Saturday, December 4, 2010

4th December 2010

President Saleh of Yemen has refused to hand over the terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, because it contravenes the Yemeni tradition of hospitality. If the fate of Hannibal is anything to go by, al-Awlaki had better run for it quickish.

In 218 BC the Carthaginian Hannibal had famously led his army and elephants over the Alps to take revenge on the Romans for an earlier defeat. He came within an ace of doing so, but in 202 BC was forced to return to protect Carthage. When the Romans defeated him there, he made peace. But he still longed to get his own back, and in 195 BC, when the Romans got wind of his plans, Hannibal fled east. He tried to do a deal with Antiochus of Syria to lead an attack on Rome, but when that fell through and the Romans demanded Antiochus surrender him, Hannibal fled to king Prusias of Bithynia (N.W. Turkey), whom he served in various ways.

The Romans had no idea where he had disappeared. Years later, according to the historian Nepos, it happened that an embassy from Prusias was in Rome, dining with one Quinctius Flaminius, and one of them let it drop that Hannibal was serving their king. Flaminius immediately informed the senate, who sent him to Prusias, with an armed legation, to demand Prusias hand Hannibal over. No dice, said Prusias; it contravenes our ancient laws of hospitality; however, now I think about it, you could easily, ah, find out for yourselves where he is hiding, in a little fortification I gave him as a reward...

Which was where the Romans found him. The place had exits on all sides, but when a look-out informed Hannibal that men had surrounded it and there was no escape, ‘he realised this was no accident, but that they were after him, and he could cling on no longer. Not wanting to put his life at anyone else’s disposal, he took the phial of poison he always kept with him and, calling up his ancient valour, drained it dry.’

President Saleh, like Prusias, probably knows which side his bread is buttered. One wonders what ‘ancient valour’ the cowering al-Awlaki will have to call upon.

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