It was at Megara a suburb of Carthage in the gardens of Hamilcar.
The soldiers whom he had commanded in Sicily were having a great feast
to celebrate the anniversary of the battle of Eryx and as the master
was away and they were numerous they ate and drank with perfect
The captains who wore bronze cothurni had placed themselves in the
central path beneath a gold-fringed purple awning which reached from
the wall of the stables to the first terrace of the palace; the common
soldiers were scattered beneath the trees where numerous flat-roofed
buildings might be seen wine-presses cellars storehouses bakeries
and arsenals with a court for elephants dens for wild beasts and a
prison for slaves.
Fig-trees surrounded the kitchens; a wood of sycamores stretched away
to meet masses of verdure where the pomegranate shone amid the white
tufts of the cotton-plant; vines grape-laden grew up into the
branches of the pines; a field of roses bloomed beneath the plane-
trees; here and there lilies rocked upon the turf; the paths were
strewn with black sand mingled with powdered coral and in the centre
the avenue of cypress formed as it were a double colonnade of green
obelisks from one extremity to the other.
Far in the background stood the palace built of yellow mottled
Numidian marble broad courses supporting its four terraced stories.
With its large straight ebony staircase bearing the prow of a
vanquished galley at the corners of every step its red doors
quartered with black crosses its brass gratings protecting it from
scorpions below and its trellises of gilded rods closing the
apertures above it seemed to the soldiers in its haughty opulence as
solemn and impenetrable as the face of Hamilcar.
The Council had appointed his house for the holding of this feast; the
convalescents lying in the temple of Eschmoun had set out at daybreak
and dragged themselves thither on their crutches. Every minute others
were arriving. They poured in ceaselessly by every path like torrents
rushing into a lake; through the trees the slaves of the kitchens
might be seen running scared and half-naked; the gazelles fled
bleating on the lawns; the sun was setting and the perfume of citron
trees rendered the exhalation from the perspiring crowd heavier still.
Men of all nations were there Ligurians Lusitanians Balearians
Negroes and fugitives from Rome. Beside the heavy Dorian dialect were
audible the resonant Celtic syllables rattling like chariots of war
while Ionian terminations conflicted with consonants of the desert as
harsh as the jackal's cry. The Greek might be recognised by his
slender figure the Egyptian by his elevated shoulders the Cantabrian
by his broad calves. There were Carians proudly nodding their helmet
plumes Cappadocian archers displaying large flowers painted on their
bodies with the juice of herbs and a few Lydians in women's robes
dining in slippers and earrings. Others were ostentatiously daubed
with vermilion and resembled coral statues.
They stretched themselves on the cushions they ate squatting round
large trays or lying face downwards they drew out the pieces of meat
and sated themselves leaning on their elbows in the peaceful posture
of lions tearing their prey. The last comers stood leaning against the
trees watching the low tables half hidden beneath the scarlet
coverings and awaiting their turn.
Hamilcar's kitchens being insufficient the Council had sent them
slaves ware and beds and in the middle of the garden as on a
battle-field when they burn the dead large bright fires might be
seen at which oxen were roasting. Anise-sprinkled loaves alternated
with great cheeses heavier than discuses crateras filled with wine
and cantharuses filled with water together with baskets of gold
filigree-work containing flowers. Every eye was dilated with the joy
of being able at last to gorge at pleasure and songs were beginning
here and there.
First they were served with birds and green sauce in plates of red
clay relieved by drawings in black then with every kind of shell-fish
that is gathered on the Punic coasts wheaten porridge beans and
barley and snails dressed with cumin on dishes of yellow amber.
Afterwards the tables were covered with meats antelopes with their
horns peacocks with their feathers whole sheep cooked in sweet wine
haunches of she-camels and buffaloes hedgehogs with garum fried
grasshoppers and preserved dormice. Large pieces of fat floated in
the midst of saffron in bowls of Tamrapanni wood. Everything was
running over with wine truffles and asafoetida. Pyramids of fruit
were crumbling upon honeycombs and they had not forgotten a few of
those plump little dogs with pink silky hair and fattened on olive
lees--a Carthaginian dish held in abhorrence among other nations.
Surprise at the novel fare excited the greed of the stomach. The Gauls
with their long hair drawn up on the crown of the head snatched at
the water-melons and lemons and crunched them up with the rind. The
Negroes who had never seen a lobster tore their faces with its red
prickles. But the shaven Greeks whiter than marble threw the
leavings of their plates behind them while the herdsmen from Brutium
in their wolf-skin garments devoured in silence with their faces in
Night fell. The velarium spread over the cypress avenue was drawn
back and torches were brought.
The apes sacred to the moon were terrified on the cedar tops by the
wavering lights of the petroleum as it burned in the porphyry vases.
They uttered screams which afforded mirth to the soldiers.
Oblong flames trembled in cuirasses of brass. Every kind of
scintillation flashed from the gem-incrusted dishes. The crateras with
their borders of convex mirrors multiplied and enlarged the images of
things; the soldiers thronged around looking at their reflections
with amazement and grimacing to make themselves laugh. They tossed
the ivory stools and golden spatulas to one another across the tables.
