The world’s best English epic and narrative poetry includes Henry Tytler’s rhymed verse translation of Italicus‘ The Punica a.k.a. The Punic War. Written in Latin in the first century AD, Italicus recounts in superb verse the epic struggle of Rome with Carthage in the Second Punic War: which ends in the eventual overthrow and destruction of Carthage.
The stage is set as Hannibal crosses the Alps and ravages up and down the Italian peninsula – wasting up to the very gates of Rome. The senate attempts to calm the people of Rome while the wise tactics of Fabius’ generalship start to tell against Hannibal: who is pressed for time, despite the fame of his early victories. However, Hannibal’s tactical genius makes him unstoppable: that is, until command of Romean legions is granted to the younger Scipio Africanus.
- Hannibal has cut to pieces successive Roman armies: at Trebia, at Trasimene, and finally at Cannae. Still the Romans are gluttons for punishment: and don’t know when to quit. How many more legions does Hannibal have to crush before the Romans see sense and conclude an advantageous peace with a benevolent Carthage?
- Scipio is a young patrician general with a vengeance: volunteering to lead a relief army to Hispania after a disasterous Roman defeat in which his own father and uncle were killed by forces commanded by Hannibal’s brother, Hasdrubal. Scipio is brave, no doubt: but surely the youth has no chance against the experienced generalship of one so closely related to Hannibal himself?
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