Sunday, April 06, 2008

Creating History?

I'm always a little surprised when I get comments on posts that are several years old. I guess I shouldn't be, though. The posts live on, and they can be discovered by anybody at anytime. This is never more true in my case than with anything to do with Hannibal and Pride of Carthage. Way back when, I posted About Hannibal's Race. It's sort of ancient history to me (pun intended, kinda), but I just had an interesting exchange. It started like this...
Anonymous said...

Well, I dont think he was black, probably some Semitic type. We shouldnt forget that his mother was an Iberian noble and his wife too, so I dont think that he looked that much different from them. But mingling of Barca family with some sub-saharan Africans is also possible...
Well, pretty strange arguing about the identity of man so long dead :)
I slightly shortened that, but didn't change any of the substance. I responded thusly...

Hello Anonymous,

(This thread has more "anonymous" posters than any other thread.)

Personally, I'm not arguing with anyone. I agree that it's ancient history, and no matter how hard we try to believe absolutes we're not going to be right about it. The truth - whatever it really was - is long gone.

I don't recall coming across anything that said Hannibal's mother was Iberian. If I had I would've been happy to include that, but I mostly recall his mother being a blank. Since he was born in Carthage and since his father had not yet headed for Spain I thought it reasonable that Hamilcar's wife be North African.

Hannibal's wife, on the other hand, was said to have been Iberian. That's exactly what she is in my novel. She's an important character in the book, really, with her own scenes.

I've said it before - and people that have read my book know it to be true - but part of what I love about the Punic Wars is the multi-ethnic/polyglot character of it. It included so many peoples, and so much crossing of cultural boundaries. I think our perceptions of race have very little to do with that ancient reality.

That said, I'm living now, so our hangups can't entirely be ignored...

Anonymous came back promptly with...

Hi, its me again. Wow, now I noticed you are a well known writer, interesting.

So first I would like to take back claim that Didobal was Iberian. I did read on wiki and few forums that she was a daughter of Iberian king, but I wasnt able to find any quotation of the source. Except of that that name sound quite Phoenician - I think Dido was founder of Carthage, right? What did you use as a source for Hamilcars biography?

So its pretty hard to tell how he really looked like, probably some mix.

I have to admit being surprised that anyone reading my blog doesn't know I'm a writer, but I guess he could come across that post in purely Hannibal terms. So I get it. There was something in that response that I didn't get, though. Here's how I explained it to him...

I was struck by your use of Didobal's name. I may be wrong about this - and if you can find any documentation of it let me know - but as far as I can remember I MADE THAT NAME UP!

There was always a little bit of info on Hasdrubal in any bio of Hannibal, but not much. I don't recall ever reading an account of who Hannibal's mother had been, other than a vague mention that the Barcas were an established aristocratic Carthaginian family. When I did have names I'd use them, even if - as in the case of Hannibal's sister Sapanibal - they were only mentioned once. But this mother figure was a blank. I combined the "bal" structure at the end of so many Carthaginian names with Dido, but... that's my authorial license at play also. Dido is the name given to Carthage's mythical founder by Romans - as in the Aeneid. In Carthaginian lore the same character is call Elissa. In my book I use Elissa as the founding queen, but as a bit of play with the fact that so much Carthaginian history came to us via Roman sources I combined their version with a Carthaginian name and come up with Didobal. If I got that name from any other source I don't recall doing so. I'm pretty sure the name is mine.

I just Googled the name and found mostly references to my own work/comments. I didn't see any mention of that name on Wikipedia. I did see that a person on some forum about Hannibal's race mentioned Didobal and that she was Iberian, and that amuses me greatly. In my novel Didobal is not Iberian. But I also don't think Didobal exists anywhere but within my fictional pages. Whomever that person was has some garbled version of this stuff - a version that includes a fictional character that wasn't even depicted in the way he thinks!


That discussion board that Anonymous must have come across is HERE. I'll quote the relevant portion. Somebody wrote:

Hannibal was 25% phoenicians (caucasian race, not black) and 75% iberian (ancient spaniard). His father was the great general Hamilcar Barca (50% phoenician 50% iberian). HAnnibal's mother was Didobal, a iberian. Hannibal's wife was too iberian (Himilce).

That's it. No mention of where he got this two thousand year old info. It's unforunate that Hannibal's wife was "too iberian". (When can you ever be too Iberian, I wanna know? But anyway...) What can I say in the face of such numeric certainty?...

I haven't heard back from Anonymous yet, but I was amused enough by this to post about it. On one hand, I'm... well, "amused" is the word, by the fact that a name of a fictional character of mine could become someone's staunch argument about an historical personage, and further amused that the character in question has already gone through "historical" morphing. I'm not in the least surprised at this because the people that have the strongest opinions on Hannibal often seem to know the least about him. Strange, that...

