Having sufficiently weighed both the courses open to them,1
the consuls finally said: “Lest you should say that you had not been warned, [p. 311]
Conscript Fathers, we are on the verge of a great mutiny.2
We demand that those who are loudest in accusing us of cowardice stand by us while we hold the levy.
The most severe amongst you, since such is your pleasure, shall guide our procedure.” They returned to the tribunal, and purposely commanded to cite by name one of those who were present. When he stood still without answering, in the midst of a little knot of men who, fearing the possibility of violence, had gathered round him, the consuls sent a lictor to him.
The lictor was driven back. Whereupon, with a cry of “Shame!” the senators who were attending the consul rushed down from the tribunal to assist the lictor.
But when the mob turned from the officer, whom they had merely prevented from arresting the man, and assailed the senators, the consuls intervened and checked the brawl, in which no