Text #632Punica. Series: Punica. Vol. 1 .
[Bk. 8 Verse 625 pp. 439--443]
When the Romans reached Cannae, built on the site of a former city, they planted their doomed standards on a rampart of evil omen. Nor, when such destruction was hanging over their unhappy heads, did the gods fail to reveal the coming disaster. Javelins blazed up suddenly in the hands of astounded soldiers; high battlements fell down along the length of the ramparts; Mount Garganus, collapsing with tottering summit, overset its forests; the Aufidus rumbled in its lowest depths and roared1; and far away across the sea seamen were scared by fire burning on the Ceraunian mountains.2 Light was suddenly withdrawn, and the Alabrian mariners, plunged in darkness, looked in vain for the shore and land of Sipus; and many a screech-owl beset the gates of the camp. Thick swarms of bees constantly twined themselves about the terrified standards, and the bright hair of more than one comet, the portent that dethrones monarchs, showed its baleful glare. Wild beasts also in the silence of night burst through the rampart into the camp, snatched up a sentry before the eyes of his frightened comrades, and scattered his limbs over the adjacent fields.
Sleep also was mocked by terrible images: men dreamt that the ghosts of the Gauls were breaking forth from their graves. Again and again the Tarpeian rock was shaken and wrenched from its very base; a dark stream of blood flowed in the temples of Jupiter ; and the ancient image of Father Quirinus shed floods of tears. The Allia rose high above its fatal banks.
The Alps did not keep their place, and the Apennines were never still day or night among their vast gorges. In the southern sky, bright meteors shot against Italy from the direction of Africa ; and the heavens burst open with a fearful crash, and the countenance of the Thunderer was revealed. Vesuvius also thundered, hurling flames worthy of Etna from her cliffs; and the fiery crest, throwing rocks up to the clouds, reached to the trembling stars.
But lo! in the midst of the army a soldier foretells the battle. With distraction in his aspect and his brain, he fills the camp with his wild shouting, and gasps as he reveals coming disaster: “Spare us, ye cruel gods! The heaps of dead are more than the fields can contain; I see Hannibal speeding through the serried ranks and driving his furious chariot over armour and human limbs and standards. The wind rages in wild gusts, and drives the dust of battle in our faces and eyes. Servilius, careless of his life, is down; his absence from the field of Rasimene does not help him now. Whither is Varro fleeing “Ye gods! Paulus, the last hope of despairing men, is struck down by a stone. Trebia cannot rival this destruction. See ! the bodies of the slain form a bridge, and reeking Aufidus belches forth corpses, and the huge beast treads the plain victorious.
The Carthaginian copies us and carries the consul’s axes, and his lictors bear blood-stained rods. The triumphal procession of the Roman passes from Rome to Libya. And, O grief!—do the gods force us to witness this also? — victorious Carthage measures the downfall of Rome by all the heap of gold that was torn from the left hands of the slain.
The Ofanto, known in ancient times as Aufidus, is a 170-kilometre (110 mi) river in southern Italy that flows through the regions of Campania, Basilicata, and Apulia, into the Gulf of Manfredonia near Barletta. ↩
The Ceraunian Mountains is a coastal mountain range in southwestern Albania. The name is derived from Ancient Greek Κεραύνια ὄρη, meaning “thunder-split peaks”. ↩