Mirroring Livy: The Parley of Scipio and Hannibal

Mars – the Roman God of War

Setting the Stage

From the disastrous Battle of Cannae in 216 BC, few Romans escaped. Among them was Scipio Africanus, then only a Tribune. The two Roman Consuls who oversaw the battle foolishly took their places on the left and right flank, seeking glory in the cavalry battles and lending no eye to the heart of their army.

Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca, born in his father’s tent on campaign, deployed his army with a weak center to encourage the Romans to take ground. Lacking strategic supervision the Romans charged through Hannibal’s center, only to find themselves enveloped and eventually completely surrounded. What took place following the blunder was a mass execution of 20% of Rome’s male fighting population. For comparison, France and Germany both lost a smaller percentage over the entire course of the First World War.

As miraculous a loss it was, venerable Rome raised more armies to wage war. Chief among all Romans, the model of that Republic’s values, was Scipio. He not only wished to carry on fighting, but would raise his own army and head for Africa. Nearly 20 years later at the Battle of Zama, he earned his title “Africanus.”

By way of Roman historian Livy, we already have a dramatization of their parley at Zama but I have decided the epic moment is worthy of a reboot. Like most reboots, I fully expect this to be the worse, but it won’t keep me from expressing my admiration for the two Homeric heroes of their age.

The Parley of Millenia

Scipio rubbed some of the warm North African sand between his hands. He wanted to feel it once before it turned into the familiar crimson sludge. As he mounted his horse, he reassured himself it would run red that day.

Across the flats in Hannibal’s camp, the aging man was struggling to understand why he had called a parley. Had he really lost so much of his youthful spirit that he would bend his knee like Priam as the senate asked him to? Would another battle really make or break his name?

But there was little time for thought. After a short ride, Scipio dismounted and the decades’ old mistake stood before Hannibal. At Cannae the green Roman would have only watched the Generals’ parley from among the foot soldiers, comfortable the Triarii would have his back. Today he stood upright with the dignity of a man who was all the talk of the known world.

They stared intently at each other for a few moments, undoubtedly noticing one another’s scars. One each across cheek, arm, calf. Were they to remove their breastplates, probably across the chest too, right above their noble hearts.

The advisors and guards gathered around and joined in the silence, taking in the uncanny experience: first meeting between the generals who could be father and son. If only for their eyes of ambition, loyalty, and boldness; if only for their scars, it was difficult for the onlookers to distinguish which general was theirs.

Hannibal, despite his profession, was never one for bad blood at a parley. In fact, Hannibal even admired Scipio and his daring so he decided to open amicably, “Before we speak of terms…would you tell of your escape from Cannae?”

Scipio was surprised to hear such a question from the general and, hoping to lightheartedly set the tone that he would not consider peace, obliged through cliche, “I had business to settle with Carthage, as you know.”

The Romans laughed but Hannibal, unsure whether Scipio was being braggart or humorous, tightened his gaze.

The Roman had not come to piss off an illustrious veteran before battle though. “No.” Scipio continued, “That campaign season, I had taken a liking to one of the consuls’ horses. I remember feeding him every night, at great risk mind you, when the consul went off to his tent. During the battle, my dear friend found me, a mortally wounded consul hanging over him. The old fool collapsed at my feet.”

Hannibal chuckled with the room at the unbelievable escape, finally getting an answer after all the years. In good spirit he asked, “And even then, you were general enough to know the day was lost without him? Why did they not let Tribune Scipio ride the horse that day?”

Flattered and surprised at the veteran’s manner, Scipio could not help but let out a short chuckle of his own before returning to the reality that this parley was only for blood. On the other hand, the advisors enjoyed the laughter and took up with hope that an agreement might be arranged.

But Hannibal, like Scipio, turned business-like and carried on, “It’s odd though, you’ll allow me, that my father thought he would have the honor of finishing business with Rome. And I recall the war cries of his army and my own childish inventions: I hoped Rome would be my war someday, Scipio.”

He stood meditatively as Hannibal closed, “But the difference between my father and I, between you and I, Scipio, is that I was only a boy then. Today, as the elder man, I call for us to put away our dreams and speak consequentially. As far as this parley goes, the Carthaginian senate thinks it the sensible option for both Rome and Carthage that we consider peace. What say you?”

