Synopses & Reviews
An epic work of literary fiction about the superb military leader of Carthage, Hannibal Barca, and his struggle against the mighty Roman Republic.
With a vast cast of characters and nationalities, twists of fate, and tales of inspired leadership, David Anthony Durham perfectly captures the legendary Hannibal's world in Pride of Carthage. Beginning in ancient Spain, where Hannibal's father had carved out a Carthaginian empire, the novel traces the origins of the war, the opening moves, and Hannibal's inspired choice to attack Rome via a land route most believed impossible. In graphic, panoramic prose, Durham describes the battles, including the icy slaughter of the Trebia; the mist-shrouded battle along Lake Trasimene; the battle of Cannae, in which Hannibal's outnumbered force surrounded and decimated seventy thousand Romans in a single afternoon; and Zama, the hard slog that proved to be the decisive contest.
Along the way we meet a variety of major historical figures on both sides of the conflict, as well as characters representing the vast array of other ethnicities who played a part in the war: Iberians and Gauls, Numidians and Libyans, Macedonians and Moors. Hannibal's family is brought to life: his wife, mother, sisters, and young son, as is Publius Scipio, the young Roman who was the only match for Hannibal's genius on the field of battle and who eventually defeated him.
Pride of Carthage is a stunning achievement in historical fiction, one that will transport readers to a world of mesmerizing authenticity of character, event, and detail.
"Pride of Carthage is that rare and wonderful thing: an historical novel that's not only deeply evocative of time and place, character and situation, but is also lyrically written, compellingly composed. I savored each page while ever more breathless as the story unfolded. Durham has broken the mold of historical fiction and created a masterpiece." Jeffrey Lent, author of In the Fall and Lost Nation
"Masterly....First-rate historical fiction. Durham has delivered some of the best battle scenes on the page since Michael Shaara's Civil War fiction." San Francisco Chronicle
"Stunning....A brilliant exploration of the tension between private destiny and historical force." The Christian Science Monitor
"Fascinating....Nimbly exploits what is known about this distant period....The author has speculated and invented optimally." The Washington Post
"One of the best of the current crop of historical novels, and a career-making march forward for Durham." Kirkus Reviews
With a vast cast of characters and nationalities, twists of fate, and tales of inspired leadership, the author perfectly captures the world of the superb military leader of Carthage, the legendary Hannibal.
This epic retelling of the legendary Carthaginian military leaders assault on the Roman empire begins in Ancient Spain, where Hannibal Barca sets out with tens of thousands of soldiers and 30 elephants. After conquering the Roman city of Saguntum, Hannibal wages his campaign through the outposts of the empire, shrewdly befriending peoples disillusioned by Rome and, with dazzling tactics, outwitting the opponents who believe the land route he has chosen is impossible. Yet Hannibals armies must take brutal losses as they pass through the Pyrenees mountains, forge the Rhone river, and make a winter crossing of the Alps before descending to the great tests at Cannae and Rome itself. David Anthony Durham draws a brilliant and complex Hannibal out of the scant historical record-sharp, sure-footed, as nimble among rivals as on the battlefield, yet one who misses his family and longs to see his son grow to manhood. Whether portraying the deliberations of a general or the calculations of a common soldier, vast multilayered scenes of battle or moments of introspection when loss seems imminent, Durham brings history alive.
This epic retelling of the legendary Carthaginian military leader’s assault on the Roman empire begins in Ancient Spain, where Hannibal Barca sets out with tens of thousands of soldiers and 30 elephants. After conquering the Roman city of Saguntum, Hannibal wages his campaign through the outposts of the empire, shrewdly befriending peoples disillusioned by Rome and, with dazzling tactics, outwitting the opponents who believe the land route he has chosen is impossible. Yet Hannibal’s armies must take brutal losses as they pass through the Pyrenees mountains, forge the Rhone river, and make a winter crossing of the Alps before descending to the great tests at Cannae and Rome itself.
David Anthony Durham draws a brilliant and complex Hannibal out of the scant historical record–sharp, sure-footed, as nimble among rivals as on the battlefield, yet one who misses his family and longs to see his son grow to manhood. Whether portraying the deliberations of a general or the calculations of a common soldier, vast multilayered scenes of battle or moments of introspection when loss seems imminent, Durham brings history alive.
About the Author
DAVID ANTHONY DURHAM earned an MFA from the University of Maryland and is the author of two widely praised novels, Gabriels Story and Walk Through Darkness. Durham lives in Massachusetts with his wife and children.
Reading Group Guide
The Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca stunned the ancient world with his shrewd, relentless, and logic-defying onslaught against the mighty Roman empire. Pride of Carthage
captures the legendary Hannibal and his unparalleled military campaign in a novel charged with pulse-quickening action and boldly imagined detail. The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enliven your group’s discussion of this evocative epic.
