Peeking into the „Darkness over Cannae“

21. November 2014 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

Life’s not just, or at least not well balanced. I did not utter a word here for almost half a year and now two posts within barely a week – well, I guess you can manage. Probably even my attempts at writing Englisch.

I’ve got to as I want to review „Darkness over Cannae“, an illustrated book by Jenny Dolfen, which was written in English, though Jenny (despite the name) is German (or does a very good presentation of one). Let me confirm to all of you that her German is excellent, almost without accent, and I guess she wrote „Darkness“ in English just because most History Buffs are Brits and Americanos and polyglot Frenchpeople as well as Tunisians. Ah yes, and maybe some Italians too, not taking into account that this book might not become exceedingly popular, there. I should also note here that this book is incomplete without its illustrations (still a very good read, though) as Jenny Dolfen is renowned for her illustrations of mostly fantasy themes (Tolkien and the like).

„Darkness over Cannae“ spans the time of only one crucial day – that of the battle of Cannae, which destroyed eight Roman legions in the Second Punic War. Hannibal offers battle to the all-too-eager Roman Consuls, who, bound in internal squabbling, don’t notice his trap until they’re well inside. We follow Hannibal (as well as the Consuls and the Roman Tribune Lentulus) from before dawn until deep into the night, as the tide of events turns from almost certain defeat to a complete, gruesome victory, killing almost every Roman soldier including the two vainglorious Consuls.

This could have been the most terrible book in the world.

In the hands of Frank Miller, we would wade in blood from page one. Bare-chested bodybuilders would crush each other in choreographed poses like pro wrestlers. The Romans would have suffered destruction, dismemberment and humiliation by Charlie Adlard. But thanks to Apollon Jenny is neither a militarist nor very bloodthirsty, therefore her battle at Cannae is almost civilized (ok, there are pics e. g. of a horse being pierced by a javelin, but that’s the exemption). Later, there’s the stereotypical carpet of bodies as known from so many illustrations of battlefields (mostly from the American Civil War, today from computer games). I wouldn’t hand this book to kids below the age of 11, but then I don’t have kids, and why worry about giving a book to somebody else’s offspring given the fact that I won’t lend it out to anyone anyway).

It’s a beautiful book.

It’s full of pictures of pretty men. The only ugly guys are obviously kickstarter-backers of Jenny’s project who bought into the get-your-portrait-worked-into-it option (I’m the Samnite triarius on page 125). Bomilkar is pretty, Lentulus is pretty, Hamilkar is the prettiest of them all. Small wonder, as Jenny’s Tolkien Elves are so inhumanely pretty you don’t need Orcs in comparison to notice. Well … the Roman alleged „Hannibal“ bust shows a pretty rugged guy who looks as if he were in pain, and that’s that – we have no pictorial evidence of the greatest General of Roman-era antiquity. The Carthaginians themselves, being Semites, were a bit at odds with the concept of pictures themselves. So, why not picture Hannibal pretty. There’s enough ugliness in this world.

It is a good book.

Jenny went at lengths to prove everything’s authentic (if you exclude one corn stalk lying around, I guess it was left there on purpose, just to tick off nitpickers). There must have been hours of discussions „Jaybird“ held with the history buffs at Geschichtsforum.de, and this was definitely just one source of many. She painted almost as many pictures NOT in the book as she actually fit into the book; these were only to round the image of Hannibal, his time, his life. Of course, the pics were also made to tease the ever-growing community of fans, but I was a bit shocked when I realised that almost nothing of what I saw before was in the book (buy the „Beyond Cannae“ booklet to get them all). I’m not sure if all military details are correct, I don’t care too much for the military, but the mechanisms of too many men in one space are eerily plausible. That’s enough for me.

It is a very good book.

Reenactors pursue the happiness of their hobby to get that special impression of „being there“; of re-enacting, re-living a special moment in history. This works specially easy with pictures, that’s how artists like Mort Kuenstler earn their living (and deform the image of the American Civil War). Many artists bothz real and would-be busy themselves creating „their“ history by „imagining“ it. Sometimes these doings are as complex as computer games, sometimes as simple as doodles. Few are really good. While I must admit that some of the more elaborate paintings by Jenny did not work that magic (e. g. the Balearic slingers on pgs 66-67). I like the small pics, almost sketches on p. 9, 12 most: just men, sitting around, smiling. That’s my „being there“ moment. That’s why I like this book (as a reenactor).

I also like (or rather, I like being amazed by) Carthage and, though I never was a fan of the Republican era, Rome, and ancient civilizations in general, which kindled great feats of mankind and things of great beauty. From this aspect, „Darkness over Cannae“ is a very civilized book. I suggest you buy and read it if you are into this kind of thing.

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