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 XVII:1-32 The image of Cybele

The Sibyl once prophesied in ancient times

that to drive an invader from Italian soil,

the Romans must invite Cybele, Mother

of the Gods, to leave her home in Phrygia,

and set up a shrine to her within their walls;

the goddess must be welcomed on landing

by whomever the Senate as a whole chose

as the most virtuous among those present.

That was a title better and nobler than any

triumph! Now Cybele, having been invited,

was nearing shore on a Roman vessel, and

Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, chosen

above all others by the nobles, hastened

to meet this foreign deity, he being nephew

to Scipio, the general recently approved as

commander of the African campaign, as we

have seen, thus he was possessed of many

an illustrious ancestor. Welcoming divine

Cybele after the long voyage, standing tall,

his arms outstretched in prayer, he brought

the vessel to the sounding mouth of Tuscan

Tiber, where women were to haul the tall

ship, with her image, upstream with ropes.

The hollow cymbals clashed all around,

vying with the hoarse note of the drums.

And her host of eunuchs were also there,

those haunting the twin summits of Mount

Dindyma, who revel in the cave of Cretan

Dicte, or know the heights of Phrygian Ida

and its hushed sacred groves. But amidst

the wild cries and prayers of the joyful

crowd, the sacred ship refused to answer

to those hauling on the ropes, stuck fast

suddenly, motionless in the water. Then

a priest of Cybele cried from amidships:

‘Beware, no guilty hand must touch those

ropes! Away, away with all you profaned

ones, leave, take no part in this chaste task

while the goddess remains content simply

to warn. But any woman who is chaste in

thought, and conscious of bearing herself

unstained, let her, though she do so alone,

undertake, single-handedly, this pious duty.’

Book XVII:33-58 Claudia frees the image

Then Claudia, of the ancient house of the Claudii,

she of whom the people thought ill, due to false

reports, turned her gaze towards the vessel, and

stretched out her arms, crying: ‘Heavenly Mother,

goddess who begot the divine powers we worship,

whose children cast lots for dominion over earth

and sea and sky and the shades below, if my body

is still free of stain, bear witness, goddess, prove

my innocence, let me loose this ship at a touch.’

Then she confidently grasped the rope; suddenly

the roar of Cybele’s lions was heard, the drums

beat loud in their ears though none touched them,

and the ship moved on as if driven by the breeze,

passing Claudia who was dragging it upstream.

At once their hearts were filled with hope that

the end of war and its destruction was at hand.

Scipio hurried to leave Sicily for North Africa,

the waves far and wide were covered with his

advancing fleet. He had appeased the sea god

with the sacrifice of a bull, its entrails thrown

into the blue waters, when Jupiter’s eagles,

that bear the lightning-bolts, came into view,

flying from the home of the gods through a

clear sky, showing the path over the sea that

the ships should follow. Their cries were an

omen of success, as they flew through the air,

near enough that those watching could still

see them, the fleet following where they led,

till it reached the shores of faithless Carthage.

Book XVII:59-82 Syphax aligns with Carthage

Nor was Carthage slow to meet the oncoming

storm, she had marshalled a king’s resources,

Syphax’s wealth, and his Numidian warriors

against the vast force and its famous general;

Syphax being Carthage’s best hope and main

threat to the Romans. The Numidians, filling

the shores, plains and wide valleys alike, rode

bare-backed as was their custom, their clouds

of javelins hurtling through the air, darkening

the sky. Syphax, renouncing all his pledges,

the sworn alliance and the ties of hospitality,

the taking of food together, had broken faith

and that sacred law: seduced by an ill-judged

passion, the bride he took cost him his throne.

She was beautiful, the daughter of Hasdrubal

Gisco; and as soon as Syphax had welcomed

her to the high bridal-chamber, as if fired by

the wedding-torch for the first time, he turned

his forces over to his father-in-law, breaking

his treaty of friendship with Rome, granting

Carthage his host of warriors as a bridal gift. 

Scipio’s first action was to threaten Syphax:

and envoys were sent to him with a warning,

advising him to remain in his own kingdom,

be mindful of the gods, and keep his pledge;

his bride and his Carthaginian alliance would

do him little good among the Roman ranks.

