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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book IX Chapter 4: War with the Samnites. Speech of Lentulus.[321 BC]
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Neither of these plans was approved and Herennius was carried home from the camp.|
In the Roman camp, after many fruitless attempts had been made to break out and they found themselves at last in a state of utter destitution, necessity compelled them to send envoys to the Samnites to ask in the first instance for fair terms of peace, and failing that to challenge them to battle. Pontius replied that all war was at an end, and since even now that they were vanquished and captured they were incapable of acknowledging their true position, he should deprive them of their arms and send them under the yoke, allowing them to retain one garment each. The other conditions would he fair to both victors and vanquished. If they evacuated Samnium and withdrew their colonists from his country, the Roman and the Samnite would henceforth live under their own laws as sovereign states united by a just and honourable treaty. On these conditions he was ready to conclude a treaty with the consuls, if they rejected any of them he forbade any further overtures to be made to him.
When the result was announced, such a universal cry of distress arose, such gloom and melancholy prevailed, that they evidently could not have taken it more heavily if it had been announced to them all that they must die on the spot. Then followed a long silence. The consuls were unable to breathe a word either in favour of a capitulation so humiliating or against one so necessary. At last Lucius Lentulus, of all the staff-officers the most distinguished, both by his personal qualities and the offices he had held, spoke: "I have often," he said, "heard my father, consuls, say that he was the only one in the Capitol who refused to ransom the City from the Gauls with gold, for the force in the Capitol was not invested and shut in with fosse and rampart, as the Gauls were to indolent to undertake that sort of work; it was therefore quite possible for them to make a sortie involving, perhaps, heavy loss, but not certain destruction. If we had the same chance of fighting, whether on favourable or unfavourable ground, which they had of charging down upon the foe from the capitol, in the same way as the besieged have often made sorties against their besiegers, I should not fall behind my father's spirit and courage in the advice which I should give. To die for one's country is, I admit, a glorious thing, and as concerns myself I am ready to devote myself for the people and legions of Rome or to plunge into the midst of the enemy. But it is here that I beheld my country, it is on this spot that all the legions which Rome possesses are gathered, and unless they wish to rush to death for their own sakes, to save their honour, what else have they that they can save by their death. "The dwellings of the City," somebody may reply, "and its walls, and that crowd of human beings who form its population." Nay, on the contrary, all these things are not saved, they are handed over to the enemy if this army is annihilated. For who will protect them? A defenceless multitude of non-combatants, I suppose; as successfully as it defended them from the approach of the Gauls. Or will they implore the help of an army from Veii with Camillus at its head? Here and here alone are all our hopes, all our strength. If we save these we save our country, if we give these up to death we desert and betray our country. "Yes," you say, "but surrender is base and ignominious." It is; but true affection for our country demands that we should preserve it, if need be, by our disgrace as much as by our death. However great then the indignity, we must submit to it and yield to the compulsion of necessity, a compulsion which the gods themselves cannot evade! Go, consuls, give up your arms as a ransom for that State which your ancestors ransomed with gold!"