From Aulus Gellius’ Attic Nights (4.18). Not to assert wrongdoing on his part but my modern sensibility finds these tales more amusing if I imagine Scipio here as testing the limits of his own capacity to pull off a bluff.
Some stories of the elder Publius Africanus, taken from the annals and well worth relating.
How greatly the earlier Scipio Africanus excelled in the splendour of his merits, how lofty and noble of spirit he was, and to what an extent he was upheld by consciousness of his own rectitude, is evident from many of his words and acts. Among these are the following two instances of his extreme self-confidence and sense of superiority.
When Marcus Naevius, tribune of the commons, accused him before the people and declared that he had received money from king Antiochus to make peace with him in the name of the Roman people on favourable and easy terms, and when the tribune added sundry other charges which were unworthy of so great a man, then Scipio, after a few preliminary remarks such as were called for by the dignity and renown of his life, said: “I recall, fellow citizens, that this is the day on which in Africa in a mighty battle I conquered Hannibal the Carthaginian, the most bitter enemy of your power, and won for you a splendid peace and a glorious victory. Let us then not be ungrateful to the gods, but, I suggest, let us leave this worthless fellow, and go at once to render thanks to Jupiter, greatest and best of gods.” So saying, he turned away and set out for the Capitol. Thereupon the whole assembly, which had gathered to pass judgment on Scipio, left the tribune, accompanied Scipio to the Capitol, and then escorted him to his home with the joy and expressions of gratitude suited to a festal occasion. The very speech is in circulation which is believed to have been delivered that day by Scipio, and those who deny its authenticity at least admit that these words which I have quoted were spoken by Scipio.
There is also another celebrated act of his. Certain Petilii, tribunes of the commons, influenced they say by Marcus Cato, Scipio’s personal enemy, and instigated to appear against him, insisted most vigorously in the senate on his rendering an account of the money of Antiochus and of the booty taken in that war; for he had been deputy to his brother Lucius Scipio Asiaticus, the commander in that campaign. Thereupon Scipio arose, and taking a roll from the fold of his toga, said that it contained an account of all the money and all the booty; that he had brought it to be publicly read and deposited in the treasury. “But that,” said he, “I shall not do now, nor will I so degrade myself.” And at once, before them all, he tore the roll across with his own hands and rent it into bits, indignant that an account of money taken in war should be required of him, to whose account the salvation of the Roman State and its power ought to be credited.
De P. Africano superiore sumpta quaedam ex annalibus memoratu dignissima.
Scipio Africanus antiquior quanta virtutum gloria praestiterit et quam fuerit altus animi atque magnificus et qua sui conscientia subnixus, plurimis rebus quae dixit quaeque fecit declaratum est. Ex quibus sunt haec duo exempla eius fiduciae atque exuperantiae ingentis.
Cum M. Naevius tribunus plebis accusaret eum ad populum diceretque accepisse a rege Antiocho pecuniam, ut condicionibus gratiosis et mollibus pax cum eo populi Romani nomine fieret, et quaedam item alia crimini daret indigna tali viro, tum Scipio pauca praefatus quae dignitas vitae suae atque gloria postulabat, “Memoria,” inquit, “Quirites, repeto, diem esse hodiernum quo Hannibalem Poenum imperio vestro inimicissimum magno proelio vici in terra Africa pacemque et victoriam vobis peperi spectabilem. Non igitur simus adversum deos ingrati et, censeo, relinquamus nebulonem hunc, eamus hinc protinus Iovi optimo maximo gratulatum.” Id cum dixisset, avertit et ire ad Capitolium coepit. Tum contio universa, quae ad sententiam de Scipione ferendam convenerat, relicto tribuno, Scipionem in Capitolium comitata atque inde ad aedes eius cum laetitia et gratulatione sollemni prosecuta est. Fertur etiam oratio quae videtur habita eo die a Scipione, et qui dicunt eam non veram, non eunt infitias quin haec quidem verba fuerint, quae dixi, Scipionis.
Item aliud est factum eius praeclarum. Petilii quidam tribuni plebis a M., ut aiunt, Catone, inimico Scipionis, comparati in eum atque inmissi, desiderabant in senatu instantissime ut pecuniae Antiochinae praedaeque in eo bello captae rationem redderet; fuerat enim L. Scipioni Asiatico, fratri suo, imperatori in ea provincia legatus. Ibi Scipio exurgit et, prolato e sinu togae libro, rationes in eo scriptas esse dixit omnis pecuniae omnisque praedae; illatum, ut palam recitaretur et ad aerarium deferretur. “Sed enim id iam non faciam,” inquit, “nec me ipse afficiam contumelia,” eumque librum statim coram discidit suis manibus et concerpsit, aegre passus quod cui salus imperii ac reipublicae accepta ferri deberet rationem pecuniae praedatae posceretur.