Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book X

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

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Book X:1-30 Paullus fights on

Paullus, seeing that the enemy was gaining

ground rushed into danger, courting death

from every blade, at the heart of the action,

just as a wild creature will charge at a ring

of surrounding spears, drawing its attackers

near, at the risk of being wounded. He cried

to his men in a terrifying voice: ‘Stand firm,

I beg of you, and accept your wounds in front,

bear none inflicted from behind to the depths!

Nothing is left us but a glorious death. Watch

as I lead you still, in descending to the shades.’

Then he moved more swiftly than Thessalian

Boreas, or the arrows fired by the Parthian in

retreating. He ran to where Cato, filled with

the spirit of war, unmindful of his few years,

was fighting; drove at the enemy as Cato was

attacked by nimble Vascones and Cantabrians,

by a mass of spears, snatching him from death.

The assailants retreated in fear as a hunter will,

who, happily chasing the deer in some far-off

valley, following hard as it wearies expecting

to take it, suddenly meets a fierce lion, exiting

its den gnashing its teeth in plain sight, and as

he pales, blood ebbing from his face, he drops

his idle weapon, no longer heeding the quarry.

Now Paullus thrust at those nearby who held

their ground, now hurled missiles at cowards

who had turned their backs in fright. He found

joy in rage, in frenzy, glorying in his efforts:

a host of nameless foes fell to that lone sword,

and if only a second Paullus had been granted

the Roman army, Cannae’s name had perished.

Book X:31-58 Juno seeks to dissuade Paullus

Finally, the Roman wing broke in disorder, and

the front rank scattered in full retreat. Labienus,

Ocres and Opiter fell, the two latter from Sezze’s

vine-clad hills, Labienus from rocky Cingoli’s high

walls. The Carthaginians killed them at the same

moment but in different ways. Labienus was struck

through the body with a spear, while of the brothers

one was wounded in the shoulder the other the thigh.

Maecenas was killed by a javelin piercing the groin,

he whose name was celebrated in Etruria, where his

ancestors were kings. Paullus, meanwhile, scornful

of life, pushed through the midst of the fray, seeking

Hannibal; dreading this fate alone, to leave the man

alive. But Juno, fearing Hannibal’s strength (since,

if they duelled, such storm and fury must prevail),

took on the likeness of Metellus, a coward, asking:

‘Paullus, our consul, on whom Rome depends, why

defy fate? Why rage on to no end? Rome will stand

if Paullus survives; without him, Italy is dragged

to her doom. Do you intend to face Hannibal in

his might, rob us of our leader in the moment of

disaster? Joying in war, Hannibal now would dare

to face the Thunderer himself. Already Varro turns

his mount (I saw him flick the rein) and escapes to

preserve himself for better times. Let destiny work,

and save yourself from death, who matter more than

us; you will meet with further fighting soon enough.’ 

Book X:59-91 Paullus reproaches the disguised goddess

Paullus sighed at this: ‘Here’s cause enough to seek

death in battle, hearing such monstrous counsel from

a Metellus? Go, you fool, go, take flight. I pray no

enemy weapon strikes you from behind: untouched,

unscathed depart, enter Rome’s gates beside Varro!

Worst of cowards, think you life on such terms is

worth living, or that I am unequal to a noble death?

Hannibal rages indeed, with courage to brave Jove

himself, yet you are far from your ancestors’ great

virtues! What other fight should I seek, what other

enemy than one who will render me forever famous.’

Uttering such reproaches, Paullus sought the centre

of the fray, and killed Acherras, who, slower of foot,

was retreating to where his own comrades were most

numerous, stealing a way through the close-packed

ranks and their hedge of shields. So a Belgian hound

tracks a wild boar he cannot see, not giving tongue,

but, following the beast’s scent unerringly as it runs

over hill and dale, covering those unknown glades

none have hunted before, and never stops pursuing

the scent taken till he finds its lair deep in the thorns.