Indeed, if he reneged, then an over-fond and

compliant husband would pay with his life

for this blind indulgence in amorous passion.

Book XVII:83-108 The Romans attack

But Scipio’s threats and warnings were in vain,

falling on deaf ears. So the general, angered by

the rejection of his advice, turned to the sword

and, swearing that the solemn oaths of alliance

had been broken, began active warfare by every

possible means. Scipio now attacked the enemy

camp under cover of night, and their huts being

made from woven rushes and reeds, fashioned

like the isolated huts of the Moorish herdsmen,

set them on fire silently, hidden by the shadows.

Then, as the scattered flames united to spread

the conflagration, feeding quickly, with a fierce

crackling, on that wealth of fuel, the flames rose

brightly to the heavens driving clouds of smoke

upwards in the glare of the flying sparks. That

fatal scourge blew like a gale through the camp,

Vulcan consuming the dry reeds with a noisy

exhalation, as every hut caught fire. Many men,

waking suddenly, felt the blaze before they saw it,

while the flames stifled a host of cries for help.

That fiery force spread everywhere, in triumph,

seizing men and weapons in its fierce embrace.

The scourge broke all bounds, and the burning

camp sent white ash rising to the distant sky.

The fire, roaring noisily, made a gigantic leap

to surround Syphax’ own quarters and would

have consumed him, had an attendant, fearing

disaster, not dragged him, cursing from his bed.

Book XVII:109-148 Syphax is captured (203BC)

Later, when the Carthaginian and Numidian

leaders united their forces behind common

defences, and a fresh levy of men from his

whole realm had repaired the night’s disaster,

anger, shame, and a third factor, his obsessive

passion, stirred the king, who breathed out

savage threats and gnashed his teeth as he

recalled how fire had gripped the camp, and

how he had been narrowly rescued from its

flames, naked among embarrassed soldiers.

He still declared no one could have beaten

Syphax in broad daylight beneath the sun.

Such was his wild claim, yet Atropos was

already planning to put an end to insolence,

and would allow no more; the thread of that

proud boaster’s life being almost complete.

Now, as he rushed from camp, like a great

torrent which sweeps rocks and trees along,

carving a fresh channel, widening its course

with the power of the current, he rode ahead

summoning his men to follow. Against him

were the eager Roman ranks, who seeing him

in the distance, raised their weapons and ran

forward, each man saying to himself: ‘See,

the Numidian king rides ahead, challenging

us to battle! Let my sword gain the glory!

He has broken his word to our noble general,

and profaned the gods’ altars. Let it suffice

him to have escaped us once, in that blaze!’

Such were the thoughts as they hurled their

javelins with full force. A first spear lodged

in the face of the king’s warhorse, and with

blood pouring from its nostrils the animal

reared, beating the air with its forefeet, then,

in pain and fury, fell, tossing its wounded

head from side to side, while betraying its

rider to the enemy force. They fell upon him,

and though Syphax tried to pull the weapon

from the wound, and use it to lever himself

from the ground, flight was impossible and

he was seized. Then, chained and fettered,

alas (a true warning never to trust to fate),

the hands that had held the sceptre being

tightly bound, he was led away; a king

toppled from his high throne who had

seen whole tribes and their chieftains at

his feet, and whose control of the coast

had stretched to the Atlantic shore. Once

Syphax’ forces were overthrown, those

of the Carthaginians were slaughtered,

and Hasdrubal Gisco, no favourite of

the war-god but rather noted for endless

flight, gave up the fight and fled again.

Book XVII:149-200 Hannibal vows to save Carthage

Carthage, with all her limbs severed, now

depended on a single man; and, even in his

absence, the name of Hannibal prevented

her great realm from sliding into utter ruin.

He remained, and in her hour of extreme

danger she was forced to summon him to

her aid and support. Finding divine favour

deserting them, they rallied to him in fear.

Envoys promptly set sail, crossing the sea

to recall him, with a plea from his country;

warning that, should he choose to linger,

the city of Carthage might exist no more.

