“Suppose we do what Hannibal did, –check the course of events, give up the war, and give over our bodies to be coddled. Every one would rightly blame us for our untimely sloth, a thing fraught with peril even for the victor, to say nothing of one who is only on the way to victory. And we have even less right to do this than those followers of the Carthaginian flag; for our danger is greater than theirs if we slacken, and our toil is greater than theirs even if we press ahead.” Seneca
Hannibal of Carthage (present day Tunisia) was one of the greatest military strategists of antiquity. However, he suffered a series of defeats in the hands of the Roman general Marcellus. These defeats came shortly after Hannibal had just won a major victory against Italy, where he had slaughtered thousands of Romans at Cannae, and Rome the ultimate prize was now in his sights. In elation he became careless and allowed his soldiers to go out of the camp into the country in search of plunder and pleasure. Marcellus and his army which had been sent as reinforcement, fell upon them, killing many and weakening the army. This already weakened army of Hannibal, where deceived yet, when Marcellus feigned weakness and confusion within the town of Nola in Naples; this induced Hannibal to march up into the city in a disorderly manner and consequently suffered very heavy defeat. The loss was so bad, that Hannibal who has been well acknowledged as a master strategist, with extraordinary capacity to inspire loyalty in his men; had soldiers deserting him for the first time ever. Thus, a great general suffered greatly on every occasion that he relaxed when he should have been alert. In the same vein, even these days as in antiquity, if we become complacent and wander out of our camps unguarded, heavy losses may be suffered. This is because as Seneca highlighted, the battle we fight is much more serious than that of Hannibal, and the effort required, much more!
“I have set freedom before my eyes; and I am striving for that reward. And what is freedom, you ask? It means not being a slave to any circumstance, to any constraint, to any chance; it means compelling Fortune to enter the lists on equal terms. And on the day when I know that I have the upper hand, her power will be naught. When I have death in my own control, shall I take orders from her?” Seneca
“Cato the elder, speaking to some persons who were praising a man of reckless daring and audacity in war, observed that there is a difference between a man’s setting a high value on courage, and setting a low value on his own life—and rightly. For a daring soldier in the army of Antigonus, but of broken and ill health, being asked by the king the reason of his paleness, confessed that he was suffering from some secret disorder. When then the king, anxious for him, charged his physicians to use the greatest care in their treatment, if a cure were possible, at length this brave fellow, being restored to health, was no longer fond of peril and furious in battle, so that Antigonus reproved him, and expressed surprise at the change. The man made no secret of his reason, but answered: “My, king, you have made me less warlike by freeing me from those miseries on account of which I used to hold my life cheap.” Plutarch
Unlike Hannibal, some people do not pay attention to issues that would save their lives, not because they aren’t alert, but simply because they place no value on their lives, as Plutarch described in the excerpt above. Like King Antigonus, if we wish for people to be cautious for the good of everyone, we must set out, sparing no expense, to free them from those miseries that make them place little value on their lives.
Let us march towards victory!
The Amateur Philosopher
Excerpts from, Plutarch’s Lives, Volume II, Plutarch & Letters from a Stoic, Lucius Annaeus Seneca