Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)


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.


Book XIII:1-29 Hannibal retreats to the Tutia stream

The Tarpeian hill had barely vanished from sight,

when Hannibal, marching slowly, turned towards

Rome with a threatening face, preparing to return.

He camped by the Tutia, a slender stream, lacking

banks to mar the meadowlands, which flows down

silently to the Tiber. There he reproached his army

captains, the obstructive gods, and himself, saying:

‘Tell me, O you who swelled the Lydian lake with

blood, and shook the land of Daunus with sounds

of conflict, where does your terror drive you now?

What sword or lance has pierced your armour? If

Carthage, that nourished us, were here now before

our eyes, her head all crowned with lofty towers,

what excuse would you give, soldiers, retreating

without a wound? “O, dear motherland, we ran

from the rain, the hailstones, and the thunder.”

Banish this feminine weakness, you men of Tyre,

who cannot fight if the sky is not calm and clear.’

Fear of the gods filled them, their weapons still

smelt of sulphur, and Jupiter’s wrath was before

their eyes. Yet they retained the power to obey

whatever the order, while a desire to carry their

standards back to Rome grew in the ranks, and

slowly spread through all, just as when a pebble

stirs a still pool it engenders tiny waves in rings,

and, as the trembling water shakes with further

motion, circular ripples multiply on the surface,

until finally one with extensive circumference

spreads its wide curvature from shore to shore.

Book XIII:30-81 Dasius tells of the Palladium

Dasius, glory and shame of Argyripa (Arpi,

founded by Diomede, son of Oeneus and king

of Aetolia, to whom this man of noble birth

traced his origin) was a sole dissenting voice.

He had allied himself to fiery Hannibal, not

trusting the rule of Rome, a wealthy citizen

but disloyal. Recalling the ancient memory

of former generations, he spoke as follows:

‘When the Greeks waged their lengthy war

against the citadel of Troy, as a bloodless

conflict stalled before the walls, Calchas

was urged to prophesy (for thus Diomede

the bravest of men, remembering the tale,

often recited it to Daunus, his father-in-law

who asked to hear it as they drank the wine)

and Calchas assured the Greeks that unless

the could carry off the Palladium, the image

of the warrior-goddess, Pallas Athene, from

the shrine in the citadel that housed it, Troy

would never yield to Menelaus’ army, nor

would Helen, Leda’s child, return to Amyclae.

For the gods had decreed that no citadel that

possessed the image could ever be conquered.

Then my ancestor, that son of Tydeus, entered

the citadel, as urged, accompanied by Ulysses,

killed the guards in the very entrance to their

shrine, carried off the sacred Palladium, and

Troy sadly fell, yet to our misfortune, since

when Diomede later founded Arpi, within

the bounds of Italy, conscience troubled him,

and he sought to placate the goddess, make

his peace with the household gods of Ilium.

A large temple was already rising on the high

citadel, a site unwelcome to Trojan Athene,

when, amidst the deep midnight silence, that

virgin goddess of Lake Tritonis appeared to

him, unveiled, saying warningly: “This work

of yours is not fit, son of Tydeus, to honour

my glory; Mount Garganus and the Daunian

lands are no place for me. Go to Laurentum,

seek the man who is laying the foundations

of a happier Troy. Take him the chaste relic

of his fathers, and the sacred ribbons.” So,

fearful at this warning, Diomede travelled

to Saturn’s realm. Meanwhile the Trojan

Aeneas had founded a second Troy there

at Lavinium, and hung arms from Troy in

the sacred grove at Laurentum. But when

Diomede reached the banks of the Tiber,

and pitched his armed camp on its shore,

the people of Priam trembled in their fear. 

Then Diomede, the son-in-law of Daunus,

holding a silvery olive branch in his right

hand, as a symbol of peace, spoke in this

manner, as the Trojans murmured: “Son

of Anchises, Aeneas, set aside the memory

of anger and fear; the blood and sweat we

poured out by Xanthus and Simois, Ida’s

rivers, and by the Scaean Gate was never

our fault; we were driven by the gods and

the inexorable Fates. Say why we should

not spend what is left of life under happier

auspices. Let us, lacking swords, clasp hands.

Behold, the witness to our alliance!” And he

showed, to their astonished sight, the image

of the goddess on the stern-deck of his ship.

And when daring Gauls penetrated the walls

of Rome, she brought them death, and not

a single man in all that host of thousands

returned alive to the altars of his country.’

Book XIII:82-93 Hannibal heads for Calabria

Hannibal, disturbed by these words, ordered

his men to uproot the standards, they being

overjoyed, hoping to depart. They took their

path to where Feronia is worshipped in her

rich grove, and where the sacred waters of

the river Capenas irrigate Flavina’s fields.

It is said that the wealth of that shrine had

grown from its ancient beginnings, through

offerings that poured in from all directions,

and its gold remained there countless years,

protected only by awe and superstitious fear.

Now its spoil corrupted barbarous hearts and

greedy minds, and filled them with contempt

for the gods. It was next decided to march far

into Calabria, to where the fields ploughed by

the Bruttians extend towards Sicilian waters. 

Book XIII:94-114 Fulvius attacks Capua

While Hannibal, far from happily, headed for

Reggio’s shore, Fulvius, triumphant at having

driven the invader far from his native Rome,

brought the news to besieged Capua, adding

the final touch to their misery. Seizing on

each of his men of warlike repute, he cried:

‘Repel this shame with all your might; why

is Capua, a faithless second Carthage to us,

still standing, having broken our treaty and

sent Hannibal against Rome, she who sought

to claim alternate consulship, yet waits now,

defended by high turrets, for Hannibal and

his Libyans?’ He backed words with action,

ordering his men to raise tall wooden towers,

high enough to top the walls, and with haste

bind beams together with iron clamps, make

rams to break the tall gates, and shake their

defensive barriers. Here, rose earth ramparts,

their sides latticed with planks, with, there,

solid canopies, showing armoured surfaces.

