Next, having disposed the sentries, he commanded that the word be passed to everybody, that on hearing the trumpet sound for the second watch they should silently arm and present themselves before him.
When they had assembled there [p. 483]
without a word, as he had ordered, he thus began:1
“You must preserve this silence, soldiers, as you listen to me, omitting all soldier-like acclaim. When I have finished explaining my plan, then those of you who find it good will quietly pass over to the right; on whichever side the majority shall be, we will abide by their decision.
Hear now what I have in mind. The enemy has not invested you here as men who ran away or were left behind through laziness: it was by valour that you took the place, and by valour you must escape from it.
By coming hither you saved a splendid army for the Roman People; save yourselves by breaking out. You are worthy to have carried help, though few, to greater numbers, and to have needed no man's help yourselves.
You have an enemy to deal with who neglected yesterday through indolence an opportunity of destroying our whole army; who failed to see the importance of this hill by which he is commanded, until we had taken it; who, though we were so few and his own thousands so many, neither kept us from gaining the ascent, nor, when the place was ours and much daylight still remained, surrounded us with entrenchments.
An enemy whom you thus eluded while he was wide awake and watching, you ought to baffle when he is overcome with sleep.
Indeed it is necessary that you do so, for our situation is such that I am rather pointing out your necessity to you than advocating a plan.
Nor truly can it be a debatable question whether you should stay or go away from here, since Fortune has left you nothing but your arms and the spirit to employ them, and we must die of hunger and thirst, if we dread the [p. 485]
sword's point more than it is fitting men and Romans2
Our one way of safety, then, is to break through and get away. We must do this either in the day-time or at night.
But this, look you, is a question that is even less in doubt, for if we should wait for dawn, what hope is there that the enemy would not hem us in with a continuous trench and rampart, who has now, as you see, encompassed the hill on every hand with the bodies of his men lying below us. And yet, if night is favourable for our sally, as it is, this is surely the fittest hour of the night.
You have come together on the signal of the second watch, when sleep lies heaviest on mortals;: you will make your way among drowsy forms, either eluding them unsuspected in your silence, or ready, if they should perceive you, to affright them with a sudden shout.
Do but follow me, whom you have followed hitherto; I will follow that same Fortune that has led us hither. Now then let those who approve my plan step over-to the right.”