Cannae Rises Like A Specter At Midnight:

Cato had planned the banquet for the senators well. His own grape vintage flowed copiously. The servants poured into the banquet hall serving game fowl and pork roast along with a selection of shellfish for an appetizer.

Late into the night the wine flowed and course after course was served as Cato passed around the drawing that Gaius Antonius had made that memorable day in Carthage standing by Cato’s side. Each poured over it and nodded, and Gaius’s own father, one of the senators, held up his head proudly that his son had such an important part in today’s meeting. Even more important than making the drawing in the beginning, Gaius had just risked his life getting the stolen document back from the Carthaginians once more.

Lavinia, seated as the one of the only women at the large banquet by Gaius’s side (a few other senators’ wives had also tagged along to the big event) , she spent the whole time gazing at him with adoration in her eyes. Occasionally she squeezed his hand under the table when one of the senators complimented him on the details in his amazing drawing that had turned out to be so decisive in deciding the course of action for Rome.

“Amazing that one so young would have such an eagle’s eye!” one senator shook his head.

“Thank the gods that Cato chose him to accompany the expedition. If he had not come, we would not have all the details we need about the Carthaginian army and navy on the move,” remarked another.

“And all their diabolical plans!” shouted still another.

Five others nodded grimly.

The map never ceased to circulate as afternoon waxed into evening. Cato hardly had to direct or encourage them. They all had grandfathers who had fought in the Second Punic War against the worst enemy Rome had ever faced, Hannibal, son of the ruler of Carthage. He had invaded Italy with a fabulous, legendary host of wild African elephants that he had made part of his infamous cavalry.

“My grandfather always told me that a man who fights with elephants, jungle animals, is not civilized and cannot be trusted,” one senator lamented.

“Not only the general cannot be trusted,” quipped Cato, “the whole city state, the whole Phoenician people, the whole civilization cannot be trusted. They are foul from beginning to end, the troops of some Goddess of the Moon and Goddess of the Underworld that they follow who demands obscene child sacrifice practices. It is said that outside their city is one of the largest graveyards you have ever seen or could ever imagined filled with the bones of the children of Carthage.”

He passed around an artifact he had brought back from Carthage. It was an embodiment of Tanit, the savage Moon Goddess, the wife of the chief god, Baal Hammon, whom the Princess Tanit they had both met had been named after. The Romans shuddered at the visage of such an un-Olympian deity without any grace, beauty, or noble purpose.

These gods and goddesses were crude indeed. Cato passed around the statue of another and another that he had obtained at Carthage. One looked like a sphinx. Others were mere beasts without the noble human form. He was trying to enrage the senators about the Carthaginians, and he was succeeding.

“My grandfather died at the Battle of Cannae in southern Italy,” one senator asserted. “My family commemorates the day and the hour to this day. We always present food to the dead as well as gifts. We sit there near his urn and talk to his bones about the battle. It is a noble act, an important sacrifice, so that we can sit here today and eat this banquet and that our homes are not destroyed and burned by the barbarian army.”

“Here! Here!” the senators cheered.

Each broke into a story about his own relative who had taken part in the worst defeat Rome had ever known in its history since it was founded in 753 B.C. by Romulus and Remus, six hundred years before the present date of 149 B.C. That was the Battle of Cannae.

“My grandfather was part of the front line of the infantry. They kept on advancing and advancing into the field as they always did. Suddenly there were Carthaginians on every side wearing those savage masks and looking like a legion of the dead attacking them. They were cut down on every side without a chance of escape. My grandfather was wounded, and he thought he was dead. He only survived because he somehow managed to escape from the field of the dead at Cannae while the Carthaginian soldiers were cutting down the last of the surviving Romans some distance away.”

Others talked of how the soldiers surrounding their grandfathers huddled together and waited for the end. When the end proved too much of a strain for their nerves, they decided not to wait to be hacked apart. They dug their own graves in the middle of the field and buried themselves first.

Late at night Cato finally held up his hands. “We Romans here today in the year 149 B.C. all are the successors of those who fought in that horrible war and that terrible Battle of Cannae which we finally managed to win. The last thing our ancestors would have wanted us to do would be to succumb to the savage horde once again. Now that we have them down we ought to keep them down forever and not let them rise again.” Cato spoke as he rose from his seat. “As I have said time and time again, for our own good, for the good of our city state, for the good of our future generations, for the good of Italy herself, Carthago delenda est, Carthage must be destroyed.”

The senators all rose to their feet cheering. The next day they all returned to Rome. They marched into the Senate House. Cato rose and made a speech just as everybody expected. “The Carthaginians are the Phoenicians, and as such they are wedded to the sea. The Phoenician seafaring traditions are what have caused us all this trouble over the years since Hannibal took ship and came to Italy through Spain and over the Alps from Gaul to fight at Cannae.”