When all the commonly used means were

in place, he gave the signal, and ordered

his men with scaling ladders to the walls,

filling the inhabitants with fear. Suddenly,

a favourable omen smiled on his attempts.

Book XIII:115-137 The white deer

There was a deer, of a colour rarely seen

on earth, whiter than snow, whiter than

swan’s plumage. Capys, the founder of

Capua, when marking out the boundary

of his city with the plough, was touched

by the grateful affection of this creature,

a gift of the wild fed and tamed by man,

until it lost its former nature, and came

eagerly to its master’s table, delighting

in being stroked. The women groomed

the gentle hind’s flanks with a golden

comb, keeping its pure hue by bathing

it in the river. The deer became a deity

of the city and, thinking it to be Diana’s

servant, the people burned incense to it

as customary. This long-lived creature

happily prolonged its span for nigh on

a thousand years undiminished, and had

counted as many centuries as this Capua

founded by the Trojan exile, when death

at last arrived after long ages. For a pack

of savage wolves had entered the city in

the depths of night, a wretched omen in

time of war, and the deer, startled by this

sudden influx, had fled, at dawn, through

the gates, seeking the nearby fields in fear.

Fulvius’ men, delighting in the chase, had

captured it, and he offered it in sacrifice to

you, Diana, as a most welcome offering to

you, praying: ‘Latona, assist my enterprise.’

Book XIII:138-152 Taurea challenges Claudius

So then, trusting in the goddess, Fulvius

swiftly advanced his troops surrounding

besieged Capua, and where the circuit of

the walls curved outwards round a spur,

he ringed it with a dense fortified cordon

like a beast penned in by hunters’ spears.

Though the Capuans trembled, Taurea,

who, as even Hannibal admitted, hurled

his spear in battle more vigorously than

any of his own Moors or Autololes, rode

from the gate, his plume nodding on high

as he managed the power of his foaming

steed, for the horse was restive, refusing

to hold still amidst the trumpet-blare, yet

his rider reigned him in by force, then as

he found himself within enemy hearing,

shouted across: ‘If he trusts in his right

arm let Claudius himself (the swordsman

had gained glory in a thousand battles)

meet me in single combat on this field.’

Book XIII:153-190 Claudius defeats Taurea

When this reached the Roman’s ears, he

waited only for the leader to give his

blessing and grant him leave to fight,

since the men were forbidden, on pain

of death, to duel on their own account.

When Fulvius released him, Claudius

rushed forward with delight, galloping

over the open plain raising a billowing

cloud of dust. Taurea, disdaining use

of a knotted strap or thong to increase

the force of his missile, brandished his

spear then, furious with rage, hurled it

through the air with his unaided arm.

But Claudius was of a different mind,

examining the other’s armour closely

for some gap a spear might penetrate.

He would brandish his weapon, then

make a feint of striking, yet pierced

the centre of Taurea’s shield at last,

though his eager spear was cheated

of any blood. He drew his sword

swiftly from its sheath, as Taurea,

fleeing imminent death, spurred on

his flying steed. But Claudius was

swifter in pursuit of his retreating

foe, and pressed the fugitive at full

gallop. Both reached the gates, one

driven on by fear; his pursuer by

rage, desire for glory, and a thirst

for the blood that was his due. And

now the Capuans could scarce believe

their eyes, doubting their own senses,

on seeing a lone enemy rider gallop

boldly through the town; yet, while

they watched in trepidation, he rode

unafraid through their midst, then,

exiting by another gate, he returned

safely to his own ranks. Now every

Roman heart burned with common

purpose, and an equal eagerness to

pierce the walls and force their way

within. Spears and firebrands flared

together. Stones fell in showers, as

spears rose to the battlements. Nor

could any man readily distinguish

himself by his valour, since ardour

lent force to every arm. Arrows flew

through the air to the city’s centre.

Fulvius rejoiced at needing to offer

no further encouragement or appeal,

for one and all were eager for battle,

and noting their spirit, and that each

man took the lead himself, he hurled

his forces against the gates, while he

himself sought the chance for glory.

Book XIII:191-218 Three Capuan brothers

Three brothers, equal in age, guarded

the gate, each with a chosen band of

a hundred men to keep watch and hold

station together. Of the three, Numitor

excelled in beauty, Laurens in swiftness

of foot, and Taburnus in size and stature.

They were not armed alike: the first was

a skilled archer; the second brandished

a spear with a poisonous tip, not trusting

to naked steel alone; while Taburnus was

skilled at hurling fire-brands and torches.

They equalled Geryon, that triple-bodied

monster, savage in his anger, who lived,

it is said, on the Atlantic shore, whose

three right arms bore different weapons:

one hurled fierce fire-brands, another,

behind it, fired a bow, while the third

shook a mighty spear. When Fulvius

spied the three brothers fighting thus,

a heap of their victims round the gate,

the gate-posts crimson with his men’s

blood, he shook his spear and hurled it.

Made of Italian yew, it cleft the air apart,

bringing cruel death, piercing Numitor

in the side exposed by his lifted arm as

he raised his bow to rain down arrows.

Now Virrius, wildly daring but reckless

in war, was not content to fight within

the confines of the wall but, heedless in

his fervour, opened the gates and burst

onto the plain, delivering his unlucky

followers to the rage of the triumphant

Romans, for Scipio had rushed to meet

their charge and, insatiable in his fury,

now dealt oblivion to the opposing ranks. 

