Flaminius, however, was not persuaded, but declared that he would not suffer the war to be brought near Rome, and that he would not, like Camillus of old, fight in the city for the city's defence. Accordingly, he ordered the tribunes to lead the army forth. But as Flaminius himself sprang upon his horse, for no apparent reason, and unaccountably, the animal was seized with quivering fright, and he was thrown and fell head foremost to the ground. Nevertheless, he in no wise desisted from his purpose, but since he had set out at the beginning to face Hannibal, drew up his forces near the lake called Thrasymené1
When the soldiers of both armies had engaged, at the very crisis of the battle, an earthquake occurred, by which cities were overthrown, rivers diverted from their channels, and fragments of cliffs torn away. And yet, although the disaster was so violent, no one of the combatants noticed it at all.
Flaminius himself, then, while displaying many deeds of daring and prowess, fell, and round about him the flower of his army. The rest were routed with much slaughter. Fifteen thousand were cut to pieces, and as many more taken prisoners. The body of Flaminius, to which Hannibal was eager to give honourable burial because of his valour, could not be found among the dead, but disappeared, no one ever knowing how.
Now of the defeat sustained at the Trebia,2
neither the general who wrote nor the messenger who was sent with the tidings gave a straightforward account, the victory being falsely declared uncertain and doubtful; but as soon as Pomponius the praetor heard of this second defeat, he called an assembly of the people, faced it, and without roundabout or deceptive phrases, but in downright fashion, said:
‘Men of Rome, we have been beaten in a great battle; our army has been cut to pieces; our consul, Flaminius, is dead. Take ye therefore counsel for your own salvation and safety.’
This speech of his fell like a tempest upon the great sea of people before him, and threw the city into commotion, nor could deliberate reasoning hold its own and stay the general consternation. But all were brought at last to be of one mind, namely, that the situation demanded a sole and absolute authority, which they call a dictatorship, and a man who would wield this authority with energy and without fear;
that Fabius Maximus, and he alone, was such a man, having a spirit and a dignity of character that fully matched the greatness of the office, and being moreover at the time of life when bodily vigour still suffices to carry out the counsels of the mind, and courage is tempered with prudence.