Longing for strong and harsh passions, which he did not find in the reality around him, Flaubert turned to deep history. He settled his heroes in the III century. BC. and chose a real episode - when the famous Carthaginian commander Hamilcar Barka suppressed the uprising of mercenary troops with unprecedented cruelty.

It began with the fact that the Council of Carthage, devastated by the Punic War, was unable to pay the salaries to the hired soldiers on time and tried to diminish their anger with abundant treats. The place of the feast was the gardens that surrounded the luxurious palace of Hamilcar. Emaciated, tired warriors, many of whom were wounded or mutilated, flocked to the place of the feast. These "were people of different nations - Ligurians, Lusitanians, Balearians, Negroes and fugitives from Rome ... The Greek could be distinguished by his slender stature, the Egyptian by his high stooped shoulders, the Cantabra by his thick calves ...". The Council's calculation turned out to be wrong. Under the influence of wine vapors, the anger of the deceived soldiers, with the help of which Hamilcar won victories in his recent campaigns, only intensified. They demanded more and more - meat, wine, gold, women,

Suddenly, from the Carthaginian prison came the plaintive singing of the slaves imprisoned there. The feasting party left the food and rushed to free the prisoners. They returned, shouting, driving in front of them about twenty slaves, lumbering with chains. The revelry resumed with renewed vigor. Someone noticed a lake in which jeweled fish were swimming. In the Barki family, these fish were revered as sacred. The barbarians with laughter caught them, lit a fire and began to watch merrily how strange creatures wriggle in boiling water.

At that moment, the upper terrace of the palace lit up and a female figure appeared in the doorway. "Her hair, sprinkled with purple powder, according to the custom of the virgins of Canaan, was laid like a tower ... a multitude of stones sparkled on her chest ... her hands covered with precious stones were bared to her shoulders ... Her pupils seemed to be directed far beyond earthly limits." ...

It was the daughter of Hamilcar Barki - Salammbo. She was brought up far from human eyes, in the company of eunuchs and maids, in extraordinary severity and sophistication and in constant prayers, glorifying the goddess Tanith, whom Carthage worshiped. The goddess was considered the soul of Carthage and the guarantee of its power.

Now Salammbo called her favorite fish, lamenting and reproaching the barbarians for sacrilege. She spoke a variety of languages, addressing each in his own dialect. Everyone listened attentively to the beautiful girl. But no one looked at her as intently as the young Numidian leader Nar Gavas. He was not a mercenary and happened to be at the feast by accident. He had lived in Hamilcar's palace for six months, but he saw Salammbo for the first time and was amazed at her beauty.

On the other side of the table is a huge Libyan named Mato. He, too, was captivated by the appearance of Salammbô. When the girl finished her speech, Matou bowed to her with admiration. In response, Salammbo handed him a cup of wine as a sign of reconciliation with the army. One of the soldiers, a Gaul, noticed that in their area a woman serves wine to a man when she offers to share a bed with her. Before he could finish the sentence, Nar Gavas drew a dart and threw it at Matou, hitting him in the hand. The Libyan jumped up in a rage, but Havas managed to hide in the palace. Matou rushed after him - upstairs, to the red door, which slammed behind his opponent. But behind the door was one of the freed slaves - Spendius. He began to tell Mato that he had lived in the palace before, knew its hiding places and, as a reward for his freedom, was ready to show Mato where fabulous treasures were kept. But all Matho's thoughts were now occupied by Salammbo.

Two days later, the mercenaries were announced that if they left the city, they would be fully paid the promised salary and the Carthaginian galleys would take everyone home. The barbarians conceded. For seven days they traveled through the desert to the place where they were ordered to set up camp. One day Nar Havas appeared in this camp. Matho initially wanted to kill him for his feast trick. But Nar Gavas referred to drunkenness, sent Mato rich gifts and, as a result, remained to live among the mercenaries. Only Spendius immediately realized that this man was plotting treason. However, who does he want to betray - the barbarians or Carthage? In the end, Spendius did not care, because "he hoped to benefit from all the troubles."

Matho was deeply sad. Often he lay down on the sand and did not move until evening. He confessed to the inseparable Spendius that he was haunted by the image of Hamilcar's daughter. He turned to the wise men, swallowed ash, mountain dill and viper venom on their advice, but in vain. His passion only grew.

Everyone was waiting for the promised gold to arrive from Carthage. Meanwhile, people were arriving in the camp. There were hordes of debtors who fled from Carthage, ruined peasants, outcasts, criminals. The tension grew, but there was still no salary. One day an important procession arrived, led by the old general Gannon. He began to tell people, driven to grim despair, how bad things are in Carthage and how meager its treasury. In front of the emaciated crowd during his speech, he continually feasted on expensive dishes, which he had taken with him. All this caused a murmur and finally an explosion. The barbarians decided to move towards Carthage. In three days they made their way back and laid siege to the city. A bloody struggle began.

Mato was the leader of the Libyan squad. He was revered for his strength and courage. In addition, he "inspired a kind of mystical fear: they thought that at night he spoke with a ghost." Spendius once suggested that Mato should be taken to Carthage - secretly, through water pipes. When they entered the besieged city, Spendius persuaded Matou to steal from the temple of the goddess Tanit her veil - a symbol of power. With an effort over himself, Matho agreed to this daring step. He left the temple, wrapped in a divine veil, and went straight to Hamilcar's palace, and there he made his way into Salammbo's room. The girl was asleep, but feeling Matho's gaze, she opened her eyes. The Libyan began hastily to tell her about his love. He offered Salammbo to go with him or agreed to stay himself, submitting to any fate. He was ready to return the stolen veil of the goddess to her. Shocked, Salammbo began calling for help. But when the slaves who came running wanted to rush at Matou, she stopped them: "He is wearing the veil of the goddess!" Matho left the palace without hindrance and left the city. Residents who saw the Libyan were afraid to touch him: "... the veil was part of the deity, and touching it threatened death."

