Gustave Flaubert.

Salammbo online

. (page 20 of 25)
Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 20 of 25)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

splendour of those who are destined to great enterprises. When he had
cast aside his extremely heavy cloak, he remained clad in a lynx skin,
which was fastened about his waist, and he rested his little naked feet,
which were all white with dust, resolutely upon the pavement. But he no
doubt divined that important matters were under discussion, for he
stood motionless, with one hand behind his back, his chin lowered, and a
finger in his mouth.

At last Hamilcar attracted Salammbo with a sign and said to her in a low

"You will keep him with you, you understand! No one, even though
belonging to the house, must know of his existence!"

Then, behind the door, he again asked Iddibal whether he was quite sure
that they had not been noticed.

"No!" said the slave, "the streets were empty."

As the war filled all the provinces he had feared for his master's son.
Then, not knowing where to hide him, he had come along the coasts in a
sloop, and for three days Iddibal had been tacking about in the gulf and
watching the ramparts. At last, that evening, as the environs of Khamon
seemed to be deserted, he had passed briskly through the channel and
landed near the arsenal, the entrance to the harbour being free.

But soon the Barbarians posted an immense raft in front of it in order
to prevent the Carthaginians from coming out. They were again rearing
the wooden towers, and the terrace was rising at the same time.

Outside communications were cut off and an intolerable famine set in.

The besieged killed all the dogs, all the mules, all the asses, and then
the fifteen elephants which the Suffet had brought back. The lions of
the temple of Moloch had become ferocious, and the hierodules no longer
durst approach them. They were fed at first with the wounded Barbarians;
then they were thrown corpses that were still warm; they refused
them, and they all died. People wandered in the twilight along the old
enclosures, and gathered grass and flowers among the stones to boil
them in wine, wine being cheaper than water. Others crept as far as the
enemy's outposts, and entered the tents to steal food, and the stupefied
Barbarians sometimes allowed them to return. At last a day arrived when
the Ancients resolved to slaughter the horses of Eschmoun privately.
They were holy animals whose manes were plaited by the pontiffs with
gold ribbons, and whose existence denoted the motion of the sun - the
idea of fire in its most exalted form. Their flesh was cut into equal
portions and buried behind the altar. Then every evening the Ancients,
alleging some act of devotion, would go up to the temple and regale
themselves in secret, and each would take away a piece beneath his tunic
for his children. In the deserted quarters remote from the walls, the
inhabitants, whose misery was not so great, had barricaded themselves
through fear of the rest.

The stones from the catapults, and the demolitions commanded for
purposes of defence, had accumulated heaps of ruins in the middle of
the streets. At the quietest times masses of people would suddenly rush
along with shouts; and from the top of the Acropolis the conflagrations
were like purple rags scattered upon the terraces and twisted by the

The three great catapults did not stop in spite of all these works.
Their ravages were extraordinary: thus a man's head rebounded from the
pediment of the Syssitia; a woman who was being confined in the street
of Kinisdo was crushed by a block of marble, and her child was carried
with the bed as far as the crossways of Cinasyn, where the coverlet was

The most annoying were the bullets of the slingers. They fell upon the
roofs, and in the gardens, and in the middle of the courts, while people
were at table before a slender meal with their hearts big with sighs.
These cruel projectiles bore engraved letters which stamped themselves
upon the flesh; - and insults might be read on corpses such as "pig,"
"jackal," "vermin," and sometimes jests: "Catch it!" or "I have well
deserved it!"

The portion of the rampart which extended from the corner of the
harbours to the height of the cisterns was broken down. Then the people
of Malqua found themselves caught between the old enclosure of Byrsa
behind, and the Barbarians in front. But there was enough to be done in
thickening the wall and making it as high as possible without troubling
about them; they were abandoned; all perished; and although they were
generally hated, Hamilcar came to be greatly abhorred.

On the morrow he opened the pits in which he kept stores of corn,
and his stewards gave it to the people. For three days they gorged

Their thirst, however, only became the more intolerable, and they could
constantly see before them the long cascade formed by the clear falling
water of the aqueduct. A thin vapour, with a rainbow beside it, went up
from its base, beneath the rays of the sun, and a little stream curving
through the plain fell into the gulf.