Dawn of the fourth day brought the ship

to Italy, where Hannibal was troubled by

wild dreams. For while resting at night

from the burden of care, he had a vision

of his being attacked by Flaminius, Paulus,

Gracchus, all with drawn swords, driving

him from the soil of Italy, while a ghostly

army, from Cannae and Lake Trasimene,

marched against him, forcing him to sea.

He, eager to escape, wished to flee by his

familiar route across the Alps, and clung

to the Italian realm with all his might, but

that shadowy host thrust him into the cruel

deep, yielding him to the storm-winds to

be driven far off. He, still disturbed by this

vision, was now approached by the envoys

with their message. They recounted their

nation’s extreme danger, how the Numidian

army had been overthrown, how Syphax was

now chained by the neck, not allowed to die

but kept alive to grace Scipio’s triumphant

procession to Jove’s temple; how Carthage

was shaken and dismayed by the repeated

flights of Hasdrubal Gisco, who now held

the reins of the state. Sadly they told of how

they had seen two camps burn in the still of

night, and Africa alight with ruinous flames.

Scipio moved with speed, threatening to

destroy Carthage with deadly fire, while

Hannibal lingered on the Bruttian coast,

too late to return with tales of his deeds.

When they had spoken, revealing these

events and their fears, they wept, kissing

his right hand, as if worshipping a god.

Hannibal listened with a fixed and stern

gaze, kept silence, and considered deeply

and anxiously whether Carthage deserved

such loyalty; then he answered thus: ‘O,

dire is the fate that attends on mortal men!

O, how envy prevents great things from

flourishing, intolerant of glorious ascent!

I might have overthrown Rome long ago,

sacked her and levelled her to the ground,

made her citizens slaves, dictated terms,

but I was denied money, arms, and fresh

recruits for an army wearied by victories.

Hanno saw fit to cheat my men of even

the bread they eat; yet now all Africa is

scorched by fire, and the Roman lances

beat on the gates of Carthage, Hannibal

is his country’s glory, her only refuge;

now her last hope depends on his right

arm. Well, I shall uproot the banners,

as our Senate decrees; and save both

the walls of Carthage and this Hanno!’

Book XVII:201-235 Hannibal leaves Italy

Once he had uttered that speech, he launched

the tall ships and sailed with many a lament.

None dared to attack, as he departed, none

called him back; all thought it a gift of heaven

that he should go of his own accord and set

Italy free. Men prayed for a following wind,

content to see the coast devoid of the enemy,

just as when a gale ends, and the wind drops,

leaving the sea to the sailor, whose prayers

are humble, demanding no friendly breeze,

it being enough that the storm is over, and

the ensuing calm as fine as a swift voyage.

But while the Carthaginian soldiers gazed

at the waves, Hannibal still fixed his eyes

on the coast of Italy, as silent tears flowed

down his cheeks, and he sighed, time and

again, like an exile sent to some far shore

leaving his home and native land behind.

As the wind rose and the ships began to

make their way, as the hills diminished in

the distance till Italy vanished, Hannibal

ground his teeth, thinking: ‘Am I mad,

to return thus unworthily, putting an end

to my desire for Italy? Better that Carthage

be consumed by flame, and Dido’s name

be lost forever! Was I insane, not to have

carried my red-hot spear from Cannae to

the Capitol, hurled Jove from his throne?

I should have scattered fire over the seven

hills, that lay undefended; I should have

doomed that city to the same fate as Troy,

and to the very fate of their ancestors there.

Why do I torment myself thus? What now

prevents me invading in force once more,

or marching again against Rome’s walls?

I will go, I will return through the remnants

of my former camps, and tread the familiar

road to the Anio. Turn the fleet, point our

prows back toward Italy! I warrant that a

beleaguered Rome will soon recall Scipio!’

Book XVII:236-267 Neptune rouses the tempest

While Hannibal raged, so furiously, Neptune,

viewed the deep and saw the fleet turning back

to shore. Then the ruler of the sea shook his

blue-green locks, churned the sea from its bed,

and drove the flood above the shore-line. Then

he swiftly summoned the winds from Aeolus’

rocky cave, veiling the sky with storm-clouds

and heavy rain. He stirred, with his trident, all

the profound recesses of his realm and smote

the sea, to east and west, troubling the whole

surface of the ocean. The foaming waves rose,

dashing against the rocks, First, cloudy Auster,

the south-wind, rising among the Nasamones,

caught up the waters of Syrtis leaving it bare;

Boreas, the north-wind, followed, snatching

up the wide waves on its black wings, bearing

them away; Eurus, the dark easterly, roared, in

an opposing gale, and seized its watery share.

