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Quote of the day: That he wondered how any general, before
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History of Rome (Ab Urbe Condita) by Livy
Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book XXXVIII Chapter 43: Answer of Scipio[205 BC]
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This speech of Fabius, so appropriate to the circumstances under which it was delivered, and backed up by the weight of his character and his long-established reputation for prudence, produced a great effect upon most of those present, especially upon the seniors. Seeing that the majority approved of the sage counsels of age in preference to the impetuous temper of youth, Scipio is reported to have made the following reply: Senators, at the beginning of his speech, Quintus Fabius admitted that what he had to say might lay him under a suspicion of jealousy. Personally, I should not dare to accuse so great a man of that weakness, but either through the inadequacy of his defence or the impossibility of making a successful one, he has utterly failed to clear himself of the charge. For in his anxiety to dispel the suspicion, he spoke about his distinctions and his reputation in such exaggerated terms as to give the impression that I was in danger of finding a rival in the lowest of the Romans, not in him who, because he stands above all others a position which I frankly confess I am striving to attain, denies the possibility of any rivalry between us. He has represented himself as an old man full of honours, and me as a youth not even as old as his son, as if the passion for glory did not extend beyond the span of human life and find its chief satisfaction in the memory of future generations. I am quite certain that it is the lot of all great men to compare themselves not with their contemporaries alone, but also with the illustrious of all ages. I admit, Quintus Fabius, that I am desirous not only of equalling your renown but forgive my saying so surpassing it, if I can. Let not your feeling towards me, or mine towards my juniors, be such that we would prevent any of our fellow-citizens from reaching our level. That would not only injure the victims of our envy, it would be a loss to the State, and almost to the human race. The speaker dwelt upon the danger to which I should be exposed if I landed in Africa, showing apparently solicitude not only for the common-wealth and its army but even for me. What has led to this sudden anxiety on my account? When my father [Note 1] and my uncle [Note 2] were killed and their armies all but annihilated; when Spain was lost; when four Carthaginian armies and their generals were holding the whole country down by the terror of their arms; when you were looking for a man to take the supreme command in that war and no one appeared, no one came forward to offer himself but me; when the Roman people conferred the supreme command on me before I had reached my twenty-fifth year - why did no one then say anything about my age, the strength of the enemy, the difficulties of the campaign or the recent disaster which had overtaken my father and my uncle? Has some calamity occurred recently in Africa greater than the one which happened then in Spain? Are there larger armies and better and more numerous commanders in Africa now than there were then in Spain? Was I then at a riper age for undertaking a great war than I am today? Is Spain a more convenient field for operations against the Carthaginians than Africa? Now that I have scattered four Carthaginian armies in flight, reduced so many cities by force or fear, and subjugated every part down to the shores of the ocean, petty kings and savage tribes alike; now that I have reconquered the whole of Spain so completely that no vestige of war anywhere remains, it is an easy task to make light of my services, as easy, in fact, as it will be, when I have returned victorious from Africa, to make light of those very difficulties which are now painted in such dark colours in order to keep me here. Fabius says that no part of Africa is accessible, that there are no harbours open to us. He tells us that Marcus Atilius Regulus was made prisoner in Africa, as though he had met with misfortune as soon as he landed [Note 3]. He forgets that that very commander, unfortunate as he was afterwards, did find some harbours in Africa open to him, and for the first twelve months won some brilliant victories, and as far as the Carthaginian generals were concerned, remained undefeated to the last. You will not, therefore, deter me by quoting that instance. Even if that disaster had occurred in this war instead of in the last one, quite recently and not forty years ago - even then why should I be prevented from invading Africa because Regulus was made prisoner any more than I was prevented from going to Spain after the two Scipios were killed? I should be sorry to believe that Xanthippus, the Lacedaemonian, was born to be a greater blessing to Carthage than I am to be to my country, and my confidence is strengthened by seeing what tremendous issues depend upon one man's courage. We have had to listen even to stories about the Athenians, how they neglected the war at their doors in order to go to Sicily. Well, since you are at leisure to tell us tales about Greece why do you not mention Agathocles, king of Syracuse, who after Sicily had long been wasted by the flames of the Punic War sailed [Note 4] across to this same Africa and turned the tide of war back to the country from which it had started?"

Note 1: father = Publius Scipio
Note 2: uncle = Gnaeus Scipio
Atilius Regulus defeated and taken prisoner (254 BC) War of Agathocles against Carthage (311-309 BC)

Events: Expedition of Alcibiades to Syracuse, War of Agathocles against Carthage