At the conclusion of this speech they prostrated themselves at the knees of Marcellus. Marcellus replied, that the question was neither within his authority nor his power; that he would, however, write to the senate, and be guided in every thing he did by the judgment of the fathers.
This letter was brought to the new consuls, and by them read in the senate; and, on the question being put relative to this letter, they decreed, “that the senate saw no reason why the interests of
the republic should be intrusted to the hands of soldiers who had deserted their comrades, in battle, at Cannae.
If Marcus Marcellus, the proconsul, thought otherwise, that he should act as he deemed consistent with the good of the republic and his own honour; with this proviso, however, that none of these men should be exempt from service, nor be presented with any military reward in consideration of valour, or be conveyed back to Italy, while the enemy was in that country.”
After this, agreeably to the decree of the senate, and the order of the people, an election was held by the city praetor, at which five commissioners were created for the purpose of repairing the walls and turrets, and two sets of triumviri; one to search for the property belonging to the temples, and to register the offerings;
the other for repairing the temples of Fortune and Mother Matuta within the Car- mental gate, and also that of Hope without the gate, which [p. 966]
had been destroyed by fire the year before. Dreadful storms occurred at this time. It rained stones for two days without intermission in the Alban mount.
Many places were struck by lightning; two buildings in the Capitol, the rampart in the camp above Suessula in many places, and two of the men on guard were killed. A wall and certain towers at Cumae were not only struck with lightning, but demolished.
At Reate, a vast rock was seen to fly about; the sun appeared unusually red and blood-like. On account of these prodigies there was a supplication for one day, and the consuls employed themselves for several days in sacred rites; at the same time there was a sacred rite performed through nine days.
An accidental circumstance which occurred at a distance, hastened the revolt of Tarentum, which had now for a long time been the object of the hopes of Hannibal and of the suspicion of the Romans.
Phileas, a native of Tarentum, who had been a long time at Rome under the pretence of an embassy, being a man of a restless mind, and ill brooking that inactive state in which he considered that his powers had been for too long a time sinking into imbecility, discovered for himself a means of access to the Tarentine hostages.
They were kept in the court of the temple of Liberty, and guarded with less care, because it was neither the interest of themselves nor of their state to escape from the Romans.
By corrupting two of the keepers of the temple, he was enabled to hold frequent conferences with them, at which he solicited them to come into this design;
and having brought them out of their place of confinement as soon as it was dark, he became the companion of their clandestine flight, and got clear away.
As soon as day dawned, the news of their escape spread through the city, and a party sent in pursuit, having seized them all at Tarracina, brought them back. They were led into the Comitium, and after being scourged with rods, with the approbation of the people, were thrown down from the rock.