|Hannibal's celebrated feat in crossing the Alps with war elephants passed into European legend: |
detail of a fresco by Jacopo Ripanda, ca. 1510, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Put Hannibal in the scales: how many pounds will that peerless
General mark up today? This is the man for whom Africa
Was too small a continent, though it stretched from the surf-beaten
Ocean shores of Morocco east to the stormy Nile,
To tribal Ethiopia, and new elephants’ habitats.
Now Spain swells his empire, now he surmounts
The Pyrenees. Nature sets in his path
High Alpine passes, blizzards of snow: but he splits
The very rocks asunder, moves mountains with vinegar.
Now Italy is his, yet still he forces on:
‘We have accomplished nothing,’ he cries,’ till we have stormed
The gates of Rome, till our Carthaginian standard
Is set in the City’s heart.’ A fine sight it must have been,
Fit subject for caricature — the one-eyed commander
Perched on his monstrous beast! Alas, alas for glory,
What an end was here: the defeat, the ignominious
Headlong flight into exile, everyone gawping at
The once-mighty Hannibal turned humble hanger-on,
Sitting outside the door of a petty Eastern despot
Till His Majesty deign to wake. No sword, no spear,
No battle-flung stone was to snuff the fiery spirit
That once had wrecked a world: those crushing defeats,
Those rivers of spilt blood were all wiped out by a
Ring, a poisoned ring. On, on, you madman, drive
Over your savage Alps, to thrill young schoolboys
And supply a theme for speech-day recitations!
-- Juvenal, Satire X, lines 147-67 (Translated by Peter Green)
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