Even the senate deemed the proposal too1
harsh, and the plebs were so angry that they almost resorted to arms. Starvation, they said, was now being employed against them, as though they were public enemies, and they were being defrauded of their food and sustenance; the imported corn, their only supply, unexpectedly bestowed on them by Fortune, was to be snatched from their mouths unless the tribunes should be delivered up in chains to Gnaeus Marcius, unless he should work his will on the persons of the Roman plebeians; in him a new executioner had risen up against them, who bade them choose between death and slavery.
When he came out from the Curia they would have set upon him, had not the tribunes, in the nick of time, appointed a day to try him; whereupon their anger subsided, [p. 335]
for every man saw that he was himself made his2
enemy's judge, and held over him the power of life and death.
With contempt at first Marcius heard the threats of the tribunes, alleging that the right to help, not to punish, had been granted to that office, and that they were tribunes not of the Fathers, but of the plebs. But the commons had risen in such a storm of anger that the Fathers had to sacrifice one man to appease them.
For all that, they resisted the hatred of their adversaries and called upon the private resources of the several senators, as well as the strength of the entire order. At first they tried, by posting their clients3
here and there, to frighten persons from coming together for deliberation, in the hope that they might thereby break up their plans.
Then they came out in a body —you would have said all the members of the senate were on their trial —and entreated the plebs to release to them one citizen, one senator; if they were unwilling to acquit him as innocent let them give him up, though guilty, as a favour.
But when Marcius himself, on the day appointed for the hearing, failed to appear, men's hearts were hardened against him. Condemned in his absence, he went into exile with the Volsci, uttering threats against his country, and even then breathing hostility. When he came among the Volsci they received him with a kindness which increased from one day to the next, in proportion as he allowed a greater hatred of his own people to appear, and was more and more frequently heard to utter both complaints and threats.
His host was Attius Tullius, at that time by far the foremost of the Volscian name and ever unfriendly to the Romans. And so, spurred on, the one by his inveterate hatred and [p. 337]
the other by fresh resentment, they took counsel4
together how they might make war on Rome.
They believed that it would be no easy matter to induce the Volscian commons to take up the arms which they had so often unluckily essayed; the destruction of their young men in oft-repeated wars, and finally by the plague, had, they supposed, broken their spirit; artifice must be invoked, where hate had grown dull with lapse of time, that they might find some new cause of anger to exasperate men's hearts.