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He had been away nearer a year than six months; he returned to his little court improved by his travels, his dignity softened by the air of a man who knows the world, his hair dressed after the fashion of Paris, his speech adorned with delicate allusions to kings and queens; he brought with him an English valet, a set of diamonds presented to him by the Doge of Venice (these the most notable among other gifts), and the affectation of French. Hesse-Homburg approved. A principality as small as this that his Serene Highness ruled over is apt to be unduly proud; the castle of Hesse-Homburg was built after the plan of Marli or Meudon, the gardens laid out in the manner of Versailles; etiquette was supreme, the court complete from the Lord Chancellor to the black pages; Mr. Denton, the English valet, was reminded, on his arrival, of a performance of opera-bouffe where all the comedians appear as nobles and there is no one left to represent the citizens, so that the King and his train constitute the kingdom. Indeed, Mr. Denton had seen estates in England that would have divided between them two countries the size of Hesse-Homburg, but his admirable discretion allowed no hint of his discernment to appear. There was a ball given in honour of his Serene Highness's return; the fountains played and coloured lights swung in the trees; ladies and gentlemen were painted, perfumed, pomaded, and laced into brocaded clothes; there was an orchestra of French fiddles on one of the castle terraces, and dancing in the long hall hung with portraits of the Prince-Electors of Hesse-Homburg.
'In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages . . . '
The Battle of Cannae represents a conflict of mighty powers and a crushing defeat, notoriously the worst in Rome's history. Dawn on August 2, 216 BC, saw the armies of Rome and Carthage clash in what the participants hoped would be the decisive engagement for supremacy in Mediterranean trade and empire. Punica 10 opens with the final phase of the battle, when there lingered no hope of victory in the Roman ranks. The military narrative moves mercilessly through the aristeia and death of the heroic consul, Paulus, to the ghastly tableau of Roman defeat. But the mystique of Cannae lies in a paradox: that the army ignominiously vanquished emerges the ultimate victor. Although night falls on a battlefield littered with the wreckage of Rome's military might and a triumphant victor still unsated with Roman blood, the second half of the book unfolds a sequence of unexpected twists in the action which destabilize Hannibal's confidence and initiate acts of heroism inspiring fresh resolution in the traumatized Romans. In one of Silius' finest books, the climactic sweep of his epic is enriched by intertextual allusions to Virgil's great narrative of epic closure: Aeneid 12.
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