Hamilcar did not give way. He was reckoning upon an event, upon
something decisive and extraordinary.

His own slaves tore off the silver plates from the temple of Melkarth;
four long boats were drawn out of the harbour, they were brought by
means of capstans to the foot of the Mappalian quarter, the wall facing
the shore was bored, and they set out for the Gauls to buy Mercenaries
there at no matter what price. Nevertheless, Hamilcar was distressed at
his inability to communicate with the king of the Numidians, for he
knew that he was behind the Barbarians, and ready to fall upon them. But
Narr' Havas, being too weak, was not going to make any venture alone;
and the Suffet had the rampart raised twelve palms higher, all the
material in the arsenals piled up in the Acropolis, and the machines
repaired once more.

Sinews taken from bulls' necks, or else stags' hamstrings, were commonly
employed for the twists of the catapults. However, neither stags nor
bulls were in existence in Carthage. Hamilcar asked the Ancients for
the hair of their wives; all sacrificed it, but the quantity was not
sufficient. In the buildings of the Syssitia there were twelve hundred
marriageable slaves destined for prostitution in Greece and Italy, and
their hair, having been rendered elastic by the use of unguents, was
wonderfully well adapted for engines of war. But the subsequent loss
would be too great. Accordingly it was decided that a choice should
be made of the finest heads of hair among the wives of the plebeians.
Careless of their country's needs, they shrieked in despair when the
servants of the Hundred came with scissors to lay hands upon them.

The Barbarians were animated with increased fury. They could be seen in
the distance taking fat from the dead to grease their machines, while
others pulled out the nails and stitched them end to end to make
cuirasses. They devised a plan of putting into the catapults vessels
filled with serpents which had been brought by the Negroes; the clay
pots broke on the flag-stones, the serpents ran about, seemed to
multiply, and, so numerous were they, to issue naturally from the walls.
Then the Barbarians, not satisfied with their invention, improved upon
it; they hurled all kinds of filth, human excrements, pieces of carrion,
corpses. The plague reappeared. The teeth of the Carthaginians fell out
of their mouths, and their gums were discoloured like those of camels
after too long a journey.

The machines were set up on the terrace, although the latter did not
as yet reach everywhere to the height of the rampart. Before the
twenty-three towers on the fortification stood twenty-three others of
wood. All the tollenos were mounted again, and in the centre, a
little further back, appeared the formidable helepolis of Demetrius
Poliorcetes, which Spendius had at last reconstructed. Of pyramidical
shape, like the pharos of Alexandria, it was one hundred and thirty
cubits high and twenty-three wide, with nine stories, diminishing as
they approached the summit, and protected by scales of brass; they were
pierced with numerous doors and were filled with soldiers, and on the
upper platform there stood a catapult flanked by two ballistas.

Then Hamilcar planted crosses for those who should speak of surrender,
and even the women were brigaded. The people lay in the streets and
waited full of distress.

Then one morning before sunrise (it was the seventh day of the month
of Nyssan) they heard a great shout uttered by all the Barbarians
simultaneously; the leaden-tubed trumpets pealed, and the great
Paphlagonian horns bellowed like bulls. All rose and ran to the rampart.

A forest of lances, pikes, and swords bristled at its base. It leaped
against the wall, the ladders grappled them; and Barbarians' heads
appeared in the intervals of the battlements.

Beams supported by long files of men were battering at the gates; and,
in order to demolish the wall at places where the terrace was wanting,
the Mercenaries came up in serried cohorts, the first line crawling, the
second bending their hams, and the others rising in succession to the
last who stood upright; while elsewhere, in order to climb up, the
tallest advanced in front and the lowest in the rear, and all rested
their shields upon their helmets with their left arms, joining them
together at the edges so tightly that they might have been taken for an
assemblage of large tortoises. The projectiles slid over these oblique

The Carthaginians threw down mill-stones, pestles, vats, casks, beds,
everything that could serve as a weight and could knock down. Some
watched at the embrasures with fisherman's nets, and when the Barbarian
arrived he found himself caught in the meshes, and struggled like a
fish. They demolished their own battlements; portions of wall fell down
raising a great dust; and as the catapults on the terrace were shooting
over against one another, the stones would strike together and shiver
into a thousand pieces, making a copious shower upon the combatants.

