To this camp came Dasius Altinius of Arpi privately and by night, attended by three slaves, with a promise that if he should receive a reward for it, he would engage to betray Arpi to them.
Fabius having laid the matter before a council, some were of opinion that “he ought to be scourged and put to death as a deserter, as a man of unstable mind, and a [p. 950]
common enemy to both sides; who, after the defeat at Cannae, had gone over to Hannibal and drawn Arpi into revolt, as if it were right that a man's fidelity should vary according to the fluctuations of fortune;
and who now, when the Roman cause, contrary to his hopes and wishes, was as it were rising up again, would seem to aggravate his baseness by recompensing those whom he had formerly betrayed, by fresh betrayal. That a man whose custom it was to espouse one side, while his heart was on another, was unworthy of confidence as an ally, and contemptible as an enemy; that he ought to be made a third example to deserters, in addition to the betrayers of Falerii and Pyrrhus.”
On the other hand, Fabius, the father of the consul, observed, that, “forgetful of circumstances, men were apt to exercise a free judgment on every question in the heat of war, as in time of peace;
for though in the present instance that which ought rather to form the object of their endeavours and to occupy their thoughts, is by what means it may be brought about that none of the allies may revolt from the Roman people, yet that they never think of; but, on the contrary, they urge that an example ought to be made of any who might repent and look back upon their former alliance.
But if it is allowable to forsake the Romans, and not allowable to return to them, who can doubt but that in a short time the Romans, deserted by their allies, will see every state in Italy united in leagues with the Carthaginians.
Not, however, that he was of opinion that any confidence was to be reposed in Altinius, but he would invent some middle course of proceeding.
Treating him neither as an enemy nor as a friend for the present, his wish was, that he should be kept during the war in some city whose fidelity could be relied on, at a short distance from the camp, in a state of easy restraint; and that when the war was concluded, they should then deliberate whether he more deserved to be punished for his former defection, or pardoned for his present return.” The opinion of Fabius was approved of.
Altinius was bound in chains and given into custody, together with his companions, and a large quantity of gold which he brought with him was ordered to be kept for him.
He was kept at Cales, where, during the day, he was unconfined, but attended by guards who locked him up at night. He was first missed and inquired for at his house at Arpi, but afterwards, when the [p. 951]
report of his
absence had spread through the city, a violent sensation was excited, as if they had lost their leader, and, from the apprehension of some attempt to alter the present state of things, messengers were immediately despatched to Hannibal.
With this the Carthaginian was far from being displeased, both because he had long regarded the man himself with suspicion, as one of doubtful fidelity, and because he had now been lucky enough to get a pretext for possessing himself of the property of so wealthy a person.
But that the world might suppose that he had yielded to resentment more than to avarice, he added cruelty to rapacity;
for he summoned his wife and children to the camp, and after having made inquiry, first, respecting the flight of Altinius, and then, touching the quantity of gold and silver which was left at his house, and informed himself on all these points, he burned them alive.