Yet Scipio’s response fell on the room with the reality there would be no talk of peace from him. He spoke slowly and manneredly as if telling an old friend how he had let him down, “If only for the oddity that General Hannibal now speaks of consequences, the war on his side of the sea.”

Hannibal, gesturing up at what might have been his father’s campaign tent and then at Scipio, matched his pace, “Of course. But allow me to remind you of your side of the sea.”

All the tent took direction from Hannibal’s hands and listened attentively to what the old soldier had to say, “The senate cannot be swell with your private army, Scipio. They fear the man with the markings of a tyrant, your private army the grossest mark. Yet perhaps you ought to consider your place on this side of the sea as well. Today we have the numbers we didn’t have at Cannae. But believe me, every veteran from Cannae joins us today. It would be senseless to leave so much to fate.”

Scipio was at peace with fate however. The gods wouldn’t have spared him if he were not fated to win the day. And as he planned to please Mars, he believed he would please the senate, “Destiny today will make the senate swell.”

“Well, I assure you plenty of other arrangements might make them swell. We have yet to even discuss terms of peace,” Hannibal added to no avail. Scipio stood in silence, his head down but still determined to win his as Hannibal had.

The Carthaginian looked down in thought and back up at Scipio, at the uncompromising and ambitious look of a man seeking glory and vengeance. As if accosted by Athena, in a moment Hannibal felt his old spirit and decided not to try for peace anymore. He hoped no one would let the senate on that he did not try so hard to convince Scipio. “So there is nothing for it then?” Hannibal asked.

Scipio held his reply for a few seconds to convey his respect and consideration, “Nothing for it but the gods.”

Sure now that he would wield his old sword but utterly accepting and unafraid, Hannibal inquired, “So be it. But assure me you won’t personally be routed again today?”

And now the Carthaginians had their laugh.

Scipio reflected a second on that day, the late afternoon lending the Carthaginians such long shadows that all his comrades perished in the dark, “Even noble Hector ran from the wrath of Achilles at first.”

The Carthaginian smiled in mischief, “If I am Achilles in your comparison, we should have a battle for the ages.”

All the young men now looked after Scipio, unsure whether the parley might have fair closure, even if they were to give battle later that day.

“A battle for the ages,” Scipio finally gave him with a nod.

Business seemingly closed, the men awaited dismissal but the two generals still stood looking at the other as if in admiration. Inquisitive old Hannibal had one more question to break the silence, “Before you are off, you must let us know if you still have that old horse?”

Scipio smiled at the thought, “My fateful horse? He lives the idyllic life of a retired Roman soldier. He’s probably out grazing the countryside now.”

And the old general let out a sigh, seeing the want of that life on Scipio’s face, thinking of all the years of war and the battle before him, “Believe me, I envy the old horse myself…”

So in only a few minutes the parley was bygone, perhaps one of the shortest in history. But the two old enemies channeling the character of Hector in only a few minutes, it remains the parley of Millenia.

Plane Strangers: A First Class Experience

Anyone seen this episode?

I travel a lot but not for work. I travel to get away from work. Well, this is anonymous so I guess I can be honest: I travel to look like I got some place other than work to be…friends and family to see. In reality, they’re strangers now. I moved to another state a few years back but, to be fair, I have been trying to see them as often as I can so that I don’t drift any farther away.

As you can probably already tell I’m a lonely person. Maybe laziness is my problem. I don’t want to take the time to meet new people? That’s besides the point though. I’m a lonely person. Airports and airplanes are the loneliest of places to me. You look around and everyone is with their friends and family with some place to be. And if they’re alone, they’re probably traveling for business, right?

Being that those places are so much lonelier, they often push me past my armrest and the fake sleep, impel me to make conversation with strangers. Over the years I have had some interesting talks. I won’t bore you with all the stories but a recent one struck me in a sentimental way. I was heading to my hometown and decided to upgrade to first class to see if it was worth anything. My finding: maybe.

A lot of connected people tend to sit up there. If you are looking for a job or a business deal you would probably do well to upgrade. The affluent type tends to be pretty outspoken and confident too. They’re ripe to give you advice if you need that. Or, it might be worth it if you’re just lonely. They’ll talk to you.

