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then surrounded by thirty Carthaginians, the most illustrious of the
Ancients.

He appeared stupefied by their audacity; he called for his captains.
Every one thrust his fist under his throat, vociferating abuse. The
crowd pressed on; and those who had their hands on him could scarce
retain their hold. However, he tried to whisper to them: "I will gave
you whatever you want! I am rich! Save me!" They dragged him along;
heavy as he was his feet did not touch the ground. The Ancients had
been carried off. His terror increased. "You have beaten me! I am your
captive! I will ransom myself! Listen to me, my friends!" and borne
along by all those shoulders which were pressed against his sides, he
repeated: "What are you going to do? What do you want? You can see that
I am not obstanite! I have always been good-natured!"

A gigantic cross stood at the gate. The Barbarians howled: "Here! here!"
But he raised his voice still higher; and in the names of their gods he
called upon them to lead him to the schalischim, because he wished to
confide to him something on which their safety depended.

They paused, some asserting that it was right to summon Matho. He was
sent for.

Hanno fell upon the grass; and he saw around him other crosses also, as
though the torture by which he was about to perish had been multiplied
beforehand; he made efforts to convince himself that he was mistaken,
that there was only one, and even to believe that there were none at
all. At last he was lifted up.

"Speak!" said Matho.

He offered to give up Hamilcar; then they would enter Carthage and both
be kings.

Matho withdrew, signing to the others to make haste. It was a stratagem,
he thought, to gain time.

The Barbarian was mistaken; Hanno was in an extremity when consideration
is had to nothing, and, moreover, he so execrated Hamilcar that he
would have sacrificed him and all his soldiers on the slightest hope of
safety.

The Ancients were languishing on the ground at the foot of the crosses;
ropes had already been passed beneath their armpits. Then the old
Suffet, understanding that he must die, wept.

They tore off the clothes that were still left on him - and the horror
of his person appeared. Ulcers covered the nameless mass; the fat on his
legs hid the nails on his feet; from his fingers there hung what looked
like greenish strips; and the tears streaming through the tubercles on
his cheeks gave to his face an expression of frightful sadness, for
they seemed to take up more room than on another human face. His royal
fillet, which was half unfastened, trailed with his white hair in the
dust.

They thought that they had no ropes strong enough to haul him up to the
top of the cross, and they nailed him upon it, after the Punic fashion,
before it was erected. But his pride awoke in his pain. He began to
overwhelm them with abuse. He foamed and twisted like a marine monster
being slaughtered on the shore, and predicted that they would all end
more horribly still, and that he would be avenged.

He was. On the other side of the town, whence there now escaped jets of
flame with columns of smoke, the ambassadors from the Mercenaries were
in their last throes.

Some who had swooned at first had just revived in the freshness of the
wind; but their chins still rested upon their breasts, and their bodies
had fallen somewhat, in spite of the nails in their arms, which were
fastened higher than their heads; from their heels and hands blood
fell in big, slow drops, as ripe fruit falls from the branches of a
tree, - and Carthage, gulf, mountains, and plains all appeared to them
to be revolving like an immense wheel; sometimes a cloud of dust, rising
from the ground, enveloped them in its eddies; they burned with horrible
thirst, their tongues curled in their mouths, and they felt an icy sweat
flowing over them with their departing souls.

Nevertheless they had glimpses, at an infinite depth, of streets,
marching soldiers, and the swinging of swords; and the tumult of battle
reached them dimly like the noise of the sea to shipwrecked men dying
on the masts of a ship. The Italiotes, who were sturdier than the rest,
were still shrieking. The Lacedaemonians were silent, with eyelids
closed; Zarxas, once so vigorous, was bending like a broken reed; the
Ethiopian beside him had his head thrown back over the arms of the
cross; Autaritus was motionless, rolling his eyes; his great head of
hair, caught in a cleft in the wood, fell straight upon his forehead,
and his death-rattle seemed rather to be a roar of anger. As to
Spendius, a strange courage had come to him; he despised life now in
the certainty which he possessed of an almost immediate and an eternal
emancipation, and he awaited death with impassibility.

