Monday, November 11, 2013

Whether one must always directly confront an enemy

View of the battlefield of Lake Trasimene from
the place where consul Flaminius was killed

When travelling usually I follow not so much this or that travel guide, but I follow my mind and sometimes my photo camera, which is actually the same. So when I was in Tuscany in Italy a few weeks ago, I found it more interesting to be led by the Montaigne’s footsteps and to walk on the battle field of Lake Trasimene where Hannibal ambushed a Roman army than to see the great objects of art admired by many, although one can doubt whether most of them really admire them or that they admire them “because they have to” (as a pen friend remarked to me). But it is not up to me to judge the truth of the admiration of others. That would be quite arrogant and these “others” could probably say the same about me, and with right. Anyway, I remember that when I was in Florence a few years ago I walked into a church and my eye was caught by a statue on the wall and, although not being an art connoisseur, I immediately saw how excellent it was and when I looked up in my travel guide who had made it, I saw that it was by Donatello. Since Donatello is recognized as a famous and very good sculptor, I concluded that there must be something objective in what is good art and what is bad art and that even a layman can see that and can sincerely enjoy it. Nevertheless, my feeling tells me that my mind must lead me to other places when I am on a travel. Or most of the time.
Anyway, walking on the battle field of Lake Trasimene I wondered why Montaigne hadn’t been here, since he needed to make only a brief detour in order to go there. Montaigne writes several times about Hannibal in his essays, although not over consul Flaminius who was commanding the Roman army there, if I am right. I think that a walk, or rather a horse ride a Montaigne’s case, would have given him new insights and would have stimulated him to new themes, if he had looked at the details of the battle and had compared the reports of Livy and other authors with what he had seen in person on the terrain. And certainly he would have got inspiration if he would have studied what had happened after the battle, if he didn’t know it already. For after the Romans had heard about what was a calamity for them (15.000 soldiers had been killed, 6.000 had been taken captive and only 4.000 soldiers escaped), they were seized by panic and, as they had done so often in such situations in the past, they appointed a dictator who was charged to solve the situation and, of course, to beat Hannibal. However, Quintus Fabius Maximus, the new man on the top of the Roman Republic, chose the strategy of avoiding a direct confrontation with Hannibal. Instead he used a tactics of law-level harassment in order to exhaust his opponent and to give Rome time to rebuild its military strength. By doing so Fabius got the nickname Cunctator or “Delayer”. But the Romans were not very charmed by this approach. They dismissed Fabius and elected two consuls instead, who gave battle to Hannibal in the Battle of Cannae, which was even a worse defeat for the Romans than the Battle of Lake Trasimene. Apparently, Fabius’s strategy of avoiding and exhausting was not so bad. Even more, the same method was used by the Russian generals Barclay de Tolly and Kutuzov in 1812 when Napoleon invaded Russia and occupied Moscow. In this case the strategy was a big success and Napoleon was forced to leave Russia, which actually meant the end of his reign. Of course, Montaigne couldn’t have known about Napoleon, but without a doubt a few other such instances would have come to his mind. If he would have written about them, I think he would have given his essay the title “Whether one must always directly confront an enemy” and the upshot would have been that procrastination is not always as bad as it looks on the face of it.

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