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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book VI Chapter 23: War with the Volscians and Latins. Lucius Furius.[381 BC]
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The same eagerness for battle was felt by the Roman army and by Camillus' colleague. Nothing stood in the way of their hazarding an immediate engagement except the prudence and authority of one man, who was seeking an opportunity, by protracting the war, for aiding the strength of his force by strategy. This made the enemy more insistent; they not only deployed their lines in front of their camp, but even marched forward in the middle of the plain and showed their supercilious confidence in their numbers by advancing their standards close to the Roman intrenchments. This made the Romans indignant, still more so Lucius Furius. Young and naturally high-tempered, he was now infected with the hopefulness of the rank and file whose spirits were rising with very little to justify their confidence. He increased their excitement by belittling the authority of his colleague on the score of his age, the only possible reason he had for doing so; he declared that wars were the province of the younger men, for courage grows and decays in correspondence with the bodily powers. "Camillus," he said, "once a most active warrior, had now become a laggard; he, whose habit it had been, immediately on arriving at camps or cities, to take them at the first assault, was now wasting time and stagnating inside his lines. What accession to his own strength or diminution of the enemy's strength was he hoping for? What favourable chance, what opportune moment, what ground on which to employ his strategy? The old man's plans had lost all fire and life. Camillus had had his share of life as well as glory. What was gained by letting the strength of a State which ought to be immortal share in the senile decay of one mortal frame?" |
By speeches of this kind he had brought over the whole camp to his view and in many quarter they were demanding to be led to immediate battle. Addressing Camillus, he said: "Marcus Furius, we cannot resist the impetuosity of the soldiers, and the enemy to whom we have given fresh courage by our hesitation are now showing intolerable contempt for us. You are one against all; yield to the universal desire and allow yourself to be overcome in argument that you may the sooner overcome in battle."
In his reply, Camillus said that in all the wars he had waged down to that day, as sole commander, neither he nor the Roman people had had any reason to complain of either his generalship or his good fortune. Now he was aware that he had as a colleague one who was his equal in authority and rank, his superior in physical strength and activity. As for the army, he had been accustomed to direct and not to be directed, but as for his colleague, he could not hamper his authority. Let him do with the help of heaven whatever he considered best for the State. He begged that owing to his years he might be excused from being in the front line; whatever duties an old man could discharge in battle, in these he would not show himself lacking. He prayed to the immortal gods that no mischance might make them feel that his plan alter all was the best.
His salutory advice was not listened to by men, nor was his patriotic prayer heard by the gods. His colleague who had determined on battle drew up the front line, Camillus formed a powerful reserve and posted a strong force in front of the camp. He himself took his station on some rising ground and anxiously awaited the result of tactics so different from his own.