Book XIII:219-255 The defenders retreat to the town

Tifata’s shady hill had borne and nurtured

a fierce warrior, Calenus, his spirit no less

mighty than his body. He often surprised

a lion in its lair, or went bare-headed into

battle, or wrestled with a bull and forced

the angry creature’s horns to the ground,

winning glory by such wild deeds. When

Virrius exited headlong through the gates,

Calenus followed, without his breastplate

scorning such, or seeking to lose no time;

and lighter than the Romans, breathless

in their heavy armour, he scattered them

in defeat. He quickly speared Veliturnus

in the guts, and felled Marius with a rock

torn from the soil, that Marius who would

tilt with his peer Scipio at the equestrian

games and now, expiring in agony, cried

to his friend for aid, as his gaping mouth

was crushed by the stone. Savage grief

doubled Scipio’s strength; as he wept

he hurled his sounding spear, eager for

his friend to find solace for his fall by

witnessing his enemy’s death. The spear,

flashing like a bird through the clear air,

pierced Calenus’ chest and tore at his

huge frame: such is the power released

by a swift Liburnian galley on the deep

when the oarsmen draw back their oars,

to strike the water in unison with their

blades and, flying faster than the wind,

she is driven more than her own length

through the waves, with a single stroke.

Now Volesus had thrown aside his own

shield so as to attack the city the sooner,

and overtook Ascanius as he fled over

the open plain. He severed Ascanius’

neck with his sword, the head falling

at the man’s feet, while with the speed

of his flight his headless corpse fell

further on. The besieged had no hope

of defending the walls with open gates

and, beating a retreat to the town, they

shamelessly excluded their comrades

as they begged to be admitted, turning

those gates on their hinges, thrusting

home the bolts, though that measure

came too late. The Romans only pressed

home their attack on the besieged city

more fiercely, and if black night had

not hidden the earth in her dark folds

would have swiftly forced an entrance.

Book XIII:256-278 Virrius contemplates suicide

But darkness brought an unequal rest to

the two armies. On one side, untroubled

sleep such as the victor knows, while in

Capua, echoing with the mournful cries

and the howls of grief of the women, and

the anxious moans of troubled senators,

they prayed for an end to their suffering

and hardship. Virrius, who had led them

into treachery, was dismayed. Believing

there to be no hope of the Carthaginians

rescuing them, and driving the desire for

life from his heart, he spoke to the Capuan

senate: ‘I hoped we would rule all Italy, I

promised that, if fortune and the gods were

to favour the Carthaginian armies, Trojan

Quirinus’ rule would yield to that of Capua.

I led Hannibal to attack the walls of Rome

with its Tarpeian citadel, and I demanded,

with vigour, that one of the two consuls be

from Capua, bearing the rods of office and

ranking with his colleague. It is enough to

have lived thus far. While night lasts, let

any man who would wish freedom as his

eternal companion by Acheron’s waters,

join me at table now, and so dine with me;

there the wine spreading through his body

will drown the senses, death’s harshness

will be soothed, he shall swallow the one

cure for defeat, and disarm fate by means

of that gentle poison.’ So saying, he went

home, with a host of senators for company.

And a vast oak pyre was raised at the heart

of his mansion, to receive them after death.

Book XIII:279-298 The death of Virrius

Meanwhile the people were mad with fear

and rage. Now, too late, they remembered

Decius and that harsh punishment of exile

for his great courage. The goddess Fidelity

looked down from on high and troubled

their wayward hearts. A strange voice was

heard filling all the air, saying: ‘Mortals,

never break your treaties, with the sword,

but keep true faith, for it gleams brighter

than the purple robes of kings. He, who

delights in breaking his word in times

of trouble, and betrays a friend’s tenuous

hopes, he, his household, his wife, his

life itself, shall never be free of grief and

tears: Fidelity, whom he despised, whom

he violated, shall hound him always by

day and night, by land and sea, forever.’

And now a Fury attended every gathering,

reclining on their couches at every meal,

boldly sharing their feasts. She herself it

was who handed a foaming cup of fatal

venom to every guest, and generously

offered them their sentence of death.

Meanwhile Virrius, granting time for

the poison to reach his inmost parts,

ascended the pyre, embraced all those

comrades choosing to die with him,

and ordered the fire to be swiftly lit.  

Book XIII:299-325 The Romans spare Capua

Towards dawn, the Romans attacked.

Soon the Capuans saw Milo topping

the battlements, calling to his friends

to follow. Then the terrified citizens

opened the gates, and those senators

who had lacked the courage to escape

punishment by seeking death made

their way to the enemy camp, their

steps faltering. The city lay open,

the Capuans confessed their error

and disclosed those homes polluted

in housing Carthaginians as guests.

Women and children flocked around

the Roman force, grieving senators,

and those for whom none shed tears.

The Roman soldiers stood, propped

on their javelins, gazing at these men

who, incapable of dealing with either

prosperity or loss, now swept the very

ground, beards down to their chests,

and bowed their grey hairs in the dust,

weeping pathetically, uttering shameful

prayers for mercy, and filling the air

with cries like the women. But while

the soldiers wondered at such weakness

and waited eagerly for the command to

raze the walls, a sudden feeling of awe

silently filled their hearts, and a divine

power quenched their savage thoughts,

rendering them loth to hurl the brands

that would reduce the temples to ashes

in the conflagration. A merciful deity

gradually informed their inmost hearts.

Invisible to the eye, he brought them

all to know that Capys had founded

that proud city long ago, and that it

was wise to leave places fit for human

habitation in that vast extent of plain.

Slowly anger died in those fierce hearts,

and their readiness for violence weakened.

Book XIII:326-347 Pan was sent by Jove

It was Pan whom Jove, in his desire to save

a city of Trojan foundation, had sent there,

Pan who always appears to stand on tiptoe,

whose hooves of horn barely imprint the soil.

His right hand toys with a strip of Arcadian

goat-skin and gently lashes festive crowds

at cross-roads. Pine needles wreathe his hair

and shade his temples, while a pair of horns

sprout from his reddened brow. His ears are

pointed, and a rough beard hangs from his

chin. He carries a shepherd’s crook, while

a soft deer-skin offers a welcome covering

to his left-side. There is no high precipice

so steep and inhospitable he cannot keep

balance there, like some winged creature,

making his way down its untrodden slopes

on those hooves of horn. Sometimes he

turns and laughs at the antics of the hairy

tail that grows behind him, raises a hand

to keep the sun from scorching his brow,

and surveys the pastures with shaded eyes.

