Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)


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

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Book VIII:1-38 Juno summons Anna as her messenger

Fabius first showed the Romans the backs of

the retreating Carthaginians. He alone the army

called their father, he alone Hannibal, in rage

and impatient of delay, regarded as his enemy:

he must wait, seemingly, for Fabius’ death for

a chance to fight, summon the Fates as allies

in action; for as long as this old man breathed,

there was no hope of shedding Roman blood.

Moreover a united foe, serving beneath those

standards; the command restored to a single

general, obliging him to struggle again and

yet again with one man, Fabius; all weighed

the more heavily on Hannibal’s anxious mind.

Fabius, by cunning and caution, by slowing

the pace of war, had achieved much: above

all in depriving the Punic army of supplies;

and though their battle to the finish still lay

ahead, he was already the master of the foe.

And then the Gauls, vaniloquent and fickle,

spirited at the start but changeable of mind,

were turning their gaze homeward; unused

to waging a war free of slaughter, they now

were worried that their right hands, lacking

opportunity to exercise their spears, were

becoming weak, thus deprived of conflict. 

Then Hannibal’s problems were increased

by troubles at home, through the jealousy of

fellow-citizens, and by Hanno’s opposition

to the campaign; he refusing to allow their

senate to send reinforcements or supplies.

It was Juno, foreseeing Cannae, delighted

by all that was to come, who renewed his

hopes and wild ambitions, despite those

tormenting cares, which led him to fear

the worst. For summoning Anna, nymph

or the Numicius, that river of Laurentum,

she addressed her with a flattering appeal:

Goddess a warrior, a relative of yours, is

in distress, Hannibal, a name that recalls

your kin Belus. Go now, quickly, calm

a sea of troubles, and drive Fabius from

his mind. He alone prevents the Romans

from passing beneath the yoke, but now

he is disengaging from the war, and it is

Varro whom Hannibal must fight, Varro

whom he must meet in battle. So let him

advance his banners, not fail his destiny.

I myself will be there. Let him march now

to Apulia’s plain, where the outcome of

Trebia and Trasimene shall be repeated.’

Book VIII:39-70 The tale of Dido’s sister

Then that nymph, who lived near a grove

sacred to Aeneas, replied: ‘It is right that

I obey your command with no delay, yet

I ask this one thing and this alone, allow

me to keep my former country’s favour,

adhere to my solemn pledge to my sister,

Dido, though Anna Perenna’s divinity is

honoured in Latium.’ The reason for that

lies far back, buried in deep darkness by

the fog of centuries; the reason, that is, as

to why the Italians should have named

a temple for a Phoenician deity, and why

Dido’s sister was worshipped in Aeneas’

realm. But I shall retell the legend from

the beginning, narrating the tale within

strict limits, and briefly recall the past.

After Dido was deserted by her Trojan

guest, Aeneas, and all hope abandoned,

in frenzy she rushed to mount that fatal

pyre in the palace depths: then resolved

on death, she seized the deadly sword

given her by that ‘husband’ as he fled.

His hand having been refused in marriage,

Iarbas usurped the throne, as Anna fled

her sister’s still-warm pyre. Who would

help her in her hour of need, when that

King of the Numidians held power far

and wide? Battus then chanced to rule,

and mildly, in Cyrene, being a kindly

man, and ready to shed a tear for any in

distress. Seeing the suppliant, shaken

by the fate of princes, he stretched out

his right hand to her. There she stayed

awhile, till the reapers had harvested

the golden grain twice; then she could

no longer take advantage of Battus’

friendship, since he informed her that

Pygmalion, King of Tyre and Dido’s

hostile brother, was sailing there to

slay her. So she was driven to set out

over the waves, angry with the gods

and with herself at not dying with her

sister. She was hurled about, the sails

in shreds, until at last the deadly storm

wrecked her on the coast of Laurentum.

A stranger to that land, clime and people,

the Phoenician princess was full of fear

finding herself cast up on Italy’s shore.

Book VIII:71-103 Anna meets Aeneas again

Behold, Aeneas, whose face she knew,

now, with his kingdom won, appeared,

godlike Iulus alongside him. She fixed

her eyes on the ground, fearfully, then

knelt before the tearful Iulus, but Aeneas

raised her and led her gently to the palace.

Once his courteous reception had eased

her anxiety, and she felt free of danger,

he asked to hear of Dido’s unhappy fate.

