Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book XVI

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

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Book XVI:1-27 Hannibal retreats to southern Italy

Grieving over the disaster that had occurred

both to his country and himself, Hannibal left

for southern Italy, and the territory of the Bruttii.

Here, behind his ramparts he nurtured plans for

renewal of the conflict, which he had temporarily

abandoned. So a bull, when turfed from his stall,

and robbed of his dominance of the herd, hides

in the forest, preparing for conflict in a distant,

secret glade: his fierce bellowing fills the woods;

he rushes over steep tracks, topples trees, attacks

the cliffs with his horns in furious anger, while

the herdsmen, looking on from some high hill,

tremble at his readiness to renew the encounter.

Hannibal’s energy might have worn the Romans

down, if all other requirements had been present,

but he was thwarted by his countrymen’s perverse

jealousy. Fresh supplies were denied him, and he

was forced to reign in his ardour and let it wither

in idleness. Yet his deeds had won him respect,

and the fear he inspired by his frequent bloody

victories in the past rendered him as if inviolable,

his life being held sacred. The name of Hannibal

was equivalent to weapons, equipment, and new

recruits. His army, without a common language,

divided by so many rituals and barbaric customs,

remained in step: respect inspired loyalty in defeat.

Nor was it only in Italy that the god of war smiled

on the Romans. Carthage was about to yield Spain,

and be driven from that gold-bearing land: Mago

also was to be deprived of his camp, and he, once

driven by fear, would sail swiftly towards Libya.

Book XVI:28-43 Scipio prepares to fight Hanno in Spain

Behold, Fortune, not content with the favour she

had already shown him, was nurturing another

triumph for Scipio. For Hanno was approaching,

and his host of barbarians with clashing shields,

rousing the native Iberians, though too late. He

possessed no lack of courage, skill or cunning,

but it was Scipio he faced. The Roman general

eclipsed them with a greater force, as the stars

are eclipsed by the moon, and she by the sun’s

light; as Atlas is the king of mountain peaks,

and the Nile the queen of rivers; as the Ocean

is vaster than the lesser seas. Hanno was still

fortifying his camp, in haste, for evening had

begun to spread its unfriendly shadows from

the darkening heavens when Scipio attacked,

and the half-built palisade they had started to

erect was flattened in the sudden rush: heavy

blocks of turf lay heaped over the fallen men,

their mound granting a sepulchre to the dead.

Book XVI:44-77 The death of Larus

Only a single man among the foe showed bravery

worthy of record, and his recognition by posterity.

He was a Cantabrian, Larus, a giant of a man, who

must have inspired fear even when lacking weapons.

He fought with a battle-axe, in the manner of his

people, and though he saw the men about him fall,

though all his comrades were slain, single-handedly

he took the place of the dead. If he met his enemy

head-on, he delighted in fuelling anger by striking

the man on the forehead; if the man was to his left,

he whirled his axe about, dealing sidelong blows;

and if a triumphant foe attacked him from behind,

undismayed he could wield his weapon in reverse,

a warrior to be feared in every way. But Scipio’s

brother Lucius, with a mighty effort, hurled his

spear at Larus, cutting the plume that fluttered

from his leather cap, the aim being high, while

his raised axe drove the spear far away. Then

the Spaniard, spurred on by wild anger, sprang

forward with a shout, striking hard with his

barbarous weapon. Both armies trembled, as

the boss of Scipio’s shield rang to the stroke

of the heavy battle-axe, but Larus paid dearly

for the blow, losing his right hand to Scipio’s

sword, his beloved weapon tight in its grasp.

When this mighty bulwark had fallen, his

ill-fated compatriots turned and fled as one,

scattering over the countryside. It was now

not so much a battle as a scene of ruthless

extinction, here the slaughterers and there

the slaughtered. Behold Hanno, dragged

through their midst, hands bound behind his

back, seeking, in chains, to beg for his life,

(ah, how sweet is life and the light of day!)

Scipio replied: ‘Such are these who demand

to rule us, to whom the sacred people of

warlike Quirinus, and all Rome’s citizens,

must bow! Why renew the war, when you

are so ready to save your life, by servitude?’