Meanwhile, Juno changed her appearance yet again,

since, her words proving ineffectual, Paullus would

not quit the fray. She took on the likeness of a Moor,

Gelesta, and calling Hannibal from the heat of battle,

in that disguise, cried: ‘O eternal glory of Carthage,

we implore you to turn this way, spear in hand, for

Paullus fights fiercely on the bank of that swollen

river, and no other death but his can bring you greater

fame.’ So saying she bore him to a far part of the field.

Book X:92-121 The death of Crista

A warrior named Crista, was harassing the Libyan foe

on the raised bank of the river, with his six sons fighting

round him. The family were poor but not unknown to

the men of Todi, Crista himself being noted throughout

Umbria for warlike deeds, and he had armed all his sons

and taught them how to fight. Now this band of brothers,

led by their staunch father, after killing enemies enough,

had felled a turreted elephant, with innumerable blows.

They followed with firebrands and were watching with

joy as the turret burned, when they saw a helmet flash,

plumes flickering brightly on high. The old man (who

knew Hannibal from the light they shed) without delay

urged his band of sons on into the fierce fray, ordering

them to hurl their weapons as one, and to disregard

Hannibal’s shining helm and fiery temper. So the eagle,

Jupiter’s bird, who raises her young in the nest to be

bearers of his lightning-bolts, sets her eaglets to eye

the sun, proving their true descent by Phoebus’ rays.

Now Crista sought to lead by example as imminent

conflict loomed: behold his spear speeding swiftly

through the space between. But the point could not

pierce the multi-layered gilded breastplate; the shaft

hung loose, the failed blow revealing the thrower’s

waning powers. Then, Hannibal challenged Crista:

‘What foolishness leads you to strike so idly, with

that enfeebled hand? Your hesitant throw barely

marked this armour that shines with Galician gold.

See, I return the weapon! Your sons I note should

rather take me as their master in war.’ With that,

Hannibal’s spear pierced poor Crista in the chest.

Book X:122-169 Hannibal seeks to kill Crista’s six sons

Now six javelins, hurled by those sons of Crista

wondrous sight, flew at Hannibal; six spears were

hurled with equal force. So, when the Libyan Moors

besiege a lioness, driven hard by the hunt, in her den,

her cubs take up the fight, fierce but doomed to fail,

their jaws proving too weak and immature. Hannibal

thus parried the javelins with his shield, then drew

behind it to receive the crashing blows of the spears.

Not sated by his previous wounding and slaughter,

he now breathed deep in anger, seeking to kill all

six, and leave their corpses at their father’s side,

destroying the wretched family, root and branch.

Now he spoke to Abaris, his squire, who shared

his warlike stance, and was ever his companion

in the fight: ‘Supply me with weapons. This band

of brothers that strike at my shield are keen to go

down to Avernus’ dark waters, now let them reap

the reward of their ill-judged piety.’ So saying he

pierced the eldest, Lucas, with a javelin; the point

sank deep and the lad fell face upwards against his

brothers’ shields. The next to die was Volso, who

sought to extract that fatal steel, Hannibal striking

his face through the shield with a Roman spear he

plucked from a pile of corpses. And then Vesulus,

his foot slipping in his brothers’ hot blood, his

head severed by a swift sword-stroke; and now,

(oh, the barbarity of war!) Hannibal throws helm

and head together as a weapon at the retreating

backs of those left. Now Telesinus fell prostrate,

struck to the marrow where the backbone knits

the body; seeing, as he breathed his last and his

eyes, swimming, failed, his brother Quercens

stunned by a bullet hurled from a distant sling.

Hannibal now stabbed Perusinus with a stake

his squire snatched from the back of a downed

elephant and handed him, striking this last man

above the groin as Perusinus staggered towards

him, slowing in his course, attacked by grief and

fear, but not lacking courage. The fierce thrust

from that scorched shaft brought him down. He

sought, with pleas, to appease Hannibal’s fierce

wrath, but the fatal heat of the smouldering stake

filled his open mouth and lungs with fiery breath.

So all the sons of Crista fell with him, he whose

name was long known in Umbria, as a tall oak

will crash to ruin, one planted centuries ago by

our forefathers, falling to Jove’s lightning-bolt,

sending up sulphurous smoke and flame to play

havoc among boughs revered through the ages,

yet conquered now by the god, its huge trunk

in falling bringing down its scions all around.

