In the Roman camp also, when many fruitless efforts to force a passage had been made, and they were now destitute of every means of subsistence, forced by necessity, they send ambassadors, who were first to ask peace on equal terms;
which, if they did not obtain, they were to challenge the enemy to battle.
To this Pontius answered, that “the war was at an end; and since, even in their present vanquished [p. 564]
and captive state, they were not willing to acknowledge their situation, he would send them under the yoke unarmed, each with a single garment; that the other conditions of peace should be such as were just between the conquerors and the conquered.
If their troops would depart, and their colonies be withdrawn out of the territories of the Samnites; for the future, the Romans and Samnites, under a treaty of equality, shall live according to their own respective laws.
On these terms he was ready to negotiate with the consuls: and if any of these should not be accepted, he forbade the ambassadors to come to him again.”
When the result of this embassy was made known, such general lamentation suddenly arose, and such melancholy took possession of them, that had they been told that all were to die on the spot, they could not have felt deeper affliction.
After silence continued a long time, and the consuls were not able to utter a word, either in favour of a treaty so disgraceful, or against a treaty so necessary;
at length, Lucius Lentulus, who was the first among the lieutenants-general, both in respect of bravery, and of the public honours which he had attained, addressed them thus: “Consuls, I have often heard my father say, that he was the only person in the Capitol who did not advise the senate to ransom the state from the Gauls with gold; and these he would not concur in, because they had not been enclosed with a trench and rampart by the enemy, (who were remarkably slothful with respect to works and raising fortifications,) and because they might sally forth, if not without great danger, yet without certain destruction.
Now if, in like manner as they had it in their power to run down from the Capitol in arms against their foe, as men besieged have often sallied out on the besiegers, it were possible for us to come to blows with the enemy, either on equal or unequal ground, I would not be wanting in the high quality of my father's spirit in stating my advice.
I acknowledge, indeed, that death, in defence of our country, is highly glorious; and I am ready, either to devote myself for the Roman people and the legions, or to plunge into the midst of the enemy.
But in this spot I behold my country: in this spot, the whole of the Roman legions: and unless these choose to rush on death in defence of their own individual characters, what have they which can be preserved by their death?
The houses of the city, some may [p. 565]
say, and the walls of it, and the crowd who dwell in it, by which the city is inhabited. But in fact, in case of the destruction of this army, all these are betrayed, not preserved.
For who will protect them? An unwarlike and unarmed multitude, shall I suppose? Yes, just as they defended them against the attack of the Gauls.
Will they call to their succour an army from Veii, with Camillus at its head? Here, on the spot, I repeat, are all our hopes and strength; by preserving which, we preserve our country; by delivering them up to death, we abandon and betray our country.
But a surrender is shameful and ignominious. True: but such ought to be our affection for our country, that we should save it by our own disgrace, if necessity required, as freely as by our death.
Let therefore that indignity be undergone, how great soever, and let us submit to that necessity which even the gods themselves do not overcome. Go, consuls, ransom the state for arms, which your ancestors ransomed with gold.”