Book XVI:78-114 Hasdrubal Gisco defeated at Ilipa (206BC)

Meanwhile a cavalry scout brought the news

that Gisco, unaware of their loss, was marching

swiftly to join the other army. Scipio rushed to

meet him and, seeing the longed-for battle in

his grasp, the enemy speeding to their death,

he raised his eyes to the sky, crying: ‘I ask

no more than this, you gods. Today you bring

the fugitives to battle and I am content. All else,

my men, depends on your courage: forward, I

pray. Behold, my dead father, my dead uncle

are here to rouse your fury. O, my twin gods

of war, be with us, lead onwards for I follow.

Unless my prophetic spirit fails me, you shall

see slaughter, here, now, worthy of your fame.

How long till this war on Spanish soil be over?

When will the day dawn on earth when Carthage

trembles at the sight and sound of my onslaught?

He ended, and the hoarse blare of the trumpets

rang out, while the sky echoed to the thunder

of battle. They met; and though many are those

victims claimed by the angry sea, when Boreas,

Notus, and inexorable Auster, overwhelm ships

and men with their swelling waves; or when

the Dog-Star, Sirius, kindles his deadly fires

and scorches the parched earth with his fierce

heat; no less was the toll achieved by the sword,

by the furious conflict of mortals in that battle.

No upheaval of the earth could cost as many

lives, no deadly wild beasts raging through

their savage glades could work such carnage.

Plains and valleys ran with blood, and their

weapons were blunted. Africans and warlike

Spaniards fell alike. Yet one body of men,

weary, their armour dented, still stood and

fought their ground, and there Gisco wielded

his spear. Nor would the struggle have ended

that day, nor their valour failed, had an arrow

not pierced his mail, scoring the flesh beneath,

leading him to flee. He galloped from the field,

to a secret place then, riding by night along that

coastline, he reached the harbour of Tartessus.

Book XVI:115-134 Masinissa defects from Carthage

A Numidian prince, Masinissa, the right hand man

to Gisco in the battle, was later to achieve fame

by a lengthy alliance with, and loyalty to, Rome.

He was wearily snatching some sleep, persuaded

to it by the darkness, and the hardships of retreat,

when a bright flame was suddenly seen to wreathe

the crown on his head, gently catch his curling hair,

and spread over his shaggy brow. His servants ran

swiftly to quench the flame with water, but his aged

mother took it as an omen from the gods, crying:

‘Be it so, heavenly ones, show favour and fulfil

this portent, May a flame forever light his brow.

My son, have no fear of such signs from above,

let not the sacred fire at your forehead alarm you.

It promises you alliance with the Roman people;

it will grant you a greater kingdom than that your

ancestors ruled, involving your name in Rome’s

destiny.’ So she prophesied, and the young man’s

heart was stirred by so visible a token; nor had

Carthage recognised his valour, though Hannibal

himself at times had seemed no prouder in arms.

Book XVI:135-153 Masinissa enters the Roman camp

Dawn was dispelling the dark clouds from the sky,

and had hardly tinged the faces of Atlas’ daughters,

the Pleiades, with red, when Masinissa made his way

to the Roman camp, still, as yet, that of his enemies.

When he had passed the rampart, he was welcomed

by Scipio with a friendly look, then spoke as follows:

‘A sign from the gods, and a prophecy of my sacred

mother’s, and your great deeds blessed by the gods,

O leader of the Romans, have led me to part from

the Carthaginians, and brought me here, willingly.

If you saw me, O scion of Jove, resisting all your

lightning-bolts, you know I offer now a right hand

worthy of you. I am not acting thus on idle whim,

uncertainty of purpose, fickleness of heart, or hope

of chasing after the rewards of victory; I flee from

treachery, and a nation ever deceitful from the start.

Your campaign in Spain, having reached as far as

the Pillars of Hercules, is now complete; let us then

attack Carthage herself, the mother of war, together.

He who has been ten years the master of Italy, and

sets his scaling ladders against Rome’s walls, must

be driven back by you to Libya, with fire and sword.’

Book XVI:154-169 Scipio agrees to an alliance

So the Numidian leader spoke, then Scipio clasped

his hand saying: ‘If our nation seems impressive to

you in war, we are even more so in our loyalty. So,

dismiss those two-faced allies of yours from your

mind. Great benefit will accrue to you, Masinissa,

to match your noble virtues; Scipio would sooner

be outdone in battle than in a display of gratitude.

