When they learned that Hannibal, after the battle, had turned aside into the other parts of Italy, they plucked up courage and sent out commanders with armies. The most illustrious of these were Fabius Maximus and Claudius Marcellus, men who were similarly admired for directly opposite characters.
The latter, as has been stated in his Life,1
was a man of splendid and impetuous actions, with an arm of ready vigour, and by nature like the men whom Homer is wont to call
‘fond of battle,’ and
‘eager for the fray.’ He therefore conducted his first engagements in the venturesome and reckless style of warfare which met the daring of such a man as Hannibal with an equal daring.
Fabius, on the contrary, clung to his first and famous convictions, and looked to see Hannibal, if only no one fought with him or harassed him, become his own worst enemy, wear himself out in the war, and speedily lose his high efficiency, like an athlete whose bodily powers have been overtaxed and exhausted. It was for these reasons, as Poseidonius says, that the Romans called Fabius their buckler, and Marcellus their sword, and that the mingling of the firm steadfastness of the one with the versatility of the other proved the salvation of Rome.
By his frequent encounters with Marcellus, whose course was like that of a swiftly-flowing river, Hannibal saw his forces shaken and swept away; while by Fabius, whose course was slow, noiseless, and unceasing in its stealthy hostility, they were imperceptibly worn away and consumed. And finally he was brought to such a pass that he was worn out with fighting Marcellus, and afraid of Fabius when not fighting.
For it was with these two men that he fought almost all the time, as they held the offices of praetor, pro-consul, or consul; and each of them was consul five times. However, when Marcellus was serving as consul for the fifth time, Hannibal led him into an ambush and slew him2
; but he had no success against Fabius, although he frequently brought all sorts of deceitful tests to bear upon him. Once, it is true, he did deceive the man, and came near giving him a disastrous overthrow.
He composed and sent to Fabius letters purporting to come from the chief men of Metapontum, assuring him that their city would be surrendered to him if he should come there, and that those who were contriving the surrender only waited for him to come and show himself in the neighbourhood. These letters moved Fabius to action, and he proposed to take a part of his force and set out by night. Then he got unfavourable auspices and was turned from his purpose by them, and in a little while it was discovered that the letters which had come to him were cunning forgeries by Hannibal, who had laid an ambush for him near the city. This escape, however, may be laid to the favour of the gods.