“Δίδομαι, δίδοσαι, δίδοται, δί… uh… διδόμετα…”
“Διδόμεθα, Hannibal. That’s a theta, not a tau.”
Hannibal sighed. “Sosylos… can’t we carry on with the Anabasis?”
“The Anabasis? You think I’ll let you near Xenophon when you can’t conjugate δίδωμι?”
“But is that important? People’ll understand me. You understand me.”
“It’s not about being understood somehow. Even a peddler in the market can be understood somehow. I wouldn’t have to be here if it was just about that. It’s the details. Today, you learn to conjugate δίδωμι. You’ll learn to distinguish between tau and theta. Next year, we’ll read Plato. You’ll learn to distinguish between fine points of right and wrong, and one view and another. You father is chasing you around the fields to exercise your body. This is just as important. I’m chasing you round the Greek verbs to exercise your mind. You’re going to need both.”
“But why Greek? Can’t I exercise my mind with Punic?”
“No. Because, no offence, Punic is a language for peddlers. Your esteemed father saw that and gave me the task of getting some culture into your head. Now, again. Δίδομαι, δίδοσαι, δίδοται…”
We know next to nothing about Hannibal’s youth, save for one thing that I, personally, find very touching: He learned Greek, from a Spartan tutor called Sosylos who later followed him on his campaigns as a historian. When I did my Graecum at University and struggled with the Greek conjugations, especially δίδωμι, I often wondered whether there were any words Hannibal hated, too. I always thought it was funny that I understand not one but two languages, Greek and Latin, that Hannibal also spoke.
And of course, if you’re a Latin teacher, you’re so used to fifteen-year-olds with thin arms and legs and huge feet slouched on chairs in deep concentration, while still questioning every task you make them do.
Sosylos is ever so slightly based on the professor I learnt Greek from. Obviously. I barely refrained from putting him in a blue pullunder.
Quick sketch with a bit of watercolour.
The world was lost in fog.
The sun should have been up by now – it must be up, judging by the dim, milky twilight that had replaced the clinging, misty darkness – but the lakeshore, the hills, the trees and bushes, even the thirty-thousand men all around were invisible, all but Hannibal’s guard and a handful of Gaetulan spearmen closest to him. The fog had swallowed all. The rocky slope in front of him vanished a short distance from his feet. Covering all the blinking metal parts turned out to be an unnecessary precaution. We could all be waving red flags, he thought; nobody would see.
Even the noises seemed dimmed. The soldiers behind Hannibal, the Gaetulan skirmishers with the heavy Libyan infantry further down the slope to block the exit from the trap, had settled into breathless silence barely interrupted by whispers. Every metal part was wrapped in cloth to prevent them from clanking.
Even the few officers' horses behind him were almost as silent as the men. There was the tiniest clinking of tack when one of them shook himself restively. Three Iberians of Hannibal’s guard, positioned behind the general, had even coaxed their mounts to the ground. One of the animals gave a little restless nicker, before his master’s ear-scratching quieted him again. The horses were used to this; Hannibal had often marvelled at the horsemen’s skill in keeping their mounts hidden and quiet while lying in wait for an ambush.
Not long now.
The trees and bushes, the hills, the entire lakeshore lay waiting. Thirty-thousand were waiting. There were no messengers, no horn signals. Hannibal had a few quick runners with him, as well as a handful of mounted messengers, but all his officers knew what was to be done, and he would use messengers only if something went horribly wrong and the others had to be warned. But if anything did go horribly wrong, chances were he would be the last to know. Maharbal was stationed at the entry of the narrow pass along the lake. If all went according to plan, the Romans would now be filing past him. Two horn-blasts when the last of the Roman column had passed the entry into the valley; one horn-blast if they detected the trap.
Not a sound. The horns were silent.
Someone behind him stifled a groan as he stretched aching muscles. They had taken their positions on the slopes two hours ago, at first light; the waiting was becoming more and more agonizing now that the day had finally come. The inability to do anything was almost unbearable. Hannibal stared into the fog as if he could force it to reveal its secrets to him. His dead right eye started watering; it still felt unfamiliar to have a half-vision only, even if today, all were equally blind.
And after all, in the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
The twilight grew brighter, but still the fog didn't lift. When the wind brought snatches of voices, hoofs and the marching feet, a shudder seemed to go through the men behind; there was the briefest outbreak of a hissed “They’re coming!” and hurried prayers in at least three different languages, quickly silenced. Hannibal stared into the mist below. The sounds below were getting louder and nearer, slowly, very slowly. Marching feet, the neighing of horses. Snatches of conversation in Latin, even snatches of laughter, but still there was nothing to be seen.
They have no idea, Hannibal thought, overwhelmed. Yes, he had counted on this, had planned for it, had assured his officers and his men of it, but now, the Gods had truly laid everything into his hands. The fog, the natural ambush site provided by the lakeshore, and incredibly, the utter artlessness of Gaius Flaminius. There was nothing to indicate the Roman consul had sent out any scouts, or his Libyans would have encountered them by now. Flaminius knew Hannibal was just a day’s march ahead of him, but he was leading his army into this misty valley without a shred of caution.
Forty thousand men marching blindly into their doom.
Behind Hannibal, breathless tension. No more hissed comments, not even prayers. His surroundings felt unreal, remote, secondary; his sole focus, every tendril of his being, concentrated on the unseen Roman army making its way along the coastal road, deeper into the mist, towards him, into the waiting trap. Only minutes now, and they would all be inside the jaws of death, still utterly ignorant. Only minutes until there would be no escaping Lake Trasimene. Closer came the hoof-sounds, closer came the voices; now he could hear even the scraping of iron-shod sandals on the sandy road; could make out a half-sentence or two –
Then, two horn-blasts from the far end of the shore. The trap was sprung. The jaws closed.
Acrylic ink on watercolour paper, A4 size. Acrylic ink is my discovery of the year. Just wow.
Text is mine.
My art on Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheArtOfJenny…
and on tumblr: goldseven.tumblr.com/
Note #1: His right eye is blind.
Note #2: A linothorax is officially the second unfortunate-looking piece of "clothing" in history. Just after high-waist carrot jeans. For precisely the same reasons. You can't wear one without looking like a midget. Stupid Greeks. I suppose that's what you get for making an equestrian piece of body armour.