Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book VII

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

This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose. Conditions and Exceptions apply.


Book VII:1-19 Fabius Maximus the Delayer

Meanwhile Fabius Maximus was the one

source of hope in the State’s hour of need.

He hastened to arm deeply-wounded Italy

and her allies, and in ripe old age he faced

the hardships of war, marching now against

the enemy. But his more than human mind

was worth far more than swords and spears

and war-horses: it went forth alone against

the many thousand Carthaginians and their

unbeaten general, all the warriors in arms

of Italy comprised in his sole person. And

but for that old man’s semi-divine powers,

and fixed resolve to deny Fortune’s favour

to the enemy by delaying, they would have

put an end to the power of Rome forever.

He curbed the bias that the gods showed

to the Carthaginian army, and he brought

the victorious Libyan campaign to a halt;

with his delaying strategy he thwarted a

Hannibal still swollen with his conquest

of the west. Greatest of our generals, who

saved the Trojan realm from falling once

again, defender of a fading Italy, of our

ancestors’ mighty actions, of the throne

and riches of Evander, son of Carmentis,

rise, act, raise up your sacred head to the

heavens above your actions earned you!

Book VII:20-73 Hannibal learns of Fabius’ qualities

When the new general had been selected,

and new names were promoted, Hannibal,

reflecting that the Romans had not altered

the command so soon without good reason,

was keen to learn of this leader’s rank and

reputation; wondering why Fabius was held

to be his equal, appointed as sole remaining

anchor of the storm-blown State, more, was

troubled by the man’s age, he being free of

youth’s impulsiveness, proof against deceit.

At once, he summoned a prisoner, Cilnius,

questioning him as to the general’s ancestry,

his habits and his actions in battle. Born in

Etruscan Arezzo, Cilnius bore a famous name,

but an evil hour had led him to the banks of

the Ticinus and, thrown from his wounded

mount, he had been captured by the Libyans.

He answered boldly, seeking to end his life

and its evils: ‘This is no Flaminius you must

deal with, no hot-headed Sempronius, he is

a scion of Hercules, and if fate had made him

one of your own people, Hannibal, Carthage

would have become the ruler of this world.

I will not offer you a long list of his exploits,

one battle should be enough to know the Fabii:

the people of Veii broke the peace, refusing

to accept the rule of Rome, war was raging

close to our city gates, and the consul gave

the call to arms. No levy was enacted, those

scions of Hercules raised a private army, and

marvellous to tell, from that single house,

a patrician force went out to fight, together.

Three hundred leaders rose, and you might

have chosen, confidently, any one of them

to command. Yet (they left to dire omens)

the Accursed Gate gave a menacing groan,

the great altar of divine Hercules moaned.

Their fierce courage in attack ignored the

size of the enemy force, and they killed

more than their number. Whether in close

order or scattered over the uneven ground,

they took their chances, and by their equal

efforts, their equal courage, they deserved

to lead three hundred triumphs to Jupiter’s

Tarpeian shrine. Alas, false hope, forgetting

how fleeting, all that is granted the human

heart! That band of heroes, who thought it

shameful if the Fabii went untouched while

a civil war raged, were suddenly surrounded,

killed together, through the gods’ jealousy.

But that is no reason Hannibal, to rejoice;

there are plenty left to tackle you and Libya;

one Fabius will equal those three hundred;

such vigour there is in his body, so prudent

his actions, so shrewd his calm and caution.

Though you are of an age when the blood

runs hot, you will be no quicker than Fabius

to spur your war-horse into battle or tear at

the bridle in its mouth.’ Hannibal saw from

this that Cilnius was eager for death: ‘Fool,’

he cried, ‘you seek to rouse my anger in vain,

and escape your prison chains by dying. You

must live. Let him be close-fettered.’ So he

spoke, full of his success and heaven’s favour.

Book VII:74-89 The Romans pray to the gods

But the senators and the women of Rome went

to the temples to pray to the gods. With tears in

their eyes and mournful looks, the female band

walked in long procession and dedicated a robe

to Juno, with solemn vows: ‘O Queen of Heaven,

we your chaste followers beg you to be with us,

and, all Roman women of noble name, we bring

you, with reverence, this fine gift, woven by our

hands and embroidered with gold thread. Wear

this, goddess, until mothers are less fearful for

their sons. But a host of jewels set in gold shall

adorn your crown if you but drive the African

storm-cloud from our shores.’ Also they made

special offerings to Minerva, Apollo, Mars and

above all Venus. Such the reverence for the gods

that appears in the hour of trouble, yet the altars

seldom smoke with incense in fortunate times!

