Horrible weapons . . . increasing day by day the terror of war. They even tested bulls in the thick of battle And drove wild boars against the enemy.
— Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
The wild boars may not have known their Latin but they had other talents. They didn’t care what flag they followed. They gored equally their masters’ foes and their masters, who had presumed to think that the guided missiles they’d launched, their latest leap forward in military science, wouldn’t dream of veering off course and heading straight back for the very masterminds who’d unleashed them, the hogs proving the new technology already obsolete, slicing the hamstrings of their masters. Horses fell like towers toppling. No face was left unmauled, no throat unslashed. It wasn’t enough that the men died; they had to be punished further, breasts ripped out, testicles devoured. Lucretius spares no one the details; he takes his time, just as the lion did drinking from the opened chest of the lion-tamer, still another case of the experiment getting revenge on the experimenter. Had some general thought to tame nature so utterly that he’d persuade leopards into choosing sides, throw reins over ocelots, talk lynxes into enlisting? They might have made it out of boot camp, but in the battlefield blood was blood, and so they did their own recruiting. If the light artillery backfired, so did the heavy: elephants, walking nuclear bombs, moving forts, grew weary of being nothing but huge moments in history and wandered off, dragging bodies behind them like footnotes. The bulls got it into their thick heads that they deserved better than being weapons and, whipped into battle, threw off their riders, trampled them so thoroughly the men turned into slurry under the beasts’ hooves. One of the bloody scenes that a boy can’t help remembering from Latin IV and that makes the long hours translating a dead language worthwhile.