10 December 2007

Flaubert on ancient warfare

I am just about finished with Gustave Flaubert's Salammbo on Project Gutenberg. It is an amazing recreation of a past that never existed. And yet ... and yet ... Flaubert loads his work with so much convincing detail that you begin to believe. Consider this little snippet from his description of the preparations among the Carthaginians for the last battle. I don't know if it bears any resemblance to the actual event, and I've never heard of a military historian noting these little details. But once you read them, you realize that they ought to be true.

The Carthaginians arrived first in the plain. They rubbed the edges of their shields with oil to make the arrows glide off them easily; the foot-soldiers who wore long hair took the precaution of cutting it on the forehead; and Hamilcar ordered all bowls to be inverted from the fifth hour, knowing that it is disadvantageous to fight with the stomach too full.

What a writer, to make it all seem real.

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