I sat next to the retired owner of a pretty major construction company. He was probably about 60 but pretty savvy for his age judging by the iPad and AirPods he put in the front pocket. He was definitely surprised to see a younger face being that the front of the cabin is normally occupied by older folks who recognize the business value of first class; or, the retired folks who just want that frivolous extra foot for $70. I found it strange myself that he didn’t stick his feet out any more than he would have in the back of the cab. He was retired too so he didn’t have any need for business in seat 2A.

We made some small talk at first. I saw he was reading a book on his iPad and asked him about it. Some shitty book about the Republican era of Rome but we hit it off talking about all the old emperors. He told me I ought to visit Rome if I ever got the chance. I told him I had already been. From there, he asked me why I was going home. I spoke in cliches, albeit truthful ones,

“A good friend passed away. There isn’t a better reminder to try and make well by the people back home. Ya know, you never know.”

That’s the funny thing about cliches too. You hate to hear advice from a friend or father in the form of cliches, as if they’re just brushing you off with quick answers but, damn, they’re cliches for a reason.

It certainly touched Jim’s heart. He was on his way to see his estranged son. He must have told me two or three times to treat my folks to dinner. I only found out his name when we finished taxiing to park by the way. You know how when you have a conversation with a stranger and you’re unsure if they want to know your name, if it would be strange to ask theirs even though you won’t meet them again? Yeah, I figured I should make sure to get Jim’s name.

That’s the story of why airports and airplanes are the loneliest places. And, I suppose, the story of why first class might be worth it: as if an episode of the Twilight Zone, you may see a ghost, an older version of yourself sent to affirm your departure…from the airport, that is.

Dedicated to my friend, Kyle, who will be writing part two of this series

Letter VI to Alex: Drug War and “Peace”

Perhaps Martin Scorsese’s beautiful homage stole away some attention from Goodfellas‘ punchline


I like to think that philosophy is far loftier than politics and that I am a philosopher, not a politician. But then I forget that she, philosophy, is the governor of all things…even the lowly and corrupted politics of the world. So today you will have to entertain me as I step down from my pedestal and talk about the drug wars.

Isn’t it repulsive that the majority of Americans have been manipulated to the opinion that drugs ought to be legal? While I generalize for brevity’s sake (of course those opinions have their minutiae), I feel impelled to take some time to remind others the cost of their junky fun. You see, I read a news story that the Cartel murdered a 10 year old boy’s father in front of him. Following that, they flayed the kid’s chest open while he was still alive, cut out his heart, and ate it in front of him. I don’t think I need another daily excerpt from Mexico to illustrate my point but, rest assured, there’s dozens of those stories a day.

But we all knew about those stories, right? No. The answer is to legalize and regulate, right? No, I don’t think so. Who is idiotic enough to believe these cartels, well-oiled machines as they are, would let a government condescend to them and “legalize” them? With their money and power, they legalized themselves. And so they operate out of legitimate dispensaries now in addition to the underground ones so many college kids get their kicks from.

There was another article. A woman watched her husband blowtorched alive. Is there such a thing as regulating that kind of bloodlust? Is it in our conscience to tax that? And by the way, since when have Americans ever trusted the government to do right by their tax money. I guess it’s alright if it legitimizes a heathen’s hobby.

So what for it then? The drug war was a failure and peace is a compromise of our moral integrity. Not to mention the latter option won’t bring any rest to the Mexican people as the cartels continue to fight one another, extort the common people caught in their crossfire, and suck all humanity from the land. I couldn’t tell you for certain though I believe Americans should be made aware of their dollar’s life…from their parents hand, to the middle-man, the cartels, and down the river of blood.



By the way, I figured I would send you something online as you have for me. Look up “Cartels National Parks.” You’ll find plenty.

Letter V to Alex: A Humbled Prayer from East of Eden


I have been thinking further on the losses inherent in impiety. Do you ever lament that certain things were not sown into you as a child? Take the belief in the soul, the afterlife, and deity. It seems, at random, the gardener gently waters some by those beliefs to full bloom while others are condemned to remain small seeds, unsure and afraid of even the soil that has borne them. You see, how much anxiety would have been spared me were I always to have attended church?