Book X:170-184 Paullus continues the battle

With Hannibal in action by the Aufidus’ stream,

Paullus marked his own imminent death, killing

many, fighting like the victor of a thousand foes.

Great Phorcys, from Gibraltar’s caves sacred to

Hercules, fell then, the Gorgon’s head embossed

on his shield, the cruel goddess originating there.

Phorcys pressed on, proud of his ancient descent

from Medusa, she who turned the living to stone.

As he aimed a violent blow at Paullus’ left thigh,

the consul, grasping the tall crest of Phorcys helm,

deflected the blow, then threw him to the ground

piercing him from above, with his sword, where

his belt clasped round the spine protected the hips.

A stream of hot blood now poured from the gaping

viscera, as he who lived not far from Atlas’ realm

now died on Diomede’s field. With sudden alarm,

in the midst of the fray, troops trained by Hannibal

that master of war for this very purpose, achieved

a surprise attack. They had surrendered, feigning

desertion from the Punic army, but re-armed in

deceit, now rushing en masse against the Roman

rear, minds intent on slaughter. Lacking neither

swords nor spears, they snatched weapons from

the dead. Galba saw a warrior seize the distant

standard, then carry it away, yet the prospect

of danger never robs a hero of desire for glory,

and, exerting all his strength, he caught the man

and dealt the death blow before he could escape.

Yet as he gripped the prize and wrenched it from

the tight grasp of the dying foe, Amorgus swiftly

approached and ran him through, so Galba fell,

thwarted in his great deed. Meanwhile, as though

Enyo, the cruel goddess of war, had not yet sated

her savage anger, Vulturnus stirred the surface of

the field to clouds of dust, driving burning sand

in all directions, the tempest he raised howling

terribly, driving men’s flailing bodies far away,

to the limits of the plain, hurling them against

the carved-out river banks, plunging them deep

in the swollen flow. So died the ill-fated Curio,

Aufidus ending his life with a nameless death,

for, while he tried to halt the terrified men, his

body placed in their path, he, in furious anger,

was driven forward by the weight of fugitives;

swallowed by the turbulent flow, he sank down

to the sandy river-bed, and lying there, in those

Adriatic depths, lacked all recognition in dying.

Book X:185-259 Hannibal rides at Paullus

Paullus, strong in adversity, incapable of bowing

his neck to fate, attacked the all-conquering foe

head on, inspired, now, only by his longing for

a soldier’s death, and the certainty of being slain.

Then Viriathus, brave king of an Iberian domain,

driving a Roman, wearied by battle, before him,

killed him under the consul’s eyes and close by.

Alas, the sadness and the tears! It was Servilius,

a consul at Trasimene, finest of warriors, finest,

that is, after Paullus, who was now felled by that

barbarian sword, his death alone adding a stain

to the crime of Cannae. Paullus could not contain

his wild anger. Though the mad fury of the wind

betrayed him, and cloaked the daylight with dust,

he broke through the dark cloud of blowing sand,

and pushed on, attacking Viriathus, who after his

Iberian fashion was singing a savage victory song

while striking his shield, then pierced the heart in

his chest. But this proved Paullus’ last victim, his

final effort, doomed as he was to war no longer,

nor profit you, Rome, in the great fight to come.

A huge stone, a vast weight hefted by unknown

hands, struck him full on, driving fragments of

his bronze helm into the bone, masking his face

with blood. Paullus drew back, then rested his

failing body against a nearby rock, and gasping

through the streaming flow, collapsed onto his

shield, formidable despite his wound. So a great

lion in the arena will shake off the lighter spears,

but with the sword about to plunge into its chest,

will wait at the centre, quivering but resigned to

the blow: blood streams from its nostrils, jaws,

and down its mane, and it utters now and then

a dull roar, spitting foam from its open mouth. 