Now, having carried out Jove’s command,

calmed wild passions, softened fierce hearts,

he swiftly returned to the Arcadian glades,

and that Mount Maenalus so dear to him,

where, on the sacred height, he sends sweet

music far and wide from his melodious pipe,

and draws all the distant flocks to his song.

Book XIII:348-360 The Romans plunder the city

Ordered to do by their general, the Roman

soldiers left the gates unburned, the walls

standing, his clemency doing him honour,

and put aside their swords and fire-brands.

Then much plunder emerged from the gods’

temples and the houses gleaming with gold,

all the appurtenances of luxury, goods that

had harmed their owners, feminine apparel

stripped from the backs of men, tables of

cypress-wood from abroad, and cups with

pearls from the east to incite extravagance.

There was no end of plate, silver or heavy

embossed gold, for their banquets, long

lines of slaves everywhere, and coinage

enough to wage a lengthy war, all taken

from the houses, with immense hordes of

servants who had waited on the wealthy.

Book XIII:361-380 Fulvius honours Milo: Taurea commits suicide

When Fulvius sounded the recall to end

the soldiers’ licence, being one quick to

reward brave deeds, he spoke, from his

high seat: ‘Come now, Milo of Lanuvium,

whom Juno the Preserver gifted us, receive

the honour Mars confers on the conqueror,

this turreted crown to encircle your head.’

Then he summoned those nobles meriting

the chief punishment, who atoned for their

guilt beneath the executioner’s axe, though

Taurea, with indomitable courage (a noble

action should never be hidden even though

performed by an enemy) cried out in anger:

‘Shall you take with impunity, by the axe,

a far greater life than yours? By your order,

shall the lictor place a hero’s severed head

at the feet of cowards? Never shall heaven

grant you that!’ Then facing his judge, with

a fierce stare and frenzied laugh, he swiftly

drove his faithful sword through his own

chest. Fulvius replied: ‘Dying with your

city, share her fall! Mars has determined

our courage and our skill in warfare. You,

if you thought it shameful to face justice,

might readily have chosen to die fighting.’

Book XIII:381-416 Scipio consults the priestess at Cumae

While Capua atoned in blood for her fatal

error, cruel Fortune, who mingles sorrow

with joy, had slain Scipio’s father and his

uncle in Spain, ornaments of their country

and now its grief. Young Scipio himself,

then chanced to be taking leave at Puteoli.

After the fight, while revisiting his home,

the news of their untimely deaths brought

bitter tears. Though unaccustomed to yield

to misfortune, he beat at his flesh now, and

tore violently at his clothes. Not the efforts

of his friends, nor thought for his seniority

and duty to command, could restrain him:

but his affection for his family raged against

the cruelty of the heavens, he refusing solace.

Day after day was lost in lament. The faces

of the dead were before his eyes. Therefore

he determined to summon up their shades,

the spirits of those dear to him, and soothe

his endless sorrow by speaking with them.

Encouraged by the proximity of that marsh

where the stagnant waters of Acheron mark

the foul descent to Avernus, his mind was

eager to learn the secrets of years unborn.

So he made his way to Cumae, whose cave

and sacred tripods were ruled by Autonoe,

Apollo’s priestess, and revealed the desire

of his sad heart; asking to see his kinsmen

face to face. Without delay, that prophetess

spoke to him: ‘Sacrifice black-fleeced sheep

at midnight, as the customary offerings to

the dead; open a trench to receive the blood

of the still-breathing victims. Then the pale

kingdom will reveal your dear ones to you.

For the rest, I will elicit an oracular reply

from the Elysian Fields themselves for you,

and grant you the sight, at your sacrifice, of

the shade of the ancient Sibyl who reveals

Apollo’s mind. Off with you, go, and when

dew-drenched night has passed the middle

of her course, then, purified, seek the gorge

of Avernus nearby, driving on the victims

I named as sacrifices to placate harsh Dis.

Take honey, and an offering of pure wine.’

Book XIII:417-465 Scipio summons the shades

Encouraged by her advice and the promise

of the Sibyl’s aid, Scipio prepared in secret

to offer the victims prescribed. Then, when

night had reached the appointed hour, and

the darkness past was equal to that to come,

he left his bed, journeying to the turbulent

threshold of the gate to Tartarus, where he

found the priestess, as she had promised,

seated in a deep corner of the Stygian cave.

Then, she led the youth to where the earth

lies open, and the abyss hateful to heaven

yawns as acrid air is exhaled from Cocytus’

marsh, and urged him to swiftly dig a trench

with his sword, and sacrifice the victims in

due order, while she breathed arcane words.

Firstly, a black bull was offered to the king

of the underworld, and then a virgin heifer

to Proserpine, Enna’s goddess. And lastly,

black-fleeced sheep were killed in honour

of Alecto and Megaera the unsmiling Fury,

with an offering of honey, milk and wine.

‘Stand firm, O youth,’ the priestess cried,

‘endure the sight of those who rise from

Erebus: I feel Tartarus approaching while

the third realm offers itself to our vision.

Behold, forms of all kind flock to us, and

all humankind who were born and have

died since primal chaos: soon all shall be

revealed, Cyclopes and Scylla and those

Thracian horses that fed on human flesh.

Solicit the dead and, all undaunted, clasp

your unsheathed blade: if any shades seek

to drink the blood, before the virgin form

of the Sibyl advances, cut them to pieces.

Meanwhile behold that unburied spirit who

approaches swiftly wishing to address you;

it is granted him, since the funeral flames

have not yet consumed his body, to speak

as once he did, without tasting the blood.’

Scipio looked, and was appalled at that

sudden sight: ‘Mighty general, what dire

event has robbed your suffering country

of you, when harsh war calls for such men

as you, Appius Claudius, yielding to none

in courage or skill? Ten dawns have passed

since I returned from Capua, where you were

being treated, your sole regret was that your

wounds prevented you from reaching the city,

so sharing the glory of that victory.’ Appius

replied: ‘The very next day of pain, the sun

turned his welcome steeds away, and I sank

to the dark eternal stream. And yet my pious

friends remain slow to act, seeking to observe

the idle rites and superstitions of the populace

by delaying the burning of my corpse, so as

to bear my body to its far-off ancestral tomb.

