Now though there were four tribunes of the soldiers on the ground —Quintus Fabius Maximus of the first legion, whose father had been dictator the year before, Lucius
Publicius Bibulus and Publius Cornelius Scipio of the second legion, and Appius Claudius Pulcher, who had very recently been aedile, of the third legion —the
supreme command was by unanimous consent made over to Publius Scipio, the merest youth,1
and to Appius Claudius.
These two were considering the general situation, in company with a few others, when Publius Furius Philus, the son of an ex-consul, came in and told them that they were idly entertaining a lost hope; the state was already given over and mourned as dead;
some of the young [p. 375]
nobles, of whom Marcus Caecilius Metellus was the2
chief, were looking to the sea and ships, proposing to abandon Italy and flee for refuge to some king.
These evil tidings, dreadful in themselves and coming as a new distress on the top of so many disasters, stunned those who heard them with a dull amazement. But when they would have called a council to talk the matter over, young Scipio, the predestined leader in this war, declared that it was no matter for taking counsel:
they must be bold and act, not deliberate, in the face of this great evil; let them take arms and go with him at once, as many as wished to save the state;
no camp was so truly the camp of the enemy as one where such thoughts were rife.
He proceeded, with only a few followers, to the quarters of Metellus, where he found a gathering of the young men of whom he had been informed.
Raising his sword over their heads, as they sat in consultation, “I solemnly swear,” he said, “that even as I myself shall not desert the republic of the Roman People, so likewise shall I suffer no other Roman citizen to do so;
if I wittingly speak false, may Jupiter Optimus Maximus utterly destroy me, my house, my family, and my estate.
Marcus Caecilius, I call on you and the others who are present to swear after these terms, and if any refuse to swear, let him know that against him this sword is drawn.”
Quaking as though they beheld the victorious Hannibal, all took the oath, and delivered themselves into the custody of Scipio.