A beautiful novel of Ancient Carthage Apr 17, 2002
Salambo is Gustav Flaubert's carefully researched "novelization" of the actual conflict (241 - 238 B.C.E.) between Hamilcar Barca and Carthage on the one hand and an army of disaffected former mercenaries on the other. It was first published in 1862.
Flaubert envisages a terrified city reduced to human sacrifice in an effort to save itself. Outside the mighty walls roils a horde of mercenaries bent on the utter annihilation of Carthage. All manner of horror (described in at times gruesome detail) unfolds during the war - torture, crucifixion, murder, cannibalism, human sacrifice.
The mercenaries are led by Matho, a charismatic Gaul of immense strength - but with a fatal flaw. A chance meeting with the exquisite Salambo, high priestess of the goddess Tanit and daughter to Hamilcar Barca, nearly proves to be his undoing. He becomes obsessed with her. He contrives to steal the veil of Tanit - an icon sacred to Carthage, without which the city will surely perish. Only Salambo, or so it seems, can save the nation. But at what terrible cost?
This wonderful little gem caught me almost completely by surprise. I actually did not read it but listened to the audio cassette. I would at times sit in the drive way outside my house unable to stop listening. While at first glance not what one might expect from one of the masters of French Realism (who wanted to hold up a mirror to the world and show both the beauty of the sky and the filth of the mud in the street), it is in fact a meticulously researched and accurate recreation of the world of Carthage after the First Punic War-- a world about which nogt enough is known. So it is in that sense, entirely in keeping with Falubert's body of work.
When this book was published there had been a surge of interest in Carthage (See also The Young Carthaginian by G. A. Henty). Surprisingly, to me anyway, many of the Victorians preferred the Carthaginians to the bully boy Romans -- perhaps because their sympathy ultimately lay with the vanquished Greek civilization.
The search for the forgotten realm. Jul 6, 2000
It seems at least surprising why Flaubert, a master of Realism, spent several years writing this novel placed in Carthago. At his time it was a very controversial issue, even though celebrated by critics and public, because of its sensuality which was criticised by eminent archaeologists. Gustave Flabert had made a very careful research, including several travels to Tunisia to figure out the exact settings of his plot, and thus he defended his work firmly. In the end, years afer, many of his proposals turned out to be certain. He took up this exhausting job in order to fulfill his taste for the exotic and even the grotesque in life. The main theme of the novel is the revolt of the mercenaries engaged by Carthago througout the Punic Wars against Rome. This army was formed by a bizarre variety of men from all over the Mediterranian lands, and like every army, they were loved at war and feared at peace. The novel begins with a feast given to honour their many years of sacrifice and loyalty. But soon after they are put apart to an inner region, feared by the citizens of the capital city. It is also the story of Matho, a Libian soldier, and Salambo, the Princess from Carthago. But this is just the starting line for Flaubert's displaying of his careful seek for the right word, le mot juste, and his amazing talent for showing the inner motivations of his characters. Summing up, this is a wonderful historic novel which does not only stand on long forgotten facts but on the rich depth of his characters. That is what makes it contemporary and close.