Salammbô

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Title page of Salammbô by Gustave Flaubert

Salammbô (1862) is a historical novel by Gustave Flaubert. It is set in Carthage immediately before and during the Mercenary Revolt (241–237 B.C.). Flaubert's principal source was Book I of Polybius's Histories. The novel was enormously popular when first published and jumpstarted a renewed interest in the history of the Roman Republic's conflict with the North African Phoenician colony of Carthage.


Genesis[edit]

After the legal troubles that followed the publication of Madame Bovary, when he was tried and acquitted on charges of "immorality",[1] Flaubert sought a less controversial subject for his next novel. In 1857, Flaubert decided to conduct research in Carthage, writing in March to Félicien de Saulcy, a French archeologist about his plans. In a letter to Madame de Chantepie dated 23 January 1858, he described his anticipation: "I absolutely have to go to Africa. This is why, around the end of March, I will go back to the country of exotic dates. I am giddy with excitement. I will once again spend my days on horseback and my nights in a tent. What a happy breath I will take as I get onboard the steam boat in Marseilles!" From 12 April to 5 June 1858, Flaubert traveled to Tunisia, to explore the locations of his novel, though little survived from ancient times.[2]

Publication[edit]

Contemporary readers familiar with Flaubert's previous realistic work, Madame Bovary, and the legal controversy that followed its publication made Salambô a bestseller, though its violence and sensuality bore little relationship to Flaubert's previous work. It was praised for its style and story. Its descriptions of Carthaginian costume influenced contemporary fashions and the attention it paid to Roman North Africa inspired new interest in archeological exploration there.

It has lost much of its appeal with the passage of time and is viewed even in France as a minor work by a major author.

Plot[edit]

Salammbô by Alfons Mucha (1896)

After the First Punic War, Carthage is unable to fulfill promises made to its army of mercenaries, and finds itself under attack. The fictional title character, a priestess and the daughter of Hamilcar Barca, the foremost Carthaginian general, is the object of the obsessive lust of Matho, a leader of the mercenaries. With the help of the scheming freed slave, Spendius, Matho steals the sacred veil of Carthage, the Zaïmph, prompting Salammbô to enter the mercenaries' camp in an attempt to steal it back. The Zaïmph is an ornate bejewelled veil draped about the statue of the goddess Tanit in the sanctum sanctorum of her temple: the veil is the city's guardian and touching it will bring death to the perpetrator.

  • Chapter 1. "The Feast". “It was at Megara, a suburb of Carthage, in the gardens of Hamilcar.” The novel opens on a feast organized to celebrate the victory of the battle of Eryx, won against Rome. During the libations, the mercenaries ransack the place, spurred on by Hamilcar’s absence, and the memories of the unkind and unfair way Carthage treated them throughout the war. Salammbô, Hamilcar’s daughter, appears. She scolds them for their actions and entreats them to enjoy the feast without destroying the place. Two men stare at her: Narr’Havas, a troop leader from Numidia and Hamilcar’s guest, and Mâtho, a Lybian wearing a necklace with a moon pendent. The young woman hands Mâtho a glass full of wine and he drinks from it. A Gaulish soldier tells him that, where he’s from, it is a sign of betrothal. Jealous, Narr’Havas throws a javelin and wounds him. In the scuffle that ensues, Salammbô retreats to the palace, leaving Mathô wondering. Spendius, a freed slave, tries to persuade Matho to take Carthage for the mercenaries.
  • Chapter 2. "At Sicca". Two days, later, after much pleading and promises of payment, the mercenaries agree to leave the city. They walk for seven days and reach the holy city of Sicca. On the way there, a line of crucified lions creates a sense of unease. There, Spendius realizes that Mathô is haunted by the memory of Salammbô, with whom he has fallen in love. The shophet, Hanno, a fat, leprous man, is sent to explain to them that Carthage has no money and will be delaying payment of its debt. Since the shophet only speaks a Punic language, Spendius offers to translate for the army and misrepresents Hanno’s message in order to set the mercenaries against him. To make matters worse, Zarxas arrives and relates the treacherous massacre of 300 slingers who had stayed behind. As the dignitary flees in shame, fearing for his life, Spendius convinces the mercenaries to go back to Carthage.
  • Chapter 3. "Salammbô". On a moonlit night, Salammbô appears on a palace terrace. She invokes Tanit, the goddess of the moon and the city’s tutelary deity, whose moods and phases greatly influence her. Raised within the limits of the palace and destined to a political alliance, Salammbô knows little, but as a priestess of Tanit, she wants to see the statue erected in the temple, in honor of the goddess. Schahabarim, a high priest, forbids it, as the sight of the statue is so powerful it might kill her. From afar, they catch sight of the mercenary army, closing in on Carthage.
  • Chapter 4. "Beneath the Walls of Carthage". The mercenaries besiege Carthage; Matho and Spendius penetrate via the aqueduct.
  • Chapter 5. "Tanit". Matho and Spendius steal the Zaïmph. Because Matho is caught while breaking into Salammbô's bedroom to see her again, she falls under suspicion of complicity.
  • Chapter 6. "Hanno". The mercenaries leave Carthage and split into two groups, attacking Utica and Hippo-Zarytus. Hanno surprises Spendius at Utica, and occupies the city, but flees when Matho arrives and routs his troops.
  • Chapter 7. "Hamilcar Barca". The hero returns and an attempt is made to blame him for Hanno's losses. He defends himself before the Council and defends the mercenaries, but turns against the barbarians when he sees the damage they have done to his property.
  • Chapter 8. "The Battle of the Macar". Hamilcar defeats Spendius at the bridge of the Macar, three miles from Utica.
  • Chapter 9. "In the Field". Hamilcar's troops are trapped by the mercenaries.
  • Chapter 10. "The Serpent". Schahabarim sends Salammbô in disguise to retrieve the Zaïmph.
  • Chapter 11. "In the Tent". Salammbô reaches Matho in his tent at the encampment. Believing each other to be divine apparitions, they make love. The mercenaries are attacked and dispersed by Hamilcar's troops. She takes away the Zaïmph, and on meeting her father, Hamilcar has her betrothed to Narr' Havas, a mercenary who has changed sides.
  • Chapter 12. "The Aqueduct". The Carthaginians return to their city with the mercenaries in pursuit. Spendius cuts off the water supply to Carthage.
  • Chapter 13. "Moloch". Carthaginian children are sacrificed to Moloch. Hamilcar disguises a slave-child as his son Hannibal and sends him to die in his son's place.
  • Chapter 14. "The Defile of the Axe". The drought is broken and aid comes. Hamilcar drives the mercenaries away from their encampments. Later, thousands of mercenaries are trapped in a defile and slowly starve (the Battle of "The Saw"). Deaths of Hanno and Spendius, both by crucifixion.
  • Chapter 15. "Matho". Victory celebrations at Carthage. Matho is tortured before his execution; Salammbô, witnessing this, dies of shock. The Zaïmph has brought death upon those who touched it.