1. Hannibal first appears in the novel as a flippant, arrogant, muscle-bound brute who blatantly mocks a delegation from the Roman Senate by making horse-lip noises at them [pp. 11—15]. How does the author go about unveiling the many facets of Hannibal’s personality thereafter, and why does he choose this instance as his starting point? Hannibal is ultimately revealed to be battle-weary, lovesick, demoralized, and peace-seeking; does the author present this shift as a disintegration or as a deepening of character?
2. Imco Vaca stars in the novel as somewhat of an antihero, rewarded for valor after an act of cowardice. Why does his particular tale frame the novel? Imco harbors both a real awe of Hannibal and a sardonic appreciation for the absurdity of the campaign. Which belief prevails in the end? Why does he persevere?
3. The memory of their late father, Hamilcar, looms large in each of the Barca brothers’ psyches. What lessons has each brother learned from him? How do they try to imitate him, and in what ways do they struggle to detach from him? Which man suffered the most contentious relationship with Hamilcar and why? How much of Hannibal’s campaign is an attempt to redress his father’s failures?
4. Didobal urges Imilce to ignore Hannibal’s life outside their home: “I’m not sure if this makes sense to you, but do not seek the ways of war. . . . Do not wish to understand it. Take your husband in his quiet moments, when he’s in your arms and when he looks upon your child with love” [p. 378]. Hannibal recalls Hamilcar offering similar advice: “I did something once that I always regretted afterward. I showed [Didobal] my work. I let her see my bloody masterpiece. . . . I should never have done this” [p. 467]. What incident are they remembering? What point is the author making about the separation of love and war? Is Hamilcar’s statement–”Your mother is a creator; I am a destroyer” [p.468]–hopelessly outdated, or does it have modern relevance? Is a successful relationship possible when one partner’s occupation is so violent and ruthless and seemingly at odds with the values of family life?
5. Tusselo the Numidian, his fate sealed by the cruelty of a single Roman, seeks revenge on the entire Roman empire through Hannibal’s campaign. Does he become loyal to Hannibal along the way, or is his mission entirely personal? Why does Hannibal’s decision to return to Carthage spur Tusselo to his desertion and to his final cathartic act? Has he healed in any way by the end?
6. How does Hannibal’s self-perception contrast with his reputation? Why does he spur his men on to acts of greed and cruelty when he so pointedly despises these traits in the enemy? Does the author paint him as a tragic victim of fate or a self-ruined man?
7. Imilce describes Sophonisba as “well informed and readily capable of discoursing on all manner of subjects. She knows the details of the campaign, and she wishes she might herself take part” [p. 243]. Sophonisba herself states, “I am not like most girls. I do not pray for childish things. I pray that I will somehow serve Carthage in a way that would honor the Barcas” [p. 244]. Is it surprising, then, that Sophonisba so readily chooses suicide when Masinissa, in league with Rome, suggests it? Is her death an act of devastation over losing her mate, or does she believe she is serving Carthage by dying? Why does the author convey her death through the eyes of Masinissa rather than those of her sister and mother?
8. Has Hannibal met his match in Publius? Does the tone of the novel allow the reader to sympathize with the Roman, or is he presented merely as an obstacle to Hannibal’s success? What skills give Publius his edge? Can it be argued that Hannibal is motivated too much by emotion, while Publius is purely rational?
9. As Saguntum falls, Imco Vaca murders an eleven-year-old girl to save her from the life of rape and torture he is certain she will otherwise face. “He prayed that the girl might understand his action as he had meant it: as a twisted, merciful gift” [p. 76]. What are the moral implications of his decision? Are there instances when murder in the name of mercy is justifiable? When the child’s ghost begins to haunt him, why does she mock him as “pitiable,” “a half-man,” “hypocritical,” “a farce” [p. 258], and “pathetic” [p. 261]? How does he rid himself of this apparition? Does he ever forgive himself for killing her?
10. When Hannibal is delivered the severed head of his brother, Hasdrubal, the commander confronts his own crushing sense of guilt: “He did not know where to direct his anger. Rome was the obvious target. He would never say otherwise in his life. But a man has quieter demons to contend with and these spoke more softly than the wraiths. They asked who was truly to blame. From whose hand dripped the most blood? And also they answered: Hannibal’s. Hannibal’s” [p. 460]. In what way does this moment turn the tide in the novel’s action? How does Hannibal choose to interpret the words of his father–”I do, however, question the rightness of the world itself” [p. 468]–as he prepares to lead his men toward Rome?
11. Hannibal’s story concludes with the theme of forgiveness, as he makes his slow, painful progression back to his wife after five long years away. Where else in the novel is the idea of forgiveness examined? Does Sapanibal achieve it? Does Hanno?
12. The relationship between Aradna and Imco is a poignant and sometimes funny subplot within the narrative. Is their love affair meant to be a leavening agent to the heavy mood of the novel, or does it point toward larger themes? Why doesn’t the author reunite the lovers at the end?