As for your advice to carry this warfare to Libya,

time will tell; for such matters are never far from

my thoughts, and the war with Carthage grants me

no rest.’ Then he gave the prince a fine embroidered

cape; and a horse, with purple trappings, he himself

had captured in downing Mago, and of proven spirit;

a golden bowl from which Hasdrubal used to pour

libations to the gods; and also a helmet with a crest.

Once their alliance had been confirmed, Scipio laid

plans for the swift overthrow of Carthage’s citadel.

Book XVI:170-183 Scipio seeks Syphax’s aid

Syphax was the wealthy king of western Numidia,

a man not devoid of virtue; whom his innumerable

tribes looked to for justice, as far as its ocean shore.

He was rich in land, and horses, and those elephants,

huge creatures that spread terror on the battlefield,

with no lack of picked fighting men. Nor were any

richer in gold bars and ivory, or dyed more fleeces

in the Gaetulian vats. Scipio, keen to tap this wealth,

and aware of the risks if Syphax allied with Carthage,

ordered ships to sea, war in Africa already in mind.

When they reached harbour however, Gisco, sailing

the neighbouring coast in anxious flight, appeared

seeking fresh allies for his distressed country, and

to win Syphax’s Numidian army to the Libyan cause.

Book XVI:184-228 Syphax addresses Scipio and Gisco

Syphax’s spirits rose on hearing that the generals of

both nations had arrived in his realm, nations at war,

struggling with all their might to decide which should

rule the world, and ordered them to be made welcome,

while the honour shown to his kingdom gratified him.

He scanned their faces with pleasure, then addressed

Scipio, before the latter had chance to speak: ‘Finest

of the sons of Rome, I welcome you with serene mind

and intense admiration! I recall with pleasure the face

of your father, whom you resemble. For I remember

visiting Cadiz, Hercules’ city, and its isle of Erythia.

I was eager to see the ocean and observe its tides, and

was impressed to find your kin, two mighty Roman

generals, camped on the banks of the Guadalquivir.

They gave me gifts, chosen from the spoils, weapons,

bridles which we had not deployed till then, and bows

not inferior to our javelins. They gave me veterans too,

to train my unruly hordes in your methods of Roman

warfare: yet when I offered the riches of my country in

return, bars of gold and ivory tusks, my offers were in

vain, for each would accept only a sword in a carved

ivory scabbard. Step gladly then beneath my roof, and

since fortune brings me a Carthaginian general, also,

over the waves, hear with equanimity what I now say:

you too Hasdrubal Gisco, who command for Tyrian

Carthage, I beg you, give ear and thought to my words.

Who is unaware of the furious tide of battle that rages

throughout Italy, threating Rome with ruin, and that

for ten years first Sicily then the shores of Spain have

been soaked in Carthaginian blood. Should not these

horrors of conflict end at last and both lay down their

arms? Let you, Libya, and you, Italy, show restraint.

Syphax will not be slow to act loyally towards you,

as peacemaker and mediator.’ Scipio however would

allow him to go no further, explaining the customs

of his people and the power invested in the Senate,

bidding the king forego his expectation in the matter,

the senators alone possessing authority to so decide.

This proved sufficient hint, and the rest of that day

was given over to food and wine, and when the feast

was done they took their rest, freed in the darkness

from the harsh and weighty fetters of state business.

Book XVI:229-257 Scipio speaks privately to Syphax

Now early dawn emerged from her threshold bringing

the new day, as the sun’s horses exchanged their stalls

for the yoke, he not yet mounting his chariot, though

the sea was reddened by his impending flame: Scipio

rose and went calmly to the royal palace. According

to the custom of the country, Syphax kept lion cubs

there, taming them by kindness, and was stroking

their shoulders and the tawny manes as they played,

handling their savage jaws fearlessly. Hearing that

Scipio was present he donned his cape, wielding

the sceptre of his ancient kingdom in his left hand,

while his brow was bound with a white band, his

sword being duly fastened at his side. Then Scipio,

the conqueror of Spain, was summoned and both

the king and his guest took seats of equal honour

in a private room. Scipio spoke first: ‘O Syphax,

whose sceptre is held in reverence, when I had

overcome the Pyrenean tribes, my first and most

important task was to hasten to your kingdom,

undaunted by the wide sea that lay between us.

I ask nothing arduous or dishonourable of your

realm: join heart and soul with Rome and share

in her success. Your Numidian tribes, your land

that stretches to the Syrtes, your ancestral sway

over broad regions, none of these can bring you

greater glory than Roman valour, loyally allied,

and the honour that Rome will pay you. What

more can I say? Be assured, no god looks with

favour on those who attack the armies of Rome.’