Amid their swooning, they sometimes started at the brushing of feathers
passing across their lips. Large wings swung shadows around them,
croakings sounded in the air; and as Spendius's cross was the highest,
it was upon his that the first vulture alighted. Then he turned his face
towards Autaritus, and said slowly to him with an unaccountable smile:

"Do you remember the lions on the road to Sicca?"

"They were our brothers!" replied the Gaul, as he expired.

The Suffet, meanwhile, had bored through the walls and reached
the citadel. The smoke suddenly disappeared before a gust of wind,
discovering the horizon as far as the walls of Carthage; he even thought
that he could distinguish people watching on the platform of Eschmoun;
then, bringing back his eyes, he perceived thirty crosses of extravagant
size on the shore of the Lake, to the left.

In fact, to render them still more frightful, they had been constructed
with tent-poles fastened end to end, and the thirty corpses of the
Ancients appeared high up in the sky. They had what looked like white
butterflies on their breasts; these were the feathers of the arrows
which had been shot at them from below.

A broad gold ribbon shone on the summit of the highest; it hung down
to the shoulder, there being no arm on that side, and Hamilcar had some
difficulty in recognising Hanno. His spongy bones had given way under
the iron pins, portions of his limbs had come off, and nothing was left
on the cross but shapeless remains, like the fragments of animals that
are hung up on huntsmen's doors.

The Suffet could not have known anything about it; the town in front of
him masked everything that was beyond and behind; and the captains who
had been successively sent to the two generals had not re-appeared. Then
fugitives arrived with the tale of the rout, and the Punic army halted.
This catastrophe, falling upon them as it did in the midst of their
victory, stupefied them. Hamilcar's orders were no longer listened to.

Matho took advantage of this to continue his ravages among the
Numidians.

Hanno's camp having been overthrown, he had returned against them.
The elephants came out; but the Mercenaries advanced through the plain
shaking about flaming firebrands, which they had plucked from the walls,
and the great beasts, in fright, ran headlong into the gulf, where
they killed one another in their struggles, or were drowned beneath the
weight of their cuirasses. Narr' Havas had already launched his cavalry;
all threw themselves face downwards upon the ground; then, when the
horses were within three paces of them, they sprang beneath their
bellies, ripped them open with dagger-strokes, and half the Numidians
had perished when Barca came up.

The exhausted Mercenaries could not withstand his troops. They retired
in good order to the mountain of the Hot Springs. The Suffet was prudent
enough not to pursue them. He directed his course to the mouths of the
Macaras.

Tunis was his; but it was now nothing but a heap of smoking rubbish. The
ruins fell through the breaches in the walls to the centre of the plain;
quite in the background, between the shores of the gulf, the corpses of
the elephants drifting before the wind conflicted, like an archipelago
of black rocks floating on the water.

Narr' Havas had drained his forests of these animals, taking young and
old, male and female, to keep up the war, and the military force of
his kingdom could not repair the loss. The people who had seen them
perishing at a distance were grieved at it; men lamented in the streets,
calling them by their names like deceased friends: "Ah! the Invincible!
the Victory! the Thunderer! the Swallow!" On the first day, too, there
was no talk except of the dead citizens. But on the morrow the tents of
the Mercenaries were seen on the mountain of the Hot Springs. Then
so deep was the despair that many people, especially women, flung
themselves headlong from the top of the Acropolis.

Hamilcar's designs were not known. He lived alone in his tent with
none near him but a young boy, and no one ever ate with them, not even
excepting Narr' Havas. Nevertheless he showed great deference to the
latter after Hanno's defeat; but the king of the Numidians had too great
an interest in becoming his son not to distrust him.

This inertness veiled skilful manoeuvres. Hamilcar seduced the heads of
the villages by all sorts of artifices; and the Mercenaries were hunted,
repulsed, and enclosed like wild beasts. As soon as they entered a wood,
the trees caught fire around them; when they drank of a spring it was
poisoned; the caves in which they hid in order to sleep were walled up.
Their old accomplices, the populations who had hitherto defended them,
now pursued them; and they continually recognised Carthaginian armour in
these bands.

Many had their faces consumed with red tetters; this, they thought, had
come to them through touching Hanno. Others imagined that it was because
they had eaten Salammbo's fishes, and far from repenting of it, they
dreamed of even more abominable sacrileges, so that the abasement of
the Punic Gods might be still greater. They would fain have exterminated
them.