Now lightning rent the sky, the thunder rolled, 

the implacable tempest racing toward the ships.

Fire, rain, waves, and angry winds combined,

while a darkness like night covered the ocean.

Behold, a southerly gust struck Hannibal’s

flagship astern, roaring against the yardarm

(the rigging whistling and creaking harshly)

lifting a mountainous wave from the dark

depths that broke high above Hannibal’s head.

Shuddering, gazing at sea and sky, he cried:

‘Happy were you, my brother Hasdrubal, who,

dying, became the equal of the gods! You fell

gloriously, meeting death at a soldier’s hand,

you whom fate allowed to bite the dust of Italy

as you died, while I was not allowed to lose my

life at Cannae, where Paulus and many another

illustrious spirit fell, nor to descend to Hades,

struck down by Jupiter’s lightning bolt, as I

carried burning fire-brands against the Capitol.’

Book XVII:268-291 Venus begs Neptune to calm the waters

While he complained, twin waves, powered by

opposing winds, struck the sides of the vessel,

and drove it beneath the mass of dark water,

as if a hurricane had sunk it. Thrust upward,

by heaving vortices of black sand, it rose to

the windy surface once more, hanging above

the depths, held by the gales on an even keel.

But the harsh southerly sent two ships against

jagged reefs below the cliffs, a sad and pitiful

sight, their prows shattering as they struck.

There, the hulls were split by the sharp rocks,

their frames breaking apart with a loud crack.

Now tangle of debris appeared: over the wide

surface of the sea helmets with scarlet plumes,

and weapons, floated; Capua’s treasure from

her heady days; Italian plunder reserved for

Hannibal’s triumph; tripods and tables and

images of the gods whom the Romans had

worshipped in their misery. Now, Venus,

appalled at the sight of the raging tempest,

cried out to Neptune, the lord of the seas:

‘You from whose waters I rose, you have

raged enough; enough of these grave threats.

I pray you, spare the rest, or cruel Carthage

may claim her hero indeed invincible in war,

and that the Romans, my people, needed all

the waters of ocean to dispose of Hannibal.’

So Venus: and the swollen waves grew calm…

as both sides drove their forces towards battle.

Book XVII:292-340 Hannibal exhorts his troops before Zama

Hannibal, a veteran soldier, knew how to raise

men’s courage with praise, and roused them

to the heights of fury, inflaming their hearts

with love of glory: ‘You there brought me dead

Flaminius’ blood-wet head, I know the hand;

and you ran in first to strike the giant Paullus,

driving your blade to the bone; and you bear

glorious armour stripped from brave Marcellus;

and yours was the sword that Gracchus wet

with his life-blood as he fell. There I see that

hand which laid fierce Appius low, your spear

launched from the summit of the rampart, as

he attacked high Capua’s walls; and there

another arm, of lightning quickness, which

pierced noble Fulvius’ chest more than once.

You who killed Crispinus in battle, come

stand by me in the front rank; and you stay

by my side, in the battle, you  who at Cannae,

as I well remember, triumphing in your fury,

brought me Servilius’ head, fixed on a pike.

O bravest son of Carthage, I see your face

as formidable as your sword, I see your

flashing eyes, as I saw them by Trebia’s

famous blood-filled stream, when, despite

his struggles, you clasped a Roman tribune

in your arms and drowned him in its depths.

And you, who first dyed your blade scarlet

with the elder Scipio’s blood beside Ticinus’

chill stream, complete your task, and prove

that his son is mortal. Need I fear, even though

the gods themselves came to fight, while you

stand firm, you whom I saw reach peaks that

touch the sky, as you sped through the Alps;

while I see before me you who, sword in hand,

set fire to Arpi’s wide plains? And you, who

hurled the first spear against the walls of Rome,

unwilling to concede that glory to myself, shall

I find you slower now? And you, indeed, do you

need my exhortation, who when I opposed that

thunder-cloud and lightning, Jove’s wrath itself,

told me to scorn all that vain sound and fury, and,

before your general, sought the Capitol’s heights?

