By thus fixing the thoughts of the people upon their relations with Heaven, Fabius made them more cheerful regarding the future. But he himself put all his hopes of victory in himself, believing that Heaven bestowed success by reason of wisdom and valour, and turned his attentions to Hannibal. He did not purpose to fight out the issue with him, but wished, having plenty of time, money, and men, to wear out and consume gradually his culminating vigour, his scanty resources, and his small army.
Therefore, always pitching his camp in hilly regions so as to be out of reach of the enemy's cavalry, he hung threateningly over them. If they sat still, he too kept quiet; but if they moved, he would fetch a circuit down from the heights and show himself just far enough away to avoid being forced to fight against his will, and yet near enough to make his very delays inspire the enemy with the fear that he was going to give battle at last. But for merely consuming time in this way he was generally despised by his countrymen, and roundly abused even in his own camp. Much more did his enemies think him a man of no courage and a mere nobody,—all except Hannibal.
He, and he alone, comprehended the cleverness of his antagonist, and the style of warfare which he had adopted. He therefore made up his mind that by every possible device and constraint his foe must be induced to fight, or else the Carthaginians were undone, since they were unable to use their weapons, in which they were superior, but were slowly losing and expending to no purpose their men and moneys, in which they were inferior. He therefore resorted to every species of strategic trick and artifice, and tried them all, seeking, like a clever athlete, to get a hold upon his adversary. Now he would attack Fabius directly, now he would seek to throw his forces into confusion, and now he would try to lead him off every whither, in his desire to divorce him from his safe, defensive plans.
But the purpose of Fabius, confident of a favourable issue, remained consistent and unchangeable. He was annoyed, however, by his Master of Horse, Minucius, who was eager to fight all out of season, and over bold, and who sought to win a following in the army, which he filled with mad impetuosity and empty hopes. The soldiers railed at Fabius and scornfully called him Hannibal's pedagogue; but Minucius they considered a great man, and a general worthy of Rome.
All the more therefore did he indulge his arrogance and boldness, and scoffed at their encampments on the heights, where, as he said, the dictator was always arranging beautiful theatres for their spectacle of Italy laid waste with fire and sword. And he would ask the friends of Fabius whether he was taking his army up into heaven, having lost all hope of earth, or whether he wrapped himself in clouds and mists merely to run away from the enemy.
When his friends reported this to Fabius, and advised him to do away with the opprobrium by risking battle,
‘In that case, surely,’ said he,
‘I should be a greater coward than I am now held to be, if through fear of abusive jests I should abandon my fixed plans. And verily the fear which one exercises in behalf of his country is not shameful; but to be frightened from one's course by the opinions of men, and by their slanderous censures, that marks a man unworthy of so high an office as this, who makes himself the slave of the fools over whom he is in duty bound to be lord and master.’