Now the Libyans rushed on Paullus, Hannibal

himself galloping as the wind drove, down

the path that his sword, his charger, his tusked

monsters had cleared. Yet Piso, buried beneath

a heap of weapons, seeing Hannibal riding over

the dead, propped himself by his efforts on his

lance, and stabbed the horse’s belly using that

raised blade. As the beast fell he tried to mount,

but though Hannibal had been thrown as his

charger went sprawling, he picked himself up in

an instant, crying: ‘Do the Roman corpses rise

again to fight a second time? Can they not rest

even in death?’ With this, as Piso tried to raise

his wounded limbs once more, he rose to his full

height and plunged his sword in as far as the hilt.

Book X:260-308 The death of Paullus

See now, Lentulus, struck in the foot by a Cretan

arrow and about to gallop from the field, beheld

Paullus resting against that rock now wet with his

blood, glaring fiercely as he lapsed towards death.

Lentulus, ashamed to flee, abandoned his purpose,

seeming then to see Rome burning, blood-stained

Hannibal at her gates, seeing as if for the first time,

there, that Aetolian plain, now the grave of Italy. 

‘Paullus,’ he cried, ‘if you abandon our vessel to

this storm, what prevents a Carthaginian march

on Rome tomorrow? I swear, by Heaven (and if

my words sound harsh, well, grief prompts them)

that unless you grasp the helm in this deadly war,

and survive the tempest despite your wishes, you

Paullus will bear a greater guilt even than Varro.

Sole hope of our suffering nation, take my horse

I beg you: I myself will bear your weakened body

on my shoulders, seat you securely in the saddle.’

Paullus, spitting blood from his mutilated mouth,

replied: ‘Oh, by the courage of our ancestors, well

said! Hope is not lost if such brave hearts as yours

still remain to Romulus’ realm. Spur your mount,

as hard as your wound allows, bid them go close

the city gates at once: destruction is upon them.

Tell them, pray, that Fabius must hold the reins.

It was madness to resist the warnings. What more

is left in life for me to do but prove to the blind

masses that Paullus knows how to die? Shall I

be carried back to Rome, wounded and dying?

What would Hannibal not give to see me retreat?

I am not made of such, nor will my spirit go so

tamely to the shades below. I, who once – but

why let my failing speech detain you Lentulus

in idle complaint? Go, urge your weary mount

from here at spear-point!’ So Lentulus headed

for Rome, bearing his weighty message; while

Paullus summoned whatever remained of life;

as a tiger, mortally wounded, falls back at last,

and, crouching down, struggles against death,

opening its feeble jaws to bite in vain, while,

unable to satisfy its rage, the tip of its tongue

licks at the spear-blades. Now Iertas neared,

brandishing his weapon in triumph, and yet

Paulus suddenly rose and plunged his sword

deep in the foe. Then he gazed round seeking

Hannibal, ready to yield his life, a warrior’s

life, to that glorious hand. But he was struck

by a host of missiles launched by every foe,

Numidians, Garamantians, Gauls, Asturians,

and Moors. So Paullus died. A noble heart,

a mighty arm were lost, in one who, had he

been granted sole command of things, might

have equalled Fabius, while his honourable

death only added fresh glory to his country,

and set a brave man’s name among the stars.

Book X:309-325 The field of Cannae after the battle

All the hopes and courage of the Romans lost

with their consul, the army like a headless body

fell to the next fierce assault, and Africa raged,

victorious, over the field. Here lay the soldiers

of Picenum, the brave Umbrians; there Sicilians

and Hernici. Standards that warlike Samnites,

or those from beside the Sarno, or the Marsian

companies had borne, lay all around; battered

armour and helmets; useless swords; shields

shattered by enemy shields; and the foam-wet

bits torn from the mouths of maddened steeds.

The crimson Aufidus spewed swollen waters

over the plain, returning corpses to the shores

that owned them, in its rage. So an Egyptian

vessel, once proud as an island on the deep,

now, dashed on a reef, covers the sea around

with its scattered wreckage; floating amongst

the waves are benches, masts with torn flags

and sails, and wretched sailors vomiting brine.

Book X:326-371 Juno sends Hannibal a warning

Hannibal having spent the whole day in hard-fought

battle, amid savage slaughter, once darkness had hid

the light of his glory, ceased the conflict, and finally

ordered his men from the destruction. But anxious

and alert he resented night’s inaction. It stung him,

that although the gods had granted him so much,

he had not yet reached the gates of Rome, his goal.

