A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Friday, January 7, 2011

Against Hannibal

James Hannam at Quodlibeta wrote a delicious parody of a certain style of amateur writing, which I am pasting here.  Some of his comments are presented afterward to aid others in fabricating fantasy history.  You can try the game with Against Socrates, Against Plotinus, etc. 

 Against Hannibal

To ask whether or not the great Carthaginian general Hannibal ever actually existed might seem rather pointless. It might be an exercise for a student learning about the nature of historical evidence, but not something any serious scholar would waste time on. But maybe we should not be too hasty in acquiescing with the opinion of establishment historians.

In fact, although there is plenty of writing about Hannibal, none of it is contemporary and there is no archaeological evidence for him at all. Furthermore he is not mentioned in any Carthaginian sources, which is incredible, given he was supposed to be their greatest leader! We find when we actually try to pin him down he tends to recede further into the mists of time. His exploits, such as leading elephants over the Alps, are clearly legendary and it is not hard to find a motive for the creation of this colorful character by Roman writers.

Rome and Carthage were great trading rivals in the Western Mediterranean and it did not take them long to come to blows. Rome signed a peace treaty but, under the leadership of the elder Cato, desperately wanted to rid itself permanently of the competition. The Romans needed an excuse and the idea they developed was brilliant. Like many ancient civilizations, the Romans rewrote history as it suited them to exhibit their own prowess. Consequently we should not be surprised to find that they invented a great enemy from Carthage to demonstrate the threat still existed and justify a further war to wipe them out.

The author of the fiction was Cato himself, as Cato wrote the earliest Roman History. But it was intended simply as a justification for a further war with Carthage. It contained the details of Hannibal's alleged campaigns against the Romans, including his victories on Italian soil. Cato brilliantly combined the truth with his own anti-Carthaginian propaganda with the intention of goading Rome into another wholly unjustified war with the old enemy. Once the war was over and Carthage was razed to the ground, the Romans were able to ensure that only their version of history survived.

Therefore the myth of the great Carthaginian war leader became an accepted fact. Later Roman historians like the notoriously unreliable Livy simply assumed Cato's fabrications were true.
+ + +

Notes on Technique: How to Debunk History
(also by James Hannam, though with some additions by yr. obt. svt.)

establishment historians.  Imply that there's a plot by "establishment" academics stifling debate. 

no archaeological evidence.  Make it sound unsupported; but don't mention that the Romans razed the Carthage to the ground and there simply is no archeological evidence of any sort.

not mentioned in any Carthaginian sources.  Make it sound as if there actually are Carthaginian sources, but they make no mention of Hannibal. 

clearly legendary. Use proof by bald assertion.  "Clearly" is a nice touch.  Pretend to be incredulous even while peddling the notion.  

motive for the creation. If you can invent a motive for fabrication, you can thereafter assume that it is a fabrication.

rid itself of the competition.  It helps to throw in a few true statements.  Not only does this help conceal the moment when you slip into fantasy, but it gives you a fallback to defend the remainder of your assertions.

Romans rewrote history.  Use exaggerated generalizations whenever possible.  If there is an eyewitness account, point out that eyewitnesses have been proven "in peer-reviewed literature" to be unreliable. 

author was Cato.  Designate a villain.  Don't worry about proving this; just assert it.  Slide over seemlessly from the background material to the theorizing.  

wrote the earliest Roman History. Another true statement to bolster the appearance of research. 

Cato's history contained... Since Cato's history has not survived, you can make bland assertions about what it contained. 

brilliantly combined truth with  propaganda.  You can appear judicious by giving Cato chops for his brilliance. Since the text has not survived, you need not worry about being contradicted on what it "combined."

ensure only their version survived.  This enables you to dismiss all corroborating sources as forgeries or propaganda.  

notoriously unreliable Livy.  The Attack of the Gratuitous Adjective.  Denigrate contrary sources.  Not just unreliable, but notoriously unreliable. 

assumed Cato's fabrications were true.  Imply that Livy and others were stupid and did not think of doing any independent research. 

A few other pointers would include amplifying on the conspiracy to maintain the myth of Hannibal, et al. and wallowing in self-congratulation on your own bravery in rising to expose the myth. 


  1. You would like Hannam's book on medieval natural philosophers, God's Philosophers, if you haven't already read it.

  2. he he he. I suppose you've seen the ancient jeu d'esprit about Napoleon being a solar deity,but this one beats it.


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