Need I speak of you, who destroyed Saguntum by

your skill, and won glory in our first campaign?

I summon you, to maintain your former name

in a manner worthy of yourselves and of me.

I myself, favoured by the gods, have grown old

in conquest, and now I return, after fifteen years,

to my grieving country, dependent upon you to

ensure I see my home, so long unvisited, my son,

the face of my ever-faithful wife. Neither Rome

nor Carthage have the strength to fight a second

battle. This day will decide the contest between

us for the mastery of the world.’ So Hannibal

spoke. Yet when Scipio opened his mouth to

address his Roman soldiers, they, impatient

of delay, looked only for the signal for battle.

Book XVII:341-369 Juno asks Jove to spare Hannibal

As Juno viewed all this from a distant cloud,

Jove, noting her keen gaze and sad face, spoke

to her gently: ‘Tell me, wife: what grief eats

at your heart? Is it Hannibal’s situation, your

concern for your dear Carthage, torments you?

But consider, yourself, the folly of that nation.

I ask you, sister, when shall their breaking of

treaties, their resistance to destiny and Roman

rule, end? Carthage has not suffered more and

endured more than you yourself have done in

their defence. You troubled land and sea; set

that proud youth against Italy, and Hannibal

has been first among generals for sixteen years.

It is time to calm the nations. The end is come,

and now the gates of war must be closed.’ So,

Juno, petitioned him: ‘In sitting here among

the clouds, I do not seek to influence events

already fixed, nor summon armies and extend

the war; I only ask (since your kindness wanes,

while your first passion for me has cooled) what

you have power to grant, and nothing opposed

to fate’s thread; let Hannibal give way before

his enemies, since it pleases you, and let Troy’s

residue hold power in Carthage. Yet, in the name

of our mutual ties, I, your sister and your spouse,

ask that you spare that noble general’s life and

let him go safely amidst danger; not as a captive

in Roman chains. And let the walls of my city

stand, though half-ruined, though the power of

Carthage lapses, and so survive to honour me.’

Book XVII:370-405 Jupiter prophesies the future

Thus Juno spoke, and Jupiter answered her, briefly:

‘I grant the walls of Carthage the reprieve you ask:

let them stand, a testament to your tears and prayers.

But know the limits, wife, of my indulgence. No

length of days remains to Carthage, another Scipio

will come to raze utterly the city you have saved.

Moreover, your request concerning Hannibal is

granted: let him be snatched from the battle and

continue to breathe the air of heaven. He will still

seek to trouble the world and fill the land and sea

with war. I know his heart, that only nurtures war.

But my gift is conditional: he must never see Italy

again, never return to that land. Snatch him now

from imminent death, lest if he enters this fierce

battle on the wide plains, you should fail to rescue

him from the sword of this young Roman general.’

While the all-powerful god thus settled Carthage’s

fate, and that of Hannibal, the armies began to fight,

their clamour rising to the sky. Never had earth seen 

mightier nations in conflict nor greater generals in

command of their country’s forces. The reward for

victory was momentous, all lands beneath the sky.

The Carthaginian leader showed in gleaming purple,

the nodding plumes of his crimson crest adding to

his stature. Dread terror of a mighty name preceded

him, and that sword the Romans knew shone bright.

Opposite him was Scipio, dressed in radiant scarlet,

displaying his fearsome shield on which the images

of his father and uncle, breathing fierce war, were

engraved, while his tall helmet glittered with fire.

Despite the vast forces and their host of weapons,

all hope of victory depended on the generals alone.

Indeed, such was each soldier’s trust in his leader,

and fear of his opponent, that if Scipio had been

born in Libya, they believed, the empire to come

must be Punic; while if Hannibal had been born

in Italy, doubtless Rome must now rule the world.  

Book XVII:406-431 The battle of Zama (202 BC)

The air was shaken by a storm of quivering spears,

a dreadful cloud spreading through the sky; then

came the sword at close quarters, face to face, eyes

filled with a fearful light. Those scorning danger,

rushing to meet the first shower of missiles, were

killed, as earth, reluctantly, drank her children’s

blood. Masinissa, fiery by nature, hot with youth,

hurled his huge bulk at the Macedonian cavalry

line, circling the field with his flying squadron,

as the warrior in Thule drives his chariot, sharp

with scythes, round the packed ranks in battle.

