On the same year the middle of the forum is said to have fallen in to an immense depth, forming a sort of vast cave, either by reason of an earthquake, or some other violent cause;
nor could that gulf be filled up by throwing earth into it, every one exerting himself to the utmost, until by the admonition of the gods an inquiry began to be instituted, as to what constituted the chief strength of the Roman people?
for the soothsayers declare that must be devoted to that place, if they desired the Roman state to be perpetual. Then they tell us that Marcus Curtius, a youth distinguished in war, reproved them for hesitating, whether there was any greater Roman good than arms and valour.
Silence being made, looking to the temples of the immortal gods, which command a view of the forum, and towards the Capitol, and extending his hands at one time towards heaven, at another towards the infernal gods, through the gaping aperture of the earth, he devoted himself:
then, mounted on a horse accoutred in the most gorgeous style possible, he plunged in full armour into the opening, and offerings and the fruits of the earth were thrown in over him by the multitude of men and women, and the lake was called Curtian not from Curtius Mettus, the ancient soldier of Titus Tatius, but from this circumstance.
If any way would lead one's inquiry to the truth, industry would not be wanting: now, when length of time precludes all certainty of evidence, we must stand by the rumour of tradition; and the name of the lake must be accounted for from this more recent story.
After due attention being paid to so great a prodigy, the senate, during the same year, being consulted regarding the Hernicians, (after having sent heralds to demand restitution in vain,) voted, that a motion be submitted on the earliest day to the people on the subject of declaring war against the Hernicians, and the people, in full assembly, ordered it.
That province fell by lot to the consul Lucius Genucius. The state was in anxious suspense, because he was the first plebeian consul that was about to conduct a war under his own auspices, being sure to judge of the good or bad policy of establishing a community of honours, according as the matter should turn out.
Chance so arranged it, [p. 454]
that Genucius, marching against the enemy with a considerable force, fell into an ambush; the legions being routed by reason of a sudden panic, the consul was slain after being surrounded by persons who knew not whom they had slain.
When this news was brought to Rome, the patricians, by no means so grieved for the public disaster, as elated at the unsuccessful guidance of the plebeian consul, every where exclaim, “They might now go, and elect consuls from the commons, they might transfer the auspices where it was impious to do so.
The patricians might by a vote of the people be driven from their own exclusive honour: whether had this inauspicious law availed also against the immortal gods? They had vindicated their authority, their auspices; which as soon as ever they were defiled by one by whom it was contrary to human and divine law that they should have been, the destruction of the army with its leader was a warning, that elections should hereafter be conducted in utter violation of the rights of birth.”
The senate-house and the forum resound with expressions such as these. Appius Claudius, because he had dissuaded the law, and now with greater authority blamed the issue of a measure which had been found fault with by himself, the consul Servilius appoints dictator by the general wish of the patricians, and a levy and cessation of business are procaimed.