Characters[edit]

The transliterations follow J. W. Matthews's English version.

  • Abdalonim, the overseer of Hamilcar's stewards
  • Autharitus (Autharite), a Gallic leader of the Mercenaries
  • Demonades, a servant of Hanno
  • Giddenem, the governor of Hamilcar's slaves
  • Gisco (Gesco), a Carthaginian general
  • Hamilcar Barca (Amilcar), Carthaginian general who led the mercenaries before the events of the book
  • Hannibal, Hamilcar's young son
  • Hanno (Hannon), a Carthaginian general (based on Hanno the Great and the Hannibal of the Mercenary War)
  • Iddibal, a servant of Hamilcar
  • Matho (or Mâthos), a Libyan leader of the Mercenaries
  • Narr' Havas (Flaubert's spelling of Naravas), prince of the Numidians, and a leader of the Mercenaries
  • Salammbô, daughter of Hamilcar
  • Schahabarim, high priest of Tanith, and teacher of Salammbô
  • Spendius, a slave of Hamilcar, captured at the battle of Argunisae, who becomes a leader of the Mercenaries during the Revolt
  • Taanach, a slave attending Salammbô
  • Zarxas (Zarzas), a leader of the Mercenaries from the Balearic Isles

Quotations[edit]

The opening passage:

It was at Megara, a suburb of Carthage, in the gardens of Hamilcar, that the soldiers whom he had commanded in Sicily were holding a great feast to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Eryx. The master was absent, their numbers were large, and accordingly they ate and drank in perfect freedom.

The description of child sacrifice in chapter 13:

The brazen arms were working more quickly. They paused no longer. Every time that a child was placed in them the priests of Moloch spread out their hands upon him to burden him with the crimes of the people, vociferating: "They are not men but oxen!" and the multitude round about repeated: "Oxen! oxen!" The devout exclaimed: "Lord! Eat!".

Historical inaccuracies[edit]

Flaubert departed from Polybius's account when it suited his purposes. Though the mercenaries had executed a Carthaginian general named Hannibal, but Flaubert did not want to contribute to confusion of that Hannibal with the far more familiar Hannibal who commanded the military forces of Carthage in the Second Punic War in the 3rd century B.C. He therefore changed the name of his character to Hanno, the name of other Carthaginian military figures of less prominence.

Adaptations[edit]

Musical[edit]

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Other[edit]

Salammbô in art[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ellison, Heidi (2 June 2021). "Art Imitates Life Imitates Art". Paris Update. Archived from the original on 2 June 2021. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  2. ^ Flaubert, Gustave (1980). Correspondances, Tome II. Paris: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. pp. 846, 877. ISBN 9782070106684.
  3. ^ Jam, Marleb. "Jacques Martin". Lambiek Comiclopedia. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  4. ^ "Salambô: Fureur! Passion! Éléphants!". Musée des Beaux-Art. Archived from the original on 25 May 2021. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
Additional sources

External links[edit]

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Audio