Mingling speech with many tears, Anna

began, in gentle words to suit the hour:

‘O son of the goddess, my sister’s throne

and life were yours alone; so her death and

funeral pyre declare (alas why were they

not also mine!) And when the sight of your

face was no longer hers, she now sat, now

stood, wretched, on the shore. Watching

the wind’s course, unhappily, Aeneas, she

called out to you, a piercing cry, begging

you to carry her away on your ship, your

sole companion. Then distressed she hurried

to her chamber, trembled suddenly and stood

there, still, afraid to touch that sacred couch.

Then, distracted, she now clasped the lovely

statue of shining Iulus, then directing all her

thoughts towards you, clung to your image,

complaining to you, hoping for an answer.

Love never abandons hope. Now she left

the palace, returned frenzied to the harbour,

as if some opposing wind might bring you

back. She was even driven, in the perverse,

self-deceiving, fashion of the Massylian

race, to consult the foolish arts of magic.

Alas, the delusions of the holy wizards!

While they summoned the infernal gods,

and promised balms for her strange woes,

(what horror I, deceived, now witnessed!)

she heaped on the fatal pyre each memento

of you, every one of your ill-starred gifts.’

Book VIII:104-159 Anna recalls Dido’s death

Then Aeneas, revisited by love’s sweetness,

answered: ‘Anna, I swear by this land, whose

name you both heard me often mingle with

our vows, and by the life of gentle Iulus, so

dear to you and to your sister, I left your

kingdom with a troubled mind, ever looking

back, nor would I have deserted a marriage,

had not Mercury, god of Cyllene, sent me

aboard with his own hand, with dire threats,

driving the fleet to sea on a following wind. 

But why (alas, my warning comes too late!)

why at such a time did you allow her wild

unwatched passion, full reign?’ Anna, with

trembling lips and breathless voice, sobbed

in answer: ‘I chanced to be preparing fresh

offerings to the Dark Lord whom the third

realm obeys, and to the partner of his dim

chamber, to ease my sister’s troubled mind

and broken heart, in her state of restlessness:

I was bringing black-fleeced sheep, hastening

to avert an evil dream. For, in sleep, a dread

fear had filled my heart: Sychaeus, her dead

husband, his face flushed with pride and joy,

thrice claimed Dido, thrice, with a great cry.

I drove this from my thoughts, and prayed

to the gods to give a favourable turn to this

dream when day came, and then I purified

myself in the running stream. Dido passed

quickly to the shore, kissing the mute sand

where you had stood, again and again; then

she clasped the earth where your footprints

showed, just as a mother claps to her breast

the ashes of her lost son. Then, hair unbound,

she rushed to a great tall pyre she had already

raised, from which the whole city of Carthage

was visible, and the sea. And then she donned

her Roman robes, and that necklace of pearls;

recalling, poor wretch, the memory of the day

when she first saw those gifts, and the festive

banquet greeting your arrival, at which you

told the long tale of Troy’s ruin, in its order

of events, and she sat late to hear you speak.

Now she turned her wild weeping eyes toward

the harbour, crying: “You gods of endless night,

whose power is greater at the hour of our death,

help me, I pray! Welcome, gently, this spirit

love has conquered. Aeneas’ marriage partner,

Venus’ daughter-in-law, I avenged my husband

Sychaeus, saw the towers of my Carthage rise.

Now the shade of a great queen descends to you.

And perhaps that husband, whose love was once

sweet to me, waits there, eager to love as before.”

So saying, she drove the sword deep in her heart,

that sword received as a pledge of Aeneas’ love.

Witnessing this, her servants ran grieving through

the halls beating their breasts. The palace echoed

to their loud cries. Unhappily, I heard the news

and, terrified by that dreadful death, I tore at my

face with my nails, as I ran wildly to the palace,

and laboured to scramble up the massive steps.

Three times I tried to pierce myself with that

accursed sword, three times I fell prostrate on

my dead sister’s corpse. And now the rumour

spread through the neighbouring towns: those

Numidian chieftains, with fierce Iarbas, readied

themselves for war. Then, driven on by destiny,

I came to this city of Cyrene, for the strength of

the waves now carried me here, to your shores.’

Book VIII:160-184 Dido appears to her in dream

Aeneas was moved, presenting a gentle stance,

a kindly manner, towards Anna in her troubles.

Soon her grief and sorrow seemed eased, and

she no longer a stranger in that Trojan palace.

When the dark of night had wrapped all things

on earth, and the expanse of calm sea, in silent

sleep, she dreamed that her sister Dido, spoke

to her, with a sad aspect and a sorrowful face:

‘Ah, sister, how can you bear to sleep beneath

this roof so long and so incautiously? Do you

not see the snares laid for you, and the dangers

that surround you? Do you not yet know that

the Trojans bring ruin to our land and nation?

