The following year was disastrous, whether by the in- temperature of the air, or by human guilt, Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Caius Valerius being consuls.
I find in the annals Flaccus and Potitus variously given as the surname of the consul; but in this it is of little consequence which is the true one. I would heartily wish that this other account were a false one, (nor indeed do all writers mention it,) viz.
that those persons, whose death rendered the year signal for the pestilence, were carried off by poison. The circumstance however must be stated as it is handed down to us, that I may not detract from the credit of any writer.
When the principal persons of the state were dying of similar diseases, and all generally with the same result, a certain maid-servant undertook, before Quintius Fabius Maximus, curule aedile, to discover the cause of the public malady, provided the public faith would be given to her by him, that the discovery should not be made detrimental to her.
Fabius immediately lays the matter before the consuls, and the consuls before the senate, and with the concurrence of that order the public faith was pledged to the informer.
It was then disclosed that the state was afflicted by the wickedness of certain women, and that certain matrons were preparing those poisonous drugs;
and if they wished to follow her forthwith, they mi ht be de- [p. 528]
tected in the very fact.
Having followed the informer, they found women preparing certain drugs, and others of the same kind laid up. These being brought into the forum, and several matrons, to the number of twenty, in whose possession they had been detected, being summoned by the beadle, two of them, Cornelia and Sergia, both of patrician rank, maintaining that these drugs were wholesome, were directed by the informer who confronted them to drink some, that they might convict her of having stated what was false;
having taken time to confer together, when, the crowd being removed, they referred the matter to the other matrons in the open view of all; they also not refusing to drink, they all drank off the preparation, and perished by their own wicked device.
Their attendants being instantly seized, informed against a great number of matrons, of whom to the number of one hundred and seventy were condemned.
Nor up to that day was there ever an inquiry made at Rome concerning poisoning. The circumstance was considered a prodigy; and seemed the act rather of insane persons than of persons depraved by guilt.
Wherefore mention having been found in the annals, that formerly in the secessions of the commons the nail had been driven by the dictator, and that the minds of the people, distracted by discord, had been restored to a sane state, it was determined that a dictator should be nominated for the purpose of driving the nail.
Cneius Quinctilius being nominated, appointed Lucius Valerius master of the horse, who, as soon as the nail was driven, abdicated their offices.