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It was at Megara, a suburb of Carthage, in the gardens of Hamilcar. The soldiers
whom he had commanded in Sicily were having a great feast to celebrate the
anniversary of the battle of Eryx, and as the master was away, and they were
numerous, they ate and drank with perfect freedom.
The captains, who wore bronze cothurni, had placed themselves in the central
path, beneath a gold-fringed purple awning, which reached from the wall of the
stables to the first terrace of the palace; the common soldiers were scattered
beneath the trees, where numerous flat-roofed buildings might be seen, wine-
presses, cellars, storehouses, bakeries, and arsenals, with a court for elephants,
dens for wild beasts, and a prison for slaves.
Fig-trees surrounded the kitchens; a wood of sycamores stretched away to meet
masses of verdure, where the pomegranate shone amid the white tufts of the
cotton-plant; vines, grape-laden, grew up into the branches of the pines; a field of
roses bloomed beneath the plane-trees; here and there lilies rocked upon the
turf; the paths were strewn with black sand mingled with powdered coral, and in
the centre the avenue of cypress formed, as it were, a double colonnade of green
obelisks from one extremity to the other.
Far in the background stood the palace, built of yellow mottled Numidian marble,
broad courses supporting its four terraced stories. With its large, straight, ebony
staircase, bearing the prow of a vanquished galley at the corners of every step,
its red doors quartered with black crosses, its brass gratings protecting it from
scorpions below, and its trellises of gilded rods closing the apertures above, it
seemed to the soldiers in its haughty opulence as solemn and impenetrable as
the face of Hamilcar.
The Council had appointed his house for the holding of this feast; the
convalescents lying in the temple of Eschmoun had set out at daybreak and
dragged themselves thither on their crutches. Every minute others were arriving.
They poured in ceaselessly by every path like torrents rushing into a lake;
through the trees the slaves of the kitchens might be seen running scared and
half-naked; the gazelles fled bleating on the lawns; the sun was setting, and the
perfume of citron trees rendered the exhalation from the perspiring crowd heavier
Men of all nations were there, Ligurians, Lusitanians, Balearians, Negroes, and
fugitives from Rome. Beside the heavy Dorian dialect were audible the resonant
Celtic syllables rattling like chariots of war, while Ionian terminations conflicted
with consonants of the desert as harsh as the jackal's cry. The Greek might be
recognised by his slender figure, the Egyptian by his elevated shoulders, the
Cantabrian by his broad calves. There were Carians proudly nodding their helmet
plumes, Cappadocian archers displaying large flowers painted on their bodies
with the juice of herbs, and a few Lydians in women's robes, dining in slippers
and earrings. Others were ostentatiously daubed with vermilion, and resembled
coral statues.
They stretched themselves on the cushions, they ate squatting round large trays,
or lying face downwards they drew out the pieces of meat and sated themselves,