The people, rushing in crowds to the senate-house, compelled Lesius to assemble a senate, and openly threatened the nobles, who had now for a long time absented themselves from the public deliberations, that unless they attended the meeting of the senate, they would go round to their houses and drag them all before the public by force. The fear of this procured the magistrate a full senate.
Here, while the rest contended for sending ambassadors to the Roman generals, Vibius Virrius, who had been the instigator of the revolt from the Romans, on being asked his opinion, observed, that “those persons who spoke of sending ambassadors, and of peace,
and a surrender, did not bear in mind either what they would do if they had the Romans in their power, or what they themselves must expect to suffer. What!
do you think,” says he, “that your surrender will be like that in which formerly we placed ourselves and every thing belonging to us at the disposal of the Romans, in order that we might obtain assistance from them against the Samnites?
Have you already forgotten at what a juncture we revolted from the Romans, and what were their circumstances? Have you forgotten how at the time of the revolt we put to death, with torture and indignity, their garrison, which might have been sent out? How often, and with determined hostility, we have sallied out against them when besieging us, and assaulted their camp?
How we invited Hannibal to come and cut them off? And how most recently we sent him hence to lay siege to Rome?
But come, retrace on the other hand what they have done in hostility towards us, that you may learn therefrom what you have to hope for. When a foreign enemy was in Italy, and that enemy Hannibal; when the flame of war was kindled in every quarter; disregarding every other object, disregarding even Hannibal himself, they sent two consuls with two consular armies to lay siege to Capua.
This is the second year, that, surrounded with lines and shut up within our walls, they consume us by famine, having suffered in like manner with ourselves the extremest dangers and the severest hardships, having frequently had their troops slain near their rampart and trenches, and at last having been almost deprived of their camp. But I pass over these matters.
It has [p. 1035]
been usual, even from of old, to suffer dangers and hardships in besieging an enemy's city. The following is a proof of their animosity and bitter hatred. Hannibal assaulted their camp with an immense force of horse and foot, and took a part of it.
By so great a danger they were not in the least diverted from the siege. Crossing the Vulturnus, he laid waste the territory of Cales with fire.
Such calamities inflicted upon their allies had no effect in calling them off. He ordered his troops to march in hostile array to the very city of Rome. They despised the tempest which threatened them in this case also. Crossing the Anio, he pitched his camp three miles from the city, and lastly, came up to the very walls and gates. He gave them to understand that he would take their city from them, unless they gave up Capua. But they did not give it up. Wild beasts, impelled by headlong fury and rage, you may divert from their object to bring assistance to those belonging to them, if you attempt to approach their dens and their young.
The Romans could not be diverted from Capua by the blockade of Rome, by their wives and children, whose lamentations could almost be heard from this place, by their altars, their hearths,
the temples of their gods, and the sepulchres of their ancestors profaned and violated.
So great was their avidity to bring us to punishment, so insatiable their thirst for drinking our blood. Nor, perhaps, without reason. We too would have done the same had the opportunity been afforded us. Since, however, the gods have thought proper to determine it otherwise, though I ought not to shrink from death, while I am free, while I am master of myself, I have it in my power, by a death not only honourable but mild, to escape the tortures and indignities which the enemy hope to inflict upon me.
I will not see Appius Claudius and Quintus Fulvius in the pride and insolence of victory, nor will I be dragged in chains through Rome as a spectacle in a triumph, that afterwards in a dungeon, or tied to a stake, after my back has been lacerated with stripes, I may place my neck under a Roman axe.
I will neither see my native city demolished and burnt, nor the matrons, virgins, and freeborn youths of Campania dragged to constupration. Alba, from which they themselves derived their origin, they demolished from her foundations, that there might remain no trace of their rise and extraction;
much less can I believe they [p. 1036]
will spare Capua, towards which they bear a more rancorous hatred than towards Carthage. For such of you, therefore, as have a mind to yield to fate, before they behold such horrors, a banquet is furnished and prepared at my house.
When satiated with wine and food, the same cup which shall have been given to me shall be handed round to them. That potion will rescue our bodies from torture, our minds from insult, our eyes and ears from seeing and hearing all those cruelties and indignities which await the vanquished.
There will be persons in readiness who will throw our lifeless bodies upon a large pile kindled in the court-yard of the house. This is the only free and honourable way to death. Our very enemies will admire our courage, and Hannibal will learn that those whom he deserted and betrayed were brave allies.”