The Battle of Cannae

It is said that Fabius, the former dictator, conversed with AEmilius before his departure for the army, and gave him such counsel as his age and experience, and his knowledge of the character and operations of Hannibal, suggested to his mind. “If you had a colleague like yourself,” said he, ” I wouldy not offer you any advice; you would not need it. “Or, if you were yourself like your colleague, vain, self-conceited, and presumptuous, then I would be silent; counsel would be thrown away upon you. But as it is, while you have great judgment and ‘ – sagacity to guide you, you are to be placed in a situation of extreme difficulty and peril. If I am not mistaken, the greatest difficulty you will have to encounter will not be the open enemy you are going to meet upon the field. You will find, I think, that Varro will give you quite as much trouble as Hannibal. He will be presumptuous, reckless, and head strong. He will inspire all the rash and ardent young men in the army with his own enthusiastic folly, and we shall be very fortunate if we do not yet see the terrible and bloody scenes of Lake Trasimene acted again.

I am sure that the true policy for us to adopt is the one which I marked out. That is always the proper course for the invaded to pursue with invaders, where there is the least doubt of the success of a battle. We grow strong while Hannibal grows continually weaker by delay. He can only prosper so long as he can fight battles and perform brilliant exploits. If we deprive him of this power, his strength will be continually wasting away, and the spirit and courage of his men waning. He has now scarce a third part of the army which he had when he crossed the lberus, and nothing can save this remnant from destruction if we are wise.” AEmilius said, in reply to this, that he went into the contest with very little of encouragement or hope.

If Fabius had found it so difficult to withstand the turbulent influences of his master of horse, who was his subordinate officer, and, as such, under his command, how could he expect to restrain his colleague, who was entitled, by his office, to full equality with him. But, notwithstanding the difficulties which he foresaw, he was going to do his duty, and abide by the result; and if the result should be unfavorable, he should seek for death in the conflict, for death by Carthaginian spears was a far lighter evil, in his, view, than the displeasure and censures of his countrymen.