Nevertheless the blockade continued, and there was a scarcity of corn, with a very high price.
Porsena entertained a hope that by continuing the siege he should take the city, when C. Mucius, a young nobleman, to whom it seemed a disgrace that the Roman people, when enslaved under kings, had never been confined within their walls in any war, nor by any enemy, should now when a free people be blocked up by
these very Etrurians whose armies they had often routed, thinking that such indignity should be avenged by some great and daring effort, at first designed of his own accord to penetrate into the enemy's camp.
Then, being afraid if he went without the permission of the consuls, or the knowledge of any one, he might be seized by the Roman guards and brought back as a deserter, the circumstances of the city at the time justifying the charge, he went to the senate:
“Fathers,” says he, “I intend to cross the Tiber, and enter the enemy's camp, if I can; not as a plunderer, or as an avenger in our turn of their devastations. A greater deed is in my mind, if the gods assist.” The senate approved his design.
He set out with a sword concealed under his garment.
When he came thither, he stationed himself among the thickest of the crowd, near the king's tribunal. There, when the soldiers were receiving their pay, and the king's [p. 94]
secretary sitting by him, dressed nearly in the same style, was busily engaged, and to him they commonly addressed themselves, being afraid to ask which of them was Porsena, lest by not knowing the king he should discover on himself, as fortune blindly directed the blow, he killed the secretary instead of the king.
When, as he was going off thence where with his bloody dagger he had made his way through the dismayed multitude, a concourse being attracted at the noise, the king's guards immediately seized and brought him back standing alone before the king's tribunal;
even then, amid such menaces of fortune, more capable of inspiring dread than of feeling it, “I am,” says he, “a Roman citizen, my name is Caius Mucius; an enemy, I wished to slay an enemy, nor have I less of resolution to suffer death than I had to inflict it. Both to act and to suffer with fortitude is a Roman's part.
Nor have I alone harboured such feelings towards you; there is after me a long train of persons aspiring to the same honour. Therefore, if you choose it, prepare yourself for this peril, to contend for your life every hour; to have the sword and the enemy in the very entrance of your pavilion; this is the war which we the Roman youth declare against you;
dread not an army in array, nor a battle; the affair will be to yourself alone and with each of us singly.”
When the king, highly incensed, and at the same time terrified at the danger, in a menacing manner, commanded fires to be kindled about him, if he did not speedily explain the plots, which, by his threats, he had darkly insinuated against him;
Mucius said, “Behold me, that you may be sensible of how little account the body is to those who have great glory in view;” and immediately he thrusts his right hand into the fire that was lighted for the sacrifice.
When he continued to broil it as if he had been quite insensible, the king, astonished at this surprising sight, after he had leaped from his throne and commanded the young man to be removed from the altar, says, “Be gone, having acted more like an enemy towards thyself than me. I would encourage thee to persevere in thy valour, if that valour stood on the side of my country.
I now dismiss you untouched and unhurt, exempted from the right of war.” Then Mucius, as if making a return for the kindness, says, "Since bravery is honoured by you, so that you have obtained by kindness that which you could not by [p. 95]
threats, three hundred of us, the chief of the Roman youth, have conspired to attack you in this manner.
It was my lot first. The rest will follow, each in his turn, according as the lot shall set him forward, unless fortune shall afford an opportunity of you.