Yearning for strong and harsh passions, which he did not find in the reality surrounding him, Flaubert turned to a profound history. He settled his heroes in the III century. BC. e. and chose a real episode – when the famous Carthaginian commander Hamilcar Barca, with unprecedented cruelty, suppressed an uprising of mercenary troops.
It began with the fact that the Council of Carthage, devastated by the Punic War, could not pay salaried soldiers on time and tried to belittle their anger with abundant food. The place of the feast was the gardens surrounding the magnificent palace of Hamilcar. The exhausted, weary warriors, many of whom were wounded or mutilated, flocked to the place of feast. It was “people of different nations – Ligurians, Lusitanians, Balearics, negroes and fugitives from Rome… The Greek could be distinguished by a thin camp, the Egyptian – by the high stooped shoulders, the cantabra – by the fat caviar…”. The calculation of the Council was incorrect. Under the influence of wine vapors, the anger of deceived warriors, through which Hamilcar gained victories in his recent campaigns, only intensified. They demanded more and more – meat, wine, gold, women,
Suddenly, from the Carthaginian prison, plaintive singing of the prisoners of slaves was heard. The men who had feast left their food and rushed to free the prisoners. They returned, screaming in front of him a man of twenty slaves, rattling chains. The binge resumed with renewed vigor. Someone noticed a lake in which gems were adorned with precious stones. In the genus Barki revered these fishes as sacred. The barbarians with laughter caught them, lit a fire and began to observe cheerfully how the strange creatures wriggle in boiling water.
At that moment, the upper terrace of the palace lit up and a female figure appeared in the doorway. “Her hair, sprinkled with purple powder, according to the custom of the maidens of Canaan, was stacked like a tower… a multitude of stones gleamed on her chest… her hands covered with precious stones were bare to the shoulders… Her pupils seemed to be directed far beyond the earth’s limits” .
It was the daughter of Hamilcar Barqi-Salammbo. She was educated far from human eyes, in the company of eunuchs and maidservants, in extraordinary rigor and sophistication and in constant prayers, glorifying the goddess Tanith, whom Carthage worshiped. The goddess was considered the soul of Carthage and the guarantee of his power.
Now Salammbo was calling her favorite fish, lamenting and reproaching the barbarians in sacrilege. She spoke a variety of languages, referring to everyone in his dialect. Everyone listened attentively to the beautiful girl. But no one looked at her as intently as the young Numidian leader Nar Havas. He was not a mercenary, and he happened to be at a feast accidentally. He lived in the palace of Hamilcar for six months, but for the first time he saw Salambo and was amazed by her beauty.
On the other side of the table, a huge Libyan named Mato was located. He too was subdued by the image of Salammbo. When the girl finished her speech, Matho bowed admiringly. In response, Salammbo handed him a cup of wine as a sign of reconciliation with the army. One of the soldiers, a gall, noticed that in their land a woman gives wine to a man when he offers to share a bed with her. He did not have time to finish the phrases as Nar Havas grabbed the dart and threw it at Mato, hitting it in his hand. The Libyan man jumped in fury, but Havas managed to hide in the palace. Mato rushed after him – upstairs, to the red door, which slammed behind the rival. But behind the door was one of the freed slaves – Spendius. He began to tell Mato that he had lived before in the palace, knows his secret and in a reward for freedom is ready to show Mato, where treasured treasures are stored. But all thoughts of Mato were now occupied by Salammbo.
Two days later the mercenaries were announced that if they left the city, they would be fully paid the promised salary and the Carthaginian galleys would take everyone home. The barbarians gave way. Seven days in the desert they reached the place where they were instructed to break camp. Once in this camp Nar Havas appeared. Matho first wanted to kill him for a trick at the feast. But Nar Havas referred to intoxication, sent Mato rich gifts and as a result remained to live among the mercenaries. Only Spendius immediately realized that this man was plotting treachery. But whom does he want to betray – the Barbarians or Carthage? Eventually, Spendius was indifferent, because “he hoped to benefit from all sorts of trouble.”
Matho was in deep sorrow. Often he lay down on the sand and did not move until the evening. He confessed to the eternal Spendius that he was haunted by the image of Hamilcar’s daughter. He turned to the sorceress, swallowed at their advice the ashes, the fennel and the poison of the vipers, but in vain. His passion only grew.
Everyone waited, when the promised gold will come from Carthage. In the camp, meanwhile, all the people arrived. These were hordes of debtors who fled Carthage, ruined peasants, outlaws, criminals. The tension grew, but the salary was still not there. One day an important procession led by the old commander Gannon arrived. He began to tell people, driven to gloomy despair, how bad things are in Carthage and how meager his treasury is. In front of the exhausted crowd during the speech, he now and again enjoyed the expensive dishes, taken with them. All this caused a murmur and finally an explosion. The barbarians decided to move to Carthage. For three days they made their way back and besieged the city. A bloody struggle began.
Matho was the leader of the Libyans. He was revered for strength and courage. In addition, he “inspired some sort of mystical fear: they thought that at night he spoke with a ghost.” One day Spendius suggested that Mato be held in Carthage, secretly, through water pipes. When they entered the besieged city, Spendius persuaded Mato to steal from her temple of the goddess Tanith her veil – a symbol of power. With an effort over himself, Mato agreed to this bold step. He left the temple, wrapped in a divine veil, and headed straight for Hamilcar’s palace, and there he made his way into Salammbo’s room. The girl was asleep, but, sensing Matho’s gaze, she opened her eyes. The Libyan began to hastily tell her about his love. He suggested that Salambo go along with him or agreed to remain himself, obeying any fate. He was ready to give her the stolen coverlet of the goddess. Shocked Salammbo began to call for help. But when the runaway slaves wanted to... rush on Matho, she stopped them: “There is a veil of the goddess on him!” Matho left the palace unhindered and left the city. The people who saw the Libyan were afraid to touch him: “… the veil was part of the deity, and touching it threatened with death.”