Book VII:90-130 Fabius refuses battle

While Rome appointed the traditional sacrifices

in the temples, Fabius, proceeding quietly, with

a military strategy akin to inaction, closed every

route to the enemy and ill-fortune. No one was

allowed to quit the ranks, teaching that discipline,

Rome’s crowning glory, that exalts her power to

heaven. Hannibal’s hopes were high when he saw

the first Roman banners clearly reach the heights,

revealing a fresh army with its glittering weapons,

and, intoxicated by success, it seemed to him that

the only obstacle to victory was that the armies

had not yet met: ‘Forward,’ he cried, ‘swift now

to the gates of Rome and force the ramparts with

your bodies. Only the space between keeps this

enemy alive. They have summoned the old and

idle to battle, shameful opponents: all you see

are the remnants, men reckoned useless before.

Where is Gracchus now, or those two Scipios,

their nation’s lightning bolts? Driven from Italy,

they never halted in their cowardly flight, until

terror led them to the Western Ocean; both now

are wandering exiles, hugging the Ebro’s banks

in dread of my name. My fame increased when

Flaminius died, and I rejoiced to add the name

of that young warrior to the list of my conquests,

while Fabius has few years left for my sword to

sever. Still he dares fight! Well, let him dare!

I will ensure that he is never seen in arms again.’

So Hannibal, shouting, drove his army on with

speed, riding ahead, now shaking his fist, now

taunting the enemy, hurling a spear before him,

triumphantly and rehearsing the impending battle.

Thus, Achilles, son of Thetis, on the Trojan plain,

bore the armour Vulcan forged, the whole world

shown on his shield; earth, sky, his mother’s sea.

Fabius simply sat and watched this vain display

from the heights of a lofty hill, and by refusing

battle tamed those proud hearts, their menaces

enfeebled by his clever strategy of delaying, as

a shepherd in the dead of night sleeps securely,

his flock penned in a well-fortified fold, while

a savage wolf-pack howls in its rage outside,

mad with hunger, biting at the strong barriers.

Book VII:131-161 Hannibal returns to Campania

Thwarted in his intentions, Hannibal departed,

then marched slowly through Apulia, halting

concealed in some remote valley, hoping to

attack the enemy following on behind, and

draw them into a sudden ambush; or enacting

furtive progress under the cover of shadowing

night, and retreating again as if in panic; then

he tried swiftly abandoning his camp filled

with plunder, in plain sight of the enemy, and,

regardless of the cost, invited them to attack.

So the Maeander wanders as it flows through

Lydia, winding sinuously, returning on itself.

None of his acts were empty of guile; he tried

every trick, his sharp mind varying the method,

as a ray of light reflected from water flickers to

and fro through a room, quivers in its passage,

its point striking among the ceiling’s shadows.

Now wild with rage, Hannibal complained in

anger: ‘If I had met Fabius at first in this war,

might Trebia, Trasimene be devoid of fame,

Italy free of mourning, Phaethon’s river Po

not darkening the sea with its blood-stained

waters? This general has found a new means

of winning, he defers his hand, while we are

weakened by inaction. How often he feigns

a skirmish to reveal our plans and discover

our deception!’ So he pondered, sleeplessly,

as the bugle sounded the midnight hour and

the third watch, picked for this unwelcome

duty, roused from sleep to arm themselves.

Hannibal now altered his route, left Apulia

behind, the plunderer returning to Campania,

but on reaching Falernus’ fertile fields again,

that rich soil never cheating its cultivators, he

found that fire had destroyed the fruitful scene. 

Book VII:162-216 The story of Falernian wine

Though summoned by my greater theme, I must

not pass over your gift to us, Bacchus, in silence.

I must tell of the god who granted us the divine

drink, so that none have leave to rate their vintage

above that of the nectar-bearing vines of Falernus.

In happier times, the sword being still unknown,

a man named Falernus ploughed the high slopes

of Mount Massicus. The fields as yet were bare,

no vines wove their green shade for the grapes,

nor did men enjoy diluting the juice of Bacchus

with pure spring water with which they slaked

their thirst. But when Bacchus, while travelling,

fortunately found his way to the shores of Calpe

and the setting sun, he deigned to enter Falernus’

cottage, as a guest beneath its humble roof. That

smoke-stained door welcomed him willingly, and

a meal was placed before the hearth, in the simple

manner of that age, the delighted host all unaware

that he entertained a god; but after the fashion of

his forebears he ran about, eager, attentive, taxing

his years. At last the table was set with fresh fruit

in baskets, and produce, dripping dew, which he

quickly culled from his well-watered garden, and

completed the pleasant fare with milk and a comb

of honey, piling bread too, Ceres’ gift, on a clean

board no blood had soiled. Then, from each dish

he took a portion in Vesta’s honour, throwing his

offering into the heart of the fire. Bacchus, pleased

with the old man’s attentiveness, decreed that his

own liquor should not be lacking. Marvellous to

tell, those cups of beech-wood suddenly foamed

with the juice of the grape, the humble milk-pail

poured red wine, and fragrant bunches of sweet

moist grapes dampened the hollow oak bowl. 

