The definition of heroism changes with the context and time. There are such terms as classical (ancient) hero and contemporary hero. Heroes of the past are not necessarily heroes of present time and vise versa. A person can be a hero for saving life of one or of millions, domestically or worldwide. This happens because of continuous progress and reevaluation of values.
However, what is heroism? According to Julie Adam, teacher of English at the University of Toronto, "One critical cliché says that there can be no heroism in literary works because there are no instances of heroism in modern life." According to James Press, Professor of History at Northwestern Michigan College and former Vietnam-trained Marine, a person does not have to be famous to be a hero, it might happen in everyday life by being consistent and strong person. As Sean O'Faolain, lecturer at Princeton University, writes: "...the Hero, as we commonly try to use the word and the idea, is purely social creation. He represents, that is to say, socially approved norm, for representing which to the satisfaction of society he is decorated with a title." All the ways through heroes follow some kind of plan. "The standard path [plan] of the mythological adventure of the hero is: separation initiation return..." (Campbell 30).
Joseph Campbell, professor at Princeton University, said "...[hero] is a personage of exceptional gifts. Frequently he is honored by his society, frequently unrecognized or disdained" (37). There are different forms and versions of heroism, as Julie Adam notes, in different time periods (8). On the following example the paper will try to show reallife heroism of a dramatic person from ancient time.
Nearly a quarter of century passed, and the Second Punic War began. Its story is quite different from that of the First Punic. Carthage had a general of genius this time, with a clear and thought-out plan of campaign intending to make series of quick and smashing blows to Roman military prestige that the Italians would revolt in response to his promise to give them freedom again, and in view of breakdown of Rome. "It was a daring design" (Glover 247).
It was spring 238 BC Carthage was recovering from the First Punic War. A nine year old boy grasps his father's hand and in a dim temple repeats what he was told to say: He will hate the Romans. To the end of his life he never had any other goal than the punishment of their accursed nation. He would reject both appeasement and compromise until he wins complete victory (Scullard 178). His name was Hannibal Barca (246-183 B.C.), the greatest general of Carthage, whose name rang through the ages as the Scourge of Rome.
Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal's father, considered his own sons, Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago, his "lion's brood" as a Roman later called these three future generals. According to Gilbert Charles Picard, French historian and long time Director of Tunisian Antiquities, the boy said to father: "I want to go with you" (291). Hamilcar, without a word, took little Hannibal to Spain, to meet his destiny.
Hannibal, who soon proved to be one of the greatest generals in history, was now twenty-five years old. Drilled from childhood as a soldier, he, like other military geniuses such as Alexander and Napoleon, showed his ability in early manhood. His excellent army had been hardened by fighting against Iberian barbarians, and his campaigns in Spain had given him practical knowledge in leading troops. The strategy that he later used with such devastating effect against the Romans, a sudden unexpected blow prepared behind clever lures and ambushes, he had already mastered. Studies of Pyrrhus and Alexander had made him familiar with the best Hellenistic warfare. His genius for leadership is proven by the fact that he held his army of mercenaries together for fifteen years on a foreign soil without once experiencing a mutiny, an achievement that has ever since excited the admiration of military men (Swain 139140). According to Glover, Hannibal's "...ability as a diplomat and statesman equaled his generalship, and his diplomacy embraced the world of his day" (140).
Theodor Mommsen, writer and historian, describes the life of Hannibal as follows:
When he was born, Rome was contending with doubtful success for the possession of Sicily; he had lived long enough to see the West wholly subdued, and to fight his own last battle with the Romans against the vessels of his native city which had itself become Roman;...but he had honestly, through fifty years of struggle, kept the oath which he had sworn when a boy. (483)
Like Alexander, Hannibal sought to use war to set up an entirely new political order. Whatever his enemies may have said, it seems clear that he did not desire the "utter obliteration of Rome." However, like Pyrrhus, Hannibal hoped to destroy Roman hegemony in Italy, for which he would substitute a new Italian federation under the nominal leadership of Capua but actually dominated by Carthage. Rome would thus have been rendered powerless and Carthage would again become mistress of the West, an aspiration as far removed as possible from narrow mercantile ambitions of traditional Carthaginian policy (Glover 140).
Hannibal, while being greatest individual of his time, influenced the tactics and strategies of conducting a war. According to different sources many great generals such as Scipio Africanus, his main opponent in Second Punic War; Napoleon Bounaparte, and even the Soviet Army studied Hannibal's tactics.
