Flaubert began work on the novel “Salambo” immediately after the completion of “Madame Bovary,” exhausting him with descriptions of the French routine and lowland provincial customs. The writer turned to an oriental, exotic topic for Europe in order to improve his talent, which requires comprehensive artistic development.
For five years of work, from 1857 to 1862, Flaubert managed to study about a hundred works of ancient authors, create a draft version of the work and completely destroy it after a trip to Tunisia, for the sake of a more perfect, historically truthful text.
The novel “Salambo” is historical. Both realistic, in many ways even naturalistic, and romantic literary trends embodied equally well in it. The plot of the work is taken from life: it was the uprising of the mercenaries hired by Carthage for the war with Rome. The duration of the novel is about 240 BC.
In the middle of the XIX century, the history of the ancient civilization of the Mediterranean was practically not studied by European experts, so Salammbo turned out to be not only an art book, but also partly a documentary. Over the past, many critics scolded Flaubert, saying that he sacrificed the psychologism of characters in pursuit of detailed descriptions, but it was they who became the unique feature that made the novel original and interesting to a wide range of readers.
In the center of the chronotope of the novel is the capital of the ancient Phoenician state – Carthage with the surrounding republic cities of Utica, Hippo-Zarit, and a number of tribal territories, starting from Tunisia and ending with little-known and not always called the author’s places. The fifteen-piece work opens with a feast arranged in Carthage for mercenaries who decide to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Eric, and ends with the same feast, during which the last of the surviving barbarians dies. The action of the first, third, fifth, seventh, tenth, thirteenth and fifteenth parts of the novel takes place in Carthage, the fourth and twelfth – near its walls, the second, sixth, eighth, ninth, eleventh and fourteenth – in its vicinity (in Sikka, on the banks of the Makar etc.).
The duration of the novel is pre-Christian, characterized by pagan polytheism (Carthage is filled with temples of Tanit, the Sun, Eshmuna, Moloch, etc.), cruelty of people (treatment of slaves as animals, crucifixion of prisoners of war on the cross), wars (participation of fighting elephants stomping people’s feet ) and rituals (bloody sacrifice of children to Moloch), but at the same time filled with strong and lofty feelings. In “Salambo” through the incredible horrors of battles, executions and life itself, which fluctuates on the verge of a joyous celebration and a bloody battle, all-consuming love and passionate hatred, Flaubert shows the inflexibility of an ancient person in the face of death.
The everyday life of the Carthaginians and barbarians (peoples not belonging to the Punic race – Gauls, Greeks, Libyans, Numidians, etc.) is also replete with strange, unexplained customs and tastes. The feast, arranged by the citizens of Carthage to pacify the barbarians waiting for a salary, shows the grandeur and richness of the ancient Republic and the amazing taste variety of the Mediterranean peoples ’tastes: on the tables in the gardens of Hamilcar you can find stews of barley, millet and beans, roasted bulls, antelopes, rams served in green sauce, camel and buffalo hams, snails with caraway seeds, hedgehogs seasoned with fish entrails, squirrel in marinade, fried locusts, bread sprinkled with anise, huge cheese, seasoning from truffles, and asafoetida, honey cakes, cups of wine and water containers and corporate Carthaginian dish “sickens other nations” – roast small dogs with thick bellies and pink hair, fattened pomace olive.
The main characters of “Salambo” – Carthage’s marine suffet – Hamilcar, his daughter – Salambo, the barbarian leader – the Libyan Mato, the former Carthaginian slave – the Greek Spendius and the Numidian king Nar Havas – are vivid artistic images that embody concrete, almost devoid of development features. Understand what the characters feel, we can only by their actions. The psychology of the actions of heroes by Flaubert is not given. Maybe because the people of antiquity, as shown in the novel, were not inclined to analyze their feelings – either due to the fact that they had never encountered them (like Mato, who had a sea of women, but not a single beloved), or because they did not know anything about them (like Salambo, brought up in strict fasting, prayers and complete ignorance of what happens between a man and a woman when they are alone).
Love for Salambo Mato has long been considered an obsession. He tells Spendius that the girl is chasing him, and the wise Greek, who traded women in the past, immediately realizes that he is tormenting his master. Love for Mato Salambo is unrecognizable almost to the end of the novel. She is so deeply hidden in the girl’s heart, she is so covered in spiritual purity, physical innocence and natural hatred of the enemy that it manifests itself only with the death of the Libyan, whose stopped heart also stops Salambo’s heart.
The Numidian king Nar Gavas, chosen by Hamilcar as the bridegroom of Salambo in order to hide the shame of his daughter and get a loyal ally in the war against the barbarians, is shown in the novel as a cunning and prudent man. Unlike Mato, who aspires to his goal in a straight line, he only does that he betrays some supporters, trying to maintain the independence and prosperity of his kingdom. Salambo perceives Nar Havas, who has feminine features, more like an older sister than a man, and she is not mistaken: the Numidian loves her superficially – as a beautiful woman, as the daughter of a great man, as an opportunity to intermarry with the Carthaginian nobility.
Mato doesn’t care who Salammbo is. He sees in her the beloved, merging in his mind with the appearance of the moon goddess – Tanit. For Salambo, Mato abducts the sacred Zimph, for the sake of it he succumbs to the persuasion of another novel cunning Spendius and unleashes a war with Carthage. Unlike other mercenaries seeking revenge on their former “employers” who did not pay them proper salaries, the Libyan is obsessed with only one thought – to be with his beloved, life without which it is impossible for him.