As long as the sky and stars revolve in their

swift course, and the moon reflects the sun’s

light to Earth, there can be no lasting peace

between Aeneas’ people and those of Tyre.

Rise, and go; already I suspect some secret

act of deceit on the part of his wife, Lavinia,

that she nurtures some dark plot in her heart.

Moreover (for do not think it all sleep’s idle

imaginings) not far from here the Numicius

descends from a little spring, and flows with

gentle current through the valley. Sister, you

must make your way to a safe harbour there.

The Nymphs will happily admit you to their

sacred stream, and your divine power will be

honoured, forever, throughout Italian lands.’

So Dido spoke, then vanished into thin air.

Book VIII:185-201 Anna as the goddess of the River Numicius

Terrified by her strange dream, Anna started

from sleep, her whole body drenched in cold

sweat. Then she sprang from her bed, just as

she was, the one thin garment covering her,

and, climbing from the low window sill, ran

swiftly through the open fields, till, they say,

Numicius accepted her to his sandy depths,

and concealed her there in his glassy caves.

The sun had filled the whole world with its

rays, when the Trojans found her missing

from her chamber. They scoured the fields,

calling loudly, then they tracked her clear

trail to the river-bank, marvelling amongst

themselves when the river turned back in its

passage to the sea, and she was seen seated

among her sister Naiads, and spoke to those

followers of Aeneas in kindly speech. Since

that time Anna’s festival has been celebrated

at the New Year, and her divinity honoured,

with religious reverence, throughout Italy.

Book VIII:202-241 Anna visits Hannibal

Once Juno had exhorted her to rouse Hannibal

to battle, bringing sorrow on Italy, she headed

for the heavens in her swift chariot, longing

finally to quench her thirst for Roman blood.

Anna readily obeyed the goddess, and sought

the great leader of the Libyans, seen by none.

He chancing to be absent from company, she

found him pondering the war’s uncertainties,

sighing anxiously, but with alert mind. She

soothed his cares with friendly words thus:

‘O most powerful ruler of the Phoenicians,

why, sick with anxiety, nurse such troubles?

Now, all the gods’ anger towards you has

been placated, all their favour turned once

more towards the descendants of Agenor.

Arouse yourself from idleness and delay,

lead the forces of Marmarica on to battle.

Fresh consuls are appointed: that heroic

scion of Hercules, Fabius, has laid aside

his weapons at the Senate’s ill-advised

bidding, and you only have to face one

more Flaminius in battle. Juno, consort

of almighty Jupiter, has sent me to you,

doubt it not. For though I am honoured

as an immortal divinity in Italian lands,

I was born of the line of your ancestor

Belus. Linger not: launch the lightning

bolts of war swiftly, where Garganus

extends its slopes to Apulia’s fields:

it is not far, direct your banners there!’

She spoke, and her watery shape rose

to the clouds. Hannibal revived by this

promise of honour to come, called after

her: ‘Glory of our nation, nymph sacred

to me as any goddess, favour us with all

success. Grant me a battle, and I will set

your statue in a marble shrine high on

the citadel of Carthage, and there I will

dedicate Dido’s statue with like honour.’

So saying, and swelling with pride, he

roused his cheering comrades. ‘Soldiers,

Italy’s doom is here, and an end to heavy

hearts and the slow torment of inaction:

we have placated the gods’ anger; they

favour us once more. I tell you, Fabius’

malign power is ended, the rods and axes

precede some new consul. Let each of you

now renew his oath to me, and make good

that promise of valiant deeds sworn when

all battle was denied us. Behold, a divinity,

native to our country, has pledged a future

greater than the past. Raise those banners,

follow our goddess, to a field of ill-omen

to Trojans, to Arpi, founded by Diomede!’

Book VIII:242-277 Varro rouses the masses

Inspired, the Carthaginians made for Arpi,

while Varro, empowered by the consul’s

purple-bordered toga, appropriated as a gift

from the people, ranted from the Rostrum,

hastening to open a broad path to ruin, and

seal Rome’s fate. Varro’s birth was obscure,

and the names of his ancestors went unheard,

but his impudent tongue wagged endlessly

in eloquent flow. Thus he acquired wealth

and was liberal with the spoils, so that by

courting the lowest of the low, and exposing

the Senate, he rose so high in a city shaken

by war, that he alone dictated the course of

events and became the arbiter of its destiny,

though Italy should have been ashamed to

think its safety might be won by such as he.

Mindless voters had granted that blot on our

register a place among such heroes as Fabius,

the Scipios, both names sacred to Mars, and

Marcellus, who offered an enemy general’s

spoils to Jove. The evil of Cannae was due

to bribery, a corrupted vote in the Campus,

a field more fatal to us than that of Diomede.