‘Take this as my gift,’ Bacchus said, ‘still strange

to you but soon to bear afar the name of Falernus

the vine-dresser: the god threw off his disguise,

and ivy crowned his brow, flushed and gleaming,

his hair flowed over his shoulders, a drinking cup

hung from his right hand, as a vine twining down

from his green thyrsus clothed the festive board

with Nysian leaves. Falernus found it difficult

to withstand the happy draught, and when he

had drunk again his stammering tongue and

wayward steps roused the god’s mirth. With

splitting head, he tried, though striving with

difficulty to speak intelligibly, to give thanks

worthy of the gift to the god, until in the end

Sleep, that Sleep who ever accompanies you,

Bacchus, closed his reluctant eyes. At dawn,

when the hoofs of Phaethon’s team dispelled

the dew, the slopes of Massicus were green

with vines; leaves and grapes in clusters all

shining wondrous in the sunlight. The fame

of those mountain slopes grew so, that from

that time even rich Tmolus, and the Chian

nectar of Ariusia, and Methymna’s strong

vintage, yield to the wine-vats of Falernus.

This was the land Hannibal had devastated,

and persecuted in his rage, impatient that

Fabius still thwarted him, that the blood

on his blade had dried. But now a perverse

desire for battle, a reckless over-confidence

overtook the Roman army; the soldiers now

prepared to rush headlong from the heights.

Book VII:217-259 Fabius restrains his troops

Grant fame, Muse, to that man able to subdue

two armies and quench the fury of them both.

Fabius said: ‘If the Senate had thought I was

a hot-blooded man of uncertain temper, one

easily moved, I would not have been handed

the reins as a last resort, the war all but lost.

My plan of campaign has long been weighed:

I will work to preserve you, regardless, though

you seek your doom. None will be allowed to

perish through Fabius’ doing. If you are tired

of life and desire to be the last of the Romans,

dissatisfied unless, in this time of crisis, you

render some place famous for a fresh disaster,

a resounding defeat, well then we will have to

summon Flaminius from the darkness. For he

would already have rushed to read the auspices,

and signal the attack. Are you blind to danger,

and oncoming fate? One more Punic victory

and the war is over. Stand fast, men, and know

your leader. When the moment favours action,

then match your fighting talk with deeds. It

takes, believe me, no great effort to rush into

battle; when the gates are opened you can all

pour out in an hour: and yet it is a great thing,

only granted to those Jupiter favours as they

go, to return once more. Hannibal follows up

his good fortune and is confident in driving

his vessel on with that following wind. Our

advantage is in delay, till the breeze drops,

its flagging breath deserting his spread sails.

Fortune offers no man her lasting embrace.

How reduced their numbers are and, lacking

a battle, how their reputation is diminished!

Indeed my claims to fame may include him

who not long ago – but better to say no more!

Do you still call for action, battle with a foe?

You gods, may their faith in themselves prove

lasting! But for now, let a greater disaster be

prevented, I pray, and set me down as the one,

the only one, who is opposed to all-out war.’

His words calmed their frenzy, and quelled

the weapons brandished in anger, exactly as

when Neptune, ruler of the seas, raising his

tranquil brow above the storm-driven waves,

sees all the winds and is seen by all, till they

cease in their savagery their fierce howling,

no longer beat the wings at their brows, and

gradually bring peace to the tranquil waters,

till languid waves gleam along silent shores. 

Book VII:260-281 Fabius pens in the Punic army

Shrewd and watchful, Hannibal, aware of this,

tried to poison men’s minds by use of cunning.

Fabius had inherited a small estate, needing no

more than a few ploughmen for its cultivation;

Mount Massicus adding to his vineyard’s fame.

Hannibal chose to cause mischief, by sowing

doubt in the Roman camp: he spared the estate

fire and sword, and left the place suspiciously

at peace, suggesting cleverly that the war was

being waged on some private understanding.

Fabius was wise to this, and saw through this

Punic trick to anger him; but lacked the time

amidst swords and bugles to fear the plague

of envy, or fight risky battles just to counter

the bite of false rumour. Then, while Hannibal

shifted about, moving his camp here and there

without result, looking for any chance of battle,

Fabius penned him in, posting cavalry where

the road divided, steep cliffs rising to wooded

ridges: the high hills of Formia behind, while

the marshes of Liternum lay in front, a dismal

tract of flooded land. The ground was useless

for armed men, and trapped by the treacherous

location, famine, which would claim payment

for Saguntum, soon gripped them hard, such

that the Carthaginian army near met its end.