They all nodded in assent as Cato continued.

“So we will give the Carthaginians their last chance to redeem themselves. They have sent hostages who then escaped stealing our maps. They sent weapons here which they probably pillaged from somebody else. Now let them agree to leave their city state forever, Carthage by the sea, and move inland at least ten miles or so and build another city there. We will sail to Africa and demolish Carthage. The Carthaginians will never be a seafaring folk again.”

Cato’s proposal was met with great applause that lasted many minutes before he could raise his hands for silence and speak again. “It will be Carthage’s fault if there is another war. They will have asked for it by building naval ships that they were not allowed to build according to our treaty and then refusing to move inland to avoid future conflicts.”

Cato’s assertion met with such acclamation and applause that it in effect ended the Senate session. It lasted over an hour and did not stop once. Rome had finally made up its mind for good.

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Gaius and Cato Lead Hostages Out Of Africa:

The Carthaginians had come back into the room. They agreed to send the youths back to Rome with Cato, Gaius Antonius, and the Romans who had traveled to Carthage. They only asked for a day to choose the youths and assemble them. Cato and Gaius would return to the leader’s house tomorrow at the same time to receive the youths who would travel from Africa back to Rome with them.

Cato returned the next day at the exact same hour. Gaius had taken advantage of the twenty-four hours to sketch as many buildings and landscapes as he could find outside the doors of the grand mansion where they were staying by the sea. He had sat outside on the verandah and made sure to get all the harbor works including as many of the Carthaginian ships and naval vessels as possible. Cato had examined what he had done and had nodded approvingly.

Gaius had returned to the house of the leading man of Carthage packed and ready to depart. The Roman ship was in the harbor fully armed and waiting for them to join the sailors for the trip back to Rome. Cato was even more ready than he was. He had brought some of the sailors with him and was dictating orders to the captain even as he waited. He always liked to take a no-nonsense approach to matters at hand.

The youths —- both girls and young men —- paraded in front of them and stood in a row in the banquet hall on the other side of the fireplace facing the Romans. They were dressed in such a fashion as if to impress them. They wore Greek clothes and outfits such as robes and chitons and outfits fashionable in both Alexandria and Tyre at the time as well as Carthage.

It did not take much time for Gaius to notice that one of the young ladies was staring straight at him. At first Gaius thought that it was only his imagination. But he kept on feeling her gaze burning through him and kept on repeatedly but reluctantly looking back at her.

Her long hair was black and midnight. So were her eyes with the long, spider-like lashes. Her skin was of a shade more olive-skinned than what Gaius was used to back in Italy. Lavinia for instance had milk white fair skin. The Roman nobility prided themselves on their fair skin. They thought only slaves and Greeks had olive skin —- Greeks and their Semitic cousins such as the population of places like Tyre and Carthage.

She seemed to be aware of Gaius’s discomfiture. She raised her hand to her lips and grinned. He could even imagine that he heard the girl laughing at him and his simpleton-like behavior.

“Where will these youths be housed?” the Carthaginian leader asked Cato. “Since they are our sons and daughters, the pride of Carthage, we have a right to ask.” He faced Cato down.

“I will take full responsibility to house your young people in a fashion to which they are accustomed. They will be safe with us as long as you keep your agreement and make peace with your neighbors in Africa,” Cato directed. “In one year’s time we will send a delegation to Carthage to check on the results of what has been established. If the situation here checks out, I will sail to Carthage and escort your youths and maidens back to you.”

“However,” he looked at the leader of Carthage with thunder in his eyes which was all too typical of Cato’s brusque manner of dealing with everyone, Carthingians and Romans alike, “if you do not make peace and you do not assure us that there will be no more of this nonsense in Africa, then your children —- the milk of your youth —- will be sold into slavery and will never be returned to you again.” Cato threatened them.

Gaius tried to maintain a stern demeanor as suited the circumstances, but inwardly he could not help but cringe. In effect they had sailed here on a Roman war ship and it was in the harbor, but that was about half a mile away. If the leaders got angry at the provocations Cato threw out at them, they could be dead men before the Roman soldiers from the ship could rescue them.

The leaders again retreated into a side room to discuss the matter among themselves. They returned to nod at Cato. But the looks they cast them showed what they were really thinking.

Cato rose and motioned for Gaius as well as his attendants and the youths to follow him. They began their procession out of the room and out of the building towards the docks, soon to be out of Africa all together. But they had not gotten very far before Gaius felt a hand as light as a feather on his arm. He turned to see that same girl with the moon-like eyes next to him.

“My name is Tanit,” she said in perfect Latin.

Gaius was startled. Cato had given him a lecture on the ship here about the customs of the Carthaginians. Tanit was their Moon Goddess. In Roman no girl would name herself after a Goddess. No one was called Juno or Minerva. But here despite the presumption so it was.

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