Young Folks' History of Rome HTML version
16. The War With Pyrrhus, B.C. 280-271
In the Grecian History you remember that Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, the townsman of
Alexander the Great, made an expedition to Italy. This was the way it came about. The
city of Tarentum was a Spartan colony at the head of the gulf that bears its name. It was
as proud as its parent, but had lost all the grave sternness of manners, and was as idle and
fickle as the other places in that languid climate. The Tarentines first maltreated some
Roman ships which put into their gulf, and then insulted the ambassador who was sent to
complain. Then when the terrible Romans were found to be really coming to revenge
their honor, the Tarentines took fright, and sent to beg Pyrrhus to come to their aid.
He readily accepted the invitation, and coming to Italy with 28,000 men and twenty
elephants, hoped to conquer the whole country; but he found the Tarentines not to be
trusted, and soon weary of entertaining him, while they could not keep their promises of
aid from the other Greeks of Italy.
The Romans marched against him, and there was a great battle on the banks of the river
Siris, where the fighting was very hard, but when the elephants charged the Romans
broke and fled, and were only saved by nightfall from being entirely destroyed. So great,
however, had been Pyrrhus' loss that he said, "Such another victory, and I shall have to go
back alone to Epirus."
He thought he had better treat with the Romans, and sent his favorite counsellor Kineas to
offer to make peace, provided the Romans would promise safety to his Italian allies, and
presents were sent to the senators and their wives to induce them to listen favorably.
People in ancient Greece expected such gifts to back a suit; but Kineas found that nobody
in Rome would hear of being bribed, though many were not unwilling to make peace.
Blind old Appius Claudius, who had often been consul, caused himself to be led into the
Senate to oppose it, for it was hard to his pride to make peace as defeated men. Kineas
was much struck with Rome, where he found a state of things like the best days of
Greece, and, going back to his master, told him that the senate-house was like a temple,
and those who sat there like an assembly of kings, and that he feared they were fighting
with the Hydra of Lerna, for as soon as they had destroyed one Roman army another had
sprung up in its place.
However, the Romans wanted to treat about the prisoners Pyrrhus had taken, and they
sent Caius Fabricius to the Greek camp for the purpose. Kineas reported him to be a man
of no wealth, but esteemed as a good soldier and an honest man. Pyrrhus tried to make
him take large presents, but nothing would Fabricius touch; and then, in the hope of
alarming him, in the middle of a conversation the hangings of one side of the tent
suddenly fell, and disclosed the biggest of all the elephants, who waved his trunk over
Fabricius and trumpeted frightfully. The Roman quietly turned round and smiled as he
said to the king, "I am no more moved by your gold than by your great beast."
At supper there was a conversation on Greek philosophy, of which the Romans as yet
knew nothing. When the doctrine of Epicurus was mentioned, that man's life was given to
be spent in the pursuit of joy, Fabricius greatly amused the company by crying out, "O
Hercules! grant that the Greeks may be heartily of this mind so long as we have to fight
Pyrrhus even tried to persuade Fabricius to enter his service, but the answer was, "Sir. I
advise you not; for if your people once tasted of my rule, they would all desire me to