Manny's Reviews > Salammbô

Salammbô by Gustave Flaubert
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
1713956
's review
Aug 02, 11

bookshelves: french, history-and-biography, too-sexy-for-maiden-aunts, older-men-younger-women
Read from May 07 to 30, 2010

I'd not intended to read Salammbô, Flaubert's close-to-unknown second novel, but I was at the end of Madame Bovary and saw a yellowing 1922 edition in the 1 Franc pile at the Geneva flea market's book stall. How could I resist? It's a strange book, and at first I had trouble getting into it. I'd expected it to be like Madame Bovary, and it really isn't. Instead of the tedium of French provincial life and the brilliant character development, we have a wide-screen historical epic set around Carthage, shortly after the end of the first Punic War. There is no character development to speak of, and the story is a non-stop thrill ride featuring, among other things, mass gladiatorial combat, cannibalism, parades of crucified lions, war-elephants with scythes strapped to their trunks, and magic rites involving nude women and pythons. For the first few chapters I wondered if Flaubert had gone mad, or was at best having a really serious off-day.

As I got further into Salammbô, though, I began to like it more, and by the time I was half-way through I couldn't put it down. You have to hand it to Flaubert. With Madame Bovary, he created the modern psychological novel; most authors would have been content to do it again for the rest of their careers. Flaubert thought he'd try something different, and created another, less respectable type of book, the decline-and-fall blockbuster. Since then, it's been copied innumerable times, and is particularly popular in the SF/fantasy genre: Salammbô reminded me rather strongly of Foundation, Dune, Conan the Barbarian and Star Wars, to name just a few. I immediately recognised the decadent, overcivilized Empire, the uncouth but virile barbarians, the sexy virgin priestess, the twisty, double-crossing intrigues and the graphic battle scenes. They've become standard ingredients that any author can take down from the shelf and stir into a plot that needs a little livening-up. But the 20th century imitations I'd come across had mostly been written by hacks; it was weird to see it all presented in Flaubert's beautiful, ornate French.

It's a remarkably modern story. Carthage is playing host to a large army of mercenaries, who are waiting to be paid for their services in the recently concluded war; the greedy council are reluctant to part with their gold; negotiations turn sour; soon the merceneries have started an insurgency that lays the country waste. As the war becomes more and more savage, the polytheistic Carthaginians lose faith in the benevolent Tanit, goddess of the Moon and fertility, and come under the sway of the dreadful Moloch, god of fire and destruction. The scene where the children are sacrificed in the belly of the bronze Moloch-idol is the most horrifying thing I have read this year.

If the novel had came out today, I would have believed I saw references to current events. We are turning away from Tanit, and towards Moloch. It'd make a good movie: I can already see the poster, with Gerard Butler as Mâtho, the hunky leader of the Mercenaries, Emmy Rossum as Salammbô, the beautiful priestess of the Temple of Tanit, and Sean Penn as General Hamilcar, her father. If you happen to be in the movie business and you're looking for ideas, consider asking a hungry young screenwriter to put together a draft script.

Oh yes, and here's the oddest thing: I looked it up on Wikipedia, and pretty much the whole story is true. That really made me think.

_________________________________________

Ah... I was saying it was surprisingly modern, and would make a great movie. Having done a little googling, I've discovered that there is indeed a bad and completely forgotten 1960 movie. More interestingly, there's a video game! Here's a picture of the title character:

description

I don't think they've taken the costume directly from the book (at least, I don't recall her wearing this precise outfit), but it's true to the spirit of the thing. Salammbô is a hot chick and dresses to display her assets to best advantage.

I'm still stunned by the idea that one of Flaubert's novels exists in game form. What other classics have been given this treatment?

