‘When you see such momentous consequences for human affairs flowing from the worship or the neglect of the gods, do you not realise, Quirites, how great a sin we are meditating whilst hardly yet emerging from the shipwreck caused by our former guilt and fall?
We possess a City which was founded with the divine approval as revealed in auguries and auspices; in it there is not a spot which is not full of religious associations and the presence of a god; the regular sacrifices have their appointed places no less than they have their appointed days.
Are you, Quirites, going to desert all these gods —those whom the State honours, those whom you worship, each at your own altars? How far does your action come up to that of the glorious youth C. Fabius, during the siege, which was watched by the enemy with no less admiration than by you, when he went down from the Citadel through the missiles of the Gauls and celebrated the appointed sacrifice of his house on the Quirinal?
Whilst the sacred rites of the patrician houses are not interrupted even in time of war, are you content to see the State offices of religion and the gods of Rome abandoned in a time of peace?
Are the Pontiffs and Flamens to be more neglectful of their public functions than a private individual is of the religious obligations of his house?’
‘Some one may possibly reply that we can either discharge these duties at Veii or send priests to discharge them here.
But neither of these things can be done if the rites are to be duly performed. Not to mention all the ceremonies or all the deities individually, where else, I would ask, but in the Capitol can the couch of Jupiter be prepared on the day of his festal banquet?
What need is there for me to speak about the perpetual fire of Vesta, and the Image —the pledge of our dominion — which is in the safe keeping of her temple? And you, Mars Gradivus, and you, Father Quirinus, what need to speak of your sacred shields? Is it your wish that all these holy things, coeval with the City, some of even greater antiquity, should be abandoned and left on unhallowed soil?
See, too, how great the difference between us and our ancestors. They left to us certain rites and ceremonies which we can only duly perform on the Alban Mount or at Lavinium. If it was a matter of religion that these rites should not be transferred from cities which belonged to an enemy to us at Rome, shall we transfer them from here to the enemies' city, Veii, without offending heaven?
Call to mind, I pray you, how often ceremonies are repeated, because through negligence or accident some detail of the ancestral ritual has been omitted. What remedy was there for the republic, when crippled by the war with Veii after the portent of the Alban Lake, except the revival of sacred rites and the taking of fresh auspices?
And more than that, as though after all we reverenced the ancient faiths, we have transferred foreign deities to Rome, and have established new ones. Queen Juno was lately carried from Veii and dedicated on the Aventine, and how splendidly that day was celebrated through the grand enthusiasm of our matrons!
We ordered a temple to be built to Aius Locutius because of the divine Voice which was heard in the Via Nova. We have added to our annual festivals the Capitoline Games, and on the authority of the senate we have founded a college of priests to superintend them.
What necessity was there for all these undertakings if we intended to leave the City of Rome at the same time as the Gauls, if it was not of our own free will that we remained in the Capitol through all those months, but the fear of the enemy which shut us up there?’
‘We are speaking about the temples and the sacred rites and ceremonies.
But what, pray, about the priests? Do you not realise what a heinous sin will be committed? For the Vestals surely there is only that one abode, from which nothing has ever removed them but the capture of the City. The Flamen of Jupiter is forbidden by divine law to stay a single night outside the City.
Are you going to make these functionaries priests of Veii instead of priests of Rome? Will thy Vestals desert thee, Vesta? Is the Flamen to bring fresh guilt upon himself and the State for every night he sojourns abroad?
Think of the other proceedings which, after the auspices have been duly taken, we conduct almost entirely within the City boundaries-to what oblivion, to what neglect are we consigning them!
The Assembly of the Curies, which confers the supreme command, the Assembly of the Centuries, in which you elect the consuls and consular tribunes —where can they be held and the auspices taken except where they are wont to be held?
Shall we transfer these to Veii, or are the people, when an Assembly is to be held, to meet at vast inconvenience in this City after it has been deserted by gods and men?’