The outbreak of the battle of the barbarians with Carthage was extremely difficult. Success tended to one or the other side, and not one was not inferior to the other in military force, cruelty and perfidy. Spendius and Nar Havas lost courage, but Matho was stubborn and brave. In Carthage believed that the cause of all the misfortunes – the loss of the veil of the goddess. Salambault was accused of what had happened.
The teacher Salammbo, the priest, directly told the girl that the salvation of the republic depends on her. He persuaded her to go to the barbarians and take the veil of Tanith back. Perhaps, he continued, it threatens the girl with ruin, but, according to the priest, the salvation of Carthage is worth one woman’s life. Salammbo agreed to this sacrifice and set out with the guide.
They took a long and cautious approach to the positions of the barbarians. The sentry Salammbo said she was a defector from Carthage and wanted to speak with Mato. “… Her face was hidden under a yellow veil with yellow divorces, and she was so wrapped up in many clothes that she could not see it…” Mato appeared, she asked to take her to her tent. The Libyan man’s heart beat, the imperious look of a stranger confused him. His tent was at the very end of the camp, three hundred paces from the trenches of Hamilcar.
In the tent, Mato Salambo saw the precious veil of the goddess. The girl felt that she was supported by the forces of the gods. She resolutely tore off her veil and announced that she wants to take back the veil of Tanith. Mato looked at Salammbo, forgetting everything in the world. And she threw him in the face with anger: “From everywhere you go news about the devastated cities, the burned villages, the murder of soldiers! You destroyed them! I hate you!” She remembered how Mato burst into her bedroom: “I did not understand your speeches, but I clearly saw that you were attracting me to something terrible, to the bottom of the abyss.” “Oh no,” cried Mato, “I wanted to give you a veil, because you’re beautiful, like Tanith! Unless you’re Tanith herself!”
He knelt down before her, kissed her shoulders, legs, long braids… Salammbo was struck by his strength. A strange languor had seized her. “Something tender and at the same time imperious, which seemed like the will of the gods, forced her to surrender to this languor.” At that moment a fire broke out in the camp, it was arranged by Nar Gavas. Mato jumped out of the tent, and when he returned, Salammbo could not be found. She slipped through the front line and soon found herself in her own father’s tent. He did not ask her anything. Besides, he was not alone. Nearby was Nar Havas, who crossed with his cavalry to the side of the Carthaginians. This betrayal determined the outcome of the battle and the confrontation as a whole, greatly weakening the ranks of mercenaries. Numidian prostrated himself in front of Barca as a sign that he was giving himself to him in slavery, but also recalled his services. He assured that he was in the ranks of the barbarians, to help Carthage. In fact, Nar Gavas was guided only by who was on the side of the preponderance. Now he realized that the final victory would go to Hamilcar, and crossed over to his side. In addition, he was angry at Matho for his advantage as a military leader and for his love for Salammbo.
The discerning Hamilcar did not convict Nar Havas of lying, since he also saw the benefit of an alliance with this man. When Salambo came into the tent and stretched out her arms and unfolded the veil of the goddess, Hamilcar excitedly announced in a fit of emotion: “As a reward for the services you have given me, I give you my daughter, Nar Gavas.” There was a betrothal. According to custom, young people were tied together by thumbs with a bull-leather strap, and then they began to pour grain on their heads. Salammbo stood calmly, like a statue, as if not understanding what was happening.
Meanwhile, the war continued. Although the Tanith bedspread was now in the hands of the Republic, the barbarians again besieged Carthage. Spendius managed to destroy the city water system. The epidemic of plague began in the city. The elders in desperation decided to sacrifice Moloch, killing children from wealthy families. They also came for the ten-year-old Hannibal – the son of Bark. Distracted from fear for his son Hamilcar, Hannibal hid, and for him issued a similar boy of slaves. After playing the scene of his father’s grief, he gave to the slaughter of a small slave. (In this case, Hannibal is a real historical person, the future famous commander).
Immediately after the sacrifice, it began to rain, and this saved the Carthaginians. Nar Havas managed to bring flour to the city. Rome and Syracuse leaned on the side of the republic, frightened by the triumph of mercenaries.
The rebels suffered a crushing defeat, in their ranks began a terrible famine and even there were cases of cannibalism. Spendius died, who never managed to rise as a result of the Troubles. Mato was taken prisoner, although his unit resisted to the last. Narus Havas managed to sneak up behind him and throw a net on the Libyan. The execution of the indomitable warrior was scheduled for the same day as Salammbo’s wedding. Before death, Mato was subjected to sophisticated torture. He was led across the city with blindfolded hands, so that every resident could strike. It was forbidden to just poke your eyes and beat in your heart to prolong torture as long as possible.
When Salammbo, sitting on the open terrace of the palace in a dazzling wedding dress, saw Mato, he was a solid mass of blood. Only my eyes still lived and looked at the girl. And she suddenly realized how much he had suffered for her. She remembered how he was in the tent, whispering words of love to her. Tortured, he fell dead. And at the same moment, intoxicated with pride, Nar Gavas stood up, embraced Salammbo and drank from the golden cup in the sight of the exultant city – for Carthage. Salammbo also rose with a cup in her hand. But then she lowered herself, threw back her head on the back of the throne. She was dead. “So the daughter of Hamilcar died as a punishment for touching the cover of Tanith.”