Therefore I beg you, by our rivalry in deeds

of arms, keep away those balms that prevent

putrefaction, and permit my wandering spirit

to enter Hades, as soon as it may be allowed.’

Book XIII:466-493 The disposal of the dead

Now custom varies in this matter throughout

the world, various views prompting various

ways of disposing of the dead or their ashes.

In Spain, they say, the bodies of the dead are

consumed by the loathsome vultures, such

being the ancient custom. In Hyrcania, if

a king dies, they grant the dogs access to his

corpse. The Egyptians enclose their dead,

standing them upright in stone coffins to

be worshipped, and displaying a bloodless

phantom at the funeral feast, as warning.

The Black Sea tribes empty the skull by

extracting the brain, preserving the body,

embalmed, for centuries. The Garamantes

dig a hole in the sand and bury it naked,

while the Nasamonians of Libya commit

their dead for burial to the merciless depths

of the sea. And the impious Celts surround

the bones of the empty skull with gold, and

use it as a drinking-cup during their feasts.

The Athenians passed a law that the bodies

of all who fell in war defending their land

should burn together on a communal pyre.

While again, among the Scythians, the dead

are tied to tree trunks and allowed to fester

and to rot, as time slowly disposes of them.

Thus Scipio replied: ‘O noblest descendant

of ancient Clausus, no cares of my own, and

I have many indeed, shall take precedence

over this request of yours.’ While they were

speaking, the shade of the Sibyl advanced,

and Autonoe ordered them to cease: ‘Here,

she cried, ‘here, is the prophetess and fount

of truth, to whom so much is known that

Apollo himself knows little more. The time

has come for me and your band of followers

to depart, and place the victims in the fire.’

Book XIII:494-516 The Sibyl of Cumae prophesies

Now, when the aged Sibyl of Cumae, full

of secrets, had tasted and sipped of these

victims’ blood, she gazed on the handsome

face of the young warrior, saying: ‘While I

enjoyed the light above, I was not reluctant

to speak, my voice sounded for the people

from the Cumaean cave. Then I prophesied

of you, and your part in the future days of

Rome. Yet your Romans were not worthy to

receive my truths; for your ancestors lacked

the sense to acquire and preserve my words.

But listen and learn now, my son, since you

desire knowledge, of your own destiny and

that of Rome which is dependent on yours.

For I see you are keen to seek a forecast of

your fate, and meet your kinsmen’s shades.

Trusted early with command you shall win

a battle on the Ebro and avenge your father,

ending, with the sword, the Carthaginians’

triumphs, and when you have conquered

their New Carthage in Spain you shall treat

that as an omen for the war. Then you will

be chosen as consul, and Jove will protect

you until he has driven those invaders back

to African shores, and led Hannibal to you,

and to defeat. Shame then on the iniquitous

citizens who will rob you of your home and

country, you the hero who shall have forged

such deeds!’ Such the utterance of the Sibyl,

as she turned now towards Hades’ dark pools.

Book XIII:517-561 The Sibyl describes the afterlife

Then Scipio spoke: ‘However harsh a fate time

brings, I shall stand firm, if only my conscience

be clear. But, I pray, Virgin prophetess, known

to fame, since your aim is ever to aid humanity

in its troubles, stay your steps a while to name

the silent shades, reveal the dread Stygian realm.’

She consented, but then added: ‘The sight of that

kingdom is not to be desired, there the countless

generations past dwell in the darkness, flitting

among the shadows. The one place houses all.

At its centre, a wide and empty region extends,

and driven there by the commonality of Death

are all things earth, sea, or fiery air nurtured

since the world’s beginning: all descend, and

the barren plain has room for all the dead and

those yet to come. Round the realm there are

ten gates: one admits warriors, born to war’s

harsh lot; a second is for those who gave laws

and noted judgements to their nations, and

were the first to found walled cities; a third

is for honest rural folk, those dear to Ceres,

who die all untouched by poisonous deceit.

The fourth is for those who invented joyful

arts and the life of civilisation, uttering song

not unworthy of their father Apollo, serving

his abode. The fifth, which is called the gate

of shipwreck, receives those fierce wind and

storm destroy. The sixth opens for that vast

congregation who are weighed down by sin

but confess their guilt; Rhadamanthus there,

at the very entrance, demands punishment,

and he supervises the empty realm of death.

The seventh gate opens to bands of women,

and here chaste Proserpine tends her moist

groves. And the eighth gate is known for its

crying infants; and the countless babes that

died on the threshold of life; and the maids

whose wedding torches had lit their funeral

instead. Next, in a place apart, radiant, where

darkness dies, stands the ninth gate, shining,

leading by a secret shady path to the Elysian

Fields; here is the crowd of virtuous people,

in no Stygian realm, but beyond the stream

of Ocean, beside Lethe’s sacred spring, where

they drink its waters, and cleanse their minds.

Last is the tenth gate of glittering gold, all

blessed with light, gleaming as if the moon

swam there. By this, the spirits seek heaven

once more, and after five thousand years are

done, oblivious to Hades, enter new bodies.

From gate to gate wanders pale Death, with

hideous gaping jaws, ever pacing to and fro.’

Book XIII:562-594 The Palace of Dis

‘Then in the distance lies a lifeless morass,

with muddy pools; here fierce Phlegethon’s

overflowing waters scorch its banks, rolling

fiery rocks down with roaring blasts of flame.

