Then Spurius Maelius, of the equestrian1
a man for those times very rich, undertook to do a useful thing in a way that set a very bad example and had a motive still worse.
For having [p. 301]
bought up corn in Etruria with his own money,3
through the agency of friends and clients there — which very circumstance had hindered, I can well believe, the public efforts to bring down prices —he set about distributing it gratis.
The plebeians were captivated by this munificence; wherever he went, conspicuous and important beyond the measure of a private citizen, they followed in his train; and the devotion and hope he inspired in them gave him no uncertain assurance of the consulship.
He himself, so insatiable of fortune's promises is the heart of man, began to cherish a loftier and less allowable ambition; and since even the consulship would have to be wrested from unwilling nobles, considered how he might be king: nothing else, he felt, would adequately reward him for his elaborate schemes and the toil and moil of the great struggle he must make.
The consular election was now at hand, and found him with his plans not yet fully ripened.
For the sixth time Titus Quinctius Capitolinus was chosen consul, a most unsuitable man for the purposes of a would-be revolutionary.
For colleague he was given Agrippa Menenius, surnamed Lanatus; and Lucius Minucius either was reappointed prefect of the corn-supply or had been named for an indefinite period, so long as the situation should require; for authorities do not agree, but the name of the prefect is entered in the Linen Rolls among the magistrates for both years.
This Minucius was discharging the same function in his public capacity which Maelius had undertaken to perform as a private citizen, and the same sort of men4
were coming and going in both their houses.
Thus Minucius discovered the affair and reported to the senate that weapons were [p. 303]
being collected at the house of Maelius, that he5
was haranguing people there, and that they were certainly contriving a kingdom; the time for executing the plot was not yet fixed; all else had been agreed upon: the tribunes had been bribed to betray liberty, and the leaders of the mob had been assigned their parts. He said that he had withheld his report of these things almost longer than was safe, that he might not become voucher for anything of an uncertain or trivial nature.
On hearing this the leaders of the senate loudly blamed the consuls of the year before because they had suffered these donations and plebeian gatherings to take place in a private house, and the new consuls because they had waited till information of so grave a crime was laid before the senate by the prefect of the corn-supply, though it wanted a consul not only to report it but to punish it;
but Quinctius said that the consuls were blamed unjustly, for, constrained by the laws of appeal, which had been enacted in order to break down their authority, they had by no means so much power in their office as they had will to punish so heinous an offence in the way it deserved. There was need, he continued, of a man, and one who was not only brave, but free and unfettered by the laws.
He would therefore name Lucius Quinctius dictator; there was a spirit whose stature was equal to that great power. Despite the universal approval of this step, Quinctius at first refused, and asked what they meant by exposing him at the end of his life to so fierce a struggle.
Then, when men called out on every side that there was not only more wisdom but more courage in that old man's heart than in all the rest and loaded him with not [p. 305]
unmerited compliments, and when the consul would6
not recede from his purpose, at length Cincinnatus uttered a prayer to the immortal gods that they would not suffer his old age to bring harm or shame to the republic in so perilous a case, and was pronounced dictator by the consul. He then himself named Gaius Servilius Ahala his master of the horse.