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Suffet. He called out to be assisted to leave the vapour bath.

The three captives were still before him. Then a Negro (the same who had
carried his parasol in the battle) leaned over to his ear.

"Well?" replied the Suffet slowly. "Ah! kill them!" he added in an
abrupt tone.

The Ethiopian drew a long dagger from his girdle and the three heads
fell. One of them rebounded among the remains of the feast, and leaped
into the basin, where it floated for some time with open mouth and
staring eyes. The morning light entered through the chinks in the wall;
the three bodies streamed with great bubbles like three fountains, and
a sheet of blood flowed over the mosaics with their powdering of blue
dust. The Suffet dipped his hand into this hot mire and rubbed his knees
with it: it was a cure.

When evening had come he stole away from the town with his escort, and
made his way into the mountain to rejoin his army.

He succeeded in finding the remains of it.

Four days afterward he was on the top of a defile at Gorza, when the
troops under Spendius appeared below. Twenty stout lances might easily
have checked them by attacking the head of their column, but the
Carthaginians watched them pass by in a state of stupefaction. Hanno
recognised the king of the Numidians in the rearguard; Narr' Havas bowed
to him, at the same time making a sign which he did not understand.

The return to Carthage took place amid all kinds of terrors. They
marched only at night, hiding in the olive woods during the day.
There were deaths at every halting-place; several times they believed
themselves lost. At last they reached Cape Hermaeum, where vessels came
to receive them.

Hanno was so fatigued, so desperate - the loss of the elephants in
particular overwhelmed him - that he demanded poison from Demonades in
order to put an end to it all. Moreover he could already feel himself
stretched upon the cross.

Carthage had not strength enough to be indignant with him. Its losses
had amounted to one hundred thousand nine hundred and seventy-two
shekels of silver, fifteen thousand six hundred and twenty-three shekels
of gold, eighteen elephants, fourteen members of the Great Council,
three hundred of the rich, eight thousand citizens, corn enough for
three moons, a considerable quantity of baggage, and all the engines
of war! The defection of Narr' Havas was certain, and both sieges were
beginning again. The army under Autaritus now extended from Tunis to
Rhades. From the top of the Acropolis long columns of smoke might be
seen in the country ascending to the sky; they were the mansions of the
rich, which were on fire.

One man alone could have saved the Republic. People repented that
they had slighted him, and the peace party itself voted holocausts for
Hamilcar's return.

The sight of the zaimph had upset Salammbo. At night she thought
that she could hear the footsteps of the goddess, and she would awake
terrified and shrieking. Every day she sent food to the temples. Taanach
was worn out with executing her orders, and Schahabarim never left her.



The Announcer of the Moons, who watched on the summit of the temple of
Eschmoun every night in order to signal the disturbances of the planet
with his trumpet, one morning perceived towards the west something like
a bird skimming the surface of the sea with its long wings.

It was a ship with three tiers of oars and with a horse carved on the
prow. The sun was rising; the Announcer of the Moons put up his hand
before his eyes, and then grasping his clarion with outstretched arms
sounded a loud brazen cry over Carthage.

People came out of every house; they would not believe what was said;
they disputed with one another; the mole was covered with people. At
last they recognised Hamilcar's trireme.

It advanced in fierce and haughty fashion, cleaving the foam around it,
the lateen-yard quite square and the sail bulging down the whole length
of the mast; its gigantic oars kept time as they beat the water;
every now and then the extremity of the keel, which was shaped like a
plough-share, would appear, and the ivory-headed horse, rearing both
its feet beneath the spur which terminated the prow, would seem to be
speeding over the plains of the sea.

As it rounded the promontory the wind ceased, the sail fell, and a man
was seen standing bareheaded beside the pilot. It was he, Hamilcar, the
Suffet! About his sides he wore gleaming sheets of steel; a red cloak,
fastened to his shoulders, left his arms visible; two pearls of great
length hung from his ears, and his black, bushy beard rested on his

The galley, however, tossing amid the rocks, was proceeding along
the side of the mole, and the crowd followed it on the flag-stones,

"Greeting! blessing! Eye of Khamon! ah! deliver us! 'Tis the fault of
the rich! they want to put you to death! Take care of yourself, Barca!"