Soon the two crowds formed but one great chain of human bodies; it
overflowed into the intervals in the terrace, and, somewhat looser at
the two extremities, swayed perpetually without advancing. They clasped
one another, lying flat on the ground like wrestlers. They crushed one
another. The women leaned over the battlements and shrieked. They
were dragged away by their veils, and the whiteness of their suddenly
uncovered sides shone in the arms of the Negroes as the latter buried
their daggers in them. Some corpses did not fall, being too much pressed
by the crowd, and, supported by the shoulders of their companions,
advanced for some minutes quite upright and with staring eyes. Some
who had both temples pierced by a javelin swayed their heads about like
bears. Mouths, opened to shout, remained gaping; severed hands flew
through the air. Mighty blows were dealt, which were long talked of by
the survivors.

Meanwhile arrows darted from the towers of wood and stone. The tollenos
moved their long yards rapidly; and as the Barbarians had sacked the
old cemetery of the aborigines beneath the Catacombs, they hurled the
tombstones against the Carthaginians. Sometimes the cables broke under
the weight of too heavy baskets, and masses of men, all with uplifted
arms, would fall from the sky.

Up to the middle of the day the veterans had attacked the Taenia
fiercely in order to penetrate into the harbour and destroy the fleet.
Hamilcar had a fire of damp straw lit upon the roofing of Khamon, and
as the smoke blinded them they fell back to left, and came to swell
the horrible rout which was pressing forward in Malqua. Some syntagmata
composed of sturdy men, chosen expressly for the purpose, had broken in
three gates. They were checked by lofty barriers made of planks studded
with nails, but a fourth yielded easily; they dashed over it at a
run and rolled into a pit in which there were hidden snares. At the
south-west gate Autaritus and his men broke down the rampart, the
fissure in which had been stopped up with bricks. The ground behind
rose, and they climbed it nimbly. But on the top they found a second
wall composed of stones and long beams lying quite flat and alternating
like the squares on a chess-board. It was a Gaulish fashion, and had
been adapted by the Suffet to the requirements of the situation; the
Gauls imagined themselves before a town in their own country. Their
attack was weak, and they were repulsed.

All the roundway, from the street of Khamon as far as the Green Market,
now belonged to the Barbarians, and the Samnites were finishing off
the dying with blows of stakes; or else with one foot on the wall were
gazing down at the smoking ruins beneath them, and the battle which was
beginning again in the distance.

The slingers, who were distributed through the rear, were still
shooting. But the springs of the Acarnanian slings had broken from use,
and many were throwing stones with the hand like shepherds; the rest
hurled leaden bullets with the handle of a whip. Zarxas, his shoulders
covered with his long black hair, went about everywhere, and led on the
Barbarians. Two pouches hung at his hips; he thrust his left hand
into them continually, while his right arm whirled round like a

Matho had at first refrained from fighting, the better to command
the Barbarians all at once. He had been seen along the gulf with the
Mercenaries, near the lagoon with the Numidians, and on the shores of
the lake among the Negroes, and from the back part of the plain he urged
forward masses of soldiers who came ceaselessly against the ramparts. By
degrees he had drawn near; the smell of blood, the sight of carnage, and
the tumult of clarions had at last made his heart leap. Then he had gone
back into his tent, and throwing off his cuirass had taken his lion's
skin as being more convenient for battle. The snout fitted upon his
head, bordering his face with a circle of fangs; the two fore-paws were
crossed upon his breast, and the claws of the hinder ones fell beneath
his knees.

He had kept on his strong waist-belt, wherein gleamed a two-edged axe,
and with his great sword in both hands he had dashed impetuously through
the breach. Like a pruner cutting willow-branches and trying to strike
off as much as possible so as to make the more money, he marched along
mowing down the Carthaginians around him. Those who tried to seize him
in flank he knocked down with blows of the pommel; when they attacked
him in front he ran them through; if they fled he clove them. Two men
leaped together upon his back; he bounded backwards against a gate and
crushed them. His sword fell and rose. It shivered on the angle of a
wall. Then he took his heavy axe, and front and rear he ripped up the
Carthaginians like a flock of sheep. They scattered more and more, and
he was quite alone when he reached the second enclosure at the foot
of the Acropolis. The materials which had been flung from the summit
cumbered the steps and were heaped up higher than the wall. Matho turned
back amid the ruins to summons his companions.

