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Pride of Carthage
A Novel of Hannibal
By David Anthony Durham
Hannibal placed his fingers on the wood of the funeral table and pressed till his fingertips went white. “I know nothing of what Bostar thinks now. By the gods, I want to win this! It is all the work of my own hands, but at moments I look down and realize that I’m seated on a monster fouler than anything I could have conceived. Sixty thousand of them dead? Sometimes I wonder who is more bound to Moloch – Monomachus or myself.”
Thus Hannibal Barca to his brother Mago after the battle of Cannae. Mr. Durham’s Hannibal is a satisfyingly complex person.
However, despite the subtitle, Pride of Carthage is as much the story of the Second Punic War as that of Hannibal alone. The tale begins in Spain with Hannibal plotting his war on Rome and ends with his arrival in Carthage after his defeat at the hands of Publius Scipio. There is a whole host of characters: The many Barca brothers and sisters, their spouses and their matriarch; other Carthagenians and their allied neighbors; the simple soldier Imco Vaca, who, though mostly bewildered at his fate, rises in the army and is linked with the strong-willed camp follower, Aradna, determined to make her way back to her native Greek island. There are Tusselo, the former Roman slave now in Hannibal’s army, never fully able to shake his past experiences; Silenus, Hannibal’s biographer; and of course all the Roman consuls fighting Hannibal.
The Barca family takes up most of the space and is portrayed in all its varied personalities, educated, intelligent, passionate. The well known story of Sophonisba and Masinissa is retold and there are flashbacks to Hamilcar, the patriarch. In fact, most characters in the story have great depth and their relationships develop well, which makes it even more surprising how lifeless Publius Scipio and his companion Laelius appear in comparison. Publius of course is the later Scipio Africanus the Elder, and we meet him first at the battle on the Ticinus where he rescues his father, then as a survivor at Cannae and during his subsequent rise as nemesis of the Barcas. This failing, in my mind, is the only major flaw in the book.
The author has done extensive research in both ancient and modern writings about Hannibal and the Punic Wars, to great advantage of his readers. Those who come to the book through Mr. Durham’s 19th century placed novels might develop an interest in Ancient history. For others to whom most is well known, it should be a delight to see how the story unfolds. The battles are masterfully narrated in all their horror. The crossing of the Alps is harrowing, but not overdone. Ancient life as a whole is imaginatively re-created.
In the end though, it all comes down to Hannibal and his drive, instilled by his father, to destroy the Romans once and for all. He, who always strives to see into his adversaries’ mind, finally laments: “How do you defeat a people who won’t admit defeat? It’s as if you stab a corpse a thousand times and then step back and, to your horror, the body rises to fight on. You slice off its arm and it picks its sword up with the other arm. You slice that one off, only to discover that the first has grown back. You cut off its head, but then the thing rises and slashes blindly at you…How do you defeat a creature like that?” That is Hannibal’s tragedy: a determined people against a general despised and hated in his own city which refuses to give him what he needs to succeed.
There is some melodrama, and the language is sometimes a bit too flowery for this reviewer’s taste, but overall it is a highly entertaining read.
© 2005 Irene B. Hahn
Pride of Carthage, A Novel of Hannibal
by David Anthony Durham
Paperback, 592 pages (January 2006)
List Price US$15.95
Now also available in two digital formats, click on the above URL to get there.
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