With the philosophical pain that has charged my veins, I might pridefully conjure up a comparison to Socrates’ allegory. But we must recall that only the enslaved claim exaltation. I won’t deny though, be it my shackles or the blinding light, much of life has felt an aching purgatory…nihilism creeping over the horizon some mornings instead of our lofty sun.

Still, the sun also rises beyond paradise. When you lose a friend and mentor of such magnitude that you must get down on your knees and say a prayer, you break through a set of definite chains…those of self-pity….and feel the grace of the gardener.

Always cherish your friends and family.



Letter IV to Alex: On Original Work, Organic Thought, and Collective Unconscious

Gerard van Honthorst’s “The Death of Seneca”


So there is already quite a bit of writing on the philosophy of video games then? It is always disappointing when you believe you have something original–a potential article or thesis–and you find someone beat you to it. When the idea came to you organically, that is…without any knowledge that it already existed, you are likely to be so distraught as to craft conspiracies that someone traveled to the future and stole it from you. So it was when I found so many of my organic ideas unoriginal.

There is an optimistic angle to those situations though. It’s important to compare yourself to those at the top of the podium and realize whatever metal you wear is not much less worthy than theirs. Silver and bronze are not worth much less than gold. And you must not forget that you ran the same course to the same conclusion that they did. If you did not fare well on this one, on this day, perhaps you will fare better on the next course, on the next day.

But so many of us racing the same track? Perhaps this common predicament is a testament to collective unconscious and the lunacy of “organic ideas” and “original work.” Perhaps it is a testament that the truth lies dormant in all of us just waiting for the right catalyst to bring it up to the surface. In that sense, there is no race to be had but for false medals. Certainly this was Seneca’s thought when he reminded us the truth belongs to no one.



Letter III to Alex: On the Video Game as the New Novel


On this ground you surely understand that you are the teacher and I am the student. Nonetheless, I will do my best to respond.

You see, the most I know of video games is that they exist. I suppose my initial reaction would be to advise you against them but you seem quite adamant they have something of use to the philosopher. And I’ll be damned, it is something useful that you are connecting with your friends abroad through them. I have always thought one could not understand humanity through the eyes of a homebody so I am glad you keep in touch with those across the pond.

Still it surprises me that you believe, “the video game can cut through the heart more than a film or television series” for I am recalled to the days when I was a young man drawn more to the theatre than my anthologies. What’s more, I never imagined the source of my pride in your growth might be linked to video games? To be clear, I believe you are talking as serious as a paradigm shift in the relation of philosophy.

The worlds you describe to me sound something like what Middle Earth is to her: a playground. And it sounds as though the developers have come out to bat. Take this Tarkov you have told me about. Nikita seems a Dostoyevsky and his Tarkov a truly Hobbesian (or Orwellian?) place. And Tamriel? Sounds ripe for a hero’s journey not unlike the Hobbits’.

But a piece of loose garbage could be a philosopher’s playground, no? I could make an analogy between man and the stray trash unnoticed amongst the city bustle, no? We could call a recycled bottle the body of the starchild, right? I only tease. Let me talk to your strongest points:

You have made the case that in the video game, the player (the reader of sorts), experiences the world in a less tertiary sense and, as you have pointed out, that makes the philosophy more intimate. With this first assertion, I am no longer sure I could call cinema it’s own paradigm shift for, in film, the viewer is really afforded a role no closer than in the novel. They are still spectators, inconsequential to outcome. Likewise, the fallout only befalls them in the third degree. But in a video game, the player may be as consequential as the artist.

Now, to your second point that these games have infinite playability, I think you drive home the substance and potency of this medium. You read a novel and it is likely to end up our piece of garbage from earlier. But you live through Tamriel for months and years (as the kids are already doing of their own accord anyways) and it steals a place in your heart.

You have yourself a big fish here. I am unsure whether this ground is much traveled by academics. They wouldn’t dare stray their elitist eyes from their books for a teenage vice, would they? Nobody is willing to come right out and say that the video game can and already is a vessel for philosophy…but you. So write me something of Tarkov or Tamriel. At least to assure me this isn’t some scheme to avoid your studies!



Letter II to Alex: On Community, Churchgoing, and Literature

A portrait of American author Herman Melville


You are right and, if you will allow me to generalize that writers tend not to be churchgoers, I would like to share my thoughts.