He perceived their crests scattered over the multitude; they were
sinking and their wearers were about to perish; he dashed towards them;
then the vast wreath of red plumes closed in, and they soon rejoined him
and surrounded him. But an enormous crowd was discharging from the side
streets. He was caught by the hips, lifted up and carried away outside
the ramparts to a spot where the terrace was high.

Matho shouted a command and all the shields sank upon the helmets; he
leaped upon them in order to catch hold somewhere so as to re-enter
Carthage; and, flourishing his terrible axe, ran over the shields, which
resembled waves of bronze, like a marine god, with brandished trident,
over his billows.

However, a man in a white robe was walking along the edge of the
rampart, impassible, and indifferent to the death which surrounded him.
Sometimes he would spread out his right hand above his eyes in order
to find out some one. Matho happened to pass beneath him. Suddenly his
eyeballs flamed, his livid face contracted; and raising both his lean
arms he shouted out abuse at him.

Matho did not hear it; but he felt so furious and cruel a look entering
his heart that he uttered a roar. He hurled his long axe at him; some
people threw themselves upon Schahabarim; and Matho seeing him no more
fell back exhausted.

A terrible creaking drew near, mingled with the rhythm of hoarse voices
singing together.

It was the great helepolis surrounded by a crowd of soldiers. They were
dragging it with both hands, hauling it with ropes, and pushing it with
their shoulders, - for the slope rising from the plain to the terrace,
although extremely gentle, was found impracticable for machines of such
prodigious weight. However, it had eight wheels banded with iron, and it
had been advancing slowly in this way since the morning, like a mountain
raised upon another. Then there appeared an immense ram issuing from its
base. The doors along the three fronts which faced the town fell down,
and cuirassed soldiers appeared in the interior like pillars of iron.
Some might be seen climbing and descending the two staircases which
crossed the stories. Some were waiting to dart out as soon as the cramps
of the doors touched the walls; in the middle of the upper platform the
skeins of the ballistas were turning, and the great beam of the catapult
was being lowered.

Hamilcar was at that moment standing upright on the roof of Melkarth. He
had calculated that it would come directly towards him, against what was
the most invulnerable place in the wall, which was for that very reason
denuded of sentries. His slaves had for a long time been bringing
leathern bottles along the roundway, where they had raised with clay
two transverse partitions forming a sort of basin. The water was flowing
insensibly along the terrace, and strange to say, it seemed to cause
Hamilcar no anxiety.

But when the helepolis was thirty paces off, he commanded planks to
be placed over the streets between the houses from the cisterns to
the rampart; and a file of people passed from hand to hand helmets and
amphoras, which were emptied continually. The Carthaginians, however,
grew indignant at this waste of water. The ram was demolishing the wall,
when suddenly a fountain sprang forth from the disjointed stones. Then
the lofty brazen mass, nine stories high, which contained and engaged
more than three thousand soldiers, began to rock gently like a ship.
In fact, the water, which had penetrated the terrace, had broken up the
path before it; its wheels stuck in the mire; the head of Spendius,
with distended cheeks blowing an ivory cornet, appeared between leathern
curtains on the first story. The great machine, as though convulsively
upheaved, advanced perhaps ten paces; but the ground softened more and
more, the mire reached to the axles, and the helepolis stopped, leaning
over frightfully to one side. The catapult rolled to the edge of the
platform, and carried away by the weight of its beam, fell, shattering
the lower stories beneath it. The soldiers who were standing on the
doors slipped into the abyss, or else held on to the extremities of
the long beams, and by their weight increased the inclination of the
helepolis, which was going to pieces with creakings in all its joints.

The other Barbarians rushed up to help them, massing themselves into
a compact crowd. The Carthaginians descended from the rampart, and,
assailing them in the rear, killed them at leisure. But the chariots
furnished with sickles hastened up, and galloped round the outskirts of
the multitude. The latter ascended the wall again; night came on; and
the Barbarians gradually retired.

