Maffeius on the effect of incendiary weapons (1546)

Maffeius,telling the story of the Second Siege of Diu (1546), describes the effects of the thrown incendiary weapons (ardentia iacula) used by both sides. They did less damage to the Portuguese than to the Gujarati soldiers, he says, because of the cotton clothing they wore, and the closeness of their formations (Historiae Indicae [1588] 13.45):

Quos autem flamma comprehendisset, ii, abiectis armis, cum simul vestimenta proiicere non valerent, ceterosque ab iis adiuvandis exuendisve sui quemque periculi metus averteret, caeci amentesque crebro cum gemitu incerto vestigio extra ordines ferebantur. Hinc deformatos vultus, exusta lumina, pendentem e nudatis artubus cutem ac velut in lora dissectam horrendo spectaculo cerneres.

 

Moreover, those whom the flame had engulfed threw away their weapons and, as they could not remove their clothing and fear of the danger kept the rest of their comrades from helping to strip them, they ran blind and mad beyond their ranks in uncertain wandering, screaming all the while. It was a horrific spectacle: disfigured faces, burned out eyes, skin hanging from naked limbs as if flayed to ribbons.

Maffei had various written sources, and also a live informant who was present. His Latin can be ornate and periodic when discussing complex matters, but also intensely vivid in story telling. Note how he

  • spotlights the unfortunate men (quos … ii),
  • focuses on the emotions and desperation of the Gujaratis (non valerent … metus … caeci amentes)
  • employs the vivid 2nd person singular cerneres, used also  by his beloved Livy, and in a similar context in Apuleius (Met. 4.14, looking at destruction:  passim per plateas plurimas c e r n e r e s iacere semiuiuorum corporum ferina naufragia).

The scene is focalized through the eyes of the Portuguese within the walls, but Maffei takes us close enough to see the haunting, burned out eyes (exusta lumina) of the victims. This phrase might be borrowed from Plautus, Men. 842, minatur mihi oculos exurere, but notice the substitution of the more poetic lumina for oculos. The equally poetic incerto vestigio (as opposed to something like errantes or palantes) is full of pathos. Maffei’s rhetorical virtuosity shows in the climax of the last sentence quoted, with its inconspicuous simile, in the balanced phrasing and the interlaced and chiastic word order throughout.

Maffei uses the grotesque rarely, but in a fuller narration such as this it helps him convey some of the horror of (for him and his readers) modern warfare.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.