The Elephants Routed
After such a murderous battle as that of Heraclea, Pyrrhus shrank from meeting the Romans again, in spite of all his bravery. He therefore sent the eloquent Cineas to Rome, to try and make peace. But the fine speeches of the orator had no effect, and when Pyrrhus tried to bribe the senators to do as he wished, he found that this, also, was in vain.
Fabricius, the Roman ambassador, came to his tent, and Pyrrhus tried to frighten him into submission by placing an elephant behind the drapery and making it trumpet all at once. Fabricius had never heard such a frightful sound in his life, and fancied that his last hour had come; but he remained firm in his refusal to make peace.
Eloquence, bribery, and intimidation having all three failed, Pyrrhus again made ready to fight. The Romans, in the mean while, had collected another army. They were now accustomed to the sight of the fighting elephants, and their trumpeting no longer inspired them with fear. They met Pyrrhus once more at Asculum, and were again defeated; but their loss was not so great as that of the enemy.
The Romans were not ready to despair, in spite of their defeat. Of course they one and all hated Pyrrhus, yet they knew that he was an honorable foe, and they would therefore meet him in fair fight. So, when a doctor wrote to Fabricius, offering to poison his master, Pyrrhus, the honest Roman was indignant.
Instead of answering this treacherous letter, Fabricius sent it to Pyrrhus, bidding him beware lest the dishonest doctor should take his life. This warning, sent by an enemy, filled Pyrrhus with admiration for the Roman general's virtue, and he warmly cried:
"It would be as easy to turn the sun from its course, as thee from the path of honor, most noble Fabricius!"
Instead of continuing the war, Pyrrhus now sent back all the prisoners he had made, and offered a truce. This was accepted, and Pyrrhus passed over to Sicily, which he hoped to conquer more easily. But he was soon forced to return to Italy, and when he left the fertile island he regretfully said:
"What a fine battlefield we are leaving here for Rome and Carthage!" And, as you will see in the course of this story, this was true.
On the return of Pyrrhus to Italy, a final encounter took place between him and the army of Rome. Here the Romans pelted the fighting elephants with balls of rosin and flax, which they had set afire. The elephants, terrified by these missiles, and maddened with pain, turned to flee, trampling to death the soldiers of their own army.
Then the Romans took advantage of the confusion, and, when the battle was over, Pyrrhus returned home to mourn the loss of twenty-three thousand brave fighting men.
His hopes of conquering Italy were ended; but, as he still wished to rival Alexander, he next tried to become master of Greece. While he was fighting in this country, however, his career was cut short. Once when he was forcing his way through a city street, an old woman, standing on the roof of her house, dropped a tile on his head with such force that he was killed.
The Tarentines, deserted by Pyrrhus, yet unwilling to submit to Rome, began to look for another ally. The most powerful one they could find was Carthage, the city founded by Dido, so they sent there for aid.
In spite of the Carthaginian vessels, however, the Romans soon became masters of Tarentum. The walls of the city were all torn down, but the inhabitants were spared, and were allowed to continue their commerce under the protection of Rome.
The war was ended, and the army returned to Rome, where a magnificent triumph was awarded to the victorious consul. In the procession there were four of the fighting elephants which the Romans had captured, and all the people gazed in awe and wonder at the huge creatures, which they then saw for the first time.