Nothing could now be seen on the plain but a sort of perfectly black,
swarming mass, which extended from the bluish gulf to the purely white
lagoon; and the lake, which had received streams of blood, stretched
further away like a great purple pool.

The terrace was now so laden with corpses that it looked as though it
had been constructed of human bodies. In the centre stood the helepolis
covered with armour; and from time to time huge fragments broke off
from it, like stones from a crumbling pyramid. Broad tracks made by
the streams of lead might be distinguished on the walls. A broken-down
wooden tower burned here and there, and the houses showed dimly like the
stages of a ruined ampitheatre. Heavy fumes of smoke were rising, and
rolling with them sparks which were lost in the dark sky.

The Carthaginians, however, who were consumed by thirst, had rushed to
the cisterns. They broke open the doors. A miry swamp stretched at the

What was to be done now? Moreover, the Barbarians were countless, and
when their fatigue was over they would begin again.

The people deliberated all night in groups at the corners of the
streets. Some said that they ought to send away the women, the sick, and
the old men; others proposed to abandon the town, and found a colony far
away. But vessels were lacking, and when the sun appeared no decision
had been made.

There was no fighting that day, all being too much exhausted. The
sleepers looked like corpses.

Then the Carthaginians, reflecting upon the cause of their disasters,
remembered that they had not dispatched to Phoenicia the annual offering
due to Tyrian Melkarth, and a great terror came upon them. The gods
were indignant with the Republic, and were, no doubt, about to prosecute
their vengeance.

They were considered as cruel masters, who were appeased with
supplications and allowed themselves to be bribed with presents. All
were feeble in comparison with Moloch the Devourer. The existence, the
very flesh of men, belonged to him; and hence in order to preserve it,
the Carthaginians used to offer up a portion of it to him, which calmed
his fury. Children were burned on the forehead, or on the nape of the
neck, with woollen wicks; and as this mode of satisfying Baal brought
in much money to the priests, they failed not to recommend it as being
easier and more pleasant.

This time, however, the Republic itself was at stake. But as every
profit must be purchased by some loss, and as every transaction was
regulated according to the needs of the weaker and the demands of the
stronger, there was no pain great enough for the god, since he delighted
in such as was of the most horrible description, and all were now at his
mercy. He must accordingly be fully gratified. Precedents showed that
in this way the scourge would be made to disappear. Moreover, it was
believed that an immolation by fire would purify Carthage. The ferocity
of the people was predisposed towards it. The choice, too, must fall
exclusively upon the families of the great.

The Ancients assembled. The sitting was a long one. Hanno had come to
it. As he was now unable to sit he remained lying down near the door,
half hidden among the fringes of the lofty tapestry; and when the
pontiff of Moloch asked them whether they would consent to surrender
their children, his voice suddenly broke forth from the shadow like the
roaring of a genius in the depths of a cavern. He regretted, he said,
that he had none of his own blood to give; and he gazed at Hamilcar,
who faced him at the other end of the hall. The Suffet was so much
disconcerted by this look that it made him lower his eyes. All
successively bent their heads in approval; and in accordance with the
rites he had to reply to the high priest: "Yes; be it so." Then the
Ancients decreed the sacrifice in traditional circumlocution, - because
there are things more troublesome to say than to perform.

The decision was almost immediately known in Carthage, and lamentations
resounded. The cries of women might everywhere be heard; their husbands
consoled them, or railed at them with remonstrances.

But three hours afterwards extraordinary tidings were spread abroad: the
Suffet had discovered springs at the foot of the cliff. There was a rush
to the place. Water might be seen in holes dug in the sand, and some
were already lying flat on the ground and drinking.

Hamilcar did not himself know whether it was by the determination of the
gods or through the vague recollection of a revelation which his father
had once made to him; but on leaving the Ancients he had gone down to
the shore and had begun to dig the gravel with his slaves.

He gave clothing, boots, and wine. He gave all the rest of the corn that
he was keeping by him. He even let the crowd enter his palace, and he
opened kitchens, stores, and all the rooms, - Salammbo's alone excepted.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 20 22 23 24 25

Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 20 of 25)