But, on the other side, the consuls, having placed their chairs within view of them, were proceeding with the levy; thither the tribunes hasten, and draw the assembly along with them; a few were cited, by way of making an experiment, and instantly violence commenced.
Whomsoever the lictor laid hold of by order of the consul, him the tribune ordered to be discharged; nor did his own proper jurisdiction set a limit to each, but whatever you set your mind upon, was to be attained by the hope of strength and by force.
Just as the tribunes had behaved in impeding the levy, in the same manner did the consuls conduct themselves in obstructing the law which was brought on every assembly day.
The commencement of the riot was, when the tribunes ordered the people to proceed to the vote, because the patricians refused to withdraw. The elder citizens scarcely attended the contest, inasmuch as it was one likely not to be directed by prudence, but abandoned to temerity and daring.
The consuls also generally kept out of the way, lest in the general confusion they should expose their dignity to any insult.
There was a young man, Caeso Quintius, a daring youth, as well by the nobility of his descent, as by his personal size and strength; to those endowments granted by the gods he himself had added many military honours, and eloquence in the forum; so that no person in the state was considered more efficient either in speaking or in acting.
When this person took his place in the centre of a body of the patricians, conspicuous above the rest, carrying as it were in his eloquence and bodily strength dictatorships and consulships combined, he alone withstood the storms of the tribunes and the populace.
Under his guidance the tribunes were frequently driven from the forum, the commons routed and dispersed; such as came in his way, went off after being ill-treated and stripped; so that it became sufficiently evident, that, if he were allowed to proceed in this way, the law would be defeated.
Then the other tribunes being now almost thrown into despair, Aulus Virginius, one of the college, institutes a criminal prosecution on a capital charge against Caeso. By this proceeding he rather irritated than intimidated his violent temper: so much the more vigorously did he oppose the law, annoyed the commons, and persecuted the [p. 173]
tribunes, as it were by a regular war.
The prosecutor suffered the accused to rush on headlong, and to heighten the charges against him by the flame and material of the popular odium thus incurred: in the mean time he proceeded with the law, not so much in the hope of carrying it through, as to provoke the temerity of Caeso.
There many inconsiderate expressions and actions passing among the young men, are charged on the temper of Caeso, through the prejudice raised against him; still the law was resisted.
And Aulus Virginius frequently remarks to the people, “Are you even now sensible that you cannot have Caeso, as a fellow-citizen, with the law which you desire? Though why do I say law?
he is an opponent of your liberty; he surpasses all the Tarquins in arrogance. Wait till he is made consul or dictator, whom, though but a private citizen, you now see exercising kingly sway over you by his strength and audacity.” Many assented, complaining that they had been beaten by him: and strongly urged on the tribune to go through with the prosecution.