On the other hand, should I be troubled? Am I putting false information out in the world? Need I track down future Didobal references and set the record straight? Or will I soon find that she's worked her way into historical books? I should do a search for Imco Vaca. Tusselo. Aradna... Who knows what I'll find about these "historical" figures?

Ah, the perils - and the power - of the historical novelist...

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Blogger Joe said...

So...what section is your "novel" shelved in at the bookstore?

6:14 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

It is shelved in Literature.

David, I'm almost done with The Terror, speaking of historical narratives, and it truly is a fascinating and intense novel. I am really enjoying it, while at the same time disturbed by the descriptions of scurvy and starvation. I'd always thought scurvy was nothing more than a blackening of gums and losing teeth - wow, it is so much more horrible than that.

To add to this specific discussion, I wonder if anyone would, after reading The Terror, use the novel as a "factual" accounting of the fates of those men. The book is certainly very detailed and seems exhaustively researched - with the only exception being no one knows what actually happened (as far as I know. I'll look more into it when I finish the book.) In other words, it certainly FEELS real.

Interesting topic. I bet there are plenty of historical novels and films that people would swear were truthful but only have a fleeting relationship with the facts. I just watched The Hoax, but the true story is nothing like the film. Irving, the original author the the Hughes fake autobiography, called it "A hoax of a hoax."

6:58 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Paranoyd is right, of course. Pride of Carthage is shelved in the general literature section. Fortunately, it sold enough that it merits having a copy on hand in most Borders and B&N's. My earliest two novels - about African-American topics - may have been shelved in Lit or in African American Lit. It would be hard to know which, so instead the chains just don't stock either at all. Oh well, both have been optioned for film. If either gets made THEN they'll have to figure out where to stock the book - hopefully the movie tie-in version.:)


Great that you're enjoying The Terror. Let me know what you think of the end. It goes off in a direction that I found surprising. And, yes, scurvy is something you DON'T WANT TO GET! Eat your vegetables!

Clearly, Dan Simmons has combined a lot of research with a horror/fantastical element that's purely his own making. There's no way he'd ever (I believe) say he's giving a credible possible version of real events. He's a novelist. He's using history as combined with storytelling to create a fascinating story that merges and blurs lines. I dig that.

There are people that don't like that about the novel, though. Some complain that they wanted an historical novel - as if those are in any real way EVER literally accurate - and don't like it when it gets weird. I think they're missing the point.

On the other hand, I would not be surprised to hear that somebody somewhere leaves the book believing that Franklin would've been just fine if not for the troubles he had with that giant polar bear phantom monster thing...

People are weird.

8:13 PM  
Blogger Joe said...


That was, of course, the point. :) Three historical fiction novels shelved in either fiction, literature, african american lit, or any subset of "Fiction".

The discerning reader would then take anything in the novel with a grain of salt because, despite your efforts to be as accurate as possible, you are writing fiction, after all. You may need to make something up.

10:41 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Well, you, sir, are a discerning reader. No doubt. But, alas, the world is not generously populated by the likes of yourself. A lot of folks that attack what they think I wrote in Pride of Carthage not only haven't read my other books - they haven't read Pride of Carthage either!

I'm not moaning about it. I'm a pretty happy guy. Enough people are reading my books. That's a blessing.

Some people, though, seem to really not understand what FICTION is. Maybe that's because so much of what we're told is fact is really fiction... Gets confusing...


11:03 PM  
Blogger dweiums said...

Alas, critical thinking has not been our strong point in the past decades. Let's only hope that a few from that forum will be curious enough to pick up your book.

Oh and actually read it!

7:51 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

That would be nice in many ways. The invitation is always open... And a few have taken it up over the years, so you never know.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

Well, I finished The Terror. It did go off in a surprising direction, but I wasn't put off by it. Indeed, I found it refreshing. It was almost, in a way, an origin story.

I did feel that the men on the boat waited too long to make a break for it, until they were almost not able to do so. That was a function of poor planning on the part of the men, not a complaint about the way Simmons' crafted the narrative. In fact, I feel he was making a bit of a metaphor there about missing opportunities because we are so entrenched in our ways. Just an opinion.

On this thread topic - one good example of fiction creating fact is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was inspired by Ed Gein at its most basic point - a guy wearing a mask made of flesh and cannibalism. Gein was making a suit of flesh and, by his own admission, tried to eat some of the muscle of one of his victims, but without looking I don't remember if he actually was able to do so more than once.