Book XVI:258-276 Syphax allies with Rome

Syphax listened, and with a smiling looks, agreed.

Embracing Scipio, he said: ‘Let us confirm omens

of success, and summon the gods, Jupiter Ammon

he of the horned brow, and Jupiter of the Capitol,

to our mutual prayers.’ Swiftly, an altar was built,

and the bull was about to meet the descending axe,

when suddenly the victim burst his bonds and leapt

away in flight from the altar, filling the palace with

his bellowing, startling the servants, dismayed by

his heaving chest and endless roar. And the sacred

band, his ancestral ornament, fell from the king’s

head, leaving his temples bare. Such were the dark

omens granted the doomed monarch by the gods;

all the threatening portents of disaster were there.

And a time would come when Scipio, who now

humbly sought a treaty of alliance, would defeat

this king and oust him from his throne, to lead

him, in triumph, to the temple of the Thunderer.

Now, all being done, Scipio went to the harbour,

and sailed again with a favourable wind for Spain.

Book XVI:277-302 Scipio holds celebratory games in Spain

The people gathered eagerly to meet him, while

the subject Pyrenees sent their various tribes, all

with one purpose; to name and salute Scipio as

their king, knowing no higher tribute than this.

But, gently rejecting their offers as unfitting for

a Roman, explaining the customs of his nation

and the dislike Rome had for the title of king,

he turned to his sole remaining object, given

that all enemies in Spain had been dealt with.

He summoned the Romans and the people of

the Guadalquivir and the Tagus, and addressed

the assembly: ‘Since heaven’s favour allowed

us to drive the Libyans from this extremity of

the world, since they are dead or now haunt

their native sands, so banished from the west,

I am determined to honour the tombs of my

kinsmen who died here, and grant their shades

the peace they demand. Favour me with your

attention and lend me your ears. When the sun

renews his heavenly course a seventh time, let

all who are skilled in arms or chariot-racing,

are fast of foot and eager for a prize, or love

to hurl the javelin through the air, come here

and compete with one another for the glory

of the victor’s crown. I will give fine rewards,

glorious spoil from the Carthaginians’ wealth,

and none will leave without a gift from me.’

So, Scipio’s generosity stirred ambitious minds. 

Book XVI:303-345 The games commence

The day of the event arrived, and the open plain

echoed to the sound of a vast crowd, as Scipio,

tears in his eyes, led a memorial procession and

performed token rites of burial. Every Spaniard

and every Roman soldier brought offerings to

cast on the blazing pyre. Scipio, holding cups

filled with milk and with sacred wine, sprinkled

the altars with fragrant flowers. Then he called

on the spirits to rise, recalled, in tears, the glory

of the dead, and did honour to their noble actions.

Then he turned to the race-course, designed to test

the speed of the horses, and began the first contest

of the games. With the starting-gates still barred,

the eager crowd surged to and fro with a roar like

the ocean and, in furious partisanship, fixed their

eye on the barrier behind which the chariots waited.

Now, the signal given, the bolts shot back noisily,

and the first hooves had scarcely flashed in sight

when a wild storm of cries rose to the sky. Leaning

forward like the charioteers, each man studied that

team he favoured, shouting at the swift lead horse.

The ground shook with the spectators’ enthusiasm,

and the intensity robbed every man of his senses.

They pushed forward, driving the teams on with

their cries. A cloud of yellow dust rose from that

sandy soil, veiling the charioteers’ valiant efforts,

and the horses’ progress, in darkness. One man

will back his favourite charioteer, another some

noted lead horse, some trusting in that from their

own country, others the fame of an ancient stud;

one man is full of joyous hope for some novice,

another the green old-age of a well-tried veteran.

Lampon led from the start, a lead-horse bred in

Galicia; the rest behind, he raced through the air,

the chariot flying, as he galloped the course with

huge stride, setting a breeze blowing in his wake.

The crowd roared, thinking that after such a start

the race was won, but those with more experience

of the course, and deeper knowledge, criticised

the charioteer for setting too fast a pace initially,

protesting vainly, from afar, that he had tired his

team with his efforts and held nothing in reserve:

‘Why so fast then, Cyrnus (he being the charioteer),

less whip and a tighter rein!’ But he was deaf, alas,

to their cries and flew on, unsparing of his horses,

forgetting how much ground was yet to be covered.