Book VII: 282-366 Hannibal devises a ruse

Sleep had brought peace to all on earth and

over the calm sea, the labour of the day was

done and the world enjoyed that peace which

night grants all mortals. But restless anxiety,

and wakeful fear denied Hannibal the gifts of

soporific darkness. Now, rising from his bed,

he donned the tawny lion-skin which cloaked

him when he lay stretched out on grassy turf.

Then he hurried to his brother Mago’s tent,

pitched near his own: a robust soldier too,

his limbs at rest on an ox-hide, as he eased

his weariness away in sleep. Mago’s spear

was planted close beside him in the earth,

his dread helmet hung from the tip, while

his breastplate, shield, sword, bow and his

Balearic sling also lay there on the ground.

A select band of warriors, proven in battle,

were about him, while his war-horse, fully

saddled, cropped the grass. His light sleep

now broken by the sound of footsteps, he

woke, crying: ‘Ah, my brother,’ reaching

for his weapons, ‘what waking care denies

your weary limbs rest?’ He quickly stood

erect and stamped his foot to summon his

men, stretched on the turf, to military duty.

Hannibal replied: ‘Fabius troubles my rest,

Fabius excites my fears; alas this one old

man is an obstacle in my path! See how

a ring of warriors surrounds us, how we

are trapped by Fabius’ encircling army.

Since we are indeed in this strait, come,

hear what I have next devised. We have

the cattle we have seized from the fields

in the usual manner of warfare.  I shall

command that dry twigs be fastened to

their horns, with bundles of sticks tied

round their brows, so when they are lit

and the heat spreads, the creatures will

run wild, maddened by pain, and then

go scattering fire on the slopes as they

toss their heads. Our strict gaolers will

relax their guard, alarmed at the strange

nature of this terror, fearing the worst

in the darkness. If you agree (and our

danger brooks no delay) let us prepare.’

They both made their way to the camp,

where massive Maraxes lay, his head

resting on his shield, his men and their

horses round him, and the blood-stained

spoils captured in battle, and who, as if

he fought in his dreams, uttered a wild

cry and then felt with an anxious hand

for the weapons on his bed and his fine

sword. Mago dispelled the remains of

that restless slumber with a prod from

the butt-end of his spear: ‘Brave captain,

save your nocturnal rage, and postpone

your fight till dawn. Tonight is reserved

for a ruse, a secret flight and safe retreat.

My brother intends us to tie dry branches

to their horns and set the cattle running

through the woods with their load alight,

so the enemy loosens his grasp, and our

army escape from this trap. Let us vanish,

teach Fabius he cannot equal us in cunning’

Maraxes, delighted with this bold idea

hastening to obey, they hurried next to

Acherras’ tent, a man who needed little

rest and minimal sleep and never spent

a whole night abed. He was awake now,

attending to his fiery horse, rubbing him

down after exercise, bathing his mouth

chafed by the bit. His men were cleaning

weapons, washing away dried blood from

the blades, and sharpening their swords.

The pair explained what they, the moment,

and the situation needed, ordering Acherras

to go and arrange the matter swiftly. Word

was passed throughout the camp; the men

being told what to do, and then urged to it;

fear gripped the anxious warriors, spurring

them on so they might depart in darkness

and silence, while the shadows were deepest.

The brushwood was suddenly alight, flame

rose high from the horns of the cattle, such

that as the fire spread, and each of the beasts

tossed its head in torment, the flames grew

denser, their erupting tips bursting through

the smoke. The maddened cattle, driven on

by that dark plague, ran panting hard through

the thickets, over the slopes and rocky heights

of the high hills, nostrils blocked with smoke,

and trying in vain to bellow. The destroying

flames ran along the ridges, through valleys,

reflected in the sea offshore. They were like

the veil of stars that the sailor sees, in a clear

night sky, as he ploughs the waves and amid

the waves gazes at the heavens; or like that

multitude of fires the shepherd sees from his

perch on Mount Garganus, when Calabrian

uplands burn black to improve the grazing.