Despite his perversity as a citizen, skilful at

sowing ill-will, stirring up trouble, Varro was

useless in the field, ignorant of the arts of war,

unknown for any worthwhile actions, yet he

sought to gain military glory through words,

by sounding the war-cry from the Rostrum.

So he quickly declared Fabius to blame for

the delay, as if celebrating his own ovation,

attacking the Senate in a speech to the crowd:

‘As consul, I ask of you, who wield supreme

power, directions as to the conduct of the war.

Am I to sit still, or wander about the hills, while

Garamantians and dusky Moors parcel out Italy?

Or am I to use the sword you place in my hands?

Listen, dear Fabius, to what the people of Mars

demand: that the Libyans be expelled and Rome

relieved of her enemy. Is this impatience, when

they have endured so much, and already a third

year burdens them with its suffering and tears?

So rise and arm, citizens: a brief march alone

prevents your victory: and the day that reveals

the enemy to you will end the Senate’s reign

and our war with Carthage. Advance with joy;

for I shall lead Hannibal through Rome with

chains around his neck, while Fabius looks on!’

Book VIII:278-326 Fabius offers Paullus his advice

After this harangue, brushing aside all obstacles,

he swiftly led the army through the gates, like

a clumsy charioteer, not in control of the reins,

who, when the starting-gate is lifted, crouches,

with unstable foothold, and flicks at the horses,

only to be carried along headlong at their mercy:

then the axle smokes with their turn of speed, as

the tangled chariot reins swing wildly to and fro.

Now Aemilius Paullus (who was voted equal

powers as Varro’s colleague) saw that the State

was headed for ruin, at the hands of a perverse

consul, yet the crowd’s anger is easily roused,

and the scars of their previous disparagement,

scored on his mind, checked the tide of protest

though his heart was troubled; for when consul

in his youth, after victory in Illyricum, envy’s

black maw had gaped for him, and spewed its

blast of slander. Hence he was gripped by fear,

bowing before the people’s enmity. And yet

he was descended from the gods, related by

his ancestry to those lords of heaven: since

through their founder, one Amulius, he traced

his origins to Assaracus, and thereby to Jove;

nor would any who saw him fight dispute it.

Now as he sought the camp, Fabius addressed

him: ‘Though the words are almost torn from

my breast unwillingly, Paullus, you are wrong

if you think Hannibal is the greatest challenge

you face. Conflict and a worse enemy reside

in the Roman camp, or I have learnt nothing

from my long experience of war. I have heard

Varro pledge to battle with Hannibal, war’s

favourite, the moment he sees him (alas how

age irks and wearies me, that I might live to

endure the ruin I foresee!) How close we are,

Paullus, to utter destruction, if this consul’s

boast reaches Hannibal’s eager ear! No doubt

his soldiers are already deployed to oppose us

on the plains, waiting with swords raised for

the next Flaminius! What vast forces you will

rouse (heaven help us) Varro, in your mad rush

to battle! Are you a man determined to examine

the ground before us, or test the enemy’s ways?

You, without the foresight to probe their supply

lines, the strength of their positions or manner

of warfare, or guard against chance that weighs

more heavily than any weapon? Paullus, keep

unswervingly to the path of duty; for, if a single

arm may destroy a country, why should a single

arm not preserve it? That wretched Hannibal is

short of food for his men, his allies lack loyalty,

and have lost their battle fervour. No home here

offers him hospitality under a friendly roof, no

loyal city welcomes him within its walls, no

fresh recruits are here to make good his losses.

Barely a third of that force survives who came

from the raw banks of the Ebro. Persevere, use

delay, delight in that recipe for safe attrition.

But if, meanwhile, a favourable breeze arises

and the gods approve, seize the moment swiftly.’

Book VIII:327-355 Paullus swears to do his duty

Paullus answered him, briefly and sadly, thus:

‘The path of virtue will be mine, indeed; while

I will meet the enemy with that spirit that renders

you invincible. Nor will our one recourse, delay,

fail me, which you employed until an enfeebled

Hannibal saw all opportunity for battle crushed.

But why are the gods angered? Carthage, I see,

has been granted the one consul, Italy the other.

Varro carries all with him, as if the idiot fears

lest Rome is ruined first by some other leader.

One of Carthage’s senators, summoned as my

colleague, would prove less savage of purpose.

No horse is swift enough to bear that madman

into action; he resents the shadows, when night

falls and hinders his course of action; marches

proudly with half-drawn swords, lest plucking

them from the sheath delays a battle. I swear,

by the Tarpeian Rock, by the temple of that

Jove whose scion I am, and by these walls of

glorious Rome, which, with their citadel, I

leave yet standing, that wherever the safety

of the State summons me I shall go, scorning

danger. And should the army fight, deaf to my

warning, then I shall no longer wait for you,

my sons, the dear descendants of Assaracus,

nor ruined Rome see me return alive like Varro.’

