jove,

with the Romans dictating terms, the Libyans,

necks bowed, shrinking from bared axe-blades,

holding their arms out, and begging for pardon,

yet swearing to a treaty they would not observe,

Venus, on the heights of Eryx, watching with joy.

Book VI: 698-716 Hannibal is angered by the paintings

After surveying all this with an air of hostility

and contempt, Hannibal, deeply angered, cried:

‘Carthage will yet depict, upon her walls, action

as great this, the deeds of my right arm. Let us

see the taking of Saguntum, conquered by fire

and sword; and its menfolk killing their own

children; while the conquest of the Alps will

need no small space, Garamantians, Numidians

trampling over the high passes, on horseback. 

Add the Ticinus, banks foaming with blood,

the Trebia ours, and Lake Trasimene’s shore

piled with the Roman dead. Let them show

Flaminius, a giant in a giant’s armour, felled,

and Scipio the consul dripping blood, borne

in retreat to the camp on his son’s shoulders.

Show the people those, Carthage, for greater

things will follow. Picture Rome all ablaze,

alight with Libyan fire-brands, and Jupiter

displaced from the Tarpeian Rock. Now, go

you warriors, whose valour will achieve such

deeds for me, go swiftly, and do what is right,

turn these scenes to ashes, wrap them in flames.’

End of Book VI of the Punica