Various other anecdotes are related of Hannibal during the time of his first appearance in Syria, all indicating the very high degree of estimation in which he was held, and the curiosity and interest that were every where felt to see him. On one occasion, it happened that a vain and self-conceited orator, who knew little of war but from his own theoretic speculations, was haranguing an assembly where Hannibal was present, being greatly pleased with the opportunity of displaying his powers before so distinguished an auditor. When the discourse was finished, they asked Hannibal what he thought of it. ” I have heard,” said he, in reply, ” many old dotards in the course of my life, but this is, verily, the greatest dotard of them all.” Hannibal failed, notwithstanding all his perseverance, in obtaining the means to attack the Romans again. He was unwearied in his efforts, but, though the king sometimes encouraged his hopes, nothing was ever done.
He remained in this part of the world for ten years, striving continually to accomplish his aims, but every year he found himself further from the attainment of them than ever. The hour of his good fortune and of his prosperity were obviously gone. His plans all failed, his influence declined, his name and renown were fast passing away. At last, after long and fruitless contests with the Romans, Antiochus made a treaty of peace with them, and, among the articles of this treaty, was one agreeing to give up Hannibal into their power. Hannibal resolved to fly. The place of refuge which he chose was the island of Crete. He found that he could not long remain here. He had, however, brought with him a large amount of treasure, and when about leaving Crete again, he was uneasy about this treasure, as he had some reason to fear that the Cretans were intending to seize it. He must contrive, then, some stratagem to enable him to get this gold away. The plan he adopted was this:
He filled a number of earthen jars with lead, covering the tops of them with gold and silver. These he carried, with great appearance of caution and solicitude to the Temple of Diana, a very sacred edifice, and deposited them there, under very special guardianship of the Cretans, to whom, as he said, he in trusted all his treasures. They received their false deposit with many promises to keep it safely, and then Hannibal went away with his real gold cast in the center of hollow statues of brass, which he carried with him, without suspicion, as objects of art of very little value.
Hannibal fled from kingdom to kingdom, and from province to province, until life became a miserable burden. The determined hostility of the Roman senate followed him every where, harassing him with continual anxiety and fear, and destroying all hope of comfort and peace. His mind was a prey to bitter recollections of the past and still more dreadful forebodings for the future. He had spent all the morning of his life in inflicting the most terrible injuries on the objects of his implacable animosity and hate; although they had never injured him, and now in the evening of his days, it became his destiny to feel the pressure of the same terror and suffering inflicted upon him. The hostility which he had to fear was equally merciless with that which he had exercised; perhaps it was made still more intense by being mingled with what they who felt it probably considered a just resentment and revenge. When at length Hannibal found that the Romans were hemming him in more and more closely, and that the danger increased of his falling at last into their power, he had a potion of poison prepared, and kept it always in readiness, determined to die by his own hand rather than to submit to be given up to his enemies. The time for taking the poison at last arrived. The wretched fugitive was then in Bithynia, a kingdom of Asia Minor. The King of Bithynia sheltered him for a time, but at length agreed to give him up to the Romans. Hannibal learning this, prepared for flight. But he found, on attempting his escape, that all the modes of exit from the palace which he occupied, even the secret ones which he had expressly contrived to aid his flight, were taken possession of and guarded. Escape was, therefore, no longer possible, and Hannibal went to his apartment and sent for the poison. He was now an old man, nearly seventy years of age, and he was worn down and exhausted by his protracted anxieties and sufferings. He was glad to die. He drank the poison, and in a few hours ceased to breathe.