Thus two consuls left to join their two armies,

their minds at cross-purposes, while Hannibal

had already camped, prepared for battle, on

the plains of Arpi, as Anna had advised him.

Never did the land of Italy echo to a greater

mass of men or that force of cavalry in arms.

For the Romans feared the end of their nation

and of Rome, in expectation of one final battle.

Book VIII:356-375 The Italian forces at Cannae: I

The Rutulians, a sacred band, gathered for war.

Scions of Faunus, they lived in Daunus’ realm,

under Laurentum’s roofs, joying in Numicius’

stream: and they were joined by the Sicilians.

Men were sent out by Castrum, and by Ardea

once hostile to exiled Trojans, and Lanuvium

Juno’s home on the steep hillside, and Collatia

that nurtured the virtuous Lucius Junius Brutus.

Those who love the grove of inexorable Diana

and the mouths of the Tiber, gathered, and those

who bathe Cybele’s stone in Almo’s warm flow.

From Tivoli they came, city of Arcadian Catillus,

and Praeneste, its sacred hill dedicated to Fortune,

Antemnae more ancient even than Crustumerium,

and Labicum, its men so handy with the plough,

and those too who drink imperial Tiber’s waters,

and those too who live on the banks of the Anio,

and draw water from that chill lake Simbruvius,

and harrow the fields of Aequicula. All of these

Scaurus led, who though as yet of tender years

already showed promise of lasting glory. They

were not accustomed to hurl the spear in battle,

or empty the quiver filled with feathered shafts,

but preferred the javelin and handy short-sword,

wore bronze helms with plumes rising overhead.

Book VIII:376-411 The Italian forces at Cannae: II

Sezze, whose grape is chosen for Bacchus’ own

table, sent its men, and famous Velletri’s valley,

and Cora, and Segni of the bitter sparkling wine,

and the Pontine Marshes breeding disease, where

Satura’s misty swamp clothes the land, the dark

Ufens driving its black mud-filled current through

soiled fields to stain the sea with slime. All these

were led by brave Scaevola, true to his ancestors,

whose shield displayed Mucius Scaevola’s dread

heroic deed, when fire blazed on the altar and he,

in the midst of the Etruscans, turned his anger on

himself with a ruthless bravery seen on the shield.

Astounded by the example of steadfastness he set,

Lars Porsena was seen, on that shield, abandoning

the war and fleeing the sight of that scorched hand.

Sulla led men to war, who tilled Formia’s slopes,

and Terracina’s cliff-top fields, also the Hernici

who drive the ploughshare deep in stony ground,

and those who cultivate Anagnia’s rich friable soil;

summoning bodies from Ferentino, and Priverno,

with Sora’s warriors and their gleaming weapons.

Here were the lads from Scaptia and Fabrateria,

nor did men fail to descend from Atina’s snowy

heights, and Suessa Pometia, reduced by the wars,

and Frosinone, battle-hardened behind the plough.

The tough men from Arpino, who live by the Liris

which mingles sulphurous water with the Fibreno

and runs its silent course to the sea, they too armed,

with them came warriors from Venafro and Larino,

while mighty Aquino too was drained of all its men.

Tullius led their mail-clad forces to battle, scion of

kings, whose ancestor was that Tullus Attius of old.

How noble his youthful promise, and how great his

immortal descendant, that Cicero, he gave to Italy,

whose voice would fill the earth, even past Ganges

and the Indian tribes, and that would quell the fury

of war in those thunderous speeches; he, in that way,

winning renown no other orator could hope to equal! 

Book VIII:412-445 The Italian forces at Cannae: III

Behold, Nero, unequalled in his swift acts of daring,

he of the Spartan blood of Attus Clausus, rides before

the men of Amiterna, and Casperia of eastern-sounding

name, and Foruli, and Reiti sacred to Rea mother of all

the gods, and Norcia the home of frost; and the cohorts

from rocky Tetricus. They all bore spears, had rounded

shields, helmets unadorned, and a greave on the left leg.

They marched, some raising a song in honour of Sancus

founder of their people, while other praised you Sabus,

who gave a name to the wide possessions of the Sabines.

And what of Curio, who had roused the men of Picenum, 

with his scaly armour and his horse-hair plume, almost

an army in himself! They roll past like the billows on

a stormy sea, that whiten among the breaking waves;

no brisker her cavalry when Penthesilea the Warrior

Maiden with her crescent-shaped shield reviews her

thousand squadrons, mimicking battle, till the earth

and Thermodon, the river of the Amazons, resound.