In another place, Cocytus rushes furiously

along, with eddies of dark blood foaming

as it flows. Then the Styx, by which even

the gods and their ruler deign to swear, its

dreadful streams of pitch, its sulphurous

steaming flow. Acheron is worse, seething

with poisons and clotted venom, spouting

frozen sand with a rumbling noise, slowly

following its dark course through stagnant

pools. Triple-jawed Cerberus drinks from

this foul stream; it is Tisiphone’s draught,

that black Megaera thirsts for, though no

draught can quench her fury. Last of all,

a fount of tears rises before the entrance

to Dis’ palace, the inexorable threshold.

What a crowd, every monster housed in

its courtyard, keep watch, frightening

the shades with their mingled murmurs!

Consuming Grief is there; Emaciation

the servant that attends on fatal disease;

Sorrow that feeds on tears, and bloodless

Pallor; Anxiety and Deceit and querulous

Old Age; Envy strangling her own self,

and Poverty, a deformity that leads men

to crime; Error, with unsure step is there,

and Discord happy to mingle sea and sky.

There too sits Briareus, to open Dis’ gate

with his hundred hands; and the Sphinx,

her virgin mouth all stained with blood;

and Scylla; the fierce Centaurs; Giants’

ghosts. Cerberus is here and when he

bursts his bonds, and roams Tartarus,

not even Alecto, or Megaera who births

madness, dares to face that fierce hound,

who, his thousand chains once snapped,

wraps his viperous tail round his loins.’

Book XIII:595-614 The Throne of Dis

‘On the right, a vast yew reveals dense

foliage on spreading branches, denser

for Cocytus’ nurturing wave. Here are

birds of ill-omen: vultures that feed on

carrion; stares of owls, the screech-owls’

with blood-stained feathers; while Harpies

nest here, clinging close on every branch;

the tree echoing to their harsh cries. Here,

among these shapes, and seated on high,

Dis, the husband of the Avernian Juno,

Proserpine, tries guilty kings, who stand

before their judge in chains, repenting all

too late of their crimes, while Furies and

Punishments of every form hover around.

How those kings wish their proud sceptres

had never glittered! Those shades who in

the life above suffered unjust, undeserved

punishment now mock their harsh rulers,

allowed at last to utter those complaints

they could not express when alive. Then

one king is bound to the rock with iron

fetters, another rolls a stone up a steep

mountain slope, while a third is lashed

eternally by Megaera’s snaky scourge.

Such the punishments that await those

death-dealing tyrants.’ ‘Now, the Sibyl

said, ‘it is time to look on your mother’s

face, her shade the first to come apace.’

Book XIII:615-649 Scipio meets his mother’s shade

Pomponia, his mother, stood near, Jove’s

secret love. For when Venus found Punic

weapons were rising against Rome, she

laboured to pre-empt Juno’s wiles, and

kindle a slow flame in her father’s heart,

and without her foresight a Carthaginian

virgin would now be tending Vesta’s fire.

And, once her shade had sipped the blood,

and the Sibyl had advised her and allowed

the two of them to recognise one another,

Scipio began: ‘O, my dear mother, sacred

to me as a mighty goddess, how gladly I

would have sought the Stygian darkness,

and entered on death, for this sight of you!

What a fate was mine, when my first day

snatched you, unceremoniously, from me,

and bore you to the grave!’ And Pomponia

replied: ‘O, my son, my death involved no

suffering; I, once delivered of your divine

burden, was led by Mercury, Cyllene’s god,

by Jupiter’s command, with gentle hand,

to a place of true honour in Elysium, where

Leda and Alcmene, Hercules’ mother, are

granted residence. But listen now, my son,

and learn at last what I am given leave to

disclose, the secret of your birth, and then

no battle will terrify you, and you may be

sure of rising to heaven through your actions.

The sleep I needed, to rest myself, came upon

me at noon, I chancing to be alone. Suddenly

my limbs were clasped in an embrace, yet not

the usual familiar union as when my husband

came to me. Then, through half-opened eyes

filled with sleep, I saw, believe it, Jupiter

in radiant light. Nor did the god’s disguise

deceive me, though he had changed himself

into a snaky serpent twining the vast folds

of his coils behind him. But it was not given

me to live on after your birth. Ah, what grief

that was, my spirit passing before I could tell

you of these things!’ Scipio sought, eagerly,

to embrace his mother’s neck, but three times

her insubstantial shadow escaped his grasp.

Book XIII:650-686 Scipio meets the shade of his father, Publius

The forms of two loving brothers, his father

and his uncle replaced hers. Scipio hastened

through the gloom, seeking to embrace them,

yet in vain, for the spirits that he tried to clasp

were like mist or drifting smoke. ‘Dear father,’

he cried, ‘what god so hated Latium that they

snatched you away, the pillar of Roman rule?

Alas! Why was I ever unfeeling enough to be

absent for a moment from your side? I should

rather have died protecting you. How deeply

the people of Italy mourn your death! Now

a double tomb, decreed by the Senate, rises,

to honour you both, on Mars’ grassy field.’

Permitting him no more words, they now

began their reply, as he was still speaking.

His father’s shade spoke first: ‘Virtue is

truly its own reward, and the very noblest,

yet the dead find it sweet when the glory

of their lives endures among the living,

when their praise is not lost to oblivion.

But tell us, fair ornament of our house,

of the weight war burdens you with. Alas,

how often terror grips me when I recall

how fierce you were when true danger

threatened! Be warned now by our deaths,

O bravest of the brave, and restrain your

ardour in battle. Let your kin be a lesson

to you. Eight summers had witnessed

the threshing of those ripe ears of corn,

rattling in the fields, since all Spain fell

under my control, and my brother had

made the people pass beneath the yoke.

We had rebuilt the walls and houses of

unhappy Saguntum, and made it viable

to drink the Guadalquivir’s waters free

of hostilities and, time and again, had

forced Hannibal’s indomitable brother,

Hasdrubal, to retreat. I was pursuing

him as victor, he being weakened by

defeat, when suddenly the Spanish

troops (alas, barbarians are ever vile

traitors) a mercenary crew whom he

now seduced with Libyan gold, broke

their ranks and deserted our standards.

Abandoned by our allies we were then

far inferior to our enemy in numbers,

and a dense mass of them encircled us.

