night came, and found them not so much consulting as lamenting, while each murmured as his nature prompted him. “let us force the barriers of the road,” said one, “let us scale the mountains, penetrate the forests, go wherever we can carry
arms, if only we may come at the enemy, whom we have now been conquering for close upon thirty years1
; any field will be smooth and level to a [p. 171]
Roman who fights against a treacherous Samnite!”2
Another would ask: “where or by what way can we go? do we think to remove the mountains from their seat? so long as these ridges tower over you, how shall you come at the enemy? armed and unarmed, the brave and the cowardly, we are all alike captured and beaten men. The foe will not even draw his sword on us, that we may die with honour; he will end the war by sitting still.”
with such —like exchange of talk the night wore on, neither was there any thought of food or sleep.
even the Samnites were at a loss what course to follow in such happy circumstances; and accordingly they agreed unanimously to dispatch a letter to Herennius Pontius, the father of their general, asking his advice.
this man, bowed down with years, had already withdrawn not only from military but even from civic duties; yet, despite his bodily infirmity, his mind and judgment retained their vigour.
when he learned that the Roman armies had been hemmed in between two defiles at the Caudine Forks, and was asked by his son's messenger for his opinion, he advised that they should all be dismissed unscathed, at the earliest possible moment.
this policy having been rejected, and the messenger returning a second time to seek his counsel, he recommended that all, to the last man, be slain.
having received these answers, as inconsistent as the riddling responses of an oracle, the younger Pontius was among the first to conclude that his father's mind had now given way along with his failing body, but yielded to the general desire and sent for him to advise with them in person.
The old man made no objection; he was [p. 173]
brought to the camp in a waggon —so the story3
runs —and being invited to join the council of war, spoke to such purpose as merely, without changing his opinion, to add thereto his reasons: If, he said, they adopted his first proposal —which
he held to be the best —they would establish lasting peace and friendship with a very powerful people by conferring an enormous benefit upon them; by adopting the other plan they would postpone the war for many generations, in which time the Roman State, having lost two armies, would not easily regain its strength; there was no third plan.
when his son and the other leading men pressed him to say what would happen if they took a middle course, and while letting them go unhurt imposed terms upon them by the rights of war, as upon the vanquished, “that,” he answered, “is in sooth a policy that neither wins men friends nor rids them of their enemies.
spare, if you will, those whom you have stung to anger with humiliation; the Roman race is one that knows not how to be still under defeat.
whatever shame you brand them with in their present necessity, the wound will ever rankle in their bosoms, nor will it suffer them to rest until they have exacted many times as heavy a penalty of you.” neither proposal was accepted, and Herennius was carried home from the camp.