While the consul was occupied at Rome in appeasing the gods and levying troops, Hannibal, who had left his winter quarters, heard that Flaminius, the other consul, had already arrived at Arretium;
and so, though another route, longer, to be sure, but less difficult, was pointed out to him, he took the shorter, though the marshes, which the river Arno had lately flooded to an unusual extent.
He ordered the Spaniards and the Africans and all the flower of his veteran army, taking their own baggage with them so as not to want the necessities of life wherever they might be forced to halt, to march in the van; the Gauls to follow them and form the centre of the column; and the cavalry to fall in behind.
Mago and the Numidian light horse were to bring up the rear, their principal duty being to keep the Gauls in order, in case they should weary of the long and [p. 207]
painful march —for the race is ill adapted to such1
hardships —and attempt to steal away or refuse to go forward.
Those in front only asked that their guides lead on before. Through deep and well-nigh bottomless quagmires left by the flood, almost engulfed in the mud into which they plunged, they nevertheless followed on after their standards.
But the Gauls could neither keep from falling when they slipped, nor regain their footing, once they had plunged into a hole; the flesh was neither sustained by the spirit nor the spirit by hope. Some could hardly drag their tired limbs along; others, their courage yielding once for all to their weariness, dropped down and died amongst the baggage-animals, for these too were lying all about.
What distressed them most of all was the want of sleep, which they had now endured for four days and three nights.
And since everything was under water and they could find no dry spot on which to stretch their weary bodies, they would pile their packs in the flood and lie down on these;
or the heaps of sumpter-animals that were everywhere strewn about along the line of march would afford a makeshift bed —for all they asked was a place that stood out above the water, where they could snatch a little sleep.
Hannibal himself, whose eyes were suffering in the first place from the trying spring weather, alternating betwixt hot and cold, rode upon the sole surviving elephant, that he might be higher above the water.
But lack of sleep, damp nights, and the air of the marshes affected his head, and since he had neither place nor time for employing remedies, he lost the sight of one of his eyes. [p. 209]