_________________________________________

After some more googling, I find that there's a moderately famous painting by Gaston Bussière featuring the aforementioned scene with the magic rites and the python. Given this site's strict no-nudity policy, I'd better not include the picture itself. But you can see most of it on the cover of the edition I'm reviewing here.
60 likes · likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Salammbô.
sign in »

Reading Progress

05/07/2010 page 1
0.19%
05/11/2010 page 46
8.61% "It's starting to live up to expectation. A horde of crucified lions, and the Barbarians will clearly be double-crossed by the Cathagians."
05/13/2010 page 60
11.24% "It's terrible, I keep thinking of Conan the Barbarian..."
05/16/2010 page 75
14.04% "This book just defies belief. Why isn't it better known?"
05/17/2010 page 101
18.91% "Bien que puissance et argent se perpétuassent dans les mêmes familles, on tolerait l'oligarchie, parce qu'on avait l'espoir d'y atteindre."
05/19/2010 page 118
22.1% "Hannon strongly reminds me of Baron Harkonnen in Dune. Even the names are similar! Wonder if Herbert read this book?"
05/20/2010 page 135
25.28% "Heroic, square-jawed Hamilcar faces the slimy, degenerate Council and listens to their pleas."
05/21/2010 page 148
27.72% "This book just has everything. Even leopard-skin accessories." 3 comments
05/23/2010 page 148
27.72% "Some handy tips on the care and feeding of slaves. For example, keep the doors of their barracks open at night so that they carry on breeding."
05/23/2010 page 160
29.96% "Some handy tips on the care and feeding of slaves. For example, keep the doors of their barracks open at night so that they carry on breeding."
05/23/2010 page 170
31.84% "The Battle of Macar, another world-famous historical event I'd never heard of."
05/24/2010 page 180
33.71% "As every Russian schoolboy knows, an elephant is better than a horse in an open position."
05/26/2010 page 198
37.08% "Malgré les rébellions de sa conscience, il exécutatait des choses épouvantables, s'imaginant obéir à la voix d'un Dieu."
05/27/2010 page 215
40.26% "Naked-woman-and-snake alert! I told you this book had everything."
05/30/2010 page 278
52.06% "No-holds-barred descriptions of siege warfare during the third century B.C."
show 1 hidden update…

Comments (showing 1-46 of 46) (46 new)

dateDown_arrow    newest »

Inna Shpitzberg I'm almost sure you'll enjoy Bouvard and Pecuchet http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40...


Manny Inna wrote: "I'm almost sure you'll enjoy Bouvard and Pecuchet http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40..."

Thank you! I must read more of his books... though I think I'll carry on in chronological order...


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I have heard so much about this book, that it was nice to read the review.. Welcome back to Goodreads Manny, where have you been the last couple of days.


message 4: by Robert (new) - added it

Robert Thanks for the review! I'm going to have to read this one now.


Julia Beck Manny, thank you for that wonderfully detailed review, I have often considered reading Salammbo and somehow never managed to get around to it -- now you've really intrigued me...


message 6: by Pavel (new)

Pavel "As every Russian schoolboy knows, an elephant is better than a horse in an open position" is that a real expression? :)))


Manny Robert and Julia, I'm glad you liked it!

"As every Russian schoolboy knows, an elephant is better than a horse in an open position" is that a real expression? :)))

Pavel, that was a joke for one of my chess-playing friends... a reference to something Mikhail Botvinnik once said about the correct way to capture on f5 in King's Indian positions. In this book, there's a battle where the side with the elephants triumph over the side with the horses - слон versus конь.


message 8: by Alan (new)

Alan I had no idea Salammbo was so racy. Excellent review as usual Manny


message 9: by Pavel (new)

Pavel Manny wrote: "Robert and Julia, I'm glad you liked it!

"As every Russian schoolboy knows, an elephant is better than a horse in an open position" is that a real expression? :)))

Pavel, that was a joke for one ..."


Got it, sorry. I just never had so to say english-speaking chess experience.


message 10: by Inna (new) - rated it 5 stars

Inna Shpitzberg I have this book on my Sony Reader from January! I have to read it! I want to read it! My only problem is, that I always want to read so many books at once!


Manny Inna wrote: "I have this book on my Sony Reader from January! I have to read it! I want to read it! My only problem is, that I always want to read so many books at once!"

Ah, I know that feeling :)


message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Well, another video game adapted from a classic that I can think of at the top of my head would be Dante's Inferno.

http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/106/1...

Many liberties were taken, or so I heard...


