Salammbo (Folio) (French Edition)

by Gustave Flaubert

Paperback, 1974



Call number




Gallimard French (1974), 534 pages


An epic story of lust, cruelty, and sensuality, this historical novel is set in Carthage in the days following the First Punic War with Rome.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Steven_VI
Salammbô is set in ancient Carthage and talks about a war between mercenaries and the Carthaginean army, led by Hamilcar Barcas.

Flaubert has mixed classical greek elements with modern, realist ideas. The overall theme of the novel is arrogance -- not the god-defying hybris of classical tragedy, but the very human form: pride, jealousy, greed. These three human characters are intertwined thoughout the story. The mercenaries seemingly start their war because the Carthagineans don't want to pay them, but it is the slave Spendius who stirs them up, deliberately misleading them in his desire for power. Spendius also steers the mercenary general Mâtho, who is mostly driven by his lusting for Salammbô, into stealing the most sacred object of the Carthagineans: the Zaimph, the veil of the godess Tanith.

Though the gods seem to get their revenge in the end, it is man who drives the action. It is the greed of the Carthagineans that starts the war, it is the jealousy of the Council of Ancients that doublecrosses Hamilcar every time he is on the verge of winning, it is the pride of Hamilcar's political rival Hannon that leads to gruesome defeats.

Flaubert has interspersed his story with an exotic kind of realism, leading to elaborate descriptions of costumes, ceremonies, military movements, and torturous punishments. Salammbô is a distant relative of The Passion of the Christ in all its gorey historical realism, and perhaps the horrifying descriptions are all too gratuitious. But Salammbô goes deeper than this, it is a biting description of human society as a political structure, showing how party politics will work against the best intents of the state.

Salammbô is an exponent of the french exotism, which took a start with Napoleons Egyptian expeditions and influenced many other artists (Verdi's Aïda is another famous example). Unlike most, however, Flaubert did extensive research for his book, even traveling to Tunisia. Echoes of Homer and Xenophon are scattered throughout his work. It seems to me that the way the novel depicts Carthage as a major character has also inspired Albert Camus when he wrote La Peste, where another African city is closed off from the world while a pseudo-divine punishment chastises the inhabitants.
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LibraryThing member antiquary
In honesty, my rating is based on reading the English translation. Extremely vivid historical novel of the "truceless war" between Carthage and the rebel mercenaries.
LibraryThing member markbstephenson
The best historical novel I've read so far.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Flaubert goes on a radically different track here - after the astonishing success of Madame Bovary he goes for an Orientalist tragedy on the ruin of Carthage.

As expected, he put an astonishing amount of work into this - he's read his Polybius, and written astonishing (exaggerated?) accounts of the Carthaginian religion. Lots of description of destruction and savagery and war. The devourer-god, Moloch. That alone makes it worth a read.

It's as though Flaubert has constructed an elaborate sand castle which is Carthage and he has taken a special delight in taking off his boots and kicking it down.

It was a good novel, no question. But compared to the rest of Flaubert's genius, 'good' is 'OK'.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
A bit of a rollicking tale, especially unexpected from Flaubert; it has the feeling of an epic poem, or a medieval romance. That's probably the best way to judge it: not dealing with deep characters (although Spendius is chilling); not interested in a perfectly coherent, driven plot (although there's plenty of action); but filled with asides, descriptions and repetitions. But it's also 'realistic', in the sense of packed with detail; this clashes in an interesting way with the characters' speeches to each other, which feel very mannered. I imagine this is much better studied than read breezily like I did.

But by far the weirdest thing was that it reminded me of 'Blood Meridian.' I wonder if there's anything to that.
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LibraryThing member la2bkk
As an avid ancient history fan, I was very pleasantly surprised to discover this work. Although historical fiction, in general Flaubert did his homework and wrote a fairly accurate account of the little known but brutal Third century BC war between Carthage and its mercenary army.

Flaubert did an excellent job of describing the exotic Carthaginian rituals, the multitude of peoples that comprised the mercenaries, etc. However, I found his lavishly ornate writing style tiring. Sometimes too much of a good thing really isn't that good after all.… (more)
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
A bloodthirsty Carthaginian epic; reveals history in a way that few writers can manage.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

534 p.; 7.01 inches


2070366081 / 9782070366088
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