The Romans were considered by foreign peoples to be skilful in carrying on war and formidable fighters; but of gentleness and humanity and, in a word, of civil virtues, they had given no proofs, and at this time Marcellus seems to have been the first to show the Greeks that the Romans were the more observant of justice.
For such was his treatment of those who had to do with him, and so many were the benefits which he conferred both upon cities and private persons, that, if the people of Enna or Megara or Syracuse met with any indignities, the blame for these was thought to belong to the sufferers rather than to the perpetrators. And I will mention one instance out of many. There is a city of Sicily called Engyium, not large, but very ancient, and famous for the appearance there of goddesses, who are called Mothers.1
The temple is said to have been built by Cretans, and certain spears were shown there, and bronze helmets; some of these bore the name of Meriones, and others that of Ulysses (that is, Odysseus), who had consecrated them to the goddesses. This city, which most ardently favoured the Carthaginian cause, Nicias, its leading citizen, tried to induce to go over to the Romans, speaking openly and boldly in the assemblies and arguing the unwisdom of his opponents.
But they, fearing his influence and authority, planned to arrest him and deliver him up to the Carthaginians. Nicias, accordingly, becoming aware at once of their design and of their secret watch upon him, gave utterance in public to unbecoming speeches about the Mothers, and did much to show that he rejected and despised the prevalent belief in their manifestations, his enemies meanwhile rejoicing that he was making himself most to blame for his coming fate.
But just as they were ready to arrest him, an assembly of the citizens was held, and here Nicias, right in the midst of some advice that he was giving to the people, suddenly threw himself upon the ground, and after a little while, amid the silence and consternation which naturally prevailed, lifted his head, turned it about, and spoke in a low and trembling voice, little by little raising and sharpening its tones. And when he saw the whole audience struck dumb with horror, he tore off his mantle, rent his tunic, and leaping up half naked, ran towards the exit from the theatre, crying out that he was pursued by the Mothers.
No man venturing to lay hands upon him or even to come in his way, out of superstitious fear, but all avoiding him, he ran out to the gate of the city, freely using all the cries and gestures that would become a man possessed and crazed. His wife also, who was privy to his scheme, taking her children with her, first prostrated herself in supplication before the temples of the gods, and then, pretending to seek her wandering husband, no man hindering her, went safely forth out of the city.
Thus they all escaped to Marcellus at Syracuse. But when Marcellus, after many transgressions and insults on the part of the men of Engyium, came and put them all in chains in order to punish them, then Nicias, standing by, burst into tears, and finally, clasping the hands and knees of Marcellus, begged the lives of his fellow citizens, beginning with his enemies. Marcellus relented, set them all free, and did their city no harm; he also bestowed upon Nicias ample lands and many gifts. At any rate, this story is told by Poseidonius the philosopher.