Book XVI:346-374 The chariot race

Next came Panchates, a lead-horse bred in Asturia,

a chariot-length behind, no more. Conspicuous for

the four white feet and white forehead of his sires,

he was not very tall or handsome but full of fire,

and now his fierce spirit lent him wings, as he sped

over the plain, straining at the reins, seeming to grow

in stature and fly faster as he ran. His charioteer was

Hiberus, dressed in scarlet tunic of a Cinyphian dye.

Third, but neck and neck, ran Pelorus and Caucasus,

the latter a fractious beast that shunned the hand that

patted its flank, but loved to bite and champ the iron

in its mouth till the blood foamed; while the former,

more tractable and  obedient to the rein, never swerved

aside taking the chariot with him, but held to the inside

grazing the turning-post. He was noted for the strength

of his neck and his dense rippling mane; strange to say

he had no sire, for Harpe, the mare, conceived him by

the spring breeze, and foaled him among the Vettones.

His chariot was manned by noble Durius; Caucasus

trusting to old Atlas as his driver, came from Aetolian

Tyde, that city founded by Diomede in his wanderings,

while it was said the stallion was bred of a Trojan line,

those horses the hero stole, a bold effort, from Aeneas

by the river Simois. Atlas was last, though with Durius

alongside, racing no faster, so one might have thought

the two were driving peaceably together, keeping level.

Book XVI:375-400 Hiberus takes the lead

With half the distance covered they quickened pace,

and the spirited Panchates, straining to catch the team

ahead, seemed to rear high, about to mount Lampon’s

chariot, striking and rattling it, with out-flung forefeet.

Hiberus, his charioteer, seeing Cyrnus and his Galician

team tiring, and their chariot no longer leaping forward,

while the sweating horses were driven on by frequent

harsh blows of the whip, leaned out above his horses’

heads, and hanging there flicked Panchates, who chafed

at racing behind, calling out to him: ‘On, on, Asturian,

who dare snatch the prize if you are here? Up, fly, glide

over the ground now with all your speed, as if on wings!

Lampon is breathing hard, his strength is gone, he has

nothing left within him to carry to the winning post.’

At this, Panchates leapt onward, as if he were once more

starting from the gate, and Cyrnus, though swerving to

thwart him, and straining to catch him, was left behind.

The earth and sky echoed to the cries of the spectators,

while Panchates ran on in triumph, lifting his head high,

drawing on the other three horses completing the team.

Book XVI:401-439 Atlas and Durius struggle

The trailing charioteers, Atlas and Durius, swerved

about, resorting to cunning; first the one trying to

pass his rival on the left, then the other striving to

overtake on the right, but both failing in their efforts.

Finally, Durius, young and confident, leant forward

and, jerking the reins, drove straight across his rival’s

path, so striking Atlas’ chariot, then overturning it.

Atlas, his age telling, cried out in rightful protest:

‘What now? What wild manner of racing is this?

You’ll kill me and my team.’ As he shouted, he fell

headfirst from his shattered chariot, while the poor

horses too fell sprawling to the ground, as the victor

shook his reins and Pelorus surged up the centre of

the track, leaving Atlas struggling to rise. Cyrnus

and his weary team were soon caught, passed at a

quickening pace, Cyrnus learning too late the merit

of controlling one’s speed at the start. Shouts of

applause from his supporters now drove Durius on.

Pelorus’ head was at the anxious Hiberus’ shoulders,

the charioteer feeling hot foaming breath on his neck.

Durius pressed harder, whipping his team on over

the ground, and not in vain, as, coming on the right,

he was, or seemed to be, neck and neck with his rival.

Full of the prospect of imminent glory he cried out:

‘Now, now is the time, Pelorus, to show you are

born of the west wind. Let horses of common breed

go learn how those sprung of divine seed excel them.

Win, and offer gifts to your sire, and rear him an altar!’

And had he not been deceived, by thoughts of success

and premature delight, into dropping his whip, even

as he spoke, Durius perhaps would have consecrated

the altar so vowed to the west wind. Now, as wretched

as if the victor’s garland had fallen from his head, he

vented his rage against himself, ripping the clothes,

the gold-embroidered garments, from his breast, in

tears, pouring out his complaints to the sky above.

