. —This did not, however, prevent his impeachment the following year, when Q. Servilius Ahala and L. Genucius were consuls, the prosecutor being M. Pomponius, one of the tribunes of the plebs. He had incurred universal hatred through the unfeeling severity with which he had carried out the enlistment; the citizens had not only been fined, but subjected to personal ill-treatment, some scourged and others imprisoned because they had not answered to their names.
But what men most loathed was his brutal temperament, and the epithet ‘Imperiosus’ (masterful) which had been fastened on him from his unblushing cruelty, an epithet utterly repugnant to a free State. The effects of his cruelty were felt quite as much by his nearest kindred, by his own blood as by strangers.
Amongst other charges which the tribune brought against him was his treatment of his young son. It was alleged that although guilty of no offence he had banished him from the City, from his home and household gods, had forbidden him to appear in public in the Forum or to associate with those of his own age, and had consigned him to servile work, almost to the imprisonment of a workshop.
Here the youth, of high birth, the son of a Dictator, was to learn by daily suffering how rightly his father was called ‘Imperiosus.’ And for what offence? Simply because he was lacking in eloquence, in readiness of speech! Ought not this natural defect to have been helped and remedied by the father, if there were a spark of humanity in him, instead of being punished and branded by persecution? Not even do brute beasts show less care and protection to their offspring if they happen to be sickly or deformed.
But L. Manlius actually aggravated his son's misfortune by fresh misfortunes, and increased his natural dullness and quenched any faint glimmerings of ability which he might have shown by the clodhopper's life to which he was condemned and the boorish bringing up amongst cattle to which he had to submit.
The youth himself was the last to be exasperated by these accusations brought against his father. On the contrary, he was so indignant at finding himself made the ground of the charges against his father and the deep resentment they created that he was determined to let gods and men see that he preferred standing by his father to helping his enemies.
He formed a project which, though natural to an ignorant rustic and no precedent for an ordinary citizen to follow, still afforded a laudable example of filial affection. Arming himself with a knife, he went off early in the morning, without any one's knowledge, to the City, and once inside the gates proceeded straight to the house of M. Pomponius. He informed the porter that it was necessary for him to see his master at once, and announced himself as T. Manlius, the son of Lucius. Pomponius imagined that he was either bringing some matter for a fresh charge, to revenge himself on his father, or was going to offer some advice as to the management of the prosecution.
After mutual salutations, he informed Pomponius that he wished the business in hand to be transacted in the absence of witnesses. After all present had been ordered to withdraw, he grasped his knife and standing over the tribune's bed and pointing the weapon towards him, threatened to plunge it into him at once unless he took the oath which he was going to dictate to him, ‘That he would never hold an Assembly of the plebs for the prosecution of his father.’ The tribune was terrified, for he saw the steel glittering before his eyes, while he was alone and defenceless, in the presence of a youth of exceptional strength, and what was worse, prepared to use that strength with savage ferocity. He took the required oath and publicly announced that, yielding to violence, he had abandoned his original purpose.
The plebs would certainly have been glad of the opportunity of passing sentence on such an insolent and cruel offender, but they were not displeased at the son's daring deed in defence of his parent, which was all the more meritorious because it showed that his father's brutality had not in any way weakened his natural affection and sense of duty.
Not only was the prosecution of the father dropped, but the incident proved the means of distinction for the son. That year, for the first time, the military tribunes were elected by the popular vote; previously they had been nominated by the commander-in-chief, as is the case now with those who are called Rufuli. This youth obtained the second out of six places, though he had done nothing at home or in the field to make him popular, having passed his youth in the country far from city life.