His speech was received with the loudest acclamations from every part of the assembly, bidding him “have courage; for while the Roman legions were in being, no man should offer him violence.”
Not long after, the dictator arrived, and instantly summoned an assembly by sound of trumpet Then silence being made, a crier cited Quintus Fabius, master of the horse, and as soon as, on the lower ground, he had approached the tribunal, the dictator said, “Quintus Fabius, I demand of you, when the authority of dictator is acknowledged to be supreme, and is submitted to by the consuls, officers endowed with regal power;
and likewise by the praetors, created under the same auspices with consuls; whether or no you think it reasonable that it should not meet obedience from a master of the horse?
I also ask you whether, when I knew that I set out from home under uncertain auspices, the safety of the commonwealth ought to have been endangered by me, whilst the omens were confused, or whether the [p. 546]
auspices ought to be newly taken, so that nothing might be done while the will of the gods remained doubtful?
And further, when a religious scruple was of such a nature as to hinder the dictator from acting, whether the master of the horse could be exempt from it and at liberty? But why do I ask these questions, when, though I had gone without leaving any orders, your own judgment ought to have been regulated according to what you could discover of my intention? Why do you not answer?
Did I not forbid you to act, in any respect, during my absence? Did I not forbid you to engage the enemy?
Yet, in contempt of these my orders, while the auspices were uncertain, while the omens were confused, contrary to the practice of war, contrary to the discipline of our ancestors, and contrary to the authority of the gods, you dared to enter on the fight.
Answer to these questions proposed to you. On any other matter utter not a word. Lictor, draw near him.”
To each of these particulars, Fabius, finding it no easy matter to answer, at one time remonstrated against the same person acting as accuser and judge, in a cause which affected his very existence; at another, he asserted that his life should sooner be forced from him, than the glory of his past services;
clearing himself and accusing the other by turns; so then Papirius' anger blazing out with fresh fury, he ordered the master of the horse to be stripped, and the rods and axes to be got ready.
Fabius, imploring the protection of the soldiers, while the lictors were tearing his garments, betook himself to the quarters of the veterans, who were already raising a commotion in the assembly: from them the uproar spread through the whole body; in one place the voice of supplication was heard; in another, menaces.
Those who happened to stand nearest to the tribunal, because, being under the eyes of the general, they could easily be known, entreated him to spare the master of the horse, and not in him to condemn the whole army.
The remoter parts of the assembly, and the crowd collected round Fabius, railed at the unrelenting spirit of the dictator, and were not far from mutiny; nor was even the tribunal perfectly quiet.
The lieutenants-general standing round the general's seat besought him to adjourn the business to the next day, and to allow time to his anger, and room for consideration; representing that “the indiscretion of Fabius had been sufficiently rebuked;
his victory sufficiently disgraced; and they begged him not to proceed to the extreme of severity; not to brand with ignominy a youth of extraordinary merit, or his father, a man of most illustrious character, together with the whole family of the Fabii.”
When they made but little impression either by their prayers or arguments, they desired him to observe the violent ferment of the assembly, and told him that “while the soldiers' tempers were heated to such a degree, it became not either his age or his wisdom to kindle them into a flame, and afford matter for a mutiny;
that no one would lay the blame of such an event on Quintus Fabius, who only deprecated punishment; but on the dictator, if, blinded by resent- ment, he should, by an ill-judged contest, draw on himself the fury of the multitude:
and lest he should think that they acted from motives of regard to Quintus Fabius, they were ready to make oath that, in their judgment, it was not for the interest of the commonwealth that Quintus Fabius should be punished at that time.”