There is little community in intellectual and academic circles compared to those of the church…not that one cannot belong to both. Indeed, being an atheist or something other my whole life, and now searching for community in academia, I assure you there is little. The peer-reviewed journal is the closest to a potluck we have and the dishes do not taste of love. No, they are pungent! At worst, you may sense your colleague spat in their dish hoping you and your thesis would have a great bite of it. Still, if only to find the most abhorrent plate, we do have a common goal: the pursuit of truth and wisdom. So fill yours.

But I would hardly be a tutor to leave you with that, no? So here is my advice: go to church if you are seeking fellowship (you may also find something more to believe in). And if you’re not looking for fellowship, go to church. Believe me you’re likely to feel robbed of an education if you don’t and, in a few years, you will find yourself a frequenter to the abbreviated bible: the footnotes. Yes, perhaps out of pride and spite I also gave up church and the books. But nobody warned me that Melville would allude to Jonah and the Whale, and Ishmael, and Elijah, and Job, and Nineveh, and all the grand tales.

Still, let me not just advise you to study the bible, but to become a student of all the texts. Indeed, nobody told me Thoreau was a student of Hinduism. Sure, I could have guessed that Japanese literature would be Buddhist to some extent, but I never could have guessed I would tire of turning to the endnotes. So heed my recommendation to learn of all faiths, or don’t. But I’m sure if literature could be measured like a recipe, you would retrieve your recipe from the ancient books.



Letter I to Alex: On People, STEM, and the Humanities

Aristotle tutoring Alexander by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, 1895


You have sought what I hope to be a just counsel regarding the role of the sexes in academia and, specifically, the humanities. It has been the subject of my conscience often and has occupied my subconscious since I first put pen to paper. So in due course, I hope to set you off well.

So they will call Alex a woman for writing poetry and essays in his journal? For reading Shakespeare and Tacitus? Well, recall to them that Alexander the Great was no stranger to strong words when he penned cowardly Darius. Remind them that Alexander neither fretted in the power of persuasion before the mutineers, nor strayed far from his tutor Aristotle as a boy. The same could be said of Caesar who read of Alexander and Grant who read of Caesar’s tears.

And if they should really be so backwards to think that power is what makes a man, remind them that it was no engineer who started the French Revolution; or, if it were, it was the “softer side” of their brain that played both fuse and fire for that monumental event. But why should we segregate such things to begin with? It’s the humanities, after all.

You see, your generation has before you a chance to correct not one, but two great missteps. For one, it would take a great philosopher and historian to explain what is at fault but the issue persists: somehow or other, men are fleeing the humanities at large since this last century and women have taken it up. Yet today, we hear that we need more women in STEM and, for my part, I will say we need more men in the humanities.

Most certain on this topic, though, is the root misstep. We began only with the renaissance man and regressed even from that. What notion is there of the renaissance man or renaissance woman today? Men should neglect neither half of their brains, nor should women for that matter. Remember, we were fools to think things would be for the better if we ignored the education of our daughters. Let us not allow invisible divisions to cast that mistake on both our daughters and sons.

My regards,


Precious Registers: a Story…or Elegy…of Chess

“You thought that everything could be expressed with figures, formulas ! But when you were compiling your precious registers, you quite forgot the wild roses in the hedges, the signs in the sky, the smiles of summer, the great voice of the sea, the moments when man rises in his wrath and scatters all before him. […] Even when you are flushed with victory, defeat is knocking at your door. For there is in man an innate power that you will never vanquish, a gay madness born of mingled fear and courage, unreasoning yet victorious through all time. One day this power will surge up and you will learn that all your glory is but dust before the wind”.

Albert Camus, The State of Siege (1948)

Just as there are two armies on the board, black and white, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the categorization of chess: there are those who think it of the heart and, indeed, art…and then there are those those who see it as a science. But which side is victorious, if either, that is for you to decide.

The two army officers sat across from each other and before an ancient set of pieces in a rundown pub in St. Petersburg. They had been cadets there just a year before at the engineering college.

The first, Dmitri, was a disgruntled and sloppy officer. But in chess the rookie was a bit more cleaned up. Always trying new things, on some days he could force a beautiful checkmate with the right blend of vodka, insanity, and heart for this new game. He sat up straight, smirking, and enjoying his cigarette.

