They had not yet fully determined what to1
do, when, lo! another disaster was reported, for which they were quite unprepared. Four thousand horse under the propraetor Gaius Centenius had been sent by the Consul Servilius to join his colleague; but on hearing of the battle at Trasumennus they had turned aside into Umbria, and had there fallen into the hands of Hannibal.
The news of this affair affected people variously: some, whose thoughts were taken up with a greater sorrow, regarded this fresh loss of the cavalry as trivial in comparison with their former losses;
others refused to judge of the misfortune as an isolated fact, but held that, just as when a man was sick, any disorder, however slight, was felt more than a worse one would be
by a healthy man, so now, when the state was sick and suffering, any untoward occurrence should be gauged not by its intrinsic importance but by the enfeebled condition of the commonwealth, which could endure no aggravation.
And so the citizens had recourse to a remedy that had now for a long time neither been employed nor needed —the creation of a dictator. And because the consul, who alone was supposed to possess the power to nominate one, was absent, and because it was no easy matter, when Italy was beset with Punic arms, to get a courier or a letter through to him, they did what had never been done until that day, and created a dictator by popular election.
Their choice fell on Quintus Fabius Maximus, and Marcus Minucius Rufus they made master of the horse.
To them the senate entrusted the task of strengthening the walls and towers of the City, of disposing its defences as to them seemed good, and [p. 229]
of breaking down the bridges over the rivers:2 3
they would have to fight for their City and their homes, since they had not been able to save Italy.