The next day he intended to march there, while his

soldiers’ blood was hot, their weapons still drawn,

their hands yet stained with slaughter, and, entering

Rome’s walls by force and fire, set the Capitol alight,

to follow Cannae. Now Juno, Saturn’s daughter, was

troubled by this aim, knowing Jupiter’s displeasure

and Italy’s destiny, and so set out to curb Hannibal’s

rash ardour, his eager but futile hopes. She quickly

summoned Sleep, lord of the silent shadows, with

whose all-conquering aid she often closes Jupiter’s

eyes against his will. She spoke to Sleep, winningly;

‘Divine One, I do not call you to any great task, your

gentle wings are not here to place Jove in my power.

Here are no thousand eyes to close, so deep darkness

might steal Io, Inachus’ daughter transformed to a

heifer, from that guard who scorned your divinity.

Simply, I pray, send a dream to this Carthaginian

general so that he loses his desire to see the walls

of Rome that are denied him; the Lord of Olympus

will never allow him entry.’ Swiftly, Sleep did as

she ordered, winged his way through the shadows,

carrying the juice of poppy-seed in a curved horn.

He glided in silence, seeking out Hannibal’s tent,

then, waving the wings that bring drowsiness over

that recumbent head, he dropped slumber into the

eyes, and touched the brow with his Lethean wand.

Now wild visions stirred Hannibal’s troubled mind:

he thought he crossed the Tiber with his great army

and stood defiantly before the walls of Rome. Jove

himself was there, a shining figure on the Tarpeian

Rock, a hand uplifted to hurl down lightning-bolts,

and the wide plain smoked with sulphurous fumes,

while the chill waters of the blue Anio were shaken.

Over and over the fierce fire flashed before his eyes,

then a voice came from above: ‘O warrior, you have

won glory enough at Cannae: stay your march, for

a Carthaginian may as easily storm heaven as force

his way past the sacred walls of Rome.’ Hannibal,

stunned by his vision, now feared a more dreadful

battle to come, as Sleep left him, Juno’s command

fulfilled, yet dawn unable to erase that vivid dream.

Book X:372-386 Mago tries to stir Hannibal to action

Amidst troubled sleep and phantom visions, Mago

came to report that the remnants of the Roman army

had surrendered in the night, and he brought with him

a rich array of spoils. He swore that within five days

Hannibal might delight in a banquet on the Tarpeian

heights, but Hannibal, concealing the divine warning, 

supressing his fears, gave the wounds and weariness

of his soldiers after their fierce battle, as an excuse,

and the danger of over-confidence. Mago protested,

as disappointed as if he had been ordered to retreat

from the very walls of Rome itself: ‘So our great

labours have not defeated Rome, as she believes,

but only Varro? Why throw away Mars’ rich gift

of fate, and hold back your nation? Let me lead

the cavalry onwards and, on my life, I promise

those Trojan walls will be yours, and the gates

will open, of their own accord, without a fight.’

Book X:387-414 The Romans rally at Canusium

As Mago breathed fire, while his more cautious

brother doubted, the Romans had begun to rally

behind Canusium’s walls, building a rampart

to house the army’s remnants. How wretched

they seemed in defeat! Lacking the eagles and

the banners of a fighting force, the leadership

of a consul and the display of the lictors’ axes!

Men, heart-sick, their bodies mutilated, fought

hard to support themselves on weakened limbs,

as if maimed by the fall of some great building.

Now a shout was heard, now silence fell, looks

downcast; most lacked armour, shields, blades

with which to fight; every horseman wounded;

all done with the honours and pride of warfare,

they tore the splendid plumes from their helms.

Their breastplates were holed by many a spear,

or by the arrows of the Moors left hanging there.

Meanwhile with sad cries they shout for their

lost comrades. Some weep for Galba, Piso, or

Curio, worthy of no mean death, others mourn

Scaevola, mighty in war. Many grieve for these,

but all as one at Paullus’ fate, as if for their father,

saying how he never ceased to prophesy this evil,

resisting Varro’s intent, seeking in vain to avert

the danger to Rome, yet still so brave in battle.