Book VII: 367-408 Hannibal escapes, Fabius returns to Rome

Meanwhile the Roman sentries, then on duty,

were struck with horror at the sight of sudden

flames, shifting about the mountain slopes,

thinking them spread of themselves and not

of human devising, burning unchecked below

the heights. Had they fallen from the sky, the

men asked in fear; had the Almighty hurled

lightning-bolts with his strong arm; perhaps

the earth, distressed, had split apart spewing

sulphurous fires from hidden gulfs? They

swiftly fled, while the Punic army quickly

commandeered the narrow pass, emerging

triumphantly into open country. Yet still,

Fabius had, by alertness and skilful tactics,

succeeded in so far as Hannibal, despite

the Trebia and Trasimene, was content to

evade Fabius and his Roman force. Indeed,

Fabius would have followed in his footsteps

with his whole army, had he not been called

upon to conduct his family’s annual sacrifice

to Diana, in Rome. As he left for the city he

addressed his young second-in-command,

Minucius, who by custom would take over

the colours and overall direction of the war,

initiating the change with these words and

shaping a warning: ‘If events have not yet

taught you, through my actions, Minucius,

to adhere to caution, my words too will fail

to lead you on the path of true honour, and

guard you from error. You have witnessed

Hannibal entrapped. His foot and horse, his

serried ranks of men, all were useless. Alone

I did it, as I call on you to confirm, nor will

I be slow to do the like again. Let me make

my offering to the gods, in the usual way.

If you but hold back from conflict, I shall

enclose him with the mountain heights, or

swift-flowing rivers, time and time again.

Meanwhile (believe the voice of experience,

it will never play you false) when in danger

safety lies in setting nothing in motion. Let

the multitude feel pride and pleasure, glory

indeed, in overcoming the enemy by force;

but let Fabius’ triumph be to save your lives.

I entrust the army to you intact, unwounded;

hand it back to me unharmed (that will earn

you glory). Now you will see this Libyan

lion assault the ramparts, now he will tempt

you with spoils then retreat, looking back

nurturing anger and guile. Shut the gates

I entreat, and rob him of all hope of battle.

Warning enough, and if my prayers cannot

restrain your spirit, as supreme commander

it is my duty to forbid you to take up arms.’

So he protected the army with admonitions,

relinquishing command, leaving for Rome.

Book VII: 409-434 The Carthaginian fleet at Gaeta

Behold, the Carthaginian fleet, blown by

a favourable wind, beaks ploughing the sea

off Formia, in the Bay of Gaeta, and entering

Gaeta’s wide-open harbour, churning the sea

to foam with their host of oars. At the sound,

all the Nereids rose together in consternation,

leaving their glassy thrones in the grottos, to

find the shore occupied by our enemy’s ships.

Then in great fear and consternation the train

of anxious sea-sisters swam quickly to their

familiar haunt where the Teleboan island of

Capri rises far-off from the waters with its

rocky caverns. Proteus, the shape-changing

seer, hides there in his cavern in those stony

cliffs that repel the foaming waves. He well

knew what had passed and their alarm, but

first eluded them, transforming himself in

various ways, frightening them in the shape

of a black-scaled serpent, with loud hissings,

then changing again to a lion, as he roared.

‘Tell me,’ he cried, ‘why you come here, why

the sudden pallor in your faces? Why would

you seek to know the future?’ The eldest born

of those Italian Nymphs, Cymodoce, replied:

‘You know, prophet, why we are afraid. Why

does this Carthaginian fleet invade our shores?

Are the gods transferring the Trojan power to

Libya? Will the Tyrians hold these harbours

now? And must we flee our home and dwell

in the westernmost caves of Atlas and Calpe?’

Book VII: 435-473 Proteus recalls the Judgement of Paris

Then the elusive seer began to reveal the future,

beginning by relating things past: ‘When Paris,

Laomedon’s shepherd son, was seated one day

on Phrygian Mount Ida, piping sweetly to call

his bulls, straying among the pathless thickets,

back to the dew-wet pastures, he was chosen

judge of the beauty contest of the goddesses.

A Cupid, guiding the chariot of his mother

Venus, drawn by her snow-white swans, was

fearful of arriving late for the battle. His tiny

quiver, and his golden bow, glittered at his

shoulder and, showing her a hoard of arrows,

he signed to Venus to quell her anxiety. Then

a second Cupid combed the tresses from her

snow-white brow, while a third looped a belt

round the folds of her purple robe. Then Venus

sighed, these words to her lovely children on

her rosy lips: ‘See, behold the day that proves

your devotion to your mother, beyond doubt.

Who would dare believe, on seeing you, that

Venus must contest face and form (what more

must I endure?) If ever I gave you children all

those arrows steeped in poisonous delight, if

Jupiter, your grandfather, who makes the laws

of heaven and earth, must bow to you when

you please, then let me carry back to Cyprus

in triumph the palm of Edom won from this

Minerva, and let Paphos’ hundred altars fume

with incense after my conquest of that Juno.’

While Venus Cytherea spoke to her winged

children, the grove echoed to the footsteps

of another goddess; to those of the Warrior

Maid, Minerva, who had laid aside the aegis.

