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Salammbo (Penguin Classics) Paperback – August 25, 1977

3.8 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, French (translation)

From the Back Cover

An epic story combining lust, cruelty, riches, ritual and sensuality, few French historical novels can stand comparison with Salammbo.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (August 25, 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140443282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140443288
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #552,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By IRA Ross on June 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Flaubert's _Salammbo_ is an often stirring mixture and intertwining of the history of the Punic Wars and of the myths held by the people of ancient Carthage. The novel begins and ends with a banquet held in the gardens of Hamilcar, the Carthaginian leader. The mercenaries are feasting in these gardens at the beginning and a wedding feast is being held at the end, with an important leader of the Barbarians as "the special guest of honor."
The book describes in great, often gory detail the horrors and the carnage of war. The gods must be appeased if there is no food or if the soldiers are dying of thirst. These rituals include children being sacrificed with, perhaps, Hamilcar's son being one of the victims. Cannibilism is an alternative
to mass starvation. Torture is the sport of kings and the masses alike.
In the middle of all these goings on is Hamilcar's daughter, the lovely and exotically beautiful Salammbo. Her conniving to recapture the Zaimph from Matho, the Libyan leader of the Barbarians, includes some of the most erotic passage in 19th century literature. Her pet serpent figures very prominently in these scenes. A priest advises Salammbo that without reobtaining the Zaimph, an important holy relic in their possession, Carthage is doomed to defeat.
Having previously read Flaubert's _Madame Bovary_ and _Sentimental Education_, I believed them to be totally different from _Salammbo_, the former two being romantic melodramas and the latter a historic war novel. This is incorrect. All three novels focus on a major female character, who for better or for worse, forms key relationships, romantic or otherwise, with the novels' lead male characters, and which ultimately determine the shape and the final outcome of each of these books. "All is fair in love and war" may be a cliche, but in _Salammbo_ it becomes the ultimate truth.
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Even though I agree with the reviewers who stated that this novel is nothing like Madame Bovary, I tend to see this as a strength of a talented world writer. In this novel Carthage is in its death throes as an imperial nation---eternally at war and unable to meet the daily needs of its citizens. They are forced to believe in an ecstatic religious cult that demands the sacrifice of humans. Flaubert's language in this novel even mirrors the internal frenzy of the citizens who always have to be prepared for yet another war. (I finished this novel in one day, I could not put it down.)
Salammbo needs to be read as a novel; not as a work of history in order to truly understand what Flaubert intentions were.
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"Delenda est Carthago! Delenda est Carthago!"("Carthage must be destroyed!") were some of the best-remembered words of Marcus Porcius Cato, a senator of Rome during the second century BC. He got his wish at the end of the Third Punic War, when Carthage effectively ceased to exist. I used to feel a certain sympathy for the Carthaginians. Then I read Salammbo.
I first encountered this novel at the impressionable age of 13, and had no idea what to make of it. I had to gain a lot more knowledge (and cynicism) before I could approach it with anything but nausea. It is not a pretty book, nor do the actions of the protagonists make much sense, until one takes them in the context of Flaubert. He did do a good deal of historical research, but he was, as A.J. Krailsheimer points out in the introduction, also an enthusiastic student of de Sade. This novel is not simply about violence (although the reader will need hip-waders to get through the gore); it is about the torture of futility. It brims with sensual enticements, only to see every effort come to disaster. Even Salammbo herself is doomed by the very thing she wants most: she only wishes to become an initiate of Tanit, but her wish leads to her downfall.
All that said, I had some fairly significant troubles with the plot, and that started in the very first chapter. The soldiers are rioting through the garden, and Salammbo comes out of her room to scold them (in tongues) for destroying her pet fish. Why, I said to myself, does a father who wants to marry his daughter off well leave her without guards in a place where a bunch of drunken mercenaries can get at her? Once I started reading critically, things went downhill from there. The characters seem to have no control over what happens to them, so they struggle on through an atmosphere of dreamy, cynical futility until the bloody finale. I kept wanting to give someone, preferably Flaubert, a swift kick in the pants.
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This is a monstrous, depraved, beautiful and lofty book, obviously the work of a genius - the last third I found completely riveting, but I have to say it felt like I was being pulled deeper and deeper into the dark vortex of Flaubert's psychology, where terrible brutality is mixed with rapturous lyricism - hate and love, pleasure and pain become one and the same - very disturbing, actually - EROS/THANATOS unleashed. I now have certain images in my head that will be difficult to forget. This was probably one of the most violent and disturbing things that I've read; it's a book obsessed with sadomasochistic impulses, on an epic scale; it's quite troubling because it makes the reader complicit by joining in the eroticization of torture and killing, of human barbarity and degradation; nevertheless, I was compelled to keep reading - because of Flaubert's amazing artistry, I couldn't look away. "Salammbo" makes the horrors of battle real and visceral, while turning hell-on-earth into intoxicating poetry - a very strange but beautiful work. The original french readers of "Salammbo" (1862) must have experienced quite a shock; it was a financial success (following the sensation of "Madame Bovary"), but it wasn't translated into english until much later - now I think I understand why.

The true nature of Salammbo (more an archetype than a mortal heroine) isn't revealed to the reader, or to her, until the final pages of the book. What were Flaubert's motivations for writing this novel? I guess he had to get it out of his system; he's like a dangerous, intoxicated, wild animal, filled with blood lust, who can transform his cravings into mystical poetry.
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