The Macedonian phalanx closed together, in

the manner of their country, none could force

a path through their dense thicket of pikes.

Philip of Macedon, forgetting his promises,

breaking the treaty, had sent them to the help

of the shaken city; but now, weary, wounded,

their ranks grew thin, leaving space between

the spears as their bodies fell. The Romans

ran in, bringing destruction, and scattering

the faithless horde. Rutilus slew Archemorus,

Norbanus killed Teucer (Mantua the home of

both youthful victors) while Calenus’ fighting

arm slew Samius, and Selius downed Clytius,

a native of Pella, filled with vain pride of his

city’s fame, though Pella’s name could not

protect poor Clytius from the Roman’s sword.

Book XVII:432-478 Hannibal fights to save Carthage

Laelius, fiercer even than these, wrought havoc

among the Bruttian ranks, taunting them thus:

‘Was Italy, then, so hateful that you were forced

to flee, over rough seas on wild waves, in those

Carthaginian ships? To flee was crime enough!

Now would you drench a foreign soil with our

Roman blood? So saying he hurled his spear

at a hesitant Silarus, while the swift weapon

lodged in the throat, robbing him of life and

speech together. Vergilius now slew Caudinus,

as fierce Amanus killed Laus. The Romans’

rage was increased by the familiar appearance

of their antagonists, the style of their weapons,

and their shared speech. When Hannibal saw

the Bruttians showing their backs in flight, he

shouted: ‘Stand, and never betray our nation!’

while his arrival and courage swayed the battle,

just as a snake in Egypt, on the parched plains

of the Garamantes, hunting among the burning

sands, rears its head, and shoots its venomous

cloud of poison into the air. Herius, who, back

home among the Marrucinians in famed Chieti,

bore a noble name, aiming to launch his spear,

was forestalled by Hannibal’s preventing him.

Herius eager to meet so famous an antagonist,

made a mighty effort, but Hannibal drove his

sword to the hilt in the Roman’s body. Dying,

the man looked for help from Pleminius, his

brother. He, maddened at his brother’s fate,

thrust his sword threateningly at Hannibal’s

face, demanding his brother be returned to

him. Hannibal replied: ‘Yes, if you return my

brother to me. Let that be our bargain, now,

summon Hasdrubal from the shades! Shall I

forget my hatred of Rome, let my heart be

softened, spare a single man that Italy bore?

Then may my brother keep my unbrotherly

spirit far from his eternal dwelling-place,

and his dear company, by Lake Avernus!’

So saying, he brought his weighty shield

down on Pleminius and toppled him, his

feet sliding on ground wet with Herius’

blood; then Hannibal employed his sword.

As Pleminius fell, he stretched out his arms

to embrace his brother’s body, the agonies

of death being eased in their dying together.

Then Hannibal plunged far into the depths

of the fray, and roaming widely he forced

his enemies to flee; as when thunder and

lightning trouble the heavens and the high

palace of the gods, and every man on earth

is terrified, and a fierce light flares in their

faces, such that they believe, in their fear,

that the living Jove stands there before

them, hurling his lightning only at them.

Book XVII:479-521 Scipio seeks Hannibal in the field

Elsewhere on the battlefield, as if the solitary

danger that mattered was where Scipio waged

fierce war, the furious conflict displayed new

and diverse forms of death. One man lies flat,

pierced by the sword, another groans pitifully

his bones shattered by a stone; some, fear sent

sprawling on their faces, lie there in shame; yet

others, brave men, bear their wounds in front.

The Roman general drives on over the piles

of dead, as Mars by the chill Hebrus, stands

tall in his chariot, urging it on, delighting

in slaughter, melting the Thracian snows

with rivers of hot blood, while the chariot,

groaning beneath the weight of the god,

shatters the ice north-winds had formed.

And now Scipio, raging furiously, seeks

out all the expert and the brave and puts

them to the sword; all those renowned

the world over for their deeds in battle,

tumble to their deaths among the spears.