Yet we did not die without seeking our

revenge, my son, we fought to the last

that day, and ended our lives in glory.’

Book XIII:687-704 After his father, his uncle, Gnaeus, speaks

Then Gnaeus, the brother, added the tale

of his own death: ‘At the end, and in dire

straits, I sought the safety of a high tower

to fight my last battle there. A thousand

torches and smoking brands were hurled

at its walls, and the conflagration spread.

I have no quarrel with the gods regarding

my fate: my body was burned in no mean

pyre, retaining arms and armour in death.

But it grieves me lest the disaster, that saw

we two brothers die, means that Spain has

been lost to Carthaginian attack.’ With his

eyes wet with tears, the young hero replied:

‘I pray, you gods, that Carthage may yet be

punished as she deserves for such things.

Yet the fierce tribes of the Pyrenees are

now contained by Marcius Septimus. That

outstanding warrior, who proved himself in

your army, protected our weary troops, and

carries on the war. There is even news that

he has routed the Carthaginians in battle,

exacting payment for your death.’ Pleased

at his words, the two generals returned to

those pleasant haunts of the blessed, while

Scipio’s gaze followed them with respect.

Book XIII:705-720 The shade of Paullus

Now Paullus approached, hard to recognise

in the deep shadows, drank of the blood, and

spoke: ‘Light of Italy, whose actions in war,

more than any one man’s, I saw at Cannae,

what impels you to enter the dark and visit

a kingdom to be seen but once, and forever?’

Scipio answered: ‘Mighty captain, how long

all of Rome has mourned your death! How

close you were to dragging the city to these

Stygian shadows with you, in your downfall!

Even our Punic enemies built a tomb for your

corpse, and sought glory, in honouring you.’

While Paullus shed tears to hear of such a

burial, Flaminius appeared to Scipio’s gaze,

then Gracchus, and the sad face of Servilius,

dead at Cannae. Scipio was keen to call to

them and speak with them, but his desire

to see the shades of past heroes prevailed.

Book XIII:721-751 Scipio sees past heroes, and meets Hamilcar’s shade

Thus he saw Junius Brutus who gained

lasting fame through the merciless axe,

in condoning his sons’ execution; then

Camillus, peer of the gods in glory, and

Manius Curius who had no love for gold.

The Sibyl revealed their name and aspect

as each appeared: ‘Blind Claudius Caecus

there drove Pyrrhus’ envoy from his door,

rejecting the king’s deceitful bid for peace;

and there is Horatio who withstood a king,

Lars Porsena, who brought war to Tiber’s

shores and, whilst the bridge was destroyed

behind him, he alone thwarted the return of

the kings by his courage. If you would see

he who forged the peace after the First War

with Carthage, there stands Lutatius, noted

winner with his fleet of the great naval battle.

If you would meet fierce Hamilcar’s shade,

that is he (visible far off), whose face still

retains that look of harsh resentment after

death. If you would wish to speak with him,

let him first sip the blood in silence.’ Once

leave had been granted, and the shade had

quenched his thirst, Scipio, with frowning

face, began reproaching him: ‘O father of

deceit, is this how you keep your treaties?

Is this what you agreed when a prisoner

in Sicily? Your son, Hannibal, breaks all

pacts, and wages war throughout our Italy,

piercing all barriers, fights his way over

the Alps to us, and all the land is aflame

with barbaric warfare, and rivers, choked

with dead, run backwards to their source.’

The Carthaginian replied: ‘The boy had

barely completed his tenth year when he

committed at my request to make war on

Rome, nor may he betray those gods his

father swore by. If he is laying Italy waste

with fire and trying to overthrow Rome’s

power, O true son of mine, O loyal to me,

O warrior faithful to your oath, I pray you

may regain the glory that we lost!’ Then,

with his head held high, Hamilcar departed

swiftly, his shade seeming taller as it went.

Book XIII:752-777 The shades of Alexander and Croesus

Now the Sibyl pointed out the Decemvirs,

those who, armed, gave laws to the people

at their request, and first sought to employ

Athenian statutes to frame our Italian law.

Scipio viewed them with delight, gazing

insatiably and would have spoken to them

all but the mighty priestess reminded him

of the innumerable crowd of shades: ‘My

son, how many thousands do you think

have descended to Erebus from above,

while you yourself gaze at a single one?

In no time at all, an overflowing torrent

of the dead arrive, and Charon ferries a

crowd across in his spacious bark, that

is nevertheless insufficient for them all.’

Then the Sibyl pointed to a young man,

saying: ‘That is Alexander, who roamed

with his armies over every land; he who

traversed Bactra and the Dahaean realm,

who drank of the Ganges’ stream; that

Macedonian who bridged the Niphates,

whose city stands on the sacred Nile.’

Scipio addressed him: ‘O true-born son

of Libyan Ammon, since your fame has

undoubtedly eclipsed all other generals’,

and since my heart is on fire with that

same thirst for glory, tell me the path by

which you rose to that proud summit,

the topmost pinnacle of renown.’ And

Alexander replied: ‘Cunning, coupled

with caution, shames a general. Daring

is essential in war. Hurry time onward

when you undertake great things; dark

death hovers above you while you act.’

So saying, he departed. Next the shade

of Croesus flitted by, a rich man once,

above, yet one now beggared by death.

Book XIII:778-797 The shade of Homer

But Scipio next saw a figure, whose hair

was bound with purple ribbon and flowed

about his gleaming neck, at the threshold

of Elysium. ‘Tell me, priestess,’ he asked:

‘who is this, whose sacred brow shines

with an incomparable light, and a host of

spirits follow him, and surround him with

cries of wonder and delight? See his face!

If he were not here, in the Stygian darkness,

I would have said indeed he must be a god!’

