The Latin holidays detained the consuls and praetors at Rome till the fifth of the calends of May; on which day, having completed the solemnities on the mount, they proceeded to their respective provinces.
Afterwards a new difficulty respecting religious matters arose out of the prophetic verses of Marcius, who had been a distinguished soothsayer;
and on a search being made the year before, for books of this description, agreeably to a decree of the senate, these verses had fallen into the hands of Marcus Atilius, the city praetor, who had the management of that business, and he had immediately handed them over to the new praetor, Sulla.
The importance attached to one of the two predictions of Marcius, which was brought to light after the event to which it related had occurred, and the truth of which was confirmed by the event, attached credence to the other, the time of whose fulfilment had not yet arrived.
In the former prophecy, the disaster at Cannae was predicted in nearly these words: “Roman of Trojan descent, fly the river Canna, lest foreigners should compel thee to fight in the plain of Diomede.
But thou wilt not believe me until thou shalt have filled the plain with blood, and the river carries into the great sea, from the fruitful land, many thousands of your slain countrymen, and thy flesh becomes a prey for fishes, birds, and beasts inhabiting the earth. For thus hath Jupiter declared to me.”
Those who had served in that quarter recognised the correspondence with respect to the plains of the Argive Diomede and the river Canna, as well as the defeat itself.
The other prophecy was then read, which was more obscure, not only because future events are more uncertain than past, but also from being more perplexed in its style of composition.
“Romans, if you wish to expel the enemy and the ulcer which has come from afar, I advise, that games should be vowed, which may be performed in a cheerful manner annually to Apollo; when the people shall have given a portion of money from the public coffers, that private individuals then contribute, each according to his ability.
That the praetor shall preside in the celebration of these games, who holds the supreme administration of justice to the people and commons. Let the decemviri perform sacrifice with victims after the Grecian fashion. If you do these things properly you will [p. 974]
ever rejoice, and your affairs will be more prosperous, for that deity will destroy your enemies who now, composedly, feed upon your plains.” They took one day to explain this prophecy.
The next day a decree of the senate was passed, that the decemviri should inspect the books relating to the celebration of games and sacred rites in honour of Apollo.
After they had been consulted, and a report made to the senate, the fathers voted, that “games should be vowed to Apollo and celebrated; and that when the games were concluded, twelve thousand asses
should be given to the praetor to defray the expense of sacred ceremonies, and also two victims of the larger sort.”
A second decree was passed, that “the decemviri should perform sacrifice in the Grecian mode, and with the following victims: to Apollo, with a gilded ox, and two white goats gilded; to Latona, with a gilded heifer.”
When the praetor was about to celebrate the games in the Circus Maximus, he issued an order, that during the celebration of the games, the people should pay a contribution, as large as was convenient, for the service of Apollo.
This is the origin of the Apollinarian games, which were vowed and celebrated in order to victory, and not restoration to health, as is commonly supposed. The people viewed the spectacle in garlands; the matrons made supplications; the people in general feasted in the courts of their houses, throwing the doors open; and the day was distinguished by every description of ceremony.