Manny Abigail wrote: ""We are turning away from Tanit, and towards Moloch. It'd make a good movie"

I think the makers of the recent Agora (which I hope to see soon) must have had a similar idea, Manny - only instead of turning toward Moloch, their mobs are turning toward monotheistic Christianity... "


I did wonder whether Moloch wasn't standing in for monotheistic Christianity, or at least certain aspects of it. Flaubert seemed less than enthusiastic about the conventional Christian world-view.


message 14: by Eric_W (new)

Eric_W Terrific review, Manny. A recent review of Carthage Must be Destroyed heralds Flaubert for getting a lot of the archaeology right. How could one not want to read this book given the cover? I'm not that old.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v32/n12/adrienne...


Manny Thank you Eric! I read that Flaubert did a great deal of background research before writing Salammbô... delighted to hear that people still consider he interpreted it correctly. He was clearly an extremely smart guy.


message 16: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Eric_W wrote: "Terrific review, Manny. A recent review of Carthage Must be Destroyed heralds Flaubert for getting a lot of the archaeology right"

Oh, that looks cool - too bad it's subscription required....


message 17: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Alan wrote: "I had no idea Salammbo was so racy. Excellent review as usual Manny"

Charles Ludlam could have set you, er, straight there. http://www.dangerousminds.net/index.p...


Manny Wow! I wish I could have seen Ludlam's production. It sounds like it was something out of the ordinary, and I'm far from sure that Flaubert would have disapproved.


message 19: by Moira (new)

Moira Russell Manny wrote: "Wow! I wish I could have seen Ludlam's production. It sounds like it was something out of the ordinary, and I'm far from sure that Flaubert would have disapproved."

It is seriously one of the big disappointments of my life I will NEVER see Ludlam live. sigh.


message 20: by Eric_W (last edited Jun 27, 2010 05:26AM) (new)

Eric_W Moira wrote: "Eric_W wrote: "Terrific review, Manny. A recent review of Carthage Must be Destroyed heralds Flaubert for getting a lot of the archaeology right"

Oh, that looks cool - too bad it's..."


Yes, I hate that. I have a paper subscription so I registered and made a pdf copy of the article. If you would like one send me a message with your email address and I will set it up to share or as an attachment.


message 21: by Alan (new)

Alan Thanks for the link Moira. Wow, what a production that sounds: a mutant cross of Shakespeare, early John Waters, Flash Gordon serials and Arsenic and Old Lace


message 22: by notgettingenough (last edited Aug 07, 2010 12:22AM) (new)

notgettingenough Manny said: After some more googling, I find that there's a moderately famous painting by Gaston Bussière featuring the aforementioned scene with the magic rites and the python. Given this site's strict no-nudity policy, I'd better not include the picture itself. But you can see most of it on the cover of the edition I'm reviewing here.

Hmmm...NGE spends some time looking at sexy pictures on the internet. Thank you Manny....I was at a loss how to start today.


message 23: by Manny (last edited Aug 07, 2010 01:06AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny I'm glad you liked it. Not sure where you'd find a suitably trained python, but almost everything's available on eBay if you're just prepared to look around a little.


notgettingenough Manny wrote: "I'm glad you liked it. Not sure where you'd find a suitably trained python, but almost everything's available on eBay if you're just prepared to look around a little."

When I was little I was very fond of snakes - just the idea of them, I hadn't yet met one. Parents check Freud. Hmm. Just as they suspected.


message 25: by trivialchemy (new) - added it

trivialchemy Manny, I thought you would be pleased to know that this review is a top Google Image result for the keywords "Gaston Bussière python."

Whether that's a foreseeable combinatorial result or a commentary on the quality your review, I will leave for you to consider.


Manny Isaiah wrote: "Manny, I thought you would be pleased to know that this review is a top Google Image result for the keywords "Gaston Bussière python."

OMG. "Pleased" doesn't begin to cover it. I'm... I'm groping for the kind of language usually associated with Academy Award acceptance speeches. Thank you so much for letting me know!


Capsguy Any additional recommendations for someone who enjoyed Salammbo? Just bumped up Bouvard and Pecuchet to currently reading.


Manny Capsguy wrote: "Any additional recommendations for someone who enjoyed Salammbo? Just bumped up Bouvard and Pecuchet to currently reading."

