Sunday, May 10, 2015

Eve MacDonald's "Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life"

Eve MacDonald is an archaeologist, lecturer, and travel guide who has participated in excavations around the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the Caucasus, including the site of ancient Carthage. She has taught at several universities in the UK and Canada and is currently sessional lecturer, Department of Classics, University of Reading.

Here MacDonald dreamcasts an adaptation of her new book, Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life:
What a movie Hannibal’s life would make. He was brave and fierce and arguably the greatest general of antiquity. A sword and sandals epic comes to mind – part Gladiator, part Alexander the Great – but there was no happy ending to Hannibal’s story, no redemption for him or Carthage.

Against a backdrop of vast landscapes I would start the film at Hannibal’s tomb at Libyssa (near Istanbul today). The tale would be told by a soldier who had fought with Hannibal, one of the many loyal followers whose life was shaped by his encounter with the great man. Then we would turn back in time through Hannibal’s life beginning with childhood at Carthage and moving to Spain, across France and down through Italy via the mighty Alps with elephants. The sets and cities would be magnificent with scenes at Carthage, Rome, the bay of Naples, Etruria and Ephesus.

I have often thought about who should play Hannibal in a film; it would have to be an actor who could convey the right mix of brave soldier and wise, charismatic and inspirational leader. It would have to be someone who could roughly fit the ethnic make-up of the multi-cultural Carthaginians - part Middle Eastern, part Berber - but really anyone from across the Mediterranean basin might fit the bill. There is a certain exoticism to Hannibal so my preference might be for a Spanish actor as Spain was a region deeply influenced by the Carthaginians and key to the story of Hannibal. Javier Bardem would be perfect because I think he could convey the complexity of Hannibal’s character, a man with razor sharp intelligence and a hugely inspirational leader. Another of my favourites for Hannibal would be the Chilean actor Pedro Pascal.

In my movie the Romans are the bad guys and many actors could fill the shoes of these leaders of the burgeoning empire, ever intent on conquest. Who would play Scipio Africanus or Fabius Maximus? I could see Tom Wilkinson as the elder statesman Fabius Maximus, a man who relentlessly tracked Hannibal through his years in Italy, or perhaps Charles Dance. The young Roman hero Scipio would need to be someone of both stature and a certain ambiguity – maybe Kit Harington with a haircut (to maintain the Game of Thrones theme).

Last but not least I like to think about the battle scenes. The movie would need to capture the strategic brilliance and chaotic reality of Hannibal’s great victories and more generally battle in the ancient world. This means a director who understands the ins and outs of epic warfare so I think Peter Jackson or Ridley Scott. The movie would have to convey a sense of the commander who was personally leading the charge and also directing the movements of his whole army while in the thick of battle. The battle scenes would be key to any movie but the backstory of the city and culture of Carthage and the pivotal Hellenistic world in which they took place should take centre stage. For the soldier and legend that is Hannibal remains the most famous aspect of the lost culture and destroyed city of Carthage.
Learn more about Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life.

--Marshal Zeringue