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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book III Chapter 58: Suicide of Appius and Spurius Oppius[449 BC]
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Gaius Claudius, through detestation of the crimes committed by the decemvirs, and the anger which he, more than any one, felt at the tyrannical conduct of his nephew, had retired to Regillum, his ancestral home. Though advanced in years, he now returned to the City, to deprecate the dangers threatening the man whose vicious practices had driven him into retirement. Going down to the Forum in mourning garb, accompanied by the members of his house and by his clients, he appealed to the citizens individually, and implored them not to stain the house of the Claudii with such an indelible disgrace as to deem them worthy of bonds and imprisonment. To think that a man whose image (1) would be held in highest honour by posterity, the framer of their laws and the founder of Roman jurisprudence, should be lying manacled amongst nocturnal thieves and robbers! Let them turn their thoughts for a moment from feelings of exasperation to calm examination and reflection, and forgive one man at the intercession of so many of the Claudii, rather than through their hatred of one man despise the prayers of many. So far he himself would go for the honour of his family and his name, but he was not reconciled to the man whose distressed condition he was anxious to relieve. By courage their liberties had been recovered, by clemency the harmony of the orders in the State could be strengthened. |
Some were moved, but it was more by the affection he showed for his nephew than by any regard for the man for whom he was pleading. But Verginius begged them with tears to keep their compassion for him and his daughter, and not to listen to the prayers of the Claudii, who had assumed sovereign power over the plebs, but to the three tribunes, kinsmen of Verginia, who, after being elected to protect the plebeians, were now seeking their protection. This appeal was felt to have more justice in it. All hope being now cut off, Appius put an end to his life before the day of trial came.
Soon after Spurius Oppius was arraigned by Publius Numitorius. He was only less detested than Appius, because he had been in the City when his colleague pronounced the iniquitous judgment. More indignation, however, was aroused by an atrocity which Oppius had committed than by his not having prevented one. A witness was produced, who after reckoning up twenty-seven years of service, and eight occasions on which he had been decorated for conspicuous bravery, appeared before the people wearing all his decorations. Tearing open his dress he exhibited his back lacerated with stripes. He asked for nothing but a proof on Oppius' part of any single charge against him; if such proof were forthcoming, Oppius, though now only a private citizen, might repeat all his cruelty towards him. Oppius was taken to prison and there, before the day of trial, he put an end to his life. His property and that of Claudius were confiscated by the tribunes. Their colleagues changed their domicile by going into exile; their property also was confiscated. Marcus Claudius, who had been the claimant of Verginia, was tried and condemned. Verginius himself, however, refused to press for the extreme penalty, so he was allowed to go into exile to Tibur. Verginia was more fortunate after her death than in her lifetime; her shade, after wandering through so many houses in quest of expiatory penalties, at length found rest, not one guilty person being now left.
(1): image -- Effigies of the distinguished scions of a house, in the form of painted waxen masks, were preserved in the hall, and to each was attached an inscription setting forth the offices, etc., held by the deceased. On the occasion of a funeral these masks were worn by persons who represented the deceased ancestors, and were decorated with all the insignia of the offices they had filled.