Historian Michael Grant writes the following about fifteen years long invasion to Italy:
Twenty-nine years old when he came to Italy, Hannibal ... possessed of an iron self-restraint. He was fanatical and superstitious like most of his compatriots. Yet all the same, not only his talent, but also the integrity of his personal character, caught the fancy of subsequent ages, despite virulent Roman propaganda to the contrary. (127)
The longest war from all, Second Punic War, had been fought chiefly against Hannibal for nineteen years within the Italian peninsula and had entailed a widespread devastation. Hannibal's searing course of conquest left an enormous imprint in Italy "the North, signed by war, could quickly heal; the South, devastated, still shows the scars of poverty" (CharlesPicard 335).
According to CharlesPicard, Maharbal, Hannibal's brash cavalry commander, proposed to march on Rome. Hannibal rejected the proposal, and Maharbal exulted: "You know, Hannibal, how to win a fight. You do not know how to use your victory" (328).
It was with a heavy heart that Hannibal obeyed the order of Carthaginian Senate to return home in 203 BC from a land where he had never been defeated in battle, yet could not win in war. He could not remain in Italy anymore without support. Carthage was devastated, Hasdrubal was killed, his political opponents rose and ally Philip V was unable to help due to Macedonian War inspired by Rome.
Reaching Africa in the spring of 202 B.C. he created a new army by uniting his own with the remnants of his brother's, Mago, and enlisting new troops. Toward the end of the summer Hannibal moved in a vain attempt to prevent Masinissa, Numidian ruler and ally of Rome, joining Scipio Africanus. The Roman and Carthaginian armies finally camped near Zama. The next day Hannibal suffered his first defeat ever by an outnumbered and more experienced Roman army. The other reasons of the defeat were that Scipio Africanus used 'Hannibalic' tactics against Hannibal and made the fabulous elephants of Hannibal panic, causing disorder to the Carthaginian army. The battle of Zama "gave the world to the Romans" said Polybius, ancient Roman historian of that time (Glover 248).
Carthage surrendered all the empire and was obliged to pay enormous penalties. Hannibal had not yet ended his career, but the days of his and Carthaginian greatness were over after the battle at Zama.
In fact Hannibal, and Carthage with him, began to die a long time ago. First shock for Hannibal was receiving the head of his brother, Hasdrubal Barca, in 206 B.C. According to Charles Picard, weeping over the head of Hasdrubal, Hannibal said, "At last I see the destiny of Carthage" (333). Second shock was in 202, when Scipio Africanus, young Roman general, defeated him at Zama, a place close to Carthage itself.
After the defeat the great Carthaginian general continued to serve his country, being its leader and devoting his great energy and skills to reconstruction. Hannibal was trying to make Carthage more democratic, unified state. However, his political opponents were complaining on him to Rome (Starr 487).
Hannibal threatened Rome so much that they required his head. Hannibal knew that eventually envoys of Rome would surround him and that farther escape would be impossible, so he always kept poison with him. In 183 B.C., aged sixty-three years the great Carthaginian committed suicide. Hannibal preferred to give his life for freedom, for which he fought all his life. He had honestly, through decades of struggle, kept the oath that he had sworn when a boy.
Destroying Carthage in 146 B.C., Romans recalled what they had suffered from Carthaginians in Sicily and Spain, and in Italy itself for sixteen years. Donald Kagan, historian at Cornell University, estimates 400 towns being destroyed and 300,000 Romans killed in battles alone during the Hannibal's invasion (179).
The Second Punic War was regarded by ancient and modern writers alike as the greatest in the history of Rome. All-time questions such as "Should Hannibal have crossed the Alps?" or "Should Hannibal have marched on Rome after success in Canae?" were debated from boys in schools to mature rhetoricians. Apart from the interest of the battles and sieges, apart from the Roman power, it reveals the dramatic vividness of Hannibal's personality.
In the end Hannibal lost. His genius had not been able to overcome the firmness of Roman character and the basic loyalty of the Italian allies, but the test he applied was never again equaled. As James Press said, Hannibal's greatness was his leadership and personal abilities: "Through his personality he kept his motley crew together." It was also a great compliment that Romans copied Hannibal's own battle techniques and "...eventually students became better than master... even in modern army Hannibal is studied. The fact that we talk about him in 1995 is proof of his greatness," continued Press.
Greatness derives from heroism. As James Press said, "Can we think about an individual who have had more adversities [than Hannibal], and he [Hannibal] was able to deal with them and to carry on. That what makes him a hero." Many people fall, collapse, yield. Hannibal was able to overcome the adversities until his last breath. From the siege of Saguntum in Spain in 219 B.C. until his death in 183 B.C. Hannibal pursued his aim with a steadfastness and a singleness of purpose that makes him a real hero. We cannot but admire Hannibal. The real hero and heroism are immortal, because in each succeeding age they are born again, in a new guise.
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Heroism of Hannibal Barca
What made Hannibal heroic?