But anxious for survival, they hastened to dig

trenches along the city walls, and fortify their

gates with what materials they had. Then where

the ground was open, with nothing to obstruct

an enemy attack, they planted fire-hardened

branches, grown in shape like a stag’s antlers,

points hidden, to impede the horses’ progress.

Book X:415-448 Scipio prevents desertion

Behold, adding to the incurable wound of defeat,

impious fear and greater madness gripped those

who had survived the battle and the Punic steel.

They planned to take sail and flee the country,

to escape the Libyan swords, the Carthaginian

army, and Hannibal. Metellus was the leader

of these deserters, a man who took no delight

in warfare, though whose family had won no

little fame. He won to his cause the cowardly

and degenerate, looking to find refuge in some

distant land where neither the name of Carthage,

nor news of their own lost country might reach.

Hearing of this, Scipio’s anger was kindled. He

grasped his sword at once, as fierce a figure then

as when he confronted Hannibal in deadly battle,

and bursting open the doors rushed to enter that

place where they were hatching a plot bringing

ruin and disgrace on Italy. Then brandishing his

naked sword before their terrified faces, he cried:

‘O Father Jove, who dwell in the Tarpeian shrine,

your chosen place after heaven; and Juno, Saturn’s

daughter, unmoved as yet by our Roman suffering;

and you, Minerva, fierce virgin goddess, whose

breastplate is the aegis showing the dread Gorgon;

and all you gods of Italy, hear me when I swear,

by your divine power, and by the head of my own

heroic father, who is as a god to me, that of my will

I shall not abandon Rome, nor allow others so to do

while I live! Now Metellus, summon the gods to

witness that though Rome’s walls blaze with Punic

fire, you will not dare to flee to any foreign land.

Refuse to swear, and Hannibal, who terrifies you

and troubles your sleep, is here in me and armed!

Die you shall, and none who kills a Carthaginian

shall win more glory.’ His threats ended the plot;

and they now pledged their lives to their country

as ordered, swearing their oath before the gods

as he dictated, and so purged their hearts of guilt.

Book X:449-471 Cloelius and his faithful horse

While the Romans, with anxious minds, were thus

involved, Hannibal surveyed the battlefield, and

the sad outcome of his savage acts of war, gazing

at the wounded; the numerous entourage about him

granted a sight welcome to those cruel Carthaginians.

Amongst the piles of dead lay Cloelius, his chest

pierced with spears, on the point of dying. Gasping

out a last breath, he could scarcely raise his bowed

head on his weakened neck. But his horse, throwing

Bagaesus its captor as it carried him over the field,

knew its master, pricking its ears, neighing loudly.

Galloping swiftly, it rose above mutilated corpses

and ground slippery with pools of blood, and halted

by its stricken master’s head. Then lowering its neck,

dipping its shoulders, it bent its knees as it had been

trained, to let its master mount, quivering with an

affection all its own. None more skilful than Cloelius

at riding that brave steed, reclining full-length on its

back, or riding bareback and standing erect, as it sped

over the course, covering the ground as if it had wings.

Book X:472-502 The story of Cloelia

Hannibal was amazed at a horse displaying human

feelings, asking the name and rank of the man who

was struggling to find the darkness of death, while

granting him a merciful release. Cinna answered,

(believing Rome defeated he defected to Carthage,

and now rode beside the victor): ‘Brave general,

his origins were not unworthy of note. She who

rejects Carthaginian rule, Rome, was once ruled

by kings; yet, under the rule of kings, resenting

that of Tarquinius Superbus, she then expelled

the tyrant. A great war commenced with the royal

house of Clusium: you may have heard of Lars

Porsena, of Horatius, and the Etruscan invasion.

Porsena, supported by the wealth and power of

Etruria, tried to restore the exiled king by war.

They made many an effort without success; as

the foreign tyrant pressed the Janiculum hard.