The outbreak of the battle of the barbarians with Carthage were extremely difficult. Success tended to one side, then to the other, and not one was inferior to the other in military strength, cruelty and treachery. Spendius and Nar Gavas were discouraged, but Mato was stubborn and courageous. In Carthage, it was believed that the cause of all misfortunes was the loss of the veil of the goddess. Salammbô was blamed for the incident.

Salammbo's educator, a priest, bluntly told the girl that the salvation of the republic depended on her. He convinced her to go to the barbarians and take Tanith's veil back. Perhaps, he continued, this threatens the girl with death, but, according to the priest, the salvation of Carthage is worth one woman's life. Salammbô agreed to this sacrifice and set off with a guide.

They traveled long and carefully to the positions of the barbarians. Sentinel Salammbo said that she was a defector from Carthage and wanted to talk to Matho. "... Her face was hidden under a yellow veil with yellow streaks, and she was so wrapped in many clothes that there was no way to see her ..." When Matou appeared, she asked to take her to her tent. The Libyan's heart began to beat, the domineering look of the stranger embarrassed him. His tent was at the very end of the camp, three hundred paces from Hamilcar's trenches.

In the tent, Mato Salambo saw the precious veil of the goddess. The girl felt that she was supported by the powers of the gods. She resolutely tore off her veil and announced that she wanted to take back Tanith's veil. Matho looked at Salammbo, forgetting about everything in the world. And she angrily threw in his face: “From everywhere there are news about devastated cities, about burned down villages, about the killing of soldiers! You ruined them! I hate you!" She remembered how Matho burst into her bedroom: "I did not understand your words, but I clearly saw that you were drawing me to something terrible, to the bottom of the abyss." “Oh no,” Matho exclaimed, “I wanted to give you the veil. After all, you are as beautiful as Tanit! Unless you are Tanith herself! .. ”

He knelt down in front of her, kissed her shoulders, legs, long braids ... Salammbo was amazed at his strength. A strange languor possessed her. "Something tender and at the same time imperious, which seemed to be the will of the gods, forced her to surrender to this languor." At that moment, a fire started in the camp, it was arranged by Nar Gavas. Matho jumped out of the tent, and when he returned, he no longer found Salammbo. She slipped across the front line and soon found herself in her father's tent. He did not ask her about anything. Moreover, he was not alone. Nearby was Nar Havas, who went over with his cavalry to the side of the Carthaginians. This betrayal determined the outcome of the battle and the confrontation as a whole, greatly weakening the ranks of the mercenaries. The Numidian prostrated himself before Barca as a sign that he was giving himself up to him as a slave, but he also recalled his merits. He assured that he was in the ranks of the barbarians to help Carthage. In fact, Nar Gavas was guided only by the one on whose side there was an advantage. Now he realized that the final victory would go to Hamilcar, and went over to his side. In addition, he was angry with Mato for his superiority as a warlord and for his love for Salammbo.

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shrewd Hamilcar did not convict Nar Havas of lying, as he also saw the benefits of an alliance with this man. When Salammbo entered the tent and, stretching out her hands, unrolled the veil of the goddess, the agitated Hamilcar announced in a fit of emotion: "As a reward for the services you have rendered me, I give you my daughter, Nar Gavas." The engagement took place right there. According to custom, the young people had their thumbs tied together with a bovine leather belt, and then they began to pour grain on their heads. Salammbo stood calmly, like a statue, as if not understanding what was happening.

Meanwhile, the war continued. And although the veil of Tanith was now with the republic, the barbarians again laid siege to Carthage. Spendius succeeded in destroying the city's water supply system. A plague epidemic began in the city. The elders, in despair, decided to make a sacrifice to Moloch, killing children from wealthy families. They also came for ten-year-old Hannibal, the son of Barca. Distraught with fear for his son, Hamilcar hid Hannibal, and gave him a similar boy from slaves to him. Having played the scene of his father's grief, he sacrificed a little slave to the slaughter. (In this case, Hannibal is a real historical person, the future famous commander).

Immediately after the sacrifice, it rained, and this saved the Carthaginians. Nar Gavas managed to smuggle flour into the city. Rome and Syracuse sided with the republic, fearing the mercenary triumph.

The rebels suffered a crushing defeat, a terrible famine began in their ranks, and there were even cases of cannibalism. Spendius died, who did not manage to rise as a result of the turmoil. Mato was taken prisoner, although his squad resisted to the last. Nar Gavas managed to sneak up behind him to throw a net over the Libyan. The execution of the indomitable warrior was scheduled for the same day as Salammbo's wedding. Before his death, Mato was subjected to sophisticated torture. He was led across the city with his hands tied so that every inhabitant could strike. It was forbidden only to gouge out the eyes and beat in the heart in order to prolong the torture as long as possible.

When Salammbo, sitting on the open terrace of the palace in a dazzling wedding dress, saw Matou, he was a solid bloody mass. Only the eyes were still alive and were staring at the girl. And she suddenly realized how much he suffered because of her. She remembered how he was in the tent, how he whispered words of love to her. Tormented, he fell down dead. And at the same moment, intoxicated with pride, Nar Havas stood up, hugged Salammbo and drank from a golden cup in full view of the jubilant city - for Carthage. Salammbo also rose, bowl in hand. But then she sank down, her head thrown back on the back of the throne. She was dead. "Thus died Hamilcar's daughter as punishment for having touched the veil of Tanith."