Her hair, the helm concealed, was elegantly

dressed, her grey eyes wore a look of peace,

her divine feet bore her swiftly to the chosen

place. And the daughter of Saturn, Juno, also

entered the trees from the other side, as was

commanded; for though wedded to Jupiter,

her brother, she too must be judged openly

before the Trojan shepherd, on Mount Ida.

Lastly came Venus, shining in her beauty,

with smiling face, and all the grove about,

all the deep caverns in the tree-dark cliffs,

breathed the perfume of the goddess’ hair.

The judge could not be still; and his gaze  

dropped, dazed by the light of her beauty,

fearful, lest he had betrayed uncertainty.

Yet the defeated goddesses, Minerva and

Juno, brought a fierce army over the sea,

to destroy that Troy and her Trojan judge.’

Book VII: 474-503 Proteus prophesies

‘Then pious Aeneas, suffering much on land

and sea, established the gods of Troy on this

Italian soil. And while whales swim the deep,

while stars shine above, while the sun still

rises in the East, Rome shall rule, and her rule

shall be unending through the ages. But you,

O daughters mine, as the unalterable thread

of Fate unwinds, avoid the ill-omened sands

of Sason Island, to the north in the Adriatic.

For the River Aufidus, swollen with blood,

will pour its crimson tide into those waters;

and on a field, long ago condemned by that

oracle of the gods, the Sibyl, the ghosts of

Apulia shall fight the Romans once again.

Later Punic missiles will strike the walls

of Romulus, and the Metaurus gain fame

for Hasdrubal’s utter defeat. Then Scipio,

shall duly avenge the death in Spain of his

father and his uncle, spread fire on Dido’s

shores, draw Hannibal away from Italy’s

tormented interior, and defeat him in his

own land. Carthage will yield to Scipio,

and Africa add a fresh title to his name.

His grandson, Scipio Aemilianus, shall

end the Third War victorious, and bring

the ashes of razed Carthage to the Capitol.’

While the seer in his cave revealed these

divine secrets, Minucius, the Master of

Horse, and commander of the army, had

forgotten Fabius’ warning and advanced

against the enemy. And nor was Hannibal

slow to fuel and encourage this madness:

feigning to retreat now and then, so that,

with minor losses, he might tempt these

Romans to battle. So a fisherman casts his

bait in the pool, and tempts his catch from

the depths and then when he sees the agile

prey closest to the surface, he reels him in,

on his line, dragging him to shore a captive.

Book VII: 504-535 Divided command

Rumour raged that the enemy was routed,

that Hannibal had saved himself by flight;

it promised an end to defeat if the Romans

were allowed to win; but the brave lacked

power, and victory would only be punished,

while Fabius would keep the men in camp

and order their swords sheathed once more,

the army called to account as the soldiers

justified having conquered. So the crowd

declared, while Juno even filled the minds

of senators with envy, and with desire for

popular support. Then they passed a decree

hardly to be credited, almost an answer to

Hannibal’s prayers, soon to be regretted

and paid for by the greatest of disasters.

They divided the command of the army,

Minucius being granted equal authority

with Fabius, who regarded their decision

without resentment, but was anxious lest the

Senate, being ill-advised, pay a heavy price

for this serious error. And then, after much

consideration, he returned to the field and,

dividing the forces with Minucius, set up

his banner on a neighbouring ridge, and

observed the Roman army from that high

lookout point, as much as he did the Punic.

Minucius, in his madness, immediately

demolished his ramparts, eager to destroy,

and at the same time risk utter destruction.

Here Fabius, and there Hannibal, saw him

leaving camp, and each instantly devised

a tactic. The Roman general ordered his

men to arm quickly, while keeping back

his cavalry in the shelter of his ramparts,

while Hannibal threw every man he had

into the line, ordering them to advance:

‘Seize the chance of battle, men, while

Fabius is absent. Behold heaven offers us

this chance of fighting on the open plain,

so long denied us. Since the way is open,

free your swords from long disuse, men,

cleanse the rust by sating them in blood!’

Book VII: 536-566 Fabius bolsters the attack

Fabius the Delayer was pensive, surveying

the plain from his rampart on the heights,

sad that you, Rome, must learn his value

at so high a cost. His son, who served at

his side, commented: ‘That foolish man

will receive the punishment he deserves,

who through a vote among the blind has

usurped our sole authority, to this end.

Oh, you stupid Tribes! How slippery

speakers, in the marketplace, endorse

worthless men! How, ignorant of war,

they vote to split the military command

that darkness might follow light! They

will pay a high price for mindless error,

and the insult to my father.’ Tears rose

in his eyes and he brandished his spear,

as his father replied: ‘Wash those harsh

words away with Punic blood, my son.

