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The date of the elections was approaching, when a despatch was received from the consul P. Licinius. In it he stated that both he and his army were suffering from serious illness, and they could not have held their position if the enemy had not been visited with equal or even greater severity.  As, therefore, he could not himself come, he would, if the senate approved, nominate Quintus Caecilius Metellus as Dictator to conduct the elections. He suggested that it would be advisable in the public interest for Q. Caecilius' army to be disbanded, as there was no immediate use for them now that Hannibal had gone into winter quarters and the epidemic had attacked their camp with such violence that unless they were soon disbanded, not a single man, judging from appearances, would survive.  The senate left it to the consul to take such steps as he thought most consistent with his duty to the commonwealth. About this time the citizens were much exercised by a religious question which had lately come up.  Owing to the unusual number of showers of stones which had fallen during the year, an inspection had been made of the Sibylline Books, and some oracular verses had been discovered which announced that whenever a foreign foe should [5??] carry war into Italy he could be driven out and conquered if the Mater Idaea were brought from Pessinus to Rome.  The discovery of this prediction produced all the greater impression on the senators because the deputation who had taken the gift to Delphi reported on their return that when they sacrificed to the Pythian Apollo the indications presented by the victims were entirely favourable, and further, that the response of the oracle was to the effect that a far grander victory was awaiting Rome than the one from whose spoils they had brought the gift to Delphi.  They regarded the hopes thus raised as confirmed by the action of Scipio in demanding Africa as his province as though he had a presentiment that this would bring the war to an end.  In order, therefore, to secure all the sooner the victory which the Fates the omens and the oracles alike foreshadowed, they began to think out the best way of transporting the goddess to Rome.
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