He made no reply, as if the loud clamour of oceans and battles had
completely deafened him. But when he was below the staircase leading
down from the Acropolis, Hamilcar raised his head, and looked with
folded arms upon the temple of Eschmoun. His gaze mounted higher still,
to the great pure sky; he shouted an order in a harsh voice to his
sailors; the trireme leaped forward; it grazed the idol set up at the
corner of the mole to stay the storms; and in the merchant harbour,
which was full of filth, fragments of wood, and rinds of fruit, it
pushed aside and crushed against the other ships moored to stakes and
terminating in crocodiles' jaws. The people hastened thither, and some
threw themselves into the water to swim to it. It was already at the
very end before the gate which bristled with nails. The gate rose, and
the trireme disappeared beneath the deep arch.

The Military Harbour was completely separated from the town; when
ambassadors arrived, they had to proceed between two walls through
a passage which had its outlet on the left in front of the temple of
Khamon. This great expanse of water was as round as a cup, and was
bordered with quays on which sheds were built for sheltering the ships.
Before each of these rose two pillars bearing the horns of Ammon on
their capitals and forming continuous porticoes all round the basin. On
an island in the centre stood a house for the marine Suffet.

The water was so limpid that the bottom was visible with its paving
of white pebbles. The noise of the streets did not reach so far, and
Hamilcar as he passed recognised the triremes which he had formerly

Not more than twenty perhaps remained, under shelter on the land,
leaning over on their sides or standing upright on their keels, with
lofty poops and swelling prows, and covered with gildings and mystic
symbols. The chimaeras had lost their wings, the Pataec Gods their arms,
the bulls their silver horns; - and half-painted, motionless, and rotten
as they were, yet full of associations, and still emitting the scent
of voyages, they all seemed to say to him, like mutilated soldiers
on seeing their master again, "'Tis we! 'tis we! and YOU too are

No one excepting the marine Suffet might enter the admiral's house. So
long as there was no proof of his death he was considered as still in
existence. In this way the Ancients avoided a master the more, and they
had not failed to comply with the custom in respect to Hamilcar.

The Suffet proceeded into the deserted apartments. At every step he
recognised armour and furniture - familiar objects which nevertheless
astonished him, and in a perfuming-pan in the vestibule there even
remained the ashes of the perfumes that had been kindled at his
departure for the conjuration of Melkarth. It was not thus that he had
hoped to return. Everything that he had done, everything that he had
seen, unfolded itself in his memory: assaults, conflagrations, legions,
tempests, Drepanum, Syracuse, Lilybaeum, Mount Etna, the plateau of
Eryx, five years of battles, - until the fatal day when arms had been
laid down and Sicily had been lost. Then he once more saw the woods of
citron-trees, and herdsmen with their goats on grey mountains; and his
heart leaped at the thought of the establishment of another Carthage
down yonder. His projects and his recollections buzzed through his
head, which was still dizzy from the pitching of the vessel; he was
overwhelmed with anguish, and, becoming suddenly weak, he felt the
necessity of drawing near to the gods.

Then he went up to the highest story of his house, and taking a
nail-studded staple from a golden shell, which hung on his arm, he
opened a small oval chamber.

It was softly lighted by means of delicate black discs let into the
wall and as transparent as glass. Between the rows of these equal discs,
holes, like those for the urns in columbaria, were hollowed out. Each of
them contained a round dark stone, which appeared to be very heavy.
Only people of superior understanding honoured these abaddirs, which had
fallen from the moon. By their fall they denoted the stars, the sky, and
fire; by their colour dark night, and by their density the cohesion of
terrestrial things. A stifling atmosphere filled this mystic place. The
round stones lying in the niches were whitened somewhat with sea-sand
which the wind had no doubt driven through the door. Hamilcar counted
them one after another with the tip of his finger; then he hid his face
in a saffron-coloured veil, and, falling on his knees, stretched himself
on the ground with both arms extended.