With his whip gone, the horses no longer obeyed,

as he lashed at their backs, in vain, with the reins.

Book XVI:440-464 Hiberus wins, Scipio presents the prizes

Meanwhile Panchates sped on to certain victory,

taking the first prize with head aloft, as a light

breeze rippled the mane at his neck and shoulders,

steeping out proudly he displayed his noble limbs,

and a mighty shout greeted his win. Each charioteer

received a battle-axe with inlaid work in pure silver,

while the respective prizes differed greatly in value.

Hiberus received a swift steed, a not unworthy gift

from the Numidian king; Durius, second in merit,

two goblets gilded with gold of the Tagus, taken

from a vast heap of Carthaginian plunder; while

the third prize, granted to Cyrnus, was the shaggy

hide of a savage lion, and a Carthaginian helmet

with bristling crest; while, Scipio, summoned

Atlas finally to receive a prize, acknowledging

his age, and ill-fortune in having fallen when

his chariot was wrecked. This was a handsome

slave to serve him, and a cap of Spanish leather.

When all was done, Scipio called competitors

to the delights of a foot-race, offering prizes to

rouse their eagerness. ‘Whoever wins this next

competition shall receive the helmet in which

Hasdrubal overawed the armies of Spain; while

the second will take away this sword my father

stripped from Hyempsa’s corpse; while a bull

shall console the runner who comes in third.

The rest must be content with a pair of javelins

each, their metal supplied by the Spanish mines.’

Book XVI:465-488 The foot-race

Two fine youths, Tartessus and Hesperus, showed

themselves, together, amidst the spectators’ cheers.

They were from Cadiz, the noted Phoenician colony;

while next to appear was Baeticus, showing his first

beard; Cordoba gave him his name, after its river,

the Baetis (or Guadalquivir), and the city generously

backed her favourite’s success. Next, Eurytus had

the circuit echoing to acclaim, red-haired but with

flesh as white as snow; Xativa saw his birth, and

he was reared on its high hill, while his parents

were here, loving and anxious, to see him compete.

Lamus and Sicoris, sons of warlike Lleida, came

after, followed by Theron, who drank of the river

Lima, or the Spanish Lethe, which as it flows by

washes its shores with the waters of forgetfulness.

They all waited, poised, leaning forwards, hearts

beating high with the longing for fame, then, on

hearing the trumpet sound, sprang through the air,

swifter than arrows launched from the bow. All

shouted their favourite’s name, eagerly standing

on tiptoe, crying out breathlessly for their choice.

The string of fine runners flew over the plain, and

left not a footprint behind on the sand. Every one

of them young and handsome, swift and worthy.

Book XVI:489-526 Eurytus is the winner

When half the course was run, Eurytus moved in

front, ahead by a little, but not by much. Close

behind was bold Hesperus, no slower, on the heels

of the former. Eurytus was happy to take the lead,

Hesperus was content with hopes of catching him,

so they increased the pace, spirit driving body on,

while their efforts added to their youthful charm.

Behold, Theron, last of the seven, running easily,

now felt he had sufficient wind and, raising his

game, took all by surprise, exerting the strength

he had been husbanding, with a sudden burst of

speed, and setting a breeze behind him. Almost

he seemed like Mercury, flying through the air,

winged sandals on his feet. The spectators stood

amazed, as he passed one runner after another,

till, last before, he now was third, closing fiercely

on Hesperus. Not only Hesperus but Eurytus too,

the favourite to win, seemed startled by his speed.

Tartessus ran fourth, but his efforts would prove

idle if the three in front maintained their distance;

he followed his brother but Theron was between,

the latter’s patience at an end, such that with one

fierce turn of speed he flew over the ground and

overtook Hesperus who was filled with rage. One

rival was left to pass, and the sight of the finish

close at hand spurred on their weary limbs, each

while hope was yet alive, summoning his strength

for a last remaining effort, Theron exhausted from

the struggle, Eurytus gripped by fear at his heart.

Abreast, and racing side by side, they might have

crossed the line together and shared first prize, but

Hesperus, falling behind, grasped the loose hair at

Theron’s snow-white neck, and pulled, such that,

his rival hampered, he passed him joyfully, flying

on in his triumph to claim the victor’s just reward.

He carried off the glittering helm, a splendid gift,

while the others gained their promised prizes too.