And here are to be seen those nurtured by the fields

of rocky Numana, and those for whom Cupra’s altar

smokes with incense by the shore, and those who

guard the towers and the river-mouth of Truentum;

their shield-ranks gleam far off with the sun’s rays,

throwing a blood-red radiance towards the clouds.

Here stand the men of Ancona, which rivals Sidon,

in its dyeing of cloth, the Libyan purple; here are

the men of Adria, which is bathed by the Vomano;

with the fierce standard-bearers of wooded Ascoli.

Picus, the famous son of old Saturn, was founder

and father of Ascoli Picenum long ago, he whom

Circe changed into the woodpecker, condemning

him to fly through the air, speckling his feathers

with bright saffron as he fled. They say that even

earlier the Pelasgians possessed the land, subjects

of Aesis, from whom the name of the river Esino

derives, and his people whom he called  the Asili. 

Book VIII:446-467 The Italian forces at Cannae: IV

And the rural Umbrians strengthened the forces no

less, arriving from their hills and valleys washed

not only by the Esino, but the Savio, the Metaurus,

now Metauro, with its swift current eddying loudly

among the rocks, and Clitunno, once the Clitumnus,

that bathed their mighty bulls in its sacred waters;

the Nar, or Nera, whose pale flow hastens to join

the Tiber; the Tinia or Topino unknown to fame;

the Clanis or Chiana; the Rubicon; and the Nevola

once the Sena, named then for the Senones; while

Father Tiber flows through their midst in a mighty

tide, his channel grazing their walls. Their towns

are Arna, Bevagna with its rich pastures, Spello,

and Narni on its cliffs on the rocky mountain slope,

Gubbio once unhealthy with its mists, and Foligno,

that spreads un-walled on the open plain. They sent

tough men: Amerians, and Camertes celebrated for

sword and plough, the men of Sarsina rich in flocks,

and warriors from Todi, no laggards in time of war.

These death-defying forces were led by Piso, with

handsome but boyish face, though with a wisdom

to equal his elders and an intellect beyond his years.

He led the vanguard, radiant in shining armour, as

a fiery gem gleams on the collar of a Parthian king.

Book VIII:468-494 The Italian forces at Cannae: V

Now another army appeared manned by Etruscans,

under Galba of glorious name. His ancestral line

derived from Minos, and that Pasiphae whom a

bull from the sea seduced, with all their famous

descendants. Cerveteri and Cortona, the seat of

proud Tarchon, sent their choicest men, so too

ancient Graviscae. That city by the sea Halaesus

the Argive loved, Alsium, sent its warriors also,

and Fregenae, bordered inland by a barren plain.  

Fiesole was represented, that interprets winged

lightning from heaven, and Clusium, that once

menaced the walls of Rome, when Lars Porsena

demanded, in vain, that the Romans obey those

tyrants they expelled. And Luni sent men from

its marble quarries, from that famed harbour, as

spacious as any that, well-enclosed, can shelter

innumerable vessels. And Vetulonia, the pride,

once, of all Etruria. That city gave us the twelve

bundles of rods that go before a consul, those

twelve axes with their silent menace, she first

adorned the high curule chairs with ivory, and

first trimmed official robes with Tyrian purple;

while the bronze trumpet that stirs the warriors,

that too was her invention. With them gathered

the men of Nepi, and those Aequi of Falerium,  

and those who hailed from Flavina, and those

who lived by the Sabatian and Ciminian pools,

their neighbours from Sutri, and those living

by Soracte, Phoebus sacred hill. Each carried

two spears, a wild-beast’s pelt sufficient for

their heads, while scorning the Lycian bow.

Book VIII:495-523 The Italian forces at Cannae: VI

They all knew how to wage war, yet the Marsi

could not merely fight but also send snakes to

sleep by the use of spells, and rob the serpent’s

tooth of venom by means of herbs and charms.

Anguitia, they say, a daughter of Aeetes, first

showed them the use of magic herbs, teaching

them how to banish the moon from the sky, to

halt the flow of rivers with their cries, denude

the hills by summoning the trees. Their name

though derives from Marsyas, who fleeing in

fear over the sea from Phrygian Crenai, after

Apollo’s lyre outplayed his Mygdonian flute,

settled there. Maruvium, is their capital, which

bears the famous name of the ancient Marrus,

while further inland lies Alba Fucens, among

the water-meadows, fruit-trees compensating

for its lack of corn. Their other citadels, with

no name among the people, unknown to fame,

are nonetheless ample in number, too. They

were quickly joined by the Pelignians, who

brought their men swiftly from chilly Sulmo.