The daylight outside was beginning to strike on the folding shutters
of black lattice-work. Arborescences, hillocks, eddies, and ill-defined
animals appeared in their diaphanous thickness; and the light came
terrifying and yet peaceful as it must be behind the sun in the dull
spaces of future creations. He strove to banish from his thoughts all
forms, and all symbols and appellations of the gods, that he might the
better apprehend the immutable spirit which outward appearances took
away. Something of the planetary vitalities penetrated him, and he felt
withal a wiser and more intimate scorn of death and of every accident.
When he rose he was filled with serene fearlessness and was proof
against pity or dread, and as his chest was choking he went to the top
of the tower which overlooked Carthage.

The town sank downwards in a long hollow curve, with its cupolas, its
temples, its golden roofs, its houses, its clusters of palm trees here
and there, and its glass balls with streaming rays, while the ramparts
formed, as it were, the gigantic border of this horn of plenty which
poured itself out before him. Far below he could see the harbours, the
squares, the interiors of the courts, the plan of the streets, and the
people, who seemed very small and but little above the level of the
pavement. Ah! if Hanno had not arrived too late on the morning of
the Aegatian islands! He fastened his eyes on the extreme horizon and
stretched forth his quivering arms in the direction of Rome.

The steps of the Acropolis were occupied by the multitude. In the square
of Khamon the people were pressing forwards to see the Suffet come
out, and the terraces were gradually being loaded with people; a few
recognised him, and he was saluted; but he retired in order the better
to excite the impatience of the people.

Hamilcar found the most important men of his party below in the hall:
Istatten, Subeldia, Hictamon, Yeoubas and others. They related to him
all that had taken place since the conclusion of the peace: the greed
of the Ancients, the departure of the soldiers, their return, their
demands, the capture of Gisco, the theft of the zaimph, the relief and
subsequent abandonment of Utica; but no one ventured to tell him of the
events which concerned himself. At last they separated, to meet again
during the night at the assembly of the Ancients in the temple of

They had just gone out when a tumult arose outside the door. Some one
was trying to enter in spite of the servants; and as the disturbance was
increasing Hamilcar ordered the stranger to be shown in.

An old Negress made her appearance, broken, wrinkled, trembling,
stupid-looking, wrapped to the heels in ample blue veils. She advanced
face to face with the Suffet, and they looked at each other for some
time; suddenly Hamilcar started; at a wave of his hand the slaves
withdrew. Then, signing to her to walk with precaution, he drew her by
the arm into a remote apartment.

The Negress threw herself upon the floor to kiss his feet; he raised her

"Where have you left him, Iddibal?"

"Down there, Master;" and extricating herself from her veils, she rubbed
her face with her sleeve; the black colour, the senile trembling, the
bent figure disappeared, and there remained a strong old man whose skin
seemed tanned by sand, wind, and sea. A tuft of white hair rose on his
skull like the crest of a bird; and he indicated his disguise, as it lay
on the ground, with an ironic glance.

"You have done well, Iddibal! 'Tis well!" Then piercing him, as it were,
with his keen gaze: "No one yet suspects?"

The old man swore to him by the Kabiri that the mystery had been kept.
They never left their cottage, which was three days' journey from
Hadrumetum, on a shore peopled with turtles, and with palms on the dune.
"And in accordance with your command, O Master! I teach him to hurl the
javelin and to drive a team."

"He is strong, is he not?"

"Yes, Master, and intrepid as well! He has no fear of serpents, or
thunder, or phantoms. He runs bare-footed like a herdsman along the
brinks of precipices."

"Speak! speak!"

"He invents snares for wild beasts. Would you believe it, that last moon
he surprised an eagle; he dragged it away, and the bird's blood and the
child's were scattered in the air in large drops like driven roses.
The animal in its fury enwrapped him in the beating of its wings; he
strained it against his breast, and as it died his laughter increased,
piercing and proud like the clashing of swords."

Hamilcar bent his head, dazzled by such presages of greatness.

"But he has been for some time restless and disturbed. He gazes at the
sails passing far out at sea; he is melancholy, he rejects bread,
he inquires about the gods, and he wishes to become acquainted with

"No, no! not yet!" exclaimed the Suffet.

The old slave seemed to understand the peril which alarmed Hamilcar, and
he resumed:

"How is he to be restrained? Already I am obliged to make him promises,
and I have come to Carthage only to buy him a dagger with a silver
handle and pearls all around it." Then he told how, having perceived the
Suffet on the terrace, he had passed himself off on the warders of the
harbour as one of Salammbo's women, so as to make his way in to him.

