Keeping their armed men at the same distance the generals, each attended by one interpreter, met, being not only the greatest of their own age, but equal to any of the kings or commanders of all nations in all history before their time.
For a moment they remained silent, looking at each other and almost dumbfounded by mutual admiration.
Then Hannibal was the first to speak: "If it was foreordained by fate that I, who was the first to make war upon the Roman people and who have so often had the victory almost in my grasp, should come forward to sue for peace, I rejoice that destiny has given me you, and no one else, to whom I should bring my suit.
For you also, among your many distinctions, it will prove not the least of your honours [p. 475]
that Hannibal, to whom the gods have given the1
victory over so many Roman generals, has submitted to you, and that you have made an end of this war, which was memorable at first for your disasters and then for ours.
This also may prove to be Fortune's mocking sport, that having taken up arms when your father was consul, and having fought with him my first battle with a Roman general, I come to his son unarmed to sue for peace.
It would indeed have been best if the gods had given our fathers the disposition to be contented, you with rule over Italy and us in turn with ruling Africa.2
For even for you Sicily and Sardinia have been no adequate compensation for the loss of so many fleets, so many armies, so many remarkable generals. But the past is sooner disapproved than changed for the better.
In grasping at what was not ours we fell to fighting for our own; and for us Carthaginians it came to be a war not in Italy alone, nor for you entirely in Africa. On the contrary you have seen the enemy's standards and arms almost at your gates and walls, just as we can hear from Carthage the noise of a Roman camp.
Consequently we discuss terms of peace while Fortune is favouring you —a situation most ominous for us, while you could pray for nothing better. We who are treating have the most to gain by peace, and furthermore, whatever terms we are to make our states will ratify. We need only a temper not averse to measures calmly considered.
"As for myself, age has at last taught me, returning as an old man to my native city, from [p. 477]
which I set out as a boy, success and failure have at3
last so schooled me that I prefer to follow reason rather than chance.
In your case I am apprehensive alike of your youth and of your unbroken success, both of them too refractory for the demands of calmly considered measures.
It is not easy for a man whom fortune has never deceived to weigh uncertain chances.4
What I was at Trasumennus, at Cannae, that you are today.
Although you had received a command when hardly of an age to serve,5
and undertook everything with the greatest boldness, nowhere has fortune deluded you.
By avenging the death of your father and uncle you won from the disaster to your family signal honour for courage and extraordinary devotion. You recovered the lost Spanish provinces by driving out of them four Punic armies.
Elected consul, while the rest lacked courage to defend Italy, you crossed over to Africa; and by destroying two armies here, by taking and at the same time burning two camps in the same hour, by capturing Syphax, a most powerful king, by seizing so many cities of his kingdom, so many in our domain, you dragged me away when now for sixteen years I had clung to the possession of Italy.
It is possible for the heart to prefer victory to a peace. I know those aspirations that soar but are ineffectual; on me too such fortune as yours once shone.
But if in prosperity the gods blessed us with sound reason also, we should be reflecting not merely upon what has happened but also upon what can happen. Though you forget everything else, I am a sufficient warning against all that may chance. For it was I that, pitching my camp not long ago6
between the Anio and your city, was advancing my standards [p. 479]
and now almost scaling the walls of Rome.
bereft of my two brothers, the bravest of men, the most eminent of generals, you see me before the walls of my native city, already almost invested, and I am praying that she may be spared the terrors which I brought to yours.
"The greatest good fortune is always the least to be trusted.
In your favourable circumstances, in our uncertain situation, peace, if you grant it, will bring you honour and glory;8
for us who sue it is necessary rather than honourable. Better and safer is an assured peace than a victory hoped for. The one is in your own power, the other in the hands of the gods.
Do not commit the success of so many years to the test of a single hour.
Bear in mind not only your own resources but also the might of Fortune and the impartial god of war. On both sides will be the sword, on both sides human bodies. Nowhere less than in war do results match men's hopes.
You will not add so much glory, if victorious in battle, to what you can now have by granting peace, as you will lose in case of any reverse.9
The fortune of a single hour can lay low honours already won, and with them those in prospect. In making peace, Publius Cornelius, you have everything in your own power.
In the other case you will have to bear the lot which the gods may give.
Among the foremost examples of success and courage would have been Marcus Atilius10
formerly in this same land, if as victor he had granted the peace which our fathers [p. 481]
requested. But by setting no limit to his success11
and not reining in an unruly fortune, the higher he had climbed the more terribly did he fall.
"It belongs, to be sure, to the giver of peace, not to the suitor, to name the terms. But possibly we may not be unworthy to impose a penalty upon ourselves.
We do not reject the condition that all the possessions for which we went to war shall be yours —Sicily,
Spain, and any islands existing in all the sea between Africa and Italy.
Let us Carthaginians, confined by the coasts of Africa, behold you ruling under your authority even foreign countries by land and sea,13
since that has been the will of the gods. I would not deny that, on account of a lack of sincerity in
our recent suit for peace, and because we did not wait for it, Punic honour for you Romans is now tainted with suspicion. For the faithful observance of a peace much depends, Scipio, on the persons by whom the suit is presented.
Your senators also have refused the peace,14
I hear, partly for the reason that the embassy was lacking in dignity.
I, Hannibal, am suing for peace, I who should not be so doing if I did not think it an advantageous peace; and I shall uphold it because of the same advantage on account of which I have sued for it.
And just as I, having begun the war, therefore made sure —until the gods themselves became envious —that no one should regret it, so will I strive to prevent any man from regretting the peace obtained through me.