“If we had either peace in Italy, or had war with such an enemy that the necessity to be careful was less urgent than it is, I should consider that man as wanting in respect for your liberty, who would at all impede that zealous desire which you bring with you into the Campus Martius, of con- [p. 905]
ferring honours on whom you please.
But since during the present war, and with the enemy we have now to encounter, none of our generals have ever committed an error which has not been attended with most disastrous consequences to us, it behoves you to use the same circumspection in giving your suffrages for the creation of consuls, which you would exert were you going armed into the field of battle.
Every man ought thus to say to himself: I am nominating a consul who is to cope with the general Hannibal. In the present year, at Capua, when Jubellius Taurea, the most expert horseman of
the Campanians, gave a challenge, Claudius Asellus, the most expert among the Roman horsemen, was pitted against him.
Against the Gaul who at a former period gave a challenge on the bridge of the Anio, our ancestors sent Titus Manlius, a man of resolute courage and great strength.
It was for the same reason, I cannot deny it, that confidence was placed in Marcus Valerius, not many years ago, when he took arms against a Gaul who challenged him to combat in a similar manner.
In the same manner as we wish to have our foot and horse more powerful, but if that is impracticable, equal in strength to the enemy, so let us find out a commander who is a match for the general of the enemy. Though we should select the man as general whose abilities are greater than those of any other in the nation, yet still he is chosen at a moment's warning, his office is only annual;
whereas he will have to cope with a veteran general who has continued in command without interruption, unfettered
by any restrictions either of duration or of authority, which might prevent him from executing or planning every thing according as the exigencies of the war shall require. But with us the year is gone merely in making preparations, and when we are only commencing our operations.
Having said enough as to what sort of persons you ought to elect as consuls, it remains that I should briefly express my opinion of those on whom the choice of the prerogative century has fallen.
Marcus Aemilius Regillus is flamen of Quirinus, whom we can neither send abroad nor retain at home without neglecting the gods or the war. Otacilius is married to my sister's daughter, and has children by her, but the favours you have conferred upon me and my ancestors, are not such' as that I should prefer private relationship to the public weal.
Any sailor or pas- [p. 906]
senger can steer the vessel in a calm sea, but when a furious storm has arisen, and the vessel is hurried by the tempest along the troubled deep, then there is need of a man and a pilot.
We are not sailing on a tranquil sea, but have already well nigh sunk with repeated storms; you must therefore employ the utmost caution and foresight in determining who shall sit at the helm.
Of you, Titus Otacilius, we have had experience in a business of less magnitude; and, certainly, you have not given us any proof that we ought to confide to you affairs of greater moment. The fleet which you commanded this year we fitted out for three objects: to lay waste the coast of Africa, to protect the shores of Italy, but, above all, to prevent the conveyance of reinforcements with pay and provisions from Carthage to Hannibal.
Now if Titus Otacilius has performed for the state, I say not all, but any one of these services, make him consul. But if, while you had the command of the fleet, supplies of whatever sort were conveyed safe and untouched to Hannibal, even as though he had no enemy on the sea;
if the coast of Italy has been more infested this year than that of Africa, what can you have to urge why you should be preferred before all others as the antagonist of Hannibal?
Were you consul, we should give it as our opinion that a dictator should be appointed in obedience to the example of our ancestors. Nor could you feel offended that some one in the Roman nation was deemed superior to you in war. It concerns yourself more than any one else, Titus Otacilius, that there be not laid upon your shoulders a burthen under which you would fall.
I earnestly exhort you, that with the same feelings which would influence you if standing armed for battle, you were called upon suddenly to elect two generals, under whose conduct and auspices you were to fight, you would this day elect your consuls;
to whom your children are to swear allegiance, at whose command they are to assemble, and under whose protection and care they are to serve.
The Trasimene Lake and Cannae are melancholy precedents to look back upon, but form useful warnings to guard against similar disasters. Crier, call back the younger century of the Anien tribe to give their votes again.”