With peace at last agreed and hostilities over,

the war ended in a treaty, with hostages given

as a pledge. But, by heaven, our Roman hearts

could not be tamed, ready to face any danger

for the sake of Italy’s glory! Young Cloelia,

not twelve years old, was sent with the other

Roman virgins over the river to the king as

a pledge of peace. Forget the courage of men,

this girl escaped, bravely swimming the Tiber,

despite the king, and his treaty, and her years,

her childish arms proving astonishingly true.

If nature had granted her a different gender,

Porsena might never have returned to those

Etruscan lands. But, not to draw out the tale,

this Cloelius was descended from that girl,

owing his glorious name to that rare lass.’

Book X:503-539 Hannibal’s men build funeral pyres

While he told the tale, a sudden clamour rose,

not far away, to their left. The body of Paullus

had been dragged from the heart of a pile of

weapons and mutilated corpses. Alas, what

flesh is this? How changed from that Paullus

who not long since had ravaged the ranks of

Carthage, that Paullus who once conquered

the Illyrian Taulantes, and clapped their king

in irons. His grey hair was dark with dust, his

beard stained with blood, his teeth shattered

by that great blow from a stone, his whole

frame one massive wound. Hannibal’s joy

redoubled at the sight. ‘Run Varro, run now

and survive, run, so long as Paullus lies here!

Tell all the tale of Cannae, dear Consul, to

the Senate, the people, and the inert Fabius!

If you love life so much, Varro, once again

I grant you leave to run. But he who proved

a worthy enemy, his brave heart beating high,

shall be honoured with the rites and sepulchre.

How great you are in death, Paullus, whose

sole end grants me more joy than the fall

of thousands! When fate calls, I pray to die

such a death and that Carthage survive me.’

So he spoke, and ordered his warrior’s bodies

to be buried the next day, when roseate Dawn

issued from her chamber, with piles of weapons

burned as a fiery offering to Mars. Though weary,

the men obeyed swiftly, felling the trees in all

the neighbouring woods, till the leafy glades

on the highest hills rang with the axes’ sound.

Ash, and tall poplars with their pale leaves

were felled, struck by mighty blows, and ilex

planted by former generations. Down came

the oaks and shore-loving pines, cypresses

that deck the funeral procession, mournful

beside the flames. And lastly they built tall

funeral pyres, in sad and empty service to

the dead, till Phoebus’s exhausted steeds

plunged in the western ocean and Titania’s

moon-disk, departing from the sky, brought

on the darkening shadows of deepest night.

Book X:540-577 The rites performed for Paullus

Once the chariot of the sun blazed with dawn

fire and earth had regained its familiar colours,

they lit the funeral pyres and burnt the decaying

bodies of their dead on that hostile soil. They felt

a deep anxiety regarding the uncertain future; this

unspoken fear now gripping their inmost thought;

that, if the fortunes of war later worked against

them, they themselves must lie in hostile earth.

Then a vast mountain of armour was raised to

the sky, an offering to the war-god; Hannibal

himself holding a tall pine-branch, its needles

on fire, calling on the god to hear his prayer:

‘I, Hannibal, victor over the Romans, set light

to these war-offerings, prime spoils of battle,

while a host of living men dedicate choicest

armour to you, Father Mars, whose ears are

not deaf to my prayer.’ Then he hurled that

burning branch on the pyre, and the fierce

flames gripped the blazing heap, until its

fiery crest piercing the smoke rose through

the air, flooding the field with bright light.

Hannibal then went on to witness the rites

for Paullus, proud to show honour to his

dead foe. A tall funeral pyre was raised,

a bier was formed of soft green turf, and

offerings added worthy of the departed:

his shield, that sword, a terror to those

who knew it recently, the rods and axes,

proud insignia now shattered, captured

on the field. No wife or son was there,

no gathering of close kin, no masks

of ancestors as customary, carried on

high litters before the corpse to grace

the exequies. It was bare of trappings,

but Hannibal’s praise alone granted

sufficient glory, who with sighs threw

a bright covering rich with purple dye,

and a gold-embroidered mantle over

the body, while uttering a last tribute:

‘Go, pride of Italy, go where spirits

rightly go that delight in brave deeds.