‘You are not deceived,’ the wise attendant

of Diana said; ‘for he merits being thought

divine, no little genius existed in that great

mind. His verse embraced sky, sea, earth,

and the underworld; equalling the Muses

in song and Apollo in majesty. Indeed, he

revealed this region to mortals before ever

he himself saw it, and raised your Troy to

the stars.’ Scipio gazed with joyful eyes at

Homer’s shade, saying: ‘If fate permitted

that he might now sing of Rome’s deeds

to our world, how much deeper an effect

those might have on future generations

our own descendants would bear witness!

Happy an Achilles revealed to the world

by such a poet; made greater by his song!’

Book XIII:798-852 Heroes, Heroines and others

When Scipio asked who those were who

came now from the vast crowd, he was told

they were the shades of heroes, the mighty

among the dead. He gazed at the invincible

Achilles in wonder, and great Hector; while

Ajax’ vast stride and the venerable aspect

of Nestor stirred his admiration. He looked

in delight at the two Atridae, Agamemnon

and Menelaus, and at Ulysses the Ithacan,

whose judgement was as great as Achilles’

deeds. Next he saw the shade of Castor,

Leda’s son, ready to return above, where

Pollux his brother enjoyed his turn at life.

Suddenly his gaze was attracted to Lavinia,

she being pointed out to him, for the Sibyl

advised him now was the time to meet with

the ghosts of women, for if he delayed dawn

might summon him to depart. ‘Lavinia was

happy,’ she said, ‘as Venus’ daughter-in-law,

and the fruits of her marriage bound Latins

and Trojans together for all the ages to come.

Do you see there, Hersilia, wed to Quirinus,

the son of Mars? When the Sabines rejected

the Romans as husbands for their women,

she was carried off by a Roman shepherd,

entered his hut and was happy to share his

bed of straw, calling for the Sabine men

to throw down their weapons. See where

Carmentis comes, the mother of Evander,

her prophecies hinted at this present war.

And you may look on the face of Tanaquil,

the wife of the elder Tarquin; pure of heart

she too had a gift for prophecy, foretelling

her husband’s reign and the gods’ favour,

from the flight of birds. Behold Lucretia,

the glory of Roman chastity, noted for her

death, see her gaze fixed upon the ground.

Nor, alas, did Rome long enjoy her claim,

one to be respected above all others, see

Virginia beside her, blood-stained breasts

revealing her wound, sad emblem of a

virginity kept intact by the sword, for she

approved her father’s action in inflicting

that sorry blow. There is Cloelia, the girl

who swam the Tiber and, in disregarding

her gender, impressed the Etruscan army,

such that Rome once prayed to have sons

such as she.’ But now an appalling sight

met Scipio’s eyes, such that he asked who

was the guilty shade, what the reason for

her punishment, and the priestess replied:

‘Tullia was the daughter of Servius Tullius,

she who drove her chariot wheels over her

father’s mutilated body, reigning back her

horses above his still-quivering features;

therefore she swims the fiery Phlegethon,

with never an end to her suffering, those

waters rush furiously from dark furnaces,

carrying red-hot rocks up from the depths,

the burning stones striking her in the face.

And the other, whose heart-strings are torn

by an eagle’s beak (oh, listen to the sound

of those flapping wings as Jove’s armour-

bearer returns to its meal) is Tarpeia, she

was guilty of a monstrous crime, loving

gold and forging a pact with the Sabines

to open the gates of Rome. Near her (as

you see: no trivial offences are punished

here!) Orthrus, a two-headed hound who

once guarded Geryon’s castle, barks with

famished jaws at a victim, seeks to bite

and eviscerate her with his filthy claws:

nevertheless the penalty fails to match

the crime for, a priestess of Vesta, she

lost her virginity, polluting the shrine.

But enough, enough of all such sights.’

Then she added: ‘Now I shall finish by

showing you a few of those spirits who

drink forgetfulness here, before I return

to the darkness. Here is Marius: soon he

will return to the world above, from small

beginnings he will rise to hold a lengthy

spell of power as consul. Nor can Sulla

long delay the call, drinking the waters

of oblivion. Life summons him to that

destiny no god can alter. He will be first

to seize supreme power, although none

who ascend to such greatness will ever

follow Sulla’s example, criminal though

he was, and boast as he of surrendering it.

That handsome head with its fleecy hair

rising from a forehead dear to the world,

is Pompey’s. He with lofty brow crowned

with a star is Caesar, descendant of gods,

scion of Trojan Iulus. When those two

erupt at last from their seclusion in Hades,

they will trouble both land and sea! Alas,

poor wretches, how you will battle, over

the whole earth! And the winner will pay

no less dearly for his crimes than the loser!’

Book XIII:853-895 The Sibyl prophesies Hannibal’s future

Scipio replied, in tears: ‘I lament the harsh

fate in store for the Roman people. Yet if,

far from the light, there is no forgiveness,

if death itself brings the suffering deserved,

in what waves of Phlegethon shall cursed

Hannibal not burn for his treachery, what

bird’s beak not rightly lacerate that flesh,

forever renewed?’ ‘Have no fear,’ the Sibyl

cried, ‘life itself shall not prove untroubled

for such a man; his bones will not rest in his

native land. For all his power shall be lost in

one great battle, and in defeat he will resort

to begging for his life. He will try once more

to wage fresh war with troops from Macedon.

Condemned as a traitor, he will leave a loyal

wife and dear son behind, abandon Carthage

to flee overseas with only the single vessel,

there to visit the rocky heights of Cilician

Mount Taurus. Oh, how much more easily

a man can bear the heat and cold, hunger,

slavery, exile and the sea, than face death!

After the Italian war he will serve a Syrian

king, Antiochus, and robbed of his hope of

attacking Rome, he shall sail at random and

drift idly to Bithynia, where Prusias rules,

and, too old to fight, shall endure a second

servitude, find a hiding-place by favour of

the king. Finally, when Rome persists in

demanding the surrender of her old enemy,

he will swallow poison and free the world

from lasting fear.’ She spoke, and returned

to her dark cave in Erebus, while a joyful

Scipio re-joined his friends at the harbour.

End of Book XIII of the Punica