A green garland crowned their uncut hair, while

each youth brandished javelins of Spanish steel.

Book XVI:527-556 The sword-fight

A more serious competition between their elders

now ensued, a version of real warfare, with naked

swords at close quarters. These were not convicts

forced to fight as punishment for a life of crime,

rather courage spurred them on, and love of glory.

It was a sight worthy of the Roman sons of Mars,

this recreation of their appointed task. One pair of

twin brothers also met here in an impious struggle

for the sceptre (what crimes have kings not dared

for a throne, what wickedness remains?), though

that vast circle of spectators cursed such madness.

Yet such was the vile custom of their nation, and

the brothers risked their lives for a father’s crown.

They met with the blind fury of men maddened

by a longing for power, and dying together bore

to the shades minds sated with killing. The blades

driven home by both with equal strength, pierced

the guts, wounding them mortally and, as their

furious spirits fled reluctantly with their breath,

the last words they uttered still were curses. In

death their enmity persisted; for when a single

pyre consumed both bodies, the flames refused

to meet but split apart, their ashes refusing to

mingle. Now, the other swordsmen received

their gifts, varying according to their courage

and their skill. Some led away oxen trained

to the plough, others acquired slaves from

among the Moorish captives, hunters skilled

in tracking in the wild. Silver objects were

awarded too, fine clothes from out the spoils,

war-horses and glittering plumed helmets –

all gifted from the defeated Libyans’ plunder.

Book XVI:557-599 The games end: Scipio returns to Rome

Now to end the spectacle, men sought honour

in throwing the javelin, striving to hit the mark.

Burnus, of noble ancestry, came from the banks

of the Tagus where golden sand loads the yellow

waters; Glagus was famous for a throw that could

outpace the wind; Aconteus was a hunter whose

lance the swiftest deer could not evade; Indibilis

had long sought to fight the Romans but was now

allied; and Ilerdes, who shot birds from the clouds,

was a brave man in battle. Burnus hit the mark and

won first prize – a girl skilled in dyeing wool with

Gaetulian purple. Ilerdes, his throw not far behind,

came second, and he won a lad to whom it seemed    

but a game to hunt and kill all the deer to be found.

Aconteus was third, and his reward was a pair of

hounds, eager to chase the wild boar with their cry.

Once the awards were made, and approved by wild

applause, Scipio’s brother, with Laelius, both clad

in gleaming purple, gladly proclaimed the names

of the mighty dead, the Scipios’ kin, summoning

the spirits, and hurling their spears as they spoke,

joyfully honouring their sacred ashes and granting

additional glory to the games. Then Scipio, whose

face showed his happiness, rewarded his faithful

comrades with gifts equal to their merits, giving

his brother a breastplate plated with solid gold,

Laelius a pair of swift Asturian harness horses.

Then he rose and threw his conquering spear with

a mighty effort, declaring it a tribute to the dead.

Wondrous to tell, the speeding missile halted in

mid-flight, and rooted itself in the ground before

their very eyes, while branches and leaves grew

suddenly and an oak-tree, formed on the instant,

stood there, casting its spreading shade. Seers,

foretelling the future, cried that Scipio should

expect greater things to come, for the gods had

clearly shown it so, and revealed it by this sign.

After driving the last Carthaginian from the coast,

and avenging his kin and country, Scipio made

his way to Italy, savouring the prediction, while

Fame made of his march a triumphal procession.

There, the nation had no more pressing a desire

than to entrust the very consulship to their young

general, with Libya as his province. But older,

cooler heads, minds averse to the risks of war,

frowned on rash adventure and, cautious in their

fear, shrank from the thought of serious defeat.

Book XVI:600-644 Fabius advises against an African campaign

Thus, when Scipio, as consul, by the power of

his great office opened the debate in the Senate,

and asked that the authority to destroy Carthage

be his, old Fabius opened his aged mouth to say,

in a raised voice: ‘My age and honours are such,

years and glory enough, that I can have no fear

Scipio will consider my opposition to his great

scheme as stemming from jealousy. Fame is

busy enough with my name, and such deeds as

mine need no fresh praise. Yet, as I live, I cannot

fail to do my duty by my country or wrong my

conscience by staying silent. Will you undertake

a fresh campaign in Libya? Is our Italy then free

of the enemy? Is it not enough to defeat Hannibal?

What greater prize do you seek on Africa’s shores?

