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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book III Chapter 17: Speech of Publius Valerius.[460 BC]
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When it was reported that arms were being laid aside and men were deserting their posts, Publius Valerius left his colleague to keep the senate together and hurried to the tribunes at the templum. "What," he asked, "is the meaning of this, tribunes? Are you going to overthrow the State under the leadership of Appius Herdonius? Has the man whose appeals failed to rouse a single slave been so successful as to corrupt you? Is it when the enemy is over our heads that you decide that men shall lay down their arms and discuss laws?" Then turning to the Assembly he said, "If, Quirites, you feel no concern for the City, no anxiety for yourselves, still show reverence for your gods who have been taken captive by an enemy! Jupiter Optimus Maximus, queen Juno and Minerva, with other gods and goddesses, are being besieged; a camp of slaves holds the tutelary deities of your country in its power. Is this the appearance which you think a State in its senses ought to present -- a large hostile force not only within the walls, but in the Citadel, above the Forum, above the Senate-house, whilst meantime the Assembly is being held in the Forum, the senate are in the Senate-house, and as though peace and quiet prevailed, a senator is addressing the House, whilst the Quirites in the Assembly are proceeding to vote? Would it not be more becoming for every man, patrician and plebeian alike, for the consuls and tribunes, for gods and men, to come, one and all, to the rescue with their arms, to run to the Capitol and restore liberty and calm to that most venerable abode of Jupiter Optimus Maximus? 0, Father Romulus, grant to thine offspring that spirit in which thou didst once win back from these same Sabines the Citadel which had been captured with gold! Bid them take the road on which thou didst lead thine army. Behold, I, the consul, will be the first to follow thee and thy footsteps as far as mortal man can follow a god." He ended his speech by saying that he was taking up arms, and he summoned all the Quirites to arms. If any one tried to obstruct, he should now ignore the limits set to his consular authority, the power of the tribunes, and the laws which made them inviolable, and whoever or wherever he might be, whether in the Capitol or the Forum; he should treat him as a public enemy. The tribunes had better order arms to be taken up against Publius Valerius the consul, as they forbade them to be used against Appius Herdonius. He would dare to do in the case of the tribunes what the head [Note 1] of his family(1) had dared to do in the case of the kings. |
There was every prospect of an appeal to force, and of the enemy enjoying the spectacle of a riot in Rome. However, the Law could not be voted upon, nor could the consul go to the Capitol, for night put an end to the threatened conflict. As night came on the tribunes retired, afraid of the consul's arms. When the authors of the disturbance were out of the way, the senators went about amongst the plebeians, and mingling with different groups pointed out the seriousness of the crisis, and warned them to reflect into what a dangerous position they were bringing the State. It was not a contest between patricians and plebeians; patricians and plebeians alike, the stronghold of the City, the temples of the gods, the guardian deities of the State and of every home, were being surrendered to the enemy.
While these steps were being taken to lay the spirit of discord in the Forum, the consuls had gone away to inspect the gates and walls, in case of any movement on the part of the Sabines or Veientines