Hannibal’s brother and … Mayonnaise!

Every now and then I convince myself that that I know quite a bit about ancient history, and then I stumble across something not just new but whiplashingly new. Did you know that the word mayonnaise is named after Hannibal’s youngest brother?

According to Livius, it came about as follows: Hannibal’s brother was named Mago (a common Carthaginian/Punic name), and he

… lives on in a most surprising way. On Menorca, he had founded the city that is still called Port Mahon. The typical local egg sauce that has conquered the world is known as mayonnaise.

And while we’re on the subject of Hannibal’s brothers:

Hasdrubal Barca's head, before the Romans got it

Hasdrubal's head (before Roman cosmetic intervention)

Hasdrubal, who was younger than Hannibal but older than Mago, died valiantly in battle against the Romans as he tried to bring a second invasion army to Italy to support Hannibal.

The Romans cut off his head. Then they marched it to the other end of Italy and catapulted it into Hannibal’s camp. Hannibal, who still did not even know that Hasdrubal had arrived in Italy, last saw his brother’s face …. as it rolled toward him.

So it goes, as Vonnegut would say. But those Romans sure had a way of doing things.

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A lot about fathers

So I’m staring at the two books that have just dropped from the pile (a tall one) onto the floor, and they are titled: Faith of My Fathers (left) and Dreams from My Father (right).

“This boy is really doing his civic homework during an important election,” you may be saying. Actually, no. I’m doing research for (no surprises) my book.

You see, these two–Obama and McCain–made me think of my main characters, Hannibal and Scipio. No, it’s not because Obama is half African (I’ve explained here why I don’t think that Hannibal was “African” in that sense). No, it’s not because McCain has “something Roman about him”, as a friend of mine said, referring to McCain’s martial honor code. And it’s only a little bit because both pairs were formidable rivals and opponents.

It’s because Hannibal and Scipio, if they had written books, might well have given them the exact same titles.

Hannibal lived his life as he did, one could argue, because he inherited a “dream from his father,” Hamilcar. Hamilcar had fought the Romans in the First Punic War, and felt humiliated when Rome won, and wanted revenge. He even made Hannibal, when the boy was nine, swear an oath to keep the “faith of his father”. (100falcons has a nice write-up of it here.)

Scipio could have said the same. He had the same name as his father, Publius Cornelius Scipio, and fought in his father’s army against Hannibal, when Hannibal seemed invincible. His father and uncle later died in battle against Hannibal’s brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago. Scipio, too, was keeping the “faith of his fathers” when he rose at a precocious age to become Rome’s leader and last hope.

So, fathers clearly matter. Or perhaps only for sons? For Amy Tan, it seems to have been her mother who was the important early influencer.

Lots to ponder. Lots to ponder. The role of background in life choices, goal-setting, Success, failure….

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