When the consul had recounted these particulars, as- [p. 683]
certained from the information of the deserters, to the soldiers already enraged of themselves, they then, filled with confidence in both divine and human aid, with one universal shout, demanded the battle; were dissatisfied at the action being deferred to the following day; they are impatient under the intended delay of a day and a night.
Papirius, at the third watch, having received his colleague's letter, arose in silence, and sent the keeper of the chickens to take the auspices.
There was no one description of men in the camp who felt not earnest wishes for the fight: the highest and the lowest were equally eager; the general watching the ardour of the soldiers, and the soldiers that of the general.
This universal zeal spread even to those employed in taking the auspices; for the chickens having refused to feed, the auspex ventured to misrepresent the omen, and reported to the consul that they had fed voraciously.1
The consul, highly pleased, and giving notice that the auspices were excellent, and that they were to act under the direction of the gods, displayed the signal for battle. Just as he was going out to the field, he happened to receive intelligence from a deserter, that twenty cohorts of Samnites, consisting of about four hundred each, had marched towards Cominium. Lest his colleague should be ignorant of this, he instantly despatched a messenger to him, and then
ordered the troops to advance with speed, having already assigned to each division of the army its proper post, and appointed general officers to command them. The command of the right wing he gave to Lucius Volumnius, that of the left to Lucius Scipio, that of the cavalry to the other lieutenants-general, Caius Caedicius
and Caius Trebonius. He ordered Spurius Nautius to take off the panniers from the mules, and to lead them round quickly, together with his auxiliary cohorts, to a rising ground in view; and there to show himself during the heat of the engagement, and to raise as much dust as possible. While
the [p. 684]
general was employed in making these dispositions, a dispute arose among the keepers of the chickens, about the auspices of the day, which was overheard by some Roman horsemen, who, deeming it a matter not to be slighted, informed Spurius
Papirius, the consul's nephew, that there was a doubt about the auspices. The youth, born in an age when that sort of learning which inculcates contempt of the gods was yet unknown, examined into the affair, that he might not carry an uncertain
report to the consul; and then acquainted him with it. His answer was, “I very much applaud your conduct and zeal. However, the person who officiates in taking the auspices, if he makes a false report, draws on his own head the evil portended; but to the Roman people and their army, the favourable omen reported to me is an excellent auspice.” He then commanded the centurions to place the keepers of the chickens in the front of the line. The Samnites likewise brought forward their standards; their main body followed, armed and decorated in such
a manner, that the enemy afforded a magnificent show. Before the shout was raised, or the battle begun, the auspex, wounded by a random cast of a javelin, fell before the standards; which
being told to the consul, he said, “The gods are present in the battle; the guilty has met his punishment.” While the consul uttered these words, a crow, in front of him, cawed with a clear voice; at which augury, the consul being rejoiced, and affirming, that never had the gods interposed in a more striking manner in human affairs, ordered the charge to be sounded and the shout to be raised.