In the City, the citizens were standing in the Forum in the early dawn, on the tiptoe of expectation. Verginius, in mourning garb, brought his daughter, similarly attired, and accompanied by a number of matrons, into the Forum. An immense body of sympathisers stood round him.
He went amongst the people, took them by the hand and appealed to them to help him, not out of compassion only but because they owed it to him; he was at the front day by day, in defence of their children and their wives; of no man could they recount more numerous deeds of endurance and of daring than of him. What good was it all, he asked, if while the City was safe, their children were exposed to what would be their worst fate if it were actually captured? Men gathered round him, whilst he spoke as though he were addressing the Assembly.
Icilius followed in the same strain. The women who accompanied him made a profounder impression by their silent weeping than any words could have made.
Unmoved by all this —it was really madness rather than love that had clouded his judgment —Appius mounted the tribunal. The claimant began by a brief protest against the proceedings of the previous day; judgment, he said, had not been given owing to the partiality of the judge. But before he could proceed with his claim or any opportunity was given to Verginius of replying, Appius intervened.
It is possible that the ancient writers may have correctly stated some ground which he alleged for his decision, but I do not find one anywhere that would justify such an iniquitous decision. The one thing which can be propounded as being generally admitted is the judgment itself.
His decision was that the girl was a slave.
At first all were stupefied with amazement at this atrocity, and for a few moments there was a dead silence.
Then, as M. Claudius approached the matrons standing round the girl, to seize her amidst their outcries and tears, Verginius, pointing with outstretched arm to Appius, cried, ‘It is to Icilius and not to you, Appius, that I have betrothed my daughter; I have brought her up for wedlock, not for outrage. Are you determined to satisfy your brutal lusts like cattle and wild beasts? Whether these people will put up with this, I know not, but I hope that those who possess arms will refuse to do so.’
Whilst the man who claimed the maiden was being pushed back by the group of women and her supporters who stood round, the crier called for silence.