Lest, however, the suddenness of the affair, and the fear of night, should frustrate a measure which was in itself ill adapted to his condition, he thought it right that his soldiers should be addressed and exhorted;
and having called an assembly, he discoursed as follows: “Soldiers, either my veneration for our late commanders, both living and dead, or our present situation, may impress on every one the belief that this command, as it is highly honourable to me, conferred by your suffrages, so is it in its nature a heavy and anxious charge.
For at a time when I should be scarcely so far master of myself as to be able to find any solace for my afflicted mind, did not fear deaden the sense of sorrow, I am compelled to take upon myself alone the task of consulting for the good of you all; a task of the greatest difficulty when under the influence of grief.
And not even at that critical moment, when I ought to be considering in what manner I may be enabled to keep together for my country
these remains of two armies, can I divert my mind from the affliction which incessantly preys upon me.
For bitter recollection is ever present, and the Scipios ever disturb me with anxious cares by day and dreams by night, frequently rousing me from my sleep, and imploring me not to suffer themselves nor their soldiers, your companions in war, who had been victorious in this country for eight years, nor the commonwealth to remain unrevenged; enjoining me also to follow their discipline and their plans;
and desiring that as there was no one more obedient to their commands while they were alive than I, so after their death I would consider that conduct as best, which I might have the strongest reason for believing they would have adopted in each case.
I could wish also that you, my soldiers, should not show your respect for them by lamenta- [p. 1011]
tions and tears, as if they were dead; (for they still live and flourish in the fame of their achievements;)
but that whenever the memory of those men shall occur to you, you would go into battle as though you saw them encouraging you and giving you the signal.
Nor certainly could anything else than their image presenting itself yesterday to your eyes and minds, have enabled you to fight that memorable battle, in which you proved to the enemy that the Roman name had not become extinct with the Scipios; and that the energy and valour of that people, which had not been overwhelmed by the disaster at Cannae, would, doubtlessly, emerge from the severest storms of fortune.
Now since you have dared so much of your own accord, I have a mind to try how much you will dare when authorized by your general: for yesterday, when I gave the signal for retreat while you were pursuing the routed enemy with precipitation, I did not wish to break your spirit, but to reserve it for greater glory and more advantageous opportunities;
that you might afterwards, when prepared and armed, seize an occasion of attacking your enemy while off their guard, unarmed, and even buried in sleep. Nor do I entertain the hope of gaining an opportunity of this kind rashly, but from the actual state of things.
Doubtless, if any one should ask even himself, by what means, though few in number and disheartened by defeat, you defended your camp against troops superior in number and victorious, you would give no other answer than that, as this was the very thing you were afraid of, you had kept every place secured by works and yourselves ready and equipped.
And so it generally happens: men are least secure against that which fortune causes not to be feared; because you leave unguarded and exposed what you think is not necessary to be cared about.
There is nothing whatever which the enemy fear less at the present time, than lest we, who were a little while ago besieged and assaulted, should aggressively assault their camp ourselves. Let us dare, then, to do that which it is incredible we should have the courage to attempt; it will be most easy from the very fact of its appearing most difficult.
At the third watch of the night I will lead you thither in silence. I have ascertained by means of scouts that they have no regular succession of watches, no proper outposts.
Our shout at their gates, when heard, and the first assault, will carry their camp. Then let that car- [p. 1012]
nage be made among men, torpid with sleep, terrified at the unexpected tumult, and overpowered while lying defenceless in their beds, from which you were so grieved to be recalled yesterday.
I know that the measure appears to you a daring one; but in difficult and almost desperate circumstances the boldest counsels are always the safest. For if when the critical moment has arrived, the opportunity of seizing which is of a fleeting nature, you delay ever so little, in vain do you seek for it afterwards when it has been neglected.
One army is near us; two more are not far off. We have some hopes if we make an attack now; and you have already made trial of your own and their strength.
If we postpone the time and cease to be despised in consequence of the fame of yesterday's irruption, there is danger lest all the generals and all the forces should unite. Shall we be able then to withstand three generals and three armies, whom Cneius Scipio with his army unimpaired could not withstand?
As our generals have perished by dividing their forces, so the enemy may be overpowered while separated and divided. There is no other mode of maintaining the war; let us, therefore, wait for nothing but the opportunity of the ensuing night.
Now depart, with the favour of the gods, and refresh yourselves, that, unfatigued and vigorous, you may burst into the enemy's camp with the same spirit with which you have defended your own.” This new enterprise, proposed by their new general, they received with joy; and the more daring it was the more it pleased them.
The remainder of the day was spent in getting their arms in readiness and recruiting their strength, the greater part of the night was given to rest, and at the fourth watch they were in motion.