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Salammbô is a historical novel about a priestess and the daughter of Hamilcar Barca, an aristocratic Carthaginian general. Salammbô is the object of the obsessive lust of Matho, a leader of the mercenaries. With the help of the scheming freed slave, Spendius, Matho steals the sacred veil of Carthage, the Zaïmph, prompting Salammbô to enter the mercenaries' camp in an attempt to steal it back. The Zaïmph is an ornate bejewelled veil draped about the statue of the goddess Tanit in the sanctum sanctorum of her temple: the veil is the city's guardian and touching it will bring death to the perpetrator. The novel is set in Carthage during the 3rd century BC, immediately before and during the Mercenary Revolt which took place shortly after the First Punic War. Flaubert's main source was Book I of Polybius's Histories. It required a great deal of work from the author, who enthusiastically left behind the realism of his masterpiece Madame Bovary for this tale of blood and thunder. The book, which Flaubert researched painstakingly, is largely an exercise in sensuous and violent exoticism. It was another best-seller and sealed his reputation. The Carthaginian costumes described in it even left traces on the fashions of the time. Nevertheless, in spite of its classic status in France, it is not widely known today among English speakers. Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880) was an influential French writer who was perhaps the leading exponent of literary realism of his country. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary and for his scrupulous devotion to his style and aesthetics. The celebrated short story writer Maupassant was a protégé of Flaubert.