Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tales From the Slippery Slope VIII: Hannibal fools the Cretans
The other night we were all sitting in The Slippery Slope after a good dinner. We got to talking about travel. It aparently made no difference that none us has been anywhere recently, for almost any subject can lead to talk about travel. Within a few minutes of my mentioning the news that my niece had successfully completed her PhD viva in England, we were talking about England, about getting around in England, about getting to and from England, and at last, in general, of the pains of travel
“That’s redundant, you know”, said Tom Chillingworth.
John Strype, the undertaker, asked “:What is?”
“Pains of travel. The only reason it's called travel is because it’s painful.”
“Tell us more, Tom,” said Canon Hawker, though I’m sure he already knew what Tom meant.
“Travel,” said Tom, “is a form of ‘travail’, which means suffering or trouble, from the Old French ‘travailler’, 'to toil, labour', but originally 'to trouble, torture'. Travail is still sometimes found used in connection with childbirth. The source seems to be a vulgar Latin verb “tripaliare”, 'to torture', from “tripalium”, an instrument of torture, and that is probably from “tripalis”, which means “something with three stakes”. In English it started to mean ‘journey’ sometime around 1300, when it took over from the Old English ‘faran’. Travel is torture. Maybe it started out as somebody’s idea of a joke.”
“I love to be in new places and see new things,” said Hawker, “but I shudder at the thought of getting there. Even the best trips – a car trip with a friend, say – will be tiring and uncomfortable. But the worst of it all is the luggage. No matter how I try to keep the baggage light, there’s always something I have to bring just because I know it will come in handy.”
“Of course it often does," said Tom, "which reminds me of a story about Hannibal.
“Do elephants come in handy when travelling?” said John?
“There is more to Hannibal than elephants! In his life of Hannibal Cornelius Nepos keeps calling him the shrewdest of all men. This story is about his exile, long after the famous war, when the Romans were convinced that he would always be spinning intrigues against them, and they would never be safe while he lived. Sounds rather familiar, doesn't it? ”
“Yes," I said, "and I think I remember this story from Selected Latin Readings in school. But I’d like to hear how you retell it.”
The other two agreed, and Tom began.

It’s surprising what some people take with them when going into exile, when a quick escape might make the difference between life and death. For example, when Hannibal went into exile from Carthage some years after the war with Rome, for some reason he brought a number of bronze statues. This might seem like a nuisance, but they did actually come in handy at one point.

After the war with Rome, Hannibal settled down for quite a few years; he ran for public office and settled the public finances. But one day Roman ambassadors arrived at Carthage. Hannibal feared that they had come looking for him, and that his own people would hand him over to them; so he escaped secretly and sailed to Syria to seek refuge with King Antiochus. When this became known (it could hardly be a secret for long) the Carthaginians seized his property and razed his house to its foundations, and declared Hannibal himself an exile. One can only assume that the Romans really had come looking for him.

Hannibal’s refuge with Antiochus was not a success. He was hardly ready to settle down to a quiet exile, grumbling now and then about how things might have worked out. He kept intriguing to get back at Rome. To cut a long story short, it ended with Antiochus’ defeat in a naval battle. Hannibal knew that the king would hand him over to the Romans if he had a chance, so he fled to Crete.

On Crete Hannibal went to stay at the town of Gortys while he considered where he could settle more permanently. Cornelius Nepos says that Hannibal, the shrewdest of all men saw that he was in danger on account of their avarice, unless he took some precautions. It seems he had a lot of money with him, and knew that rumours were going around it. So he came up with a plan.

He filled a large number of those earthenware pots called amphorae with lead and covered the tops with gold and silver which he deposited in the temple of Diana for safe-keeping. He made a big show of it, in the presence of all the leading citizens, telling them that he was entrusting his fortune to their protection. Having deceived the Cretans, he then put all his money into the bronze states he was carrying around. Nepos says he cast them away (abicit) in the forecourt of his house; I think the picture he wants to give is that he left them standing round carelessly, as if they were of no particular importance.
So while Hannibal’s treasure was all in his front yard, the leading citizens of Gortys kept the temple of Diana under close guard, not so much against others as against Hannibal, so that he couldn’t remove his money without their knowledge and take it away with him.
Thus, concludes Nepos, the Carthaginian preserved his property, fooled all the Cretans, and went off to king Prusias in Pontus. It was in Pontus that the Romans finally tracked him down. But perhaps I’ll save the story of Hannibal’s end for another time

“A good story,” said Hawker, “but it seems a bit hard on the people of Crete. It reminds me of the famous ‘Eumenides Paradox’, ‘all Cretans are liars, said Eumenides, a Cretan.’ It’s even in the New Testament, though not as a paradox.”
“Where’s that?” asked John
Titus 1.12-13 warns Titus against the many false teachers on Crete, it quotes Eumenides: ‘One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, Cretans are always liars, evil beasts lazy gluttons. This testimony is true.’ That’s not to be taken, I hope, as an infallible truth.”
At that the conversation turned off onto the problems of being a fundamentalist. Perhaps we’ll get the story of Hannibal’s death. another time.
If you have recently joined us, you might like to know that the first Slippery Slope episode apppeared in this Blog on March 28th.

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