Yours is the fame that glorious death

ensures, while Fate twines the thread

of my efforts, dictating my ignorance

of things to come.’ So Hannibal spoke,

and at that instant, amidst the flames

crackling on all sides, Paullus’ spirit

rose in triumph to the heavens above.  

Book X:578-604 Fabius encourages the citizens of Rome

The noise of rumour now filled the air,

and first found its way by land and sea

to Rome. The fearful citizens placed

sole trust in their citadel: no warriors

remained, Italy but an empty name.

They thought the enemy’s delay in

breaking down the gates showed his

contempt. They already envisioned

their homes ablaze, temples ravaged,

their sons foully murdered, the smoke

rising from the seven hills. A single day

had seen the loss of two hundred great

leaders and their sixty thousand men,

leaving the walls of that emptied city

quaking; all this after Trebia and Lake

Trasimene; with equal losses among

our allies. Still the surviving senators

performed their duties and took up

the offices allotted. Fabius was quick

to show himself, speaking to the terrified

people: ‘There is no cause now for delay,

trust in me: man the walls, swiftly, before

the enemy dare attack. Cowardly inaction

nurtures ill-fortune, fear adds to adversity.

You youths, go quickly, strip the weapons

from the temples. Go, take those shields,

won in battle, from your walls, and leave

those bare. We are nation enough, so long

as none shy away in terror from the fight.

This fearful host may be formidable out on

the open plain, but the Moors, who delight

in swift action, will never shatter our walls.’

Book X:605-629 Fabius protects Varro

While Fabius roused hearts weak with fear,

the news that Varro was near spread widely

through the city, rendering all minds secretly

uneasy. Thus, if by chance a captain escapes

from shipwreck, and alone reaches the shore,

all are uncertain as to whether to celebrate

his survival or disown him, disliking the fact

that he has been saved while the rest are lost.

What shame clings to one who dares approach

the gates, a bird of ill-omen to their fearful city!

Fabius calmed the disquiet, saying that it was

wrong to show anger against a defeated general,

and quelling their indignation. Those, he said,

who claim Mars as their ancestor should bear

adversity, and hide their grief, and not seek

solace for their loss by punishing others. ‘If

I am allowed a word of reproof,’ he added,

‘then the day I saw Varro granted command

was more painful than this on which I witness

his return without an army.’ His words quelled

the signs of menace, all experiencing a change

of heart, saddened by Varro’s fate, reflecting that

at least Carthage had failed to kill both consuls.

So all the people came in a long procession to

thank Varro, claiming to think his action noble

in relying on the ancient power and pride of

a city, Rome, in which he refused to despair.

Book X:630-658 Rome rallies

Nonetheless, Varro, unhappy at his failure and

deeply ashamed, approached the walls of Rome

with faltering steps and tear-filled eyes; raising

his eyes to gaze at his native city troubled him,

while renewing its grief. Though the Senate and

people came to meet him on his return, he knew

they were not there to praise him, rather each

man demanded a son or brother lost, while sad

mothers sought to lash out at the consul’s face.

So his lictors kept their silence as he entered

the city, he forgoing the mark of respect for his

high office, as one which the gods had scorned.

However, Fabius and the Senate set aside grief

and turned to the task in hand. Slaves chosen

for their courage were quickly armed; barracks

were thrown open to them, pride yielding to

the needs of the State. The leadership decided

to control Rome’s fate by any means, arming

even their servants in defence of the Capitol

and the realm, and a freedom with honour.

They now replaced the purple-bordered robes

their sons wore with unaccustomed armour.

Boys clapped on a helmet and were told to

seek their manhood in slaughtering the foe.

And when the Senate were petitioned to

pay the ransom for the crowd of captive

Romans, on the favourable terms offered,

(many thousands supporting the petition)

they refused, to Hannibal’s astonishment,

considering it worse than any crime for

a soldier to surrender; while sentence was

passed on men guilty of desertion, who

were banished to remote parts of Sicily

to serve there until the invader departed.

Such was Rome then; and if it was fated

that her character should alter, Carthage,

when you fell, would that you remained!

End of Book X of the Punica