If fame is the spur that drives us, the field to reap

is here. Fortune has granted you an enemy worthy

of your sword nearer home. Italy’s soil would now

drink the blood of that fierce general, now, at last.

Where would you drag the army and the standards?

First the conflagration in Italy must be quenched.

You would go, and leave a reviving foe behind

you? And like a traitor strip the seven hills of men?

While you are laying waste to Syrtis’ barren sands,

will not this plague descend on Rome, which he

has already viewed, and attack the Capitol, Jove’s

seat, while it retains neither men nor weapons?

What would he not pay to have you relinquish

Rome? Must we then summon you from those

African shores, when the lightning-bolt of war

strikes us, as Fulvius was recalled from Capua?

Conquer at home and purge Italy from war, she

who has mourned her dead for thirteen years!

Yet you must go meet the far-off Garamantes,

and go earn a triumph, against Nasamonians!

The dire straits Italy is in preclude such things.

Your father, who was not slow to add honour

to your house, was on his way, as consul, to

the banks of the Ebro, yet when Hannibal had

crossed the Alps and was descending to attack

us, your father recalled his men, and was first

to place himself zealously in Hannibal’s way.

Are you, as consul, ready to leave a victorious

enemy behind you, hope by that to drive these

Libyans from our land? If he remains calmly

where he is, refusing to follow you and your

force to Libya, you will curse your unseeing

strategy when Rome is taken. Yet if, anxiously,

he uproots his standards, follows your fleet,

will he not be that same Hannibal whose army

you gazed at from the walls of Rome?’ Thus

Fabius spoke, to loud approval from the old.

Book XVI:645-700 Scipio wins acceptance of his plan

Then Scipio answered: ‘When those two noble

generals died, and all of Spain had fallen beneath

Carthage’s yoke, neither you, Fabius, nor any

other of those who share your opinions rushed

to their aid. Young though I was, as I confess,

I faced the storm alone, risking my life, though

the heavens were falling, to draw all danger to

myself. Then my elders called it an error to trust

in a mere lad as general, this same seer calling it

an ill-thought out campaign. I thank and praise

the gods in whose hands lie the Roman people.

This lad too young in years, unaccustomed to war,

not mature enough to fight, this Scipio, recovered

Spain for Rome, and undefeated routed the Punic

host, followed the sun to its setting beyond Atlas,

and expelled the Libyans from the western world;

nor did I withdraw from Spain till I saw Phoebus

sink his chariot in the ocean from Roman shores.

With kings I won alliance. Now only Carthage

remains for my final effort. So Jupiter, father of

the endless centuries declares. Yet, behold, old

men tremble at the thought of Hannibal, unless

their sorry fears are mere pretence, as ending this

long series of disasters would augment my glory!

My sword has now experience of war, my young

strength has grown. Do not manufacture delays;

rather let the destiny the gods reserve for me run

its course, and the shame of past defeat be erased.

Let the glory of avoiding losses be achievement

enough for a cautious Fabius, a Delayer gaining

all by his inaction, yet Mago would not have run

from me, nor Hanno, nor Gisco, nor Hamilcar,

if I had sat idle in camp, and refused all conflict.

If a Carthaginian boy, barely entered on manhood,

can attack the people of Rome, her walls, and our

sacred stream, the yellow Tiber, and devour Italy

in a lengthy conflict, shall we shrink from sending

an army overseas into Libya, to trouble the roofs

of Carthage? Their wide shores have felt no danger,

their lands remain undisturbed, quietly enriched by

peace. Let Carthage feel fear, she for so long feared,

and let her learn that, though Italy is not yet rid of

Hannibal, we have men and arms enough to spare.

Your policy of caution lets him grow old in Italy,

for fifteen years he has dyed our rivers with blood,

but I will bring him, fearful and trembling, to witness

too late his nation’s capital consumed by fire. While

Rome still finds the shameful traces of Hannibal’s

attack upon her walls, shall Carthage, still secure,

hear of our struggles, only, and war with open gates?

May our insolent enemy indeed pound at our citadel

with his Punic battering-rams if he does not before

such time hear the temples of his own gods shudder

to the flames we kindle.’ The Senate was roused at

this and, as destiny decreed, agreed to Scipio’s plan.

Praying that the outcome might be a fortunate one

for Italy, they saw him transport his army overseas.

End of Book XVI of the Punica