After despatching these officers to their several employments, the consuls mounted the rostrum; and, having summoned an assembly of the people, one of the consuls, when he had finished the solemn form of prayer which the magistrates are accustomed to pronounce before they address the people, proceeded thus:
"Romans, to no former assembly was this solemn supplication to the gods more suitable or even more necessary: as it serves to remind you, that these are the deities whom your forefathers pointed out as the objects of your worship, veneration, and prayers:
and not those which infatuated men's minds with corrupt and foreign modes of religion, and drove them, as if goaded by the furies, to every lust and every vice.
I am at a loss to know what I should conceal, or how far I ought to speak out; for I dread lest, if I leave you ignorant of any particular, I should give room for carelessness, or if I disclose the whole, that I should too much awaken your fears.
Whatever I shall say, be assured that it is less than the magnitude and atrociousness of the affair would justify: exertions will be used by us that it may be sufficient to set us properly on our guard.
That the Bacchanalian rites have subsisted for some time past in every country in Italy, and are at present performed in many parts of this city also, I am sure you must have been informed, not only by report, but by the nightly noises and horrid yells that resound through the whole city; but still you are ignorant of the nature of that business.
Part of you think it is some kind of worship of the gods; others, some excusable sport and amusement, and that, whatever it may be, it concerns but a few.
As regards the number, if I tell you that they are many thousands, that you would be immediately terrified to excess is a necessary consequence; unless I further acquaint you who and what sort of persons they are.
First, then, a great part of them are women, and this was the source of the evil; the rest are males, but nearly resembling women; actors and [p. 1807]
pathics in the vilest lewdness; night revellers, driven frantic by wine, noise of instruments, and clamours. The conspiracy, as yet, has no strength; but it has abundant means of acquiring strength, for they are becoming more numerous every day.
Your ancestors would not allow that you should ever assemble casually, without some good reason; that is, either when the standard was erected on the Janiculum, and the army led out on occasion of elections; or when the tribunes proclaimed a meeting of the commons, or some of the magistrates summoned you to it.
And they judged it necessary, that wherever a multitude was, there should be a lawful governor of that multitude present. Of what kind do you suppose are the meetings of these people? In the first place, held in the night, and in the next, composed promiscuously of men and women.
If you knew at what ages the males are initiated, you would feel not only pity but also shame for them.
Romans, can you think youths initiated, under such oaths as theirs, are fit to be made soldiers? That arms should be intrusted with wretches brought out of that temple of obscenity?
Shall these, contaminated with their own foul debaucheries and those of others, be champions for the chastity of your wives and children?