"I come now to the matter which is under discussion. On this point the consul's argument was two fold: for he protested against the repeal of any law at all, and particularly of that law which was designed to limit feminine luxury.
The former argument, a general appeal on behalf of the laws, was becoming to a consul; the latter, against luxury, was consistent with his strict moral code;
accordingly, unless I reveal the fallacy in both, there is a danger that some misconception may blind your eyes.
For while I acknowledge that, of these laws which have been passed, not for a particular occasion, but as permanent institutions because of their enduring benefit, none should be repealed, unless experience shows it to be useless or some emergency in the state renders it valueless, yet I see that certain laws which crises in the
state have demanded are, so to speak, mortal, and subject to change as conditions themselves change.
Laws passed in time of peace, war frequently annuls, and peace those passed in times of war, just as in handling a ship some means are useful in fair weather and others in a storm.
Since they are so distinguished by nature, to which class, I ask, does the law which we are trying to repeal seem to belong? Well?
Is it an ancient regal law, born with the City itself, or, what is next to that, one [p. 433]
inscribed on the twelve tables by the decemvirs1
appointed to codify the law? Is it a law without which our ancestors held that a matron's virtue could not be preserved, and which we too must fear to repeal lest along with it we repeal the modesty and purity of our women?
Who is there, then, who does not know that this is a new law, passed twenty years ago, in the consulship of Quintus Fabius and Tiberius Sempronius? Since for so many years our matrons lived virtuous lives without it, what danger is there that when it is repealed they will rush into riotous luxury?
For if it were an ancient law, or passed for the purpose of holding feminine caprice under restraint, there would be danger that its abrogation would rouse their passion; but the occasion itself will tell you why the law was passed.
Hannibal was in Italy, victorious at Cannae; he already held Tarentum,2
Arpi, Capua; he seemed ready to march on our city of Rome;
our allies had deserted us; we had no troops in reserve, no naval allies to maintain the fleet, no money in the treasury; slaves were being purchased for employment as soldiers, on condition that the price should be paid their owners after the war;
the contractors agreed to furnish grain and other things demanded by the war on the same settlement-day;3
we furnished slaves for rowers in proportion to our census-ratings, and ourselves bore the costs;4
we all, following the example set by the senators, gave our gold and silver for the public use;
widows and minors deposited their money in the treasury; we were forbidden to have at home more than a certain quantity of gold or silver plate or [p. 435]
coined silver or bronze;5
at such a time were the6
matrons so absorbed in luxury and adornment that the Oppian law was needed to restrain them, when, since the rites of Ceres had to be omitted because all the women were in mourning, the senate limited the period of mourning to thirty days?7
Who fails to see that the poverty and distress of the state wrote that law, since all private property had to be diverted to public use, and that the law was to remain in force so long as the cause of its enactment lasted?8
For, if whatever emergency measure was passed by senatorial decree or popular vote should be for ever observed, why do we repay the loans advanced by private citizens?
Why do we let contracts calling for cash payment? Why are slaves not bought to serve in the armies?
Why do not private citizens furnish rowers as we did then?