After the great victory of Heraclea, Pyrrhus sent his minister Cineas to Rome to offer terms of peace.
Cineas was an orator. By the magic of his word he could sway men's minds and wills, and it was said that he, by his tongue, had won more cities than Pyrrhus by his sword.
Between the eloquence of Cineas and the fear of another defeat, the Senate wavered—almost it was tempted to accept the terms offered by the conqueror of Heraclea.
As the Senate hesitated, Appius Claudius, who was now old and blind, appeared before the Assembly, leaning upon the arms of his sons. He had heard that the Senate thought of accepting the terms of the conqueror, and old and feeble as he was, he had come to protest against so disloyal a deed.
"Hitherto, Fathers," said the old man, "I used to mourn that I was deprived of the light of the eye; now, however, I should consider myself happy, if, in addition to that, I had lost the sense of hearing, that I might not hear the disgraceful counsels which are here openly proposed to the shame of the Roman name. . . . Whither have your pride and your courage flown?"
Weak as the old man was, he spoke with such passion and such wisdom, that when he ended, there was not a single member of the Senate who was not prepared to vote that war should continue until Pyrrhus had been forced to withdraw from Italy.
Cineas, as he listened to the passionate words of Appius Claudius, knew that his cause was lost. He was indeed bidden to hasten back to his master and say that the Romans would never make peace with him, no, not if he "should have defeated a thousand such as the Consul Valerius."
Meanwhile Pyrrhus had marched north, to Capua, hoping to seize the town, only, however, to find that Valerius had already taken possession of it.
Disappointed as he was, the king continued his march until he was within twenty-three miles of Rome. And as he marched Valerius followed, harassing his rear on every possible occasion.
Then Pyrrhus, hearing that a Dictator had been appointed and was ready to oppose him, retreated to Tarentum, where he spent the winter months.
The victory of Heraclea had been followed only by a useless march.
During the winter an embassy, led by Fabricius, came from Rome to Tarentum, to offer an exchange of prisoners.
Cineas advised the King to try to bribe the Roman. So Pyrrhus offered Fabricius splendid gifts, but he answered proudly, "If I am base how can I be worth a bribe, if honest how can you expect me to take one? Poverty with honesty is more to be desired than wealth."
Then Pyrrhus, finding that the advice of Cineas had been useless, determined to try a plan of his own. Perhaps he would be able to frighten Fabricius into doing as he wished, and this is the strange way he chose.
He ordered his largest elephant to be placed in the room in which he and the Roman were to meet. The elephant was to be hidden by a curtain, which at a signal from the king was to be drawn aside.
So the next day when Pyrrhus and the ambassador met, their conversation was suddenly interrupted, and the Roman to his astonishment found himself standing close to a huge beast, whose trunk and tusks would have looked formidable enough even to a strong soldier, while Fabricius was an old man.
But when the elephant began to trumpet, the Roman only laughed, and without stirring he said, "The beast cannot move me to-day more than your gold yesterday."
Fabricius had easily guessed the meaning of the strange interruption, and of the appearance of the huge animal in the king's sitting-room.
Pyrrhus saw that it was hopeless to try to come to terms with the Roman, and he again prepared for war.
Early in 279 b.c. he marched into Apulia, and there, near the town of Asculum, another great battle was fought.
The Romans had learned to dread the terrible war-elephants which accompanied Pyrrhus on the battlefield. To cope with them, they had wagons built, with spikes fixed to the wheels. These wagons were filled with soldiers, who carried javelins, ready to throw at the dread beasts.
But Pyrrhus made these precautions of little use, for he sent the elephants to a part of the field where no wagons had been placed.
Long and terrible was the struggle between the two armies.
The elephants, with archers scattered among them, advanced in a closely-formed body upon the Romans, while the Greeks, using their swords, seemed heedless of their wounds, so only they might get to close quarters with the enemy. But here, as at Heraclea, the elephants dashed upon the Romans before they were aware, and they were forced to flee.
Pyrrhus and many of his officers were wounded, and although the day was theirs, they were soon glad to retire to Tarentum, until their wounds were healed.
The victory of Asculum seemed of as little use as that of Heraclea, for when his wound was healed, Pyrrhus found that so many of his men had perished, that he could not again take the field until reinforcements arrived from Epirus.
So in the spring of 278 b.c. the king once again tried to make terms with Rome.
But the Senate still heard the brave words of Appius Claudius ringing in its ears, and it refused even to discuss terms of peace with the victor.
Meanwhile the people of Tarentum showed their dislike to the discipline of the king more and more plainly. Their ingratitude and the approach of the hostile armies of Rome made Pyrrhus glad to leave Tarentum.
So he sailed to Sicily, where the Greek colonies were in danger from the Carthaginians, who had come from Africa in hope of new conquests.
He spent two years in the island, where at first he won great victories. But here, as in Italy, he seemed unable to reap good from his conquests.
Moreover his officers, although they began by behaving well to the Sicilians, soon showed themselves to be both greedy and cruel. In 276 b.c. the people resolved to endure these foreign soldiers no longer, and they hounded them out of the island.
Pyrrhus then went back to Italy, where both the Tarentines and the Samnites were becoming alarmed at the growing power of Rome.