Shall I let my countrymen die before

my eyes, and not stir myself? Or allow

Hannibal to conquer, while I look on?

If that were my stance, would not those

who set me on a level with my inferior

be absolved of blame? Be certain of this

my son, and keep these words of your

old father ever engraved on your heart:

it is wrong to rail against your country;

no man can own to a more evil crime

when he descends to the shades below.

So our ancestors taught. How fine and

noble you were Camillus when, driven

from home and banished, you returned

from exile in triumph to the Capitol!

What a host of enemies you killed with

that right hand Rome had so despised!

But for his calm wisdom, Rome, his

refusal to nurse resentment, Aeneas’

people would have changed their seat

of power, and you would not occupy

this first place among the nations. So,

my son, forget this wrath on my behalf.

Let us fight side by side, and bring help.’

Now, the opposing trumpets sounded,

as men ran swiftly to contest the battle.

Book VII: 567-597 The Battle of Geronium (217BC)

Fabius was first to unbar the camp gates

and rush into battle. No fiercer are those

winds that wage war against one another,

Thracian Boreas, Africus, with the power

to expose the Syrtes, as, raging stubbornly,

in their mutual war, they divide the waters,

each driving their own spoils to opposite

shores, while the waves sweep to and fro,

breakers thundering, as the tempest howls.

No glory, not Africa conquered, Carthage

in ruins, could ever have conferred a greater

honour on Fabius than he gained from that

wrong perpetrated by envy; for he overcame

every danger at once, his fears, and Hannibal,

envy and resentment, treating ill-fortune and

disfavour as one. When Hannibal saw Fabius

and his men descending from the heights, he

was shaken and, groaning, his ardour and that

hope he held of a crushing victory suddenly

vanished. For he had surrounded Minucius

with dense ranks of soldiers, thinking they

might destroy the Romans with a shower of

missiles on all sides. In his mind, Minucius,

(too embarrassed to seek help from Fabius)

had already crossed the Styx, to the realm

of eternal darkness, when there was Fabius,

flanking the battlefield from either side, his

outer horns enveloping the Carthaginian rear,

and now blockading, from outside, those who

had recently blockaded. Hercules granted him

to seem taller, growing in stature as he fought.

His helmet-plume flickered on high, as some

wondrous gift of strength and energy suddenly

filled his limbs; he hurled missile after missile,

attacking the enemy rear with a host of spears.

So Nestor, King of Pylus, once fought, in his

second age, youth gone, senility not yet here. 

Book VII: 598-616 Fabius dominates the field

Fabius swept on, killing Thuris, Butes, Naris,

Arses and Mahalces, a famous spearman who

sought to oppose him, Garadus, long-haired

Adherbes, and Thulis who towered above all

others, his arms reaching the summit of high

battlements. He slew all these from afar, but

Sapharus and Monaesus with the sword, and

Morinus too as his trumpet’s blare aroused

the field, striking a fatal blow to the right side

of the head, a gush of blood pouring out and

entering the instrument from the wound on

the face, expelled, then, by the dying breath.

Idmon a Nasamonian, fell nearby to a spear,

as he slipped on a patch of blood and tried

in vain to regain his footing, Fabius’ horse

knocking him to the earth, while Fabius

pinned him to the ground with a vigorous

spear-thrust, leaving the spear in the deadly

wound. Fast in the dust, the spear quivered

to the dying man’s movements, and served

as a sign to guard the corpse entrusted to it.

Book VII: 617-660 The deaths of Bibulus and Cleadas

Fabius’ noble example inspired his younger

warriors: a Sulla and a Crassus, soon joined

by Furnius, Metellus and a more experienced

man Torquatus, entered the fray, all of them

ready to die as long as Fabius’ was watching.

But the unfortunate Bibulus, while stepping

swiftly back to evade a massive rock hurled

at him, stumbled over a heap of Roman dead,

and an iron spear-point sticking from a corpse

pierced his side where the blows had loosed

the clasps of his breastplate, and in falling he

drove the weapon home. Alas for such an end,

spared by Garamantian missiles and also by

the swords of these Marmaridae, only to be

slain by a spent blade, one aimed at another.

He fell dying, a strange pallor marring his

youthful beauty, his shield falling from his

slack grasp, the sleep of darkness in his eyes.

Cleadas, a scion of Cadmus, had enlisted in

Tyrian Sidon, at the request of the daughter

city, and fought, allied to the Carthaginians,

proud of his band of archers from the East.

A host of gems glittered on his golden helm

and collar, like Lucifer, that morning star,

when, fresh from the Ocean waves, he is

lauded by Venus, and outshines the rest.

His robes were purple, purple his horse’s

trappings, the clothes of all his company

deep-dyed in the bronze vessels of Sidon.

