"What I was at Thrasymenes and at Cannae..."

One of the most remarkable scenes in all of ancient literature occurs in Book 30 of Livy's monumental History of Rome.  After years of terrorizing Italy, Hannibal, the Carthaginian military genius, has a brief face to face encounter with Scipio, his younger and equally talented Roman counterpart. The troops for both sides are drawn up before each other at Zama in Northern Africa and the two commanders meet between the battle lines. Hannibal, who has had victory in his grasp more than once in his long wars with Rome, speaks first.  He lays out the Carthaginian position, but then--as Livy tells it--he speaks to Scipio almost as if he were speaking to his younger self:
As far as I am concerned, coming back to a country which I left as a boy, years and a chequered experience of good and evil fortune have so disillusioned me that I prefer to take reason rather than Fortune as my guide. As for you, your youth and unbroken success will make you, I fear, impatient of peaceful counsels. It is not easy for the man whom Fortune never deceives to reflect on the uncertainties and accidents of life. What I was at Thrasymenus and at Cannae, that you are today. You were hardly old enough to bear arms when you were placed in high command, and in all your enterprises, even the most daring, Fortune has never played you false.
Who knows if this encounter actually happened?  Livy is one of the finer ancient historians, but the story is so good that I can't begrudge him for including it.  Besides, the scene just strikes my middle-aged mind as true.   When you're north of 50 and you've had a lot of your Boy Scout knocked out, you may still be in the fight but you're a hell of a lot more mindful of the uncertainties and accidents of life.  You know that any brilliant successes (your Thrasymenus and Cannae) are likely behind you.  And the students and your younger colleagues suddenly look a lot like you once did in their enthusiasms and bold plans.

Scipio, of course, won the battle of Zama.  He had his triumph in the streets of Rome and was awarded the honorific Scipio Africanus, but Hannibal was prophetic.  Scipio's envious rivals would eventually hound him from Rome with lawsuits and bogus charges of corruption.  He ended his days in embittered self-imposed exile.  Hannibal, of course, got run out of Carthage in a somewhat similar fashion and took his own life at age 64 just moments before being overtaken by Roman assassins.  

Sic transit gloria.


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