The senate now began to feel apprehensive lest on the disbandment of the army there should be a recurrence of the secret conclaves and conspiracies. Although the Dictator had actually conducted the enrolment, the soldiers had sworn obedience to the consuls. Regarding them as still bound by their oath, the senate ordered the legions to be marched out of the City on the pretext that war had been recommenced by the Aequi.
This step brought the revolution to a head. It is said that the first idea was to put the consuls to death that the men might be discharged from their oath; then, on learning that no religious obligation could be dissolved by a crime, they decided, at the instigation of a certain Sicinius, to ignore the consuls and withdraw to the Sacred Mount, which lay
on the other side of the Anio, three miles from the City. This is a more generally accepted tradition than the one adopted by Piso
that the secession was made to the Aventine
There, without any commander, in a regularly entrenched camp, taking nothing with them but the necessaries of life, they quietly maintained themselves for some days, neither receiving nor giving any provocation.
A great panic seized the City, mutual distrust led to a state of universal suspense. Those plebeians who had been left by their comrades in the City feared violence from the patricians; the patricians feared the plebeians who still remained in the City, and could not make up their minds whether they would rather have them go or stay.
‘How long,’ it was asked, ‘would the multitude who had seceded remain quiet?
What would happen if a foreign war broke out in the meantime?’ They felt that all their hopes rested on concord amongst the citizens, and that this must be restored at any cost.
The senate decided, therefore, to send as their spokesman Menenius Agrippa, an eloquent man, and acceptable to the plebs as being himself of plebeian origin. He was admitted into the camp, and it is reported that he simply told them the following fable in primitive and uncouth fashion.
‘In the days when all the parts of the human body were not as now agreeing together, but each member took its own course and spoke its own speech, the other members, indignant at seeing that everything acquired by their care and labour and ministry went to the belly, whilst it, undisturbed in the middle of them, did nothing but enjoy the pleasures provided for it, entered into a conspiracy; the hands were not to bring food to the mouth, the mouth was not to accept it when offered, the teeth were not to masticate it.
Whilst, in their resentment, they were anxious to coerce the belly by starving it, the members themselves wasted away, and the whole body was reduced to the last stage of exhaustion.
Then it became evident that the belly rendered no idle service, and the nourishment it received was no greater than that which it bestowed by returning to all parts of the body this blood by which we live and are strong, equally distributed into the veins, after being matured by the digestion of the food.’
By using this comparison, and showing how the internal disaffection amongst the parts of the body resembled the animosity of the plebeians against the patricians, he succeeded in winning over his audience.