The filmmakers, Tobe Hooper, put the words "Based on a true story" at the beginning of the movie and shot in a verite fashion to make it look more documentary-like. That family never existed, that group of teeneagers never disappeared, and that story never happened.

But to this day I still occasionally run into people who swear that they saw the newscast about the real events, knew someone in Texas that knew one of the families of the missing kids, or had some such knowledge of the true story.

8:49 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Exactly, there was something "refreshing" about the way The Terror ended. Won't give it away, though...

Strangely enough, I've never seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Now that I know it's not COMPLETELY HISTORICALLY ACCURATE I'll have to remove it from my Blockbuster Queue... ;)

6:13 PM  
Blogger Felipe Neri said...

First of all: Sorry for my english (is not my mother language)

Thanks for your book, Mr. Durham

I think the problem of historical novels is always the same. If you mix true facts with fictional facts people confuse fantasy with reality and then you cannot hope people distinguish both.

When a professional writer does his job he must do it well informed. But not all information can to be perfectly controlled. If you add an critical information for your novel you should consult historical sources to support your work. But in this case (Hannibal's mother ethnic group) is only an anecdotic aspect for the plot. In any case if you search is possible you find.

I've been searching for clarify this blank in the web. There are sources but it's a pity I cannot show or confirm the data.

In this spanish web:
you can consult about Castulo in historical & literary sources by Jose Maria Blazquez Martinez.

There is interesting information in this essay. For example in page 3 you can read the next:

"Silio Itálico (III, 98, 106) puntualiza que el nombre de la esposa de Aníbal era Himilce. Probablemente era la hija de algún reyezuelo, pues Amílcar Barca también estaba casado con la hija de un rey íbero (Diod. 25, 12 (2)."

The interesting part of this text is the footnote because it notes a historical source regard Hamilcar Barca's wife identity (Hannibal's mother).

If you translate to english it says: "Probably she (Hilmice, the Hannibal's wife) was the daughter of any petty monarch, since Hamilcar Barca was married with the daugther of an iberian king, too".

Well, here we have a indirect source that claims the royal-iberian identity of Hannibal's mother. Is neccesary we confirm the direct and historical source: Diodorus Siculus, a sicilian historian. I've consulted the avalaible texts of Diodorus in the web, but unfortunately the exact point of this footnote is not translated. In this fantastic web:

you can consult his work "The Library of History " but 25th chapter is not avalaible yet. The only method to confirm is to have the impressed book but in my local library I've couldn't find this work.

If this source can to be confirmed then we can get an iberian mother to Hannibal, but with certainty her name wasn't Didobal.

A greeting.

12:46 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hi Felipe,

Thanks for the specific reference. Specific references to Hamilcar's wife are so few. When they are made they're always interesting, and as a fiction writer I do factor them in. But I also don't think of any one reference as being definite.

One thing that makes me wonder about Hannibal having an Iberian mother... Hannibal and his siblings were born before Hamilcar embarked on his Iberian conquests. Before that time, Hamilcar was involved in the First Punic War and then in the mercenary revolt that happened on African soil. Hannibal was a growing boy by the time Hamilcar headed for Iberia. It's seems as unlikely as anything else that Hamilcar - based in Carthage up until that point - would have had an Iberian wife.

On the other hand, it makes perfect sense that Hannibal would, since he grew to maturity in Iberia and was involved in the politics of conquest.

Perhaps Hamilcar had more than one "wife"... That's an interesting idea - especially for fiction...

11:42 AM  
Blogger Felipe Neri said...

Yes, surely. Interesting aspect.

I remind that previously to Hamilcar's arrival (with his army) to Spain in 237 b.C, there were many carthaginian cities in Iberia, specially in the later roman "provintia Betica". This arrival of Hamilcar doesn't mean that Hamilcar hadn't never been in Hispania before of 237. In fact cities like Gades (today Cadiz) were carthaginian three centuries before Hamilcar's militar expedition. Was after Alalia's battle (5th century b.C) when Tartessian civilization in South Iberia collapsed, because the traditional trade with Ancient Greece was definitively interrupted. Carthago become then in the first political & economical influence in the south of Iberian peninsula against the interests of Greece. The alliances between carthaginian and iberian royalties and trades between Carthago and iberian cities are oldier than militar expedition of Hamilcar. Perhaps Hamilcar was in Hispania before 237 b.C and he got married with iberian princess...
Well, of course, all this is hypothetical. Is a pity the weak sources we have.

2:11 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


You make very good points. There are many ways that a Hamilcar/Iberian marriage might have happened.

Certainly, from the standpoint of a historian, it is a pity we don't have more sources. As a novelist... well, it's exciting to let my imagination fill in the blanks with fictional possibilities...

2:15 PM  

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