In this way they lingered for three months along the eastern coast, and
then behind the mountain of Selloum, and as far as the first sands of
the desert. They sought for a place of refuge, no matter where.
Utica and Hippo-Zarytus alone had not betrayed them; but Hamilcar was
encompassing these two towns. Then they went northwards at haphazard
without even knowing the various routes. Their many miseries had
confused their understandings.

The only feeling left them was one of exasperation, which went on
developing; and one day they found themselves again in the gorges of
Cobus and once more before Carthage!

Then the actions multiplied. Fortune remained equal; but both sides were
so wearied that they would willingly have exchanged these skirmishes for
a great battle, provided that it were really the last.

Matho was inclined to carry this proposal himself to the Suffet. One of
his Libyans devoted himself for the purpose. All were convinced as they
saw him depart that he would not return.

He returned the same evening.

Hamilcar accepted the challenge. The encounter should take place the
following day at sunrise, in the plain of Rhades.

The Mercenaries wished to know whether he had said anything more, and
the Libyan added:

"As I remained in his presence, he asked me what I was waiting for.
'To be killed!' I replied. Then he rejoined: 'No! begone! that will be
to-morrow with the rest.'"

This generosity astonished the Barbarians; some were terrified by it,
and Matho regretted that the emissary had not been killed.

He had still remaining three thousand Africans, twelve hundred
Greeks, fifteen hundred Campanians, two hundred Iberians, four hundred
Etruscans, five hundred Samnites, forty Gauls, and a troop of Naffurs,
nomad bandits met with in the date region - in all seven thousand two
hundred and nineteen soldiers, but not one complete syntagmata. They
had stopped up the holes in their cuirasses with the shoulder-blades of
quadrupeds, and replaced their brass cothurni with worn sandals. Their
garments were weighted with copper or steel plates; their coats of
mail hung in tatters about them, and scars appeared like purple threads
through the hair on their arms and faces.

The wraiths of their dead companions came back to their souls and
increased their energy; they felt, in a confused way, that they were the
ministers of a god diffused in the hearts of the oppressed, and were the
pontiffs, so to speak, of universal vengeance! Then they were enraged
with grief at what was extravagant injustice, and above all by the sight
of Carthage on the horizon. They swore an oath to fight for one another
until death.

The beasts of burden were killed, and as much as possible was eaten so
as to gain strength; afterwards they slept. Some prayed, turning towards
different constellations.

The Carthaginians arrived first in the plain. They rubbed the edges of
their shields with oil to make the arrows glide off them easily; the
foot-soldiers who wore long hair took the precaution of cutting it on
the forehead; and Hamilcar ordered all bowls to be inverted from the
fifth hour, knowing that it is disadvantageous to fight with the stomach
too full. His army amounted to fourteen thousand men, or about double
the number of the Barbarians. Nevertheless, he had never felt such
anxiety; if he succumbed it would mean the annihilation of the Republic,
and he would perish on the cross; if, on the contrary, he triumphed, he
would reach Italy by way of the Pyrenees, the Gauls, and the Alps, and
the empire of the Barcas would become eternal. Twenty times during the
night he rose to inspect everything himself, down to the most trifling
details. As to the Carthaginians, they were exasperated by their
lengthened terror. Narr' Havas suspected the fidelity of his Numidians.
Moreover, the Barbarians might vanquish them. A strange weakness had
come upon him; every moment he drank large cups of water.

But a man whom he did not know opened his tent and laid on the ground a
crown of rock-salt, adorned with hieratic designs formed with sulphur,
and lozenges of mother-of-pearl; a marriage crown was sometimes sent to
a betrothed husband; it was a proof of love, a sort of invitation.

Nevertheless Hamilcar's daughter had no tenderness for Narr' Havas.

The recollection of Matho disturbed her in an intolerable manner; it
seemed to her that the death of this man would unburden her thoughts,
just as people to cure themselves of the bite of a viper crush it upon
the wound. The king of the Numidians was depending upon her; he awaited
the wedding with impatience, and, as it was to follow the victory,
Salammbo made him this present to stimulate his courage. Then his
distress vanished, and he thought only of the happiness of possessing so
beautiful a woman.