He now mocked Brutus, who was longing

to meet and fight against a famous name,

Cleadas wheeling his horse all about him

with the lightest of touches, circling now

to right, now left, then firing a swift arrow

over his shoulder, evading direct combat

Persian style. Nor did he fail to wound, for

the sharp arrow lodged, sadly, in the throat

of Brutus’ squire, Casca, the point slicing

upwards leaving torn flesh, and driving its

steel into the soft palate. Brutus, anxious

for his comrade’s sad plight, no longer tried

to ride down Cleadas, who ranged widely

firing his shafts while still feigning flight,

but launched his swift spear by its thong,

with all the power of the anger in his heart,

so that the dart transfixed Cleadas’ front,

where the loose collar exposed the neck.

Cleadas’ bent bow slipped from his left

hand after the missile had struck, while

the arrow slipped from his right as he fell.

Book VII: 661-704 Marcus Porcius Cato (later the Censor)

Now, while the Romans were attacking their

straggling, fleeing foe, with ferocity, Tunger

the Moor, of fearful size, and terrible in arms,

rushed to the attack. Black of skin, his mighty

chariot, and its new manner of striking terror,

was as black as the dusky backs of his horses,

nor had he refrained from adding a tall plume

of the same hue to the crest of his helm, while

the robes he wore were also coloured black.

Dis, the Lord of Eternal Night, drove such

a chariot, all black with that Stygian darkness, 

when snatching Proserpine, from Enna, long

ago, he sped away to their deep bridal chamber.

Yet Cato, face still beardless, was undismayed.

This young warrior was the pride of his native

Frascati, that Tusculum which lies on Circe’s

heights, and a place once ruled by a grandson

of Laertes, Telegonus. Though seeing the front

line, checked and held, retreating in confusion,

he drove on his nervous mount with iron spur

and freely loosened rein. The horse, refusing,

stood there trembling, terrified by the shadow

though harmless, that Tunger cast. Then Cato,

swiftly dismounting from his tall steed, ran

after the speeding chariot on foot, and sprang

onto it from behind as it flew. The wretched

Moor, dropping reins and whip in an instant,

grew pale at the fearful sword above his head,

losing courage. Then Cato severed that head

from its neck, carrying it off on his spear-point.

Book VII: 705-729 Fabius rescues Minucius

Meanwhile, Fabius, exulting in fierce conflict,

burst through a mass of exhausted warriors,

bringing death. Then he saw a pitiable sight,

Minucius, weary, wounded, bleeding heavily,

begging shamefully for death. Fabius shed

tears, then covered the frightened general

with his shield, rousing his own son thus:

‘Brave lad, let us erase this stain, and repay

Hannibal for such kindness in sparing our

estate from the flames.’ The young warrior,

fired by his wise father’s encouragement

drove off the Punic army with the sword,

and cleared the plain, such that Hannibal

withdrew from the field. So a fierce wolf,

urged on by hunger, will snatch a lamb

when the shepherd’s back is turned, and

grip the trembling creature firmly in its

jaws; but if the shepherd hears it bleating,

runs in and confronts the wolf, the latter

fears for itself, frees its prey, still alive,

from its jaws, and makes off angrily its

hunger unsatisfied. Only now was that

Stygian darkness with which the Punic

army had enveloped Minucius’ lines,

dispelled, leaving them numbed, and

stunned by their good fortune, crying

out that they were not worth saving.

So people buried when a house falls,

blink, fearing to acknowledge the light,

when suddenly set free from darkness.

Book VII: 730-750 Fabius regains authority

After all this, Fabius was happy to count

his men, retreat to the heights and secure

the camp. And behold the men who had

been rescued from the very jaws of death

raised a shout to the heavens as they went

and joyfully hailed Fabius from the ranks,

all loudly celebrating him as their pride:

Fabius, their saviour and their father. And,

Minucius, who had not long ago marched

away with half his army, addressed him:

‘O revered father, I, recalled to the light

above, must rightly question why our

army was divided between us this way.

Why did you trust me with those forces

that you alone are worthy to command?

Weakened by that gift, we came near ruin,

gazed on the eternal darkness, bloodied.

Men, make haste to return to him, those

eagles and banners that Fabius rescued.

He is our homeland, and the safety of

the walls of Rome rests on his shoulders!

As for you, Hannibal, be done with your

tired deceit and trickery, you must fight

men led by Fabius now, and him alone.’

After he had spoken, a thousand altars

of green turf were raised with speed, an

impressive sight, and no man dared to

touch food or that wine which is Bacchus’

pleasant gift, until he had prayed deeply,

and poured wine on the board to Fabius.


End of Book VII of the Punica