Night came on them while lamenting their situation, rather than consulting, whilst they urged expedients, each according to his temper; one crying out, “Let us go over those fences of the roads;” others, “over the steeps; through the woods; any way, where arms can be carried.
Let us be but permitted to come to the enemy, whom we have been used to conquer now near thirty years. All places will be level and plain to a Roman, fighting against the perfidious Samnite.”
Another would say, “Whither, or by what way can we go? Do we expect to remove the mountains from their foundations? While these cliffs hang over us, by what road will you reach the enemy? Whether armed or unarmed, brave or dastardly, we are all, without distinction, captured and vanquished. The enemy will not even show us a weapon, by which we might die with honour.
He will finish the war, without moving from his seat.” In such discourse, thinking of neither food nor rest, the night was passed. Nor could the Samnites, though in circumstances so joyous, instantly determine how to act: it was therefore universally agreed, that Herennius Pontius, father of the general, should be consulted by letter.
He was now grown feeble through age, and had withdrawn himself, not only from all military, but also from all civil occupations; yet, notwithstanding the decline of his bodily strength, his mind retained its full vigour.
When he heard that the Roman armies were shut up at the Caudine [p. 563]
forks between the two glens, being consulted by his son's messenger, he gave his opinion, that they should all be immediately dismissed from thence unhurt.
On this counsel being rejected, and the same messenger returning a second time, he recommended that they should all, to a man, be put to death.
When these answers, so opposite to each other, like those of an ambiguous oracle, were given, although his son in particular considered that the powers of his father's mind, together with those of his body, had been impaired by age, was yet prevailed on, by the general desire of all, to send for him to consult him.
The old man, we are told, complied without reluctance, and was carried in a waggon to the camp, where, when summoned to give his advice, he spoke in such a way as to make no alteration in his opinions; he only added the reasons for them.
That "by his first plan, which he esteemed the best, he meant, by an act of extraordinary kindness, to establish perpetual peace and friendship with a most powerful nation: by the other, to put off the return of war to the distance of many ages, during which the Roman state, after the loss of those two armies, could not easily recover its strength. A third plan there was not.
When his son, and the other chiefs, went on to ask him if “a plan of a middle kind might not be adopted; that they both should be dismissed unhurt, and, at the same time, by the right of war, terms imposed on them as vanquished?”
“That, indeed,” said he, “is a plan of such a nature, as neither procures friends nor removes enemies. Only preserve those whom ye would irritate by ignominious treatment.
The Romans are a race who know not how to sit down quiet under defeat; whatever that is which the present necessity shall brand will rankle in their breasts for ever, and will not suffer them to rest, until they have wreaked manifold vengeance on your heads.” Neither of these plans was approved, and Herennius was carried home from the camp.