The same vision had assailed Matho; but he cast it from him immediately,
and his love, that he thus thrust back, was poured out upon his
companions in arms. He cherished them like portions of his own person,
of his hatred, - and he felt his spirit higher, and his arms stronger;
everything that he was to accomplish appeared clearly before him. If
sighs sometimes escaped him, it was because he was thinking of Spendius.

He drew up the Barbarians in six equal ranks. He posted the Etruscans
in the centre, all being fastened to a bronze chain; the archers were
behind, and on the wings he distributed the Naffurs, who were mounted on
short-haired camels, covered with ostrich feathers.

The Suffet arranged the Carthaginians in similar order. He placed the
Clinabarians outside the infantry next to the velites, and the Numidians
beyond; when day appeared, both sides were thus in line face to face.
All gazed at each other from a distance, with round fierce eyes. There
was at first some hesitation; at last both armies moved.

The Barbarians advanced slowly so as not to become out of breath,
beating the ground with their feet; the centre of the Punic army formed
a convex curve. Then came the burst of a terrible shock, like the crash
of two fleets in collision. The first rank of the Barbarians had quickly
opened up, and the marksmen, hidden behind the others, discharged their
bullets, arrows, and javelins. The curve of the Carthaginians, however,
flattened by degrees, became quite straight, and then bent inwards; upon
this, the two sections of the velites drew together in parallel lines,
like the legs of a compass that is being closed. The Barbarians, who
were attacking the phalanx with fury, entered the gap; they were being
lost; Matho checked them, - and while the Carthaginian wings continued
to advance, he drew out the three inner ranks of his line; they soon
covered his flanks, and his army appeared in triple array.

But the Barbarians placed at the extremities were the weakest,
especially those on the left, who had exhausted their quivers, and the
troop of velites, which had at last come up against them, was cutting
them up greatly.

Matho made them fall back. His right comprised Campanians, who were
armed with axes; he hurled them against the Carthaginian left; the
centre attacked the enemy, and those at the other extremity, who were
out of peril, kept the velites at a distance.

Then Hamilcar divided his horsemen into squadrons, placed hoplites
between them, and sent them against the Mercenaries.

Those cone-shaped masses presented a front of horses, and their broader
sides were filled and bristling with lances. The Barbarians found it
impossible to resist; the Greek foot-soldiers alone had brazen armour,
all the rest had cutlasses on the end of poles, scythes taken from the
farms, or swords manufactured out of the fellies of wheels; the
soft blades were twisted by a blow, and while they were engaged in
straightening them under their heels, the Carthaginians massacred them
right and left at their ease.

But the Etruscans, riveted to their chain, did not stir; those who were
dead, being prevented from falling, formed an obstruction with their
corpses; and the great bronze line widened and contracted in turn, as
supple as a serpent, and as impregnable as a wall. The Barbarians would
come to re-form behind it, pant for a minute, and then set off again
with the fragments of their weapons in their hands.

Many already had none left, and they leaped upon the Carthaginians,
biting their faces like dogs. The Gauls in their pride stripped
themselves of the sagum; they showed their great white bodies from a
distance, and they enlarged their wounds to terrify the enemy. The voice
of the crier announcing the orders could no longer be heard in the
midst of the Punic syntagmata; their signals were being repeated by the
standards, which were raised above the dust, and every one was swept
away in the swaying of the great mass that surrounded him.

Hamilcar commanded the Numidians to advance. But the Naffurs rushed to
meet them.

Clad in vast black robes, with a tuft of hair on the top of the skull,
and a shield of rhinoceros leather, they wielded a steel which had no
handle, and which they held by a rope; and their camels, which bristled
all over with feathers, uttered long, hoarse cluckings. Each blade fell
on a precise spot, then rose again with a smart stroke carrying off a
limb with it. The fierce beasts galloped through the syntagmata. Some,
whose legs were broken, went hopping along like wounded ostriches.

