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Emotional Intelligence and Leadership: Hannibal and Scipio

Regina Loehr

University of California, Irvine

“Emotional Intelligence” has become part of common parlance and a major and controversial consideration in modern conceptions of leadership. Much like the modern world, where “emotional intelligence” was mostly an unarticulated but still valuable quality until recently, the ancient Greeks and Romans did not seem to name or discuss “emotional intelligence” as its own category in considering a successful leader. In this paper, I examine the value of emotional intelligence in ancient historical accounts of successful leaders. In particular, I focus on the paired leaders Hannibal and Scipio Africanus, analyzing in detail their portrayals in the near-contemporary Greek historian Polybius’ account of the Second Punic War.

First, I lay out pertinent modern conceptions of emotional intelligence and its components. While theories and definitions of emotional intelligence abound, two main factors remain consistent, that of emotional self-awareness and management of others’ emotions. Daniel Goleman’s 1995 foundational discussion of the emotional management of others provide a heuristic frame for my analysis of Polybius’ portrayals of Hannibal and Scipio Africanus.

Second, I examine specific passages from Polybius’ Histories which demonstrate Hannibal’s and then Scipio Africanus’ emotional intelligence, analyzing these according to the more difficult component of emotional intelligence, the management of others’ emotions. After Hannibal crossed the Alps, he staged a dramatic duel between Gallic prisoners in order to motivate his own tired soldiers. Polybius narrates Hannibal’s intentions for this combat and following speech (3.62-63) as full of successful emotional management. In this episode, Hannibal inculcates in his soldiers a sense of pity (ἔλεος) towards the Celtic prisoners not chosen to fight and a feeling of happiness (μακαρίζειν) towards those who won or died in the fight. Hannibal follows the duel with a speech applying the Carthaginians’ feeling of pity and blessedness towards themselves.

In Book 11, Scipio Africanus gives a speech to mutinying soldiers in Spain (11.28-29). Through his investigation of the soldiers’ indignation (δυσαρέστησις) as a cause for the mutiny, Scipio thoroughly eliminates all rational bases for this emotion and quells the mutiny. While these are but two of many examples of Hannibal’s and Scipio’s emotional intelligence at work, they demonstrate that emotional intelligence, seen here in the management of others’ emotions, played an important and beneficial role in the success of these two ancient leaders. Although cold calculation, abstract knowledge, and strategic efficiency are important for leaders, Polybius emphasizes the benefit of emotional intelligence for political and military leaders – a benefit his target audience of Greek and Roman statesmen were to take to heart.

This paper builds off of current studies of ancient historiography. John Marincola’s work opened the field of studies into the historians’ purpose as well as the study of emotion in historiography (Marincola 1997; 2003). Arthur Eckstein and Craige Champion have analyzed the rhetoric and literary aspects of Polybius’ Histories and thus provide a foundation for this work on Polybius’ literary agenda (Eckstein 1995; Champion 2004).

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The Discourse of Leadership in the Greco-Roman World

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