Scipio Aemilianus at Carthage

   One by one all the houses on the three roads that led to Byrsa had been taken by force. All the men, women, old men, children that they contained had been thrown pell mell into pits, the dead along with the living. This advance hindered by human obstacles that were burned or butchered in order to pass through had lasted six days and six nights. On the seventh day the Carthaginians taking refuge in Byrsa had obtained the promise from the victor that their lives would be spared and to the number of fifty thousand they had left, their arms laid down. Finally the fugitives who had nothing more to hope from the victor had fallen back upon the temple of Aesculapius, and seeing themselves abandoned by Asdrubal, set on fire their last sanctuary and preceded by the wife and children of their unfaithful chief threw themselves into the midst of the flames heaping terrible curses on his name.
   This stupendous resistance had just melted away in a whirlwind of flames and smoke. All combat had come to an end. Only the pillage by the Roman soldiers continued, voracious, ferocious, unpitying. The lust of those vile legionaries had hardly been satisfied. A people who have just destroyed their own homes to halt the enemy's advance, whose womenfolk have cut off their long hair to weave ropes from it, who have just resisted three years of hunger and misery in dark and heroic despair do not leave a great booty behind. All had been employed making arms and the bloodthirsty rage of the soldiers soon had to settle for insults to the dead and hymns to their vanquishing general.
   But this general was a sensitive philosopher rather than a fierce warrior, a fine, elegant, coldly cruel man who exactly represented that corrupted, civilized, polite society, over-educated in Greece and his cruelty refined in Asia. Escaping from the shouts and clamorous demonstrations of those thugs and barbarians, the young conqueror, followed by a few of his friends, climbed up onto a piece of high ground that looked out over the harbour and the town.
   His vision encompassed a gloomy, immense, indistinct expanse, with flaming ruins, a flock of birds of prey on the mounds of corpses and debris, here and there a voracious and blasphemous legionary insulting a corpse as he plundered it. This dismal scene was illuminated by a sinister glimmer into which were melting the last rays of the setting sun and the tawny reflections of the conflagration. It was here that a few years previously Scipio had first set eyes on powerful Carthage out of which ships exported their riches from the foggy isles of Brittany to the scorching lands of Arabia. Of that brilliant civilization, of that prodigious fortune behold what is left: a day's worth of food for the vultures and a few letters for the children of Rome and Ostia to learn their spellings. There, in front of him, this smoke disappearing into the winds and the ruins tumbling into dust were carrying away the last vestige of great Carthage and her industrious and heroic children. Hardly hearing the polite compliments or the vile flatteries that his Greek friends were lavishing on him, lulled by the distant murmur of the ocean whose august serenity contrasted majestically with this horrible scene of desolation, Scipio Aemilianus, leaning melancholically against an ancient ruin, was dreaming - "Scipio," one of his friends said, "behold at last this military science worthily crowned and which will never be equalled. Your triumph is the most glorious that could be seen. - In the name of Bacchus let us rejoice, you the new Alexander! - eh! what are you doing my young hero? why this philosophical attitude? This bloody ruin is the beautiful scenery for your triumphal departure."

School composition c. 1884. BNF NAF 16611.

 


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