“There is one circumstance, however, in complaining of which particularly we may be allowed to yield to our deeply-rooted sense of religion, and indulge a hope that you will listen to it; and, if it shall seem good to you, conscript fathers, free your state from the guilt of irreligious conduct.
For we have seen with how great solemnity you not only worship your own deities, but entertain even those of foreign countries.
We have a fane dedicated to Proserpine, of the sanctity of which temple I imagine some accounts must have reached you, during the war with Pyrrhus;
who, when sailing by Locri, on his return from Sicily, among other horrid enormities which he committed against our state, on account of our fidelity towards you, plundered also the treasures of Proserpine, which had never been touched up to that day; and then, putting the money on board his ships, proceeded on his journey himself by land.
What, therefore, was the result, conscript fathers? The next day his fleet was shattered by a most hideous tempest, and all the ships which carried the sacred money were thrown on our shores.
That most insolent king, convinced by this so great disaster that there were gods, ordered all the money to be collected and restored to the treasures of the goddess. However, he never met with any success afterwards; but, after being driven out of Italy, he died an ignoble and dishonourable death, having incautiously entered Argos by night.
Though your lieutenant-general and military tribune had heard of these, and a thousand other circumstances, which were related not for the purpose of creating increased reverence, but frequently [p. 1256]
experienced by ourselves and our ancestors, through the special interposition of the goddess, they had, nevertheless, the audacity
to apply their sacrilegious hands to those hallowed treasures, and pollute themselves, their own families, and your soldiers, with the impious booty.
Through whom we implore you, conscript fathers, by your honour, not to perform any thing in Italy or in Africa, until you have expiated their guilty deed, lest they should atone for the crime they have committed, not with their own blood only, but by some disaster affecting their country. Although, even now, conscript fathers, the resentment of the goddess does not tarry either towards your generals or your soldiers.
Already have they several times engaged each other in pitched battles, one party headed by Pleminius, and the other by the two military tribunes. Never did they employ their weapons with more fury against the Carthaginians than when encountering each other; and they would have afforded Hannibal an opportunity of retaking Locri, had not Scipio, whom we called in, come in time to prevent it.
But, by Hercules, is it that the soldiers are impelled by frenzy, and that the influence of the goddess has not shown itself in punishing the generals themselves?
Nay, herein her interposition was manifested in the most conspicuous manner. The tribunes were beaten with rods by the lieutenant-general.
Then the lieutenant-general, treacherously seized by the tribunes, besides being mangled in every part of his body, had his nose and ears cut off, and was left for dead.
Then, recovering from his wounds, he threw the tribunes into chains; beat them, tortured them with every species of degrading punishment, and put them to death in a cruel manner, forbidding them to be buried.
Such atonements has the goddess exacted from the despoilers of her temple; nor will she cease to pursue them, with every species of vengeance, till the sacred money shall have been replaced in the treasury.
Formerly, our ancestors, during a grievous war with the Crotonians, because the temple was without the town, were desirous of removing the money into it; but a voice was heard from the shrine, during the night, commanding them to hold off their hands, for the goddess would defend her own temple. As they were deterred, by religious awe, from removing the treasures thence, they were desirous of surrounding the temple with a wall.
The walls [p. 1257]
were raised to a considerable height, when they suddenly fell down in ruins. But, both now, and frequently on other occasions, the goddess has either defended her own habitation and temple, or has exacted heavy expiations from those who had violated it. Our injuries she cannot avenge, nor can any but yourselves avenge them, conscript fathers.
To you, and to your honour, we fly, as suppliants.
It makes no difference to us whether you suffer Locri to be subject to that lieutenant-general and that garrison, or whether you deliver us up for punishment to incensed Hannibal and the Carthaginians. We do not request that you should at once believe us respecting one who is absent, and when the cause has not been heard. Let him come; let him hear our charges in person, and refute them himself.
If there is any enormity one man can commit against another which he has not committed upon us, we do not refuse to suffer all the same cruelties over again, if it is possible we can endure them, and let him be acquitted of all guilt towards gods and men.”