Those who ravaged Saguntum, starting

that vile war by shattering the walls of

the doomed city; all those who polluted

Trasimene’s sacred waters with blood,

and the pools of Phaethon’s River Po;

and those so bold as to march fiercely

against the seat and throne of Jupiter,

seeking to burn it; all those were slain

in hand-to-hand encounters, sharing

the same fate as those who boasted

of desecrating the gods’ secret places

by piercing the Alps’ untrodden ways.

Now the Carthaginians, filled with fear

of their crimes, turned wildly and fled,

bereft of their senses, as people rush

into the streets struck by sudden terror,

when fire grips urban buildings, a gale

fanning swift flame scattering it across

the rooftops, consternation everywhere,

as though an enemy has taken the city.

But Scipio, impatient of delay, weary of

chasing lesser men over the battle-field,

chose to turn his effort against the source

and origin of all Rome’s ills. For even if

Carthage were set ablaze, and her forces

diminished, Rome had gained little as

long as Hannibal lived; while, if he alone

fell, all her men at arms would benefit

Carthage not one iota. So Scipio gazed

over the field, searching for Hannibal,

longing to bring on the final conflict,

one he wished all Italy might witness.

Rising to his full height, he taunted

the enemy with his shouts of defiance,

demanding of them a fresh antagonist.

Book XVII:522-566 Juno seeks to protect Hannibal

Hearing his cry, Juno dreaded lest it reach

the ears of the fearless Carthaginian leader,

and swiftly creating a phantom Scipio, set

a gleaming plume on its helm, then gave it

a shield like Scipio’s and draped a scarlet

cape round its shoulders, giving it Scipio’s

way of walking, and his attitude in battle,

and made the bodiless image stride boldly.

Next she invoked a phantom warhorse, as

insubstantial as its rider, to gallop swiftly

by devious paths towards a specious duel.

Now the Scipio Juno had created appeared

to Hannibal’s sight, boldly brandishing its

weapons. The Carthaginian was full of joy

on seeing the Roman leader before him,

and hoping to gain the mighty prize, threw

his agile limbs across his horse’s back and

hurled his spear furiously at his opponent.

The phantom rider turned and fled, swiftly

crossing the plain, far beyond the fighting,

while Hannibal confident of victory and

sure of fulfilling his ambition, spurred his

mount till the blood spurted, and shook

the loosed reins at its neck harshly: ‘Scipio,

where are you going,’ he shouted, ‘ while

forgetfully yielding us our realm? There is

no hiding place for you on this Libyan soil.’

So saying, he chased the speeding phantom

with naked sword, to a region distant from

the noise of battle, where it suddenly faded

into the clouds. Hannibal fumed: ‘What god

concealed his divinity to oppose me? Why

hide behind a phantom? Are the gods jealous

of my fame? But whichever god it is that so

favours Rome, he will never conceal my foe

from me, nor rob me by cunning of my true

enemy.’ Then, he turned his mount, in anger,

and was riding swiftly back towards the fray,

when by Juno’s arts his warhorse stumbled,

stricken by some fever, breathing out its life

through straining lungs. Beyond endurance,

he cried: ‘Another game of yours, you gods,

but I am not deceived. Better to drown at sea,

the reefs my tombstone; oh, to be swallowed

by the ocean waves! Is this the destiny I was

preserved for? Those I led to battle, following

my standard, are slaughtered, and I am absent;

I hear the groans, the cries to Hannibal for help.

What Tartarean stream can purge me of guilt?’

And even as he poured out his complaint, he

gazed at his sword, longing fervently for death.

Book XVII:567-596 Juno misleads Hannibal in the guise of a shepherd

Then Juno, pitying the man, adopted the likeness

of a shepherd, suddenly emerging from a shadowy

grove, speaking to him, as he pined for inglorious

death; ‘Why are you here, armed, in our peaceful

woods? Do you seek the battle, where your leader

is destroying the remainder of the Romans? If you

would reach it by a quicker path, I will guide you

to the heart of the fray, by a track nearby.’ Assenting,

he promised the shepherd a rich reward, saying that

the rulers of lofty Carthage would deliver him fine

recompense, nor would his gift be less. But Juno led

him in circles, as he tore by leaps and bounds across

the neighbouring plain; obscuring the path, earning

no thanks for secretly saving his life against his will.

