As Gracchus was sacrificing before leaving Lucania, an unfavourable portent occurred.
After the slaying of the victim two snakes gliding stealthily up to the entrails ate part of the liver, and on being noticed vanished suddenly from sight.
When for that reason the sacrifice was repeated on the advice of the soothsayers, and while the entrails were being kept with greater care, they relate that the snakes for the second and the third time gliding up tasted the liver and went away unharmed.
Although the soothsayers had warned in advance that that portent applied to the general, and that he must beware of men in hiding and of covert plans, still the impending fate could not be averted by any foresight.
There was a Lucanian, Flavus, head of that party of the Lucanians which remained on the Roman side, although the other party had revolted to Hannibal.
And he was now in the second year of his office, having been elected praetor by that same party. He suddenly changed his intention and, seeking to find favour with the Carthaginian, was not satisfied to change sides himself nor to draw the Lucanians into revolt without ratifying his agreement with the enemy by the life-blood of the general, betrayed though at the same time his guest-friend.
He came [p. 405]
to Mago, who was in command in the country of the1
Bruttii, for a secret conference, and received his promise that, if he should surrender the Roman commander into their hands, the Lucanians as free men with their own laws would be accepted as friends.
He then led the Carthaginian to a place to which he said he would bring Gracchus with a few men; there Mago should conceal armed infantry and cavalry; and the hiding-place had room, he said, for a very large number.
After they had sufficiently examined the spot and reconnoitred all around, a day was settled upon for the execution of the plan.
Flavus came to the Roman commander, saying that he had begun an important business for the completion of which he needed Gracchus' own help;
that he had persuaded the magistrates of all the peoples which in that general commotion in Italy had gone over to the Carthaginians, to return to the friendship of the Romans, since the Roman state also, which had been nearly destroyed by the disaster at Cannae, was daily improving and increasing, while Hannibal's power was growing feebler and had been reduced almost to nothing.
To their old offence, he said, the Romans would not be implacable; no people had ever been more easily entreated and readier to grant forgiveness.
How often had a rebellion even of their own ancestors been pardoned! These things he said he had told them; but that they preferred to hear these same statements from Gracchus himself, and to take hold of his right hand there before them, and to carry with them that pledge of his honour.
He had appointed for their council a place out of sight, not far from the Roman camp; there in a few words it could be [p. 407]
settled that the whole Lucanian people should be2
under the protection of the Romans and in alliance with them.
Gracchus, thinking that both speech and proposal were free from guile, and misled by the plausibility of it, set out from the camp with his lictors and a troop of cavalry, and with a guest-friend as his guide fell into the ambush.
The enemy suddenly came out, and, to leave no doubt about his treachery, Flavus joined them.
Javelins assail Gracchus and his horsemen from every side. He springs from his horse, bids the rest to do the same and urges them to ennoble by courage the one thing fortune has left open to them.
But to a few men surrounded by a multitude, in a valley hedged about by forest and mountains, what was left, he asked, but death?
The one thing that mattered was whether they were to submit themselves like sheep to be slaughtered unavenged, or, far from calmly awaiting the outcome, were to be altogether bent on angry attack, and then, daring and doing, drenched by the blood of the enemy, among the heaps of arms and bodies of their dying foes, were to fall.
They must all attack the Lucanian traitor and deserter. The man who sent that victim before him to the lower world would find great distinction and for his own death an extraordinary consolation.
While thus speaking he wound his general's cloak around his left arm —for they had not taken even shields with them —and attacked the enemy.
The battle was out of all proportion to the number of men engaged. The bodies of the Romans were especially unprotected against javelins, and were pierced by them, as they could be thrown from higher ground all around into the hollow valley.
Gracchus, who [p. 409]
was by this time stripped of his defenders, the3
Carthaginians strove to capture alive. But catching sight of his Lucanian guest-friend among the enemy, he dashed into the dense ranks with such animosity that he could not be spared without the loss of many lives.
Mago at once sent the corpse to Hannibal and ordered it to be placed before the general's tribune together with the captured fasces.
If this is the true report, Gracchus perished in Lucania, on the Old Plains, as they are called.