After him the plebeian tribunes, who had declared their intention of protesting, added a few words to the same purport. Then Lucius Valerius spoke thus in support of the measure which he himself had introduced: —"If private persons only had stood forth to argue for and against the proposition which we have submitted to your consideration, I for my part, thinking enough to have been said on both sides, would have waited in silence for your determination.
But since a person of most respectable judgment, the consul, Marcus Porcius, has reprobated our motion, not only by the influence of his opinion, which, had he said nothing, would carry very great weight, but also in a long and careful discourse, it be- [p. 1496]
comes necessary to say a few words in answer.
He has spent more words in rebuking the matrons, than in arguing against the measure proposed; and even went so far as to mention a doubt, whether the matrons had committed the conduct which he censured in them spontaneously or at our instigation.
I shall defend the measure, not ourselves: for the consul threw out those insinuations against us, rather for argument's sake, than as a serious charge.
He has made use of the terms cabal and sedition; and, sometimes, secession of the women: because the matrons had requested of you, in the public streets, that, in this time of peace, when the commonwealth is flourishing and happy, you would repeal a law that was made against them during a war, and in times of distress.
I know that these and other similar strong expressions, for the purpose of exaggeration, are easily found; and, mild as Marcus Cato is in his disposition, yet in his speeches he is not only vehement, but sometimes even austere. What new thing, let me ask, have the matrons done in coming out into public in a body on an occasion which nearly concerns themselves?
Have they never before appeared in public? I will turn over your own Antiquities,1
them against you. Hear, now, how often they have done the same, and always to the advantage of the public. In the earliest period of our history, even in the reign of Romulus, when the Capitol had been taken by the Sabines, and a pitched battle
was fought in the forum, was not the fight stopped by the interposition of the matrons between the two armies? When, after the expulsion of the kings, the legions of the Volscians, under the command of Marcius Coriolanus, were encamped at the fifth stone, did not the matrons turn away that army, which would have overwhelmed this city? Again, when Rome was taken by the Gauls, whence was the city ransomed? Did not the matrons, by unanimous agreement, bring their gold into the public treasury? In the late war, not to go back
to remote antiquity, when there was a want of money, did not the funds of the widows supply the treasury? And when even new gods were invited hither to the relief of our distressed affairs, did not the matrons go out in a body to the sea-shore to receive the Idaean Mother? The cases, you will say, are dis- [p. 1497]
similar. It is not
my purpose to produce similar instances; it is sufficient that I clear these women of having done any thing new. Now, what nobody wondered at their doing in cases which
concerned all in common, both men and women, can we wonder at their doing in a case peculiarly affecting themselves? But what have they done? We have proud ears, truly,
if, though masters disdain not the prayers of slaves, we are offended at being asked a favour by honourable women.