Meanwhile the Carthaginian troops, abandoned

and fearful, saw nothing of Hannibal nor of his

skills in battle. Some thought he had fallen to

the sword, some that he despaired of the outcome,

bowing to the will of the gods. On came Scipio

driving them in flight over all the plain. Now

even the citadel of Carthage trembled: all Africa

was filled with terror and confusion, at their rout,

as, fleeing not fighting, panic-stricken men raced

at high speed for distant shores, scattering in their

flight as far as Spain; some seeking Cyrene, city

of Battus, others the Nile; just as when Vesuvius,

erupting due to hidden forces, spews out ancient

lava, molten rock accumulated through centuries,

and Vulcan’s outpourings spread over sea and land,

until, marvellous to tell, even the Seres, in the East,

find cocoon-bearing leaves white with Italian ash.

Book XVII:597-624 Hannibal vows to fight on in defeat

Wearied at last, Hannibal was forced by Juno to take

a seat on a nearby hill, from which he could see every

dreadful detail of the battlefield,  as once he had viewed

the field of Cannae by Mount Garganus, Trebia’s marsh,

Etruscan Lake Trasimene, and Phaethon’s River Po,

dense with corpses. Now, unhappily, he witnessed his

army’s overthrow, while Juno returned angrily to her

home in the skies. As the enemy approached the hill,

Hannibal communed with himself: ‘Though the sky

tumble about my head, Jove, and earth crack open,

you will never erase the events at Cannae, yet your

reign shall end before the world forgets Hannibal’s

name and deeds. Nor, Rome, do I leave you free of

dread; I will survive my country’s fate, and live on

in hopes of warring against you. You may have won

this battle, but your enemies remain: it is more than

enough for me that the mothers of Rome, the land

of Italy, tremble that I live; and lack peace of mind.’

Then Hannibal joined a crowd of fugitives, and swiftly

sought a safe hiding place in the nearby mountains.

So ended the war. The citizens of Carthage opened her

gates to Scipio of their own free will. He relieved them

of their weapons, assumed the power they had misused,

inscribing new laws, reducing their vast wealth, while

all her turreted war-elephants were surrendered. Then

Carthage witnessed a dreadful sight, her fleet being set

ablaze, the waves aglow with the sudden conflagration,

while Nereus, lord of the ocean, trembled at the glare.

Book XVII:625-654 Scipio’s triumphant return to Rome

Scipio had won enduring glory, the first man to bear

the title of a land he had conquered: Africanus. Sure

of Rome’s authority he returned to his native city in

triumph. Before him, in procession, went Syphax,

carried on a litter, eyes downcast, a captive with

golden chains about his neck. Hanno, as well, with

noble warriors of Carthage, Macedonian chieftains,

swarthy Moors and Numidians, Garamantes whom

Ammon sees when he scans the desert, and the men

of the Syrtes, that danger to ships. A representation

of Carthage too was visible, stretching her arms, in

defeat, to the sky; and other images, Spain at peace,

Cadiz at the western margin, Calpe, boundary once

of Hercules’ labours, and the Baetis in whose sweet

waters the sun’s horses bathe. There too was Pyrene,

mother of savage war, thrusting her wooded heights

towards the heavens; the Ebro too, no gentle river

as it pours all its attendant waters into the waves. 

But nothing drew the crowd’s eyes and minds more,

than an image of Hannibal, in retreat over the plain,

as Scipio himself, tall in his chariot, fine in purple

and gold, showed his martial countenance to the host

of citizens. So Bacchus seemed when he drove his

chariot, drawn by tigers, wreathed with vine-leaves,

down from the hills of perfumed India; so Hercules

after killing the mighty Giants, when he traversed

the wide plains of Phlegra, head touching the stars.

All hail, invincible father of your country, yielding

not a jot of glory to Quirinus, yielding not a thing

to Camillus in merit! Nor indeed is Rome misled

in speaking of your divine ancestry, scion of Jove

the God of Thunder, lord of the Tarpeian Heights.

End of Book XVII, and of the Punica