The horror of the Hannibalic war

November 20 2013

The Hannibalic war in Italy was, very probably, the most terrible war that there has ever been, not excepting the recent war in Europe. The horror of that war haunted later generations, and its mere memory made oblivion seem a desirable release from an intolerable world.

Nil igitur mors est adnos neque pertinet hilum,
quandoquidem natura animi mortalis habetur.
et velut anteacto nil tempore sensimus aegri,
ad confligendum venientibus undique Poenis,
omnia cum belli trepido concussa tumultu
horrida contremuere sub altis aetheris oris,
in dubioque fuere utrorum ad regna cadendum
omnibus humanis esset terraque marique,
sic, ubi non erimus, cum corporis atque animai
discidium fuerit quibus e sumus uniter apti,
scilicet haud nobis quicquam, qui non erimus tum,
accidere omnino poterit sensumque movere,
non si terra mari miscebitur et mare caelo.

That is a passage of Lucretius (iii. 830-842) which follows upon an elaborate argument to prove that death destroys personality and that the soul is not immortal. Here is an attempt at a translation:

“So death is nothing to us and matters nothing to us, since we have proved that the soul is not immortal. And as in time past we felt no ill, when the Phoenicians were pouring in to battle on every front, when the world rocked with the shock and tumult of war and shivered from centre to firmament, when all mankind on sea and land must fall under the victor’s empire and victory was in doubt – so, when we have ceased to be, when body and soul, whose union is our being, have been parted, then nothing can touch us – we shall not be – and nothing can make us feel, no, not if earth is confounded with sea and sea with heaven.”

Lucretius wrote that about a hundred and fifty years after Hannibal evacuated Italy, but the horror is still vivid in his mind, and his poetry arouses it in our minds as we listen. The writer will never forget how those lines kept running in his head during the spring of 1918.

But the victors suffered with the vanquished in the common ruin of civilization. The whole Mediterranean world, and the devastated area in Italy most of all, was shaken by the economic and social revolutions which the Roman wars brought in their train. The proletariat was oppressed to such a degree that the unity of society was permanently destroyed and Greek civilization, after being threatened with a violent extinction by Bolshevik outbreaks – the slave wars in Sicily, the insurrection of Aristonikos and the massacres of Mithradates in Anatolia, the outbreaks of Spartakos and Catilina in Italy – was eventually supplanted by a rival civilization of the proletariat – the Christian Church.

From synoikismos to dissolution (old post).

From chapter called History contributed by Toynbee to RW Livingstone, editor, The Legacy of Greece, Essays by Gilbert Murray, W. R. Inge, J. Burnet, Sir T. L. Heath, D’Arcy W. Thompson, Charles Singer, R. W. Livingstone, A. Toynbee, A. E. Zimmern, Percy Gardner, Sir Reginald Blomfield, OUP (Oxford at the Clarendon Press), 1921

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