The Roman Fleet Wrecked
The passage was effected in safety, and the coast of
Camarina was reached: but there they experienced so terrible
a storm, and suffered so dreadfully, as almost to
The fleet is lost in a storm.
The disaster was indeed
extreme: for out of their three hundred and
sixty-four vessels eighty only remained. The rest were either
swamped or driven by the surf upon the rocks and headlands,
where they went to pieces and filled all the seaboard with
corpses and wreckage. No greater catastrophe is to be found
in all history as befalling a fleet at one time. And for this
Fortune was not so much to blame as the commanders themselves. They had been warned again and again by the pilots
not to steer along the southern coast of Sicily
Libyan sea, because it was exposed and yielded no safe anchorage; and because, of the two dangerous constellations, one had
not yet set and the other was on the point of
rising (for their voyage fell between the rising of Orion and that of the Dog Star).
Between June 28 and July 26.
attended to none of these warnings; but, intoxicated by their
recent success, were anxious to capture certain cities as they
coasted along, and in pursuance of this idea thoughtlessly exposed themselves to the full fury of the open sea. As far as these
particular men were concerned, the disaster which they brought
upon themselves in the pursuit of trivial advantages convinced
them of the folly of their conduct. But it is a peculiarity of
the Roman people as a whole to treat everything as a question
of main strength; to consider that they must of course accomplish whatever they have proposed to themselves; and that
nothing is impossible that they have once determined upon.
The result of such self-confidence is that in many things they
do succeed, while in some few they conspicuously fail, and
especially at sea. On land it is against men only and their
works that they have to direct their efforts: and as the forces
against which they exert their strength do not differ intrinsically from their own, as a general rule they succeed; while
their failures are exceptional and rare. But to contend with the
sea and sky is to fight against a force immeasurably superior to
their own: and when they trust to an exertion of sheer strength
in such a contest the disasters which they meet with are signal.
This is what they experienced on the present occasion: they
have often experienced it since; and will continue to do so,
as long as they maintain their headstrong and foolhardy notion
that any season of the year admits of sailing as well as