They gulped down all the Greek wines in their leathern bottles the
Campanian wine enclosed in amphoras the Cantabrian wines brought in
casks with the wines of the jujube cinnamomum and lotus. There were
pools of these on the ground that made the foot slip. The smoke of the
meats ascended into the foliage with the vapour of the breath.
Simultaneously were heard the snapping of jaws the noise of speech
songs and cups the crash of Campanian vases shivering into a
thousand pieces or the limpid sound of a large silver dish.
In proportion as their intoxication increased they more and more
recalled the injustice of Carthage. The Republic in fact exhausted
by the war had allowed all the returning bands to accumulate in the
town. Gisco their general had however been prudent enough to send
them back severally in order to facilitate the liquidation of their
pay and the Council had believed that they would in the end consent
to some reduction. But at present ill-will was caused by the inability
to pay them. This debt was confused in the minds of the people with
the 3200 Euboic talents exacted by Lutatius and equally with Rome
they were regarded as enemies to Carthage. The Mercenaries understood
this and their indignation found vent in threats and outbreaks. At
last they demanded permission to assemble to celebrate one of their
victories and the peace party yielded at the same time revenging
themselves on Hamilcar who had so strongly upheld the war. It had been
terminated notwithstanding all his efforts so that despairing of
Carthage he had entrusted the government of the Mercenaries to Gisco.
To appoint his palace for their reception was to draw upon him
something of the hatred which was borne to them. Moreover the expense
must be excessive and he would incur nearly the whole.
Proud of having brought the Republic to submit the Mercenaries
thought that they were at last about to return to their homes with the
payment for their blood in the hoods of their cloaks. But as seen
through the mists of intoxication their fatigues seemed to them
prodigious and but ill-rewarded. They showed one another their wounds
they told of their combats their travels and the hunting in their
native lands. They imitated the cries and the leaps of wild beasts.
Then came unclean wagers; they buried their heads in the amphoras and
drank on without interruption like thirsty dromedaries. A Lusitanian
of gigantic stature ran over the tables carrying a man in each hand
at arm's length and spitting out fire through his nostrils. Some
Lacedaemonians who had not taken off their cuirasses were leaping
with a heavy step. Some advanced like women making obscene gestures;
others stripped naked to fight amid the cups after the fashion of
gladiators and a company of Greeks danced around a vase whereon
nymphs were to be seen while a Negro tapped with an ox-bone on a
Suddenly they heard a plaintive song a song loud and soft rising and
falling in the air like the wing-beating of a wounded bird.
It was the voice of the slaves in the ergastulum. Some soldiers rose
at a bound to release them and disappeared.
They returned driving through the dust amid shouts twenty men
distinguished by their greater paleness of face. Small black felt caps
of conical shape covered their shaven heads; they all wore wooden
shoes and yet made a noise as of old iron like driving chariots.
They reached the avenue of cypress where they were lost among the
crowd of those questioning them. One of them remained apart standing.
Through the rents in his tunic his shoulders could be seen striped
with long scars. Drooping his chin he looked round him with distrust
closing his eyelids somewhat against the dazzling light of the
torches but when he saw that none of the armed men were unfriendly to
him a great sigh escaped from his breast; he stammered he sneered
through the bright tears that bathed his face. At last he seized a
brimming cantharus by its rings raised it straight up into the air
with his outstretched arms from which his chains hung down and then
looking to heaven and still holding the cup he said:
"Hail first to thee Baal-Eschmoun the deliverer whom the people of
my country call Aesculapius! and to you genii of the fountains
light and woods! and to you ye gods hidden beneath the mountains and
in the caverns of the earth! and to you strong men in shining armour
who have set me free!"
Then he let fall the cup and related his history. He was called
Spendius. The Carthaginians had taken him in the battle of Aeginusae
and he thanked the Mercenaries once more in Greek Ligurian and Punic;
he kissed their hands; finally he congratulated them on the banquet
while expressing his surprise at not perceiving the cups of the Sacred
Legion. These cups which bore an emerald vine on each of their six
golden faces belonged to a corps composed exclusively of young
patricians of the tallest stature. They were a privilege almost a
sacerdotal distinction and accordingly nothing among the treasures of
the Republic was more coveted by the Mercenaries. They detested the
Legion on this account and some of them had been known to risk their
lives for the inconceivable pleasure of drinking out of these cups.
Accordingly they commanded that the cups should be brought. They were
in the keeping of the Syssitia companies of traders who had a common
table. The slaves returned. At that hour all the members of the
Syssitia were asleep.
"Let them be awakened!" responded the Mercenaries.
After a second excursion it was explained to them that the cups were
shut up in a temple.
"Let it be opened!" they replied.
And when the slaves confessed with trembling that they were in the
possession of Gisco the general they cried out:
"Let him bring them!"
Gisco soon appeared at the far end of the garden with an escort of the
Sacred Legion. His full black cloak which was fastened on his head
to a golden mitre starred with precious stones and which hung all
about him down to his horse's hoofs blended in the distance with the
colour of the night. His white beard the radiancy of his head-dress
and his triple necklace of broad blue plates beating against his
breast were alone visible.
When he entered the soldiers greeted him with loud shouts all
"The cups! The cups!"