And no less eager were the men from Teano

Sidicinum, whose mother-city is Cales with

no mean founder, but, as legend tells, Calais,

nurtured in Thracian caves by Orithyia, she

having been carried off through the stormy

air by wanton Boreas. There too were those

serried ranks of the Vestini, inferior to none

in battle, toughened by hunting wild-beasts,

while their flocks graze on Mount Fiscellus,

over green Pinna, and the meadows of Aveia,

which are quick to renew their growth again.

The Marrucini, and their rivals the Frentani,

gathered too, bringing the men of Corfinium,

and great Chieti. All these bore a pike to war,

a sling that had downed many a bird, and for

armour wore bear-skins, spoils of the hunt.  

Book VIII:524-545 The Italian forces at Cannae: VII

The Oscans, too, whom Campania, rich in

wealth and noble blood, had sent from her

wide realm to fight, were stationed close by,

waiting for their leader. Men from Sinuessa

of the warm springs; from Volturnum within

sound of the sea; Amyclae whose mother-city

in Laconia, silence once ruined; Fondi and

Gaeta, realm of Laestrygonian King Lamus,

and home to King Antiphates’ deep harbour;

Liternum with its marshy pools, and Cumae

with its oracle that could foretell the future.

From Nuceria and Mount Gaurus too, and

from Puteoli, men raised from their arsenal.

Naples, the Greek Parthenope, gave many

a soldier also, Nola which would repulse

Hannibal, and Alife, and Acerra, forever

threatened by its river Clanius. You might

have seen the Sarrastians and all the men

from along the gentle river Sarno. There

were picked troops from the Phlegraean

bays rich in sulphur; from Miseno, and

Baiae, the seat of Baius the Ithacan, pilot

to Odysseus, with its giant volcanic crater.

The men of Procida’s isle were there, of

Ischia, a place appointed for ever-burning

Typhoeus, and Capri the rocky island of

Teleboas, and Calatia with its little walls.

Sorrento too sent men, and stony Avella

poor in arable land to plough; above all

Capua was represented there, though she

unable to restrain herself in prosperity,

would be undone by her perverse pride! 

Book VIII:546-561 The Italian forces at Cannae: VIII

Young Scipio organised all these fine men

for war, funding javelins and steel armour;

the native weapons being much lighter, in

the manner of their fathers, fire-hardened

wooden shafts lacking iron points, clubs

and axes, forged for rural labour. Amongst

them, Scipio, showed promise of his fame

to come, flinging stakes, leaping trenches

beneath city walls, meeting the sea-waves

fully armed, such his brave display before

his men. Often his swift feet outran some

charger as it flew by, spurred savagely over

the open plain, often standing tall he would

hurl a stone or spear beyond the boundary

of the camp. With martial brow, flowing

untrimmed hair, and a bright gentle gaze,

he awed and delighted those who saw him.

Book VIII:562-587 The Italian forces at Cannae: IX

The Samnites also gathered, their allegiance

not to Carthage as of yet, but still revealing

their ancient enmity to Rome; the reapers of

Paduli and Nucrae, and the hunters of Boiano,

those who cling to the Caudine pass; and those

Rufrae and Isernia sent; and remote Ordona

from her untilled slopes. The Bruttians came,

equal in spirit to any, and the warriors out of

the Lucanian Hills, and the Hirpini; all with

their sharp spears and clothed in the shaggy

pelts of wild beasts. They won a living from

the hunt, dwelt in the woods, quenched their

thirst in the rivers, earning their sleep by toil.

All these were joined by the men of Calabria,

and troops from Sallentia and from Brindisi,

out of Italy’s far south. Their command was

granted to bold Cethegus, who controlled

their united forces, not separate companies.

Here were men from Leucosia, and those

Picentia sent from Paestum, and men from

Cerillae, later emptied by the Punic army,

and those nurtured by the Silarus, or Sele,

river, which they say could turn branches

dipped in its flow to stone. And Cethegus

praised too the sickle-shaped swords, with

which the fighting Salernians were armed,

and the rough oak clubs which the warriors

from Buxentum shaped to their grip. While

he himself, with shoulders and arms bare in

the manner of his ancestors, took delight in

his mettlesome steed, exerting  his youthful

strength, wheeling his hard-mouthed mount.

Book VIII:588-621 The Italian forces at Cannae: X

You too, tribes of the River Po, though now

reduced and bereft of men, rushed to battle

and defeat, no god listening to your prayers.

