The time of the elections was now drawing near, when a letter from the consul Publius Licinius arrived at Rome, stating that “he himself and his army were afflicted with a severe sickness, nor could they have stood their ground had not the malady attacked the enemy with the same or even greater violence.
Therefore, as he could not come himself to the election, he would, with the approbation of the senate, nominate Quintus Caecilius Metellus dictator, for the purpose of holding the election.
That it was for the interest of the state that the army of Quintus Caecilius should be disbanded; for that it could not be made any use of under present circumstances, for Hannibal had now withdrawn his troops into [p. 1245]
winter quarters; and so violent was the malady which had infected that camp, that unless it was speedily broken up, there would not survive one man out of the whole army.” The senate left it to the consul to settle these matters, as he should deem consistent with the interest of the state and his own honour.
The state was at this time suddenly occupied with a question of a religious nature, in consequence of the discovery of a prediction in the Sibylline books, which had been inspected on account of there having been so many showers of stones this year.
It ran thus: “Whensoever a foreign enemy should bring war into the land of Italy, he may be driven out of Italy and conquered, if the Idaean Mother should be brought from Pessinus to Rome.”
This prophecy, discovered by the decemviri, produced the greater impression upon the senate, because ambassadors also, who had carried a present to Delphi, had brought word back, that they had both obtained a favourable appearance in sacrificing to the Pythian Apollo, and that a response was delivered from the oracle, to the effect, that a much greater victory than that from the spoils of which they now brought presents, awaited the Roman people.
They considered the presentiment which existed in the mind of Publius Scipio, with regard to the termination of the war, when he claimed Africa as his province, as corroborating the same anticipation.
In order, therefore, that they might the more speedily put themselves in possession of victory, which was portended to them by the fates, omens, and oracles, they began to think what method could be adopted for conveying the goddess to Rome.