Hamilcar remained for a long time apparently lost in deliberation; at
last he said:

"To-morrow you will present yourself at sunset behind the purple
factories in Megara, and imitate a jackal's cry three times. If you do
not see me, you will return to Carthage on the first day of every moon.
Forget nothing! Love him! You may speak to him now about Hamilcar."

The slave resumed his costume, and they left the house and the harbour

Hamilcar went on his way alone on foot and without an escort, for the
meetings of the Ancients were, under extraordinary circumstances, always
secret, and were resorted to mysteriously.

At first he went along the western front of the Acropolis, and then
passed through the Green Market, the galleries of Kinisdo, and the
Perfumers' suburb. The scattered lights were being extinguished, the
broader streets grew still, then shadows glided through the darkness.
They followed him, others appeared, and like him they all directed their
course towards the Mappalian district.

The temple of Moloch was built at the foot of a steep defile in a
sinister spot. From below nothing could be seen but lofty walls rising
indefinitely like those of a monstrous tomb. The night was gloomy, a
greyish fog seemed to weigh upon the sea, which beat against the cliff
with a noise as of death-rattles and sobs; and the shadows gradually
vanished as if they had passed through the walls.

But as soon as the doorway was crossed one found oneself in a vast
quadrangular court bordered by arcades. In the centre rose a mass of
architecture with eight equal faces. It was surmounted by cupolas which
thronged around a second story supporting a kind of rotunda, from which
sprang a cone with a re-entrant curve and terminating in a ball on the

Fires were burning in cylinders of filigree-work fitted upon poles,
which men were carrying to and fro. These lights flickered in the gusts
of wind and reddened the golden combs which fastened their plaited
hair on the nape of the neck. They ran about calling to one another to
receive the Ancients.

Here and there on the flag-stones huge lions were couched like
sphinxes, living symbols of the devouring sun. They were slumbering with
half-closed eyelids. But roused by the footsteps and voices they rose
slowly, came towards the Ancients, whom they recognised by their dress,
and rubbed themselves against their thighs, arching their backs with
sonorous yawns; the vapour of their breath passed across the light of
the torches. The stir increased, doors closed, all the priests fled,
and the Ancients disappeared beneath the columns which formed a deep
vestibule round the temple.

These columns were arranged in such a way that their circular ranks,
which were contained one within another, showed the Saturnian period
with its years, the years with their months, and the months with their
days, and finally reached to the walls of the sanctuary.

Here it was that the Ancients laid aside their sticks of
narwhal's-horn, - for a law which was always observed inflicted the
punishment of death upon any one entering the meeting with any kind
of weapon. Several wore a rent repaired with a strip of purple at the
bottom of their garment, to show that they had not been economical in
their dress when mourning for their relatives, and this testimony to
their affliction prevented the slit from growing larger. Others had
their beards inclosed in little bags of violet skin, and fastened to
their ears by two cords. They all accosted one another by embracing
breast to breast. They surrounded Hamilcar with congratulations; they
might have been taken for brothers meeting their brother again.

These men were generally thick-set, with curved noses like those of the
Assyrian colossi. In a few, however, the more prominent cheek-bone, the
taller figure, and the narrower foot, betrayed an African origin
and nomad ancestors. Those who lived continually shut up in their
counting-houses had pale faces; others showed in theirs the severity
of the desert, and strange jewels sparkled on all the fingers of
their hands, which were burnt by unknown suns. The navigators might be
distinguished by their rolling gait, while the men of agriculture
smelt of the wine-press, dried herbs, and the sweat of mules. These
old pirates had lands under tillage, these money-grubbers would fit
out ships, these proprietors of cultivated lands supported slaves who
followed trades. All were skilled in religious discipline, expert in
strategy, pitiless and rich. They looked wearied of prolonged cares.
Their flaming eyes expressed distrust, and their habits of travelling
and lying, trafficking and commanding, gave an appearance of cunning
and violence, a sort of discreet and convulsive brutality to their whole
demeanour. Further, the influence of the god cast a gloom upon them.

They first passed through a vaulted hall which was shaped like an egg.
Seven doors, corresponding to the seven planets, displayed seven squares
of different colours against the wall. After traversing a long room they
entered another similar hall.