I thought The Temptation of Saint Anthony was actually more like Salammbô than B&P was. It's a weird, fun read!


Capsguy Well I can't have them both on my currently reading list! Try to limit one per author, I'll swap The Temptation with B&P. I'm still very new to French literature, will start Zola soon too!


message 30: by Jimmy (new)

Jimmy What other classics have been given this treatment?

http://greatgatsbygame.com/


Manny Jimmy wrote: "What other classics have been given this treatment?

http://greatgatsbygame.com/"


OMG. I'm almost sorry I asked. Almost.


message 32: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Paganus de Fish I once saw a woman with a snake in Sydney's Kings Cross.
It was very late and I had had a lot to drink and I wouldn't be able to show you how I got there, but I remain convinced to this day that she was better than an elephant in an open position.


message 33: by Manny (last edited Aug 05, 2011 01:49AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Manny Ian wrote: "I once saw a woman with a snake in Sydney's Kings Cross.
It was very late and I had had a lot to drink and I wouldn't be able to show you how I got there, but I remain convinced to this day that she was better than an elephant in an open position."


As I pointed out in my reply to Pavel's query, my comment referred to the relative strengths of knights and bishops.

Chess theory has so far been silent on the question of whether minor pieces can be compared to women with snakes. For what it's worth, Grandmaster Koneru played the Snake Benoni in a critical game from the 2011 Women's Candidates. I had assumed she was fully clothed at the time, but I suppose I ought to check just in case. Some people did find her victory rather mysterious.


message 34: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Paganus de Fish Sorry, Manny, I should have explained that this performance involved snakes and ladders.


Manny Ah, you must have seen the Thai Ladder Trick. I'd heard it was an X-rated version of the Indian Rope Trick, but I'd never understood what it actually consisted of. Your remarks are most illuminating. Thank you.


message 36: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Paganus de Fish If I recall correctly (and I caution you about making any assumptions), she climbed up the rope and walked down the ladder.

I don't know whether her act had an X-rating, but she was Caucasian and it started off with some kind of gyrating.

Regrettably, I lost my camera in the kerfuffle after the performance, but if you ask me, one of my shots later emerged as the postcard, "Nu descendant un echelle avec un serpent", which is worth seeking out in some of the less reputable bazaars along Oxford Street.


message 37: by Elle (new) - added it

Elle Alexander Great review! I'm excited to read this book!!!


Manny Thank you!


message 39: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope I read this years ago, and I also had some trouble getting into it. You make it more exciting than I remembered. I did not know about the videogame. Wonderful illustration.

May be I should read it again.


Manny I must track down the video game. I never play them normally, but I'm prepared to make an exception for this one!


message 41: by Cameron (new) - added it

Cameron Super review. Thank you!


Manny Thank you Cameron!


message 43: by Traveller (last edited Nov 08, 2013 08:48AM) (new)

Traveller I actually happen to own the game, but its old and I never got around to playing it... :(

There has been a guy who quite recently made games out of classics, but they're very much like black and white interactive novels - he wasn't working with a huge budget. Of those I played Victor Hugo's Les Misrabeles. The last time I heard of him, he was making The Count of Monte Christo. I wonder if he ever finished it? Unfortunately the format he used wasn't all that fun... :P

The Salammbo game has quite beautiful graphics, despite being old (I suspect because it's 2D). It looks well worth playing if you can get it to work with modern operating systems. If you need any help in getting it going, please ask me, and I'll direct you to sites which specialize in getting old games going on modern software. Usually all you need to do is to apply what we call a 'patch', which you get to download for free.

Or, you might simply need a compatibility tweak or two. Now you've made me want to try the game out. :P


Manny OMG Traveller, you actually have the Salammbô game!!? You must play it and post a review. Inquiring minds want to know more. Is the nude scene with the python featured? How many points do you get for crucifying a lion? Just for starters.


message 45: by Traveller (new)

Traveller Yes, I have it. I'll see if I can get it going neeext weekend. And then I'll post screenshots, okay? :D


message 46: by G.R. (new)

G.R. Reader Yes!!!


back to top