The Punic infantry turned in a body upon the Barbarians, and cut them
off. Their maniples wheeled about at intervals from one another. The
more brilliant Carthaginian weapons encircled them like golden crowns;
there was a swarming movement in the centre, and the sun, striking down
upon the points of the swords, made them glitter with white flickering
gleams. However, files of Clinabarians lay stretched upon the plain;
some Mercenaries snatched away their armour, clothed themselves in it,
and then returned to the fray. The deluded Carthaginians were several
times entangled in their midst. They would stand stupidly motionless,
or else would back, surge again, and triumphant shouts rising in the
distance seemed to drive them along like derelicts in a storm. Hamilcar
was growing desperate; all was about to perish beneath the genius of
Matho and the invincible courage of the Mercenaries.

But a great noise of tabourines burst forth on the horizon. It was a
crowd of old men, sick persons, children of fifteen years of age, and
even women, who, being unable to withstand their distress any longer,
had set out from Carthage, and, for the purpose of placing themselves
under the protection of something formidable, had taken from Hamilcar's
palace the only elephant that the Republic now possessed, - that one,
namely, whose trunk had been cut off.

Then it seemed to the Carthaginians that their country, forsaking its
walls, was coming to command them to die for her. They were seized with
increased fury, and the Numidians carried away all the rest.

The Barbarians had set themselves with their backs to a hillock in
the centre of the plain. They had no chance of conquering, or even of
surviving; but they were the best, the most intrepid, and the strongest.

The people from Carthage began to throw spits, larding-pins and hammers,
over the heads of the Numidians; those whom consuls had feared died
beneath sticks hurled by women; the Punic populace was exterminating the
Mercenaries.

The latter had taken refuge on the top of the hill. Their circle closed
up after every fresh breach; twice it descended to be immediately
repulsed with a shock; and the Carthaginians stretched forth their arms
pell-mell, thrusting their pikes between the legs of their companions,
and raking at random before them. They slipped in the blood; the steep
slope of the ground made the corpses roll to the bottom. The elephant,
which was trying to climb the hillock, was up to its belly; it seemed to
be crawling over them with delight; and its shortened trunk, which was
broad at the extremity, rose from time to time like an enormous leech.

Then all paused. The Carthaginians ground their teeth as they gazed at
the hill, where the Barbarians were standing.

At last they dashed at them abruptly, and the fight began again. The
Mercenaries would often let them approach, shouting to them that they
wished to surrender; then, with frightful sneers, they would kill
themselves at a blow, and as the dead fell, the rest would mount upon
them to defend themselves. It was a kind of pyramid, which grew larger
by degrees.

Soon there were only fifty, then only twenty, only three, and lastly
only two - a Samnite armed with an axe, and Matho who still had his
sword.

The Samnite with bent hams swept his axe alternately to the right and
left, at the same time warning Matho of the blows that were being aimed
at him. "Master, this way! that way! stoop down!"

Matho had lost his shoulder-pieces, his helmet, his cuirass; he was
completely naked, and more livid than the dead, with his hair quite
erect, and two patches of foam at the corners of his lips, - and his
sword whirled so rapidly that it formed an aureola around him. A
stone broke it near the guard; the Samnite was killed and the flood of
Carthaginians closed in, they touched Matho. Then he raised both his
empty hands towards heaven, closed his eyes, and, opening out his arms
like a man throwing himself from the summit of a promontory into the
sea, hurled himself among the pikes.

They moved away before him. Several times he ran against the
Carthaginians. But they always drew back and turned their weapons aside.

His foot struck against a sword. Matho tried to seize it. He felt
himself tied by the wrists and knees, and fell.

Narr' Havas had been following him for some time, step by step, with one
of the large nets used for capturing wild beasts, and, taking advantage
of the moment when he stooped down, had involved him in it.

Then he was fastened on the elephants with his four limbs forming a
cross; and all those who were not wounded escorted him, and rushed with
great tumult towards Carthage.

The news of the victory had arrived in some inexplicable way at the
third hour of the night; the clepsydra of Khamon had just completed the
fifth as they reached Malqua; then Matho opened his eyes. There were so
many lights in the houses that the town appeared to be all in flames.

An immense clamour reached him dimly; and lying on his back he looked at
the stars.

Then a door closed and he was wrapped in darkness.

On the morrow, at the same hour, the last of the men left in the Pass of
the Hatchet expired.

On the day that their companions had set out, some Zuaeces who were
returning had tumbled the rocks down, and had fed them for some time.


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Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 24 of 25)