A candelabrum completely covered with chiselled flowers was burning at
the far end, and each of its eight golden branches bore a wick of byssus
in a diamond chalice. It was placed upon the last of the long steps
leading to a great altar, the corners of which terminated in horns of
brass. Two lateral staircases led to its flattened summit; the stones
of it could not be seen; it was like a mountain of heaped cinders, and
something indistinct was slowly smoking at the top of it. Then further
back, higher than the candelabrum, and much higher than the altar, rose
the Moloch, all of iron, and with gaping apertures in his human breast.
His outspread wings were stretched upon the wall, his tapering hands
reached down to the ground; three black stones bordered by yellow
circles represented three eyeballs on his brow, and his bull's head was
raised with a terrible effort as if in order to bellow.

Ebony stools were ranged round the apartment. Behind each of them was
a bronze shaft resting on three claws and supporting a torch. All these
lights were reflected in the mother-of-pearl lozenges which formed the
pavement of the hall. So lofty was the latter that the red colour of the
walls grew black as it rose towards the vaulted roof, and the three eyes
of the idol appeared far above like stars half lost in the night.

The Ancients sat down on the ebony stools after putting the trains of
their robes over their heads. They remained motionless with their hands
crossed inside their broad sleeves, and the mother-of-pearl pavement
seemed like a luminous river streaming from the altar to the door and
flowing beneath their naked feet.

The four pontiffs had their places in the centre, sitting back to back
on four ivory seats which formed a cross, the high-priest of Eschmoun
in a hyacinth robe, the high-priest of Tanith in a white linen robe, the
high-priest of Khamon in a tawny woollen robe, and the high-priest of
Moloch in a purple robe.

Hamilcar advanced towards the candelabrum. He walked all round it,
looking at the burning wicks; then he threw a scented powder upon them,
and violet flames appeared at the extremities of the branches.

Then a shrill voice rose; another replied to it, and the hundred
Ancients, the four pontiffs, and Hamilcar, who remained standing,
simultaneously intoned a hymn, and their voices - ever repeating the
same syllables and strengthening the sounds - rose, grew loud, became
terrible, and then suddenly were still.

There was a pause for some time. At last Hamilcar drew from his breast a
little three-headed statuette, as blue as sapphire, and placed it before
him. It was the image of Truth, the very genius of his speech. Then he
replaced it in his bosom, and all, as if seized with sudden wrath, cried

"They are good friends of yours, are the Barbarians! Infamous traitor!
You come back to see us perish, do you not? Let him speak! - No! no!"

They were taking their revenge for the constraint to which political
ceremonial had just obliged them; and even though they had wished for
Hamilcar's return, they were now indignant that he had not anticipated
their disasters, or rather that he had not endured them as well as they.

When the tumult had subsided, the pontiff of Moloch rose:

"We ask you why you did not return to Carthage?"

"What is that to you?" replied the Suffet disdainfully.

Their shouts were redoubled.

"Of what do you accuse me? I managed the war badly, perhaps! You have
seen how I order my battles, you who conveniently allow Barbarians - "

"Enough! enough!"

He went on in a low voice so as to make himself the better listened to:

"Oh! that is true! I am wrong, lights of the Baals; there are intrepid
men among you! Gisco, rise!" And surveying the step of the altar with
half-closed eyelids, as if he sought for some one, he repeated:

"Rise, Gisco! You can accuse me; they will protect you! But where is
he?" Then, as if he remembered himself: "Ah! in his house, no doubt!
surrounded by his sons, commanding his slaves, happy, and counting on
the wall the necklaces of honour which his country has given to him!"

They moved about raising their shoulders as if they were being scourged
with thongs. "You do not even know whether he is living or dead!" And
without giving any heed to their clamours he said that in deserting the
Suffet they had deserted the Republic. So, too, the peace with Rome,
however advantageous it might appear to them, was more fatal than twenty
battles. A few - those who were the least rich of the Council and
were suspected of perpetual leanings towards the people or towards
tyranny - applauded. Their opponents, chiefs of the Syssitia and
administrators, triumphed over them in point of numbers; and the more

Online LibraryGustave FlaubertSalammbo → online text (page 9 of 25)