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Salammbô Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Inside the walls of Carthage a vast army of mercenaries gathers in the gardens of Hamilcar. There are Ligurians, Lusitanians, nomadic barbarians from North Africa, Romans, Greeks, Gauls, and Egyptians. A feast for these thousands of hired warriors is in preparation. Odors of cooking food come from Hamilcar’s kitchens, and the Council of Elders provides many oxen to roast over the open fires in the gardens. The men, tired from their defeat at the hands of the Romans and weary from the sea journey over the Mediterranean, wait with ill-concealed impatience for the feasting to begin.

More than that, they are in an ugly mood because they were not paid. Hamilcar, their beloved leader even in defeat, promises them their pay many times. The city elders, however, parsimonious and afraid of this huge assembly of fierce foreigners, withholds the pay. Offers of token payment are angrily refused.

While the revelry is at its height, many men are emboldened by drink and began to pillage the palace of Hamilcar. In a private lake, surrounded by a heavy hedge, they find fish with jewels in their gill flaps. With joy they ruthlessly tear off the gems and boil the sacred fish for their feast. The slaves bring new foods and fresh casks of wine for the drunken revelers. Then above them on a high balcony appears Salammbô, the priestess of the moon goddess and daughter of Hamilcar. Her great beauty stills the wild barbarians. She calls down a malediction on their heads and in a wailing refrain laments the sad state of Carthage.

Among those who watch the young girl, none is more attracted than Narr’ Havas, a Numidian chief sent by his father to Carthage to serve with Hamilcar. Although he was in Carthage for six months, this is his first sight of Salammbô. Watching her keenly, too, is Mathô, a gigantic Libyan. He heard of Salammbô and already loves her. With Mathô is Spendius, a former Greek slave who, tricky and shrewd, plays the jackal to brave Mathô. Spendius is long in service to Carthage, and he whispers the delights of Salammbô to his master.

The elders give each soldier a piece of gold if he promises to go to Sicca and wait for the rest of his money to be sent to him. The gold and the solemn promises entice many, and finally all the mercenaries and barbarians join the march to Sicca. Many of their leaders distrust the words of the elders, but they are sure of better treatment when Hamilcar returns to Carthage.

Mathô lies in his tent all day long at Sicca. He is in love, and since he has no prospect of ever seeing Salammbô again, he despairs. Finally the wily Spendius profits greatly by Mathô’s inaction, ingratiating himself with Mathô.

At Sicca the enormous Hanno appears in his costly litter. Hanno, one of the Council of Elders, is tremendously fat; the fat on his legs even covers his toenails, and his body is covered with weeping sores. He pompously addresses the crowd, telling them of Carthage’s intent to pay later and urging them all to return to their homes. The Gauls and the Campanians and the rest, however, understand not a word of Hanno’s address, which is in Punic. Spendius leaps up beside Hanno and offers to translate. Falsely he tells the soldiers that Hanno is exalting his own gods and reviling theirs. The mob becomes unruly, and Hanno barely escapes with his life.

Soon the inflamed barbarians are on the march again, this time to besiege Carthage. At their head rides Mathô, Narr’ Havas, and Spendius, now a leader. The mob camps at the gates of Carthage. The city sends Gisco, a famous warrior, to deal with them. In fear the Carthaginians raise a little money and begin to pay the soldiers. They feel powerless without Hamilcar. The payment is slow. Gisco has insufficient funds, and many barbarians claim more pay than they merit.

As the unrest grows, Spendius goes to Mathô with a project of his own. He is sure he finds a way into the city, and if Mathô will follow his lead and help him in his own private errand, he will...

(The entire section is 1,373 words.)