Pirates of Carthage

Showcasing on stage and through social media 2 important momentum in the history of Tunisia

Pirates of Carthage

Is a play which came about after avidly following the events in Tunisia  at the end of 2010; coincidentally I was reading Salammbo by Gustave Flaubert at the same time. Taking this coincidence as my starting point I wanted to make some work based on my experiences of uncovering these two stories of rebellion across the centuries in the same geographical location.

The uprising in Tunisia was sparked on the 17th of December 2010 when Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit and vegetable seller in the small town of Sidi bouzid, set himself on fire after his produce was removed by the Constitutional Democratic Rally authorities because he did not have the requisite license to sell them. Bouazizi was a university graduate who had taken to selling fruit and vegetables because he could not find any other work. He died in hospital from his burns on the 4th of January 2011.

Following Bouazizi’s death a wave of riots and demonstrations swept through Tunisia; ultimately ending 23 years of rule by the president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on the 14th of January 2011. This was the beginning of what would later become known as the ‘Arab Spring’, with a comparable overthrowing of government in Egypt, a civil war in Libya, and major civil uprising in Syria, Yemen and Bahrian. There were, and still are, demonstrations in many other countries across the region. This unprecedented level of disturbance among neighbouring countries marks a massive shift in the attitudes of the people of the region, the effects of which will only be fully appreciated in many years to come.

There has been much discussion about the role of the internet and social media in mobilising the people of these countries during the uprisings. New media enabled the people of Tunisia to get their message out to the rest of the world. I have chosen to tell the story of the uprising in Tunisia as I experienced it, 140 characters at a time, on Twitter.

Salammbo is a novel by French writer Gustav Flaubert (1821-80), first published in 1862.  It was written after making several trips to the middle east, the novel is a fictional account of the Mercenary War in Carthage between 241-238 B.C. Against the publishers wishes the book was not illustrated as Flaubert insisted that this would destroy the imaginative impact of the novel.

Salammbo was critised at the time for its historical inaccuracies, but Flaubert claimed that he could back up every detail in the book with a historical source. Flaubert owes virtually all the historical information contained in Salammbo to The Histories, Book I Ch. 65-88, written by the Greek historian Polybius (200-118 B.C.)  Polybius called the Mercenary War a ‘truceless war’, and under his own admission, despite its interest, keeps his account relatively brief. The Mercenary War happened after the first Punic War (264- 241 B.C.) against Rome when the state of Carthage refused to pay the army that had fought under its name. The army rebelled against the state during a series of long and bloody battles where the state ultimately triumphed.

Polybius’ brief summation of the Mercenary War left plenty of room for Flaubert to indulge his taste of the exotic by creatively reinterpreting the minimal information about the war into a fictional romance. So with care and trepidation I set out to re-tell the story of the Mercenary War as it was passed onto me from a European Orientalist viewpoint.


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