The other, Fyodor, was a straight arrow of an officer. He had been playing for years without idealism, always committed to the books and masters. The more consistent of the two players was hunched over, resting his chin on his fist, already calculating what his fifth move would be.

They were good friends but the latter had been somewhat of a chess instructor to the former for several weeks, and they had experienced their first division over the same.

You see, Dmitri was not easy to instruct. Unlike his professor, he was far too impulsive, or perhaps was too proud or drunk, to ever be keen on calculating more than a few moves or coming up with anything other than a general plan of attack.”

“E4?” Fyodor asked with a grin as Dmitri posted his first pawn, “The start of a textbook opening, maybe?”

Dmitri paused and responded with an air of secrecy “It’s unoriginal, I know…but not in the sense you think.”

“How so?”

With the grin of a child offering some smart mouth remark, and playing D4, Dmitri retorted, “Well, if I told you I’d certainly be beat.”

But it couldn’t have been more than four moves before he had to explain his undefended pawns in the center of the board, and, indeed, before Fyodor had obviously taken the upper hand.

“Alright.” Dmitri began, seeing his plan foil before his eyes, “I’ll tell you. You see, the game is somewhat of a metaphor for life, no? At least a metaphor for war? Well, since it’s so, I figured I could apply one of sly Hannibal’s tricks from Cannae. You see here how I exaggerate the weakness of my center, ready to envelop you once you take the bait?”

Fyodor looked up from the board, confusion and disappointment on his face.

“Well, you know it’s high risk and reward. It could end well for me.”

With a deep breath, veteran Fyodor did his best not to ramble on, “You’re more the Romans in that position than the Carthaginians. It’s not a real war. It’s an algorithm and you might want to play the book moves. Most of them are even vetted by the computers. You’ve heard news of the computers abroad and what they can do? Forget about their computers, what our computers have to say. Besides, if the game’s like any war, it’s some impersonal war of the future.”

“Using precious bandwidth to test chess moves? Here? In Russia?!”

“It’s quite a piece of propaganda you know, being the winner. Even Kasparov and Karpov like to use them to test positions.”

“Well, there’s little honor or spirit in that is there?” Dmitri asked sulking.

“Well, if everyone uses them? What do you do when your opponent brings cavalry to the battle? Bring your own, no?”

“Sure, but the Romans didn’t bring elephants to Zama. They outplayed them.”

“Soon enough, there won’t be outplaying a computer” Fyodor smartly retorted as he forked Dmitri’s king and rook.

Dmitri knocked over his king and shook hands with Fyodor. They sat in silence for a moment collecting their pieces. As Dmitri finished setting up his side, he grabbed some of Fyodor’s pieces to help him and began laughing, filling the immediate area with the smell of vodka, “They’ve even found a way to take the blood out of chess have they?”

“Right, for the players to some extent. But the best nation still wins. We are the ones who program the computers aren’t we?”

“As a soldier and gentlemen,” both grinned at that, “I wouldn’t have an engineer taking my plunder or trophy.”

“Fair enough. But remember there won’t be many trophies if you don’t study up on the computers. And forget the computers. You ought to read up on some literature at least to avoid blunders like that. You can borrow some of my books or I can show you.”

“I’m good.” Dmitri replied unsurprisingly, taking a long pause afterwards. “Scipio was born out of a great blunder, you know?”


“Scipio, he was one of only a few who escaped Cannae.”

“I wasn’t aware he was in that battle. I thought all the Romans had been slaughtered.”

“No, he was one of a dozen young men who made it out and, as you well know, beat Hannibal at Zama. He beat him against insurmountable odds too. Just what Rome needed after losing some 25% of their military-aged male population at Cannae. You realize how insane that is?” Dmitri asked in awe. “The Krauts capitulated after losing 5% in the First World War? For my part, a miracle of will like that is proof enough humanity will never be completely passed up by an algorithm.”

With a smile on his face, Fyodor obliged the drunk, “And for my part, I didn’t know it was possible to sound like Vodka. Come on, give me that piece so we can play again.”

“Just one win is a testament to the human spirit!”

Fyodor laughed, putting his last piece in position for battle, “Alright Scipio, only time will tell, huh?”

Dedicated to my friend and master in chess, Hunter