These things were very frequently discussed, both in the senate and assemblies.
When the dictator alone, while joy pervaded the city, attached no credit to the report or letter; and granting that all were true, affirmed that he feared more from success than failure; then Marcus Metilius, a plebeian tribune, declares that such conduct surely could not [p. 794]
That the dictator, not only when present was an obstacle to the right management of the affair, but also, being absent from the camp, opposed it still when achieved;
that he studiously dallied in his conduct of the war, that he might continue the longer in office, and that he might have the sole command both at Rome and in the army.
Since one of the consuls had fallen in battle, and the other was removed to a distance from Italy, under pretext of pursuing a Carthaginian fleet; and the two praetors were occupied in Sicily and Sardinia, neither of which provinces required a praetor at this time.
That Marcus Minucius, the master of the horse, was almost put under a guard, lest he should see the enemy, and carry on any warlike operation.
That therefore, by Hercules, not only Samnium, which had now been yielded to the Carthaginians, as if it had been land beyond the Iberus, but the Campanian, Calenian, and Falernian territories had been devastated, while the dictator was sitting down at Casilinum, protecting his own farm with the legions of the Roman people: that the army, eager for battle, as well as the master of the horse, were kept back almost imprisoned within the rampart:
that their arms were taken out of their hands, as from captured enemies:
at length, as soon as ever the dictator had gone away, having marched out beyond their rampart, that they had routed the enemy and put him to flight.
On account of which circumstances, had the Roman commons retained their ancient spirit, that he would have boldly proposed to them to annul the authority of Quintus Fabius; but now he would bring forward a moderate proposition, to make the authority of the master of the horse and the dictator equal;
and that even then Quintus Fabius should not be sent to the army, till he had substituted a consul in the room of Caius Flaminius.
The dictator kept away from the popular assemblies, in which he did not command a favourable hearing; and even in the senate he was not heard with favourable ears, when his eloquence was employed in praising the enemy, and attributing the disasters of the last two years to the temerity and unskilfulness of the generals;
and when he declared that the master of the horse ought to be called to account for having fought contrary to his injunction.
That “if the supreme command and administration of affairs were intrusted to him, he would soon take care that men should know, that to a good [p. 795]
general fortune was not of great importance;
that prudence and conduct governed every thing; that it was more glorious for him to have saved the army at a crisis, and without disgrace, than to have slain many thousands of the enemy.”
Speeches of this kind having been made without effect, and Marcus Atilius Regulus created consul, that he might not be present to dispute respecting the right of command, he withdrew to the army on the night preceding the day on which the proposition was to be decided.
When there was an assembly of the people at break of day, a secret displeasure towards the dictator, and favour towards the master of the horse, rather possessed their minds, than that men had not sufficient resolution to advise a measure which was agreeable to the public; and though favour carried it, influence was wanting to the bill.
One man indeed was found who recommended the law, Caius Terentius Varro, who had been praetor in the former year, sprung not only from humble but mean parentage.
They report that his father was a butcher, the retailer of his own meat, and that he employed this very son in the servile offices of that trade.