Piacenza, though crippled by war, vied with

Modena, while Cremona sent out her sons in

its rivalry with Mantua, home of the Muses,

exalted to the heavens by Virgil’s immortal

verse, in emulation of Homer’s lyre. They

came from Verona through which the Adige

flows; from Faenza, skilfully nurturing her

pine trees, grown everywhere to surround

her fields; Vercelli, and Polenzo with its

wealth from dusky fleeces; and Bologna

with its Reno river, the ‘little Rhine’, that

was once the seat of Ocnus, and joined

with Aeneas against Laurentum long ago.

There came the men of Ravenna, they who

drag their heavy oars slowly through muddy

water, cleaving their stagnant marshy pools;

and a force from Padua, from the Euganean

country, once exiled with Antenor from his

sacred shore; Aquileia with a complement

of the Veneti; and the agile men of Liguria,

and the Vagenni who live scattered along

its rocky shore, they too sent hardy youths

to swell the Roman ranks, and Hannibal’s

triumph. Brutus led them all, their great

hope, and he roused their courage against

this enemy they already knew. Cheerful,

though dignified, his powerful intellect

gained hearts, with nothing severe in his

manner: it was never his way to adopt a

frowning face or win unhappy praise for

harshness: nor did he court notoriety by

exceeding the limits of the ordered life.

Add, to all these, three thousand skilled

archers sent by Hiero of Syracuse from

Sicilian Etna, while Elba armed fewer

men with her native iron that war loves,

yet all of them eager to wield a sword.

He might well have excused Varro’s zeal

to fight a battle, who saw so mighty an

army muster. When great Agamemnon

attacked Troy, that Hellespont which

Leander swam saw the thousand ships

moor, with as vast a host, at Rhoeteum.

Book VIII:622-655 Omens of disaster

On reaching Cannae, the site of an ancient

city, the Roman forces set up their doomed

standards on the ill-omened ramparts. Nor,

did the gods, with impending destruction

hanging over the army, fail to foretell that

imminent disaster. Javelins, in the hands

of their astonished owners, were wreathed

in fire; tall battlements along the walls fell;

the quivering summit of Mount Garganus

collapsed and laid low the forest; Aufidus

quaked and roared in its river-bed; while,

over the distant waves sailors were terrified

as fires burned high on the Ceraunian hills.

The day was plunged into sudden darkness,

and Calabrian mariners searched in vain for

the coast and headland of Sipontum; while

shriek-owls perched on the camp’s gates.

Dense swarms of bees constantly wound

themselves around the quivering standards,

and more than one bright comet, dethroner

of kings, shone balefully, with its hairy tail.

In the silence of the night wild beasts broke

through ramparts and entered camp, snatching

up sentries before their frightened comrades’

gaze, scattering the limbs over nearby fields.

Dreadful visions mocked sleep: men dreamt

that the Gallic shades were rising from their

graves. In Rome, the Tarpeian Rock shook

repeatedly, and was split at the base; while

a stream of dark blood flowed from Jove’s

temple; and the ancient statue of Quirinus,

the deified Romulus, shed floods of tears.

The fatal Allia overflowed its banks; while

the Alps quaked, and the Apennines’ vast

gorges trembled all day and night. Bright

meteors crossed Italy from African skies,

and the heavens burst apart with a dreadful

crash as the face of the Thunderer was seen.

Vesuvius roared too, spewing flames like

Etna’s, and its fiery plume hurled rocks to

the clouds, and touched the trembling stars.

Book VIII:656-676 A soldier foretells disaster

Behold, a soldier in their midst now prophesied

the outcome of the battle, his mind and aspect

distracted, he filled all the camp with his wild

cries, gasping out news of the tragedy to come:

‘Oh, merciless gods, spare us; there is not room

enough now for those heaps of dead; I see him,

the Carthaginian commander, charging through

our serried ranks, driving his chariot furiously

over human limbs, weapons, and our standards.

The wind gusts wildly, driving the dust of war

in our faces. You are lost, Gnaeus Servilius,

careless of your life, your absence at Lake

Trasimene’s field of no avail! Where goes

Varro? By the gods, Aemilius Paullus, last

hope of the despairing, is downed by a rock!

Trebia cannot rival such destruction. Behold,

the Aufidus reeks and spews out corpses, as

the heaped bodies of the dead bridge its flow,

as the Carthaginian elephants tread the plain

in victory. Hannibal carries the consular axes,

after our fashion, lictors bear blood-stained

rods, the pomp of triumph passing now from

Rome to Libya. O tragedy! Do you command

us to witness even this, O you powers above?

Victorious Carthage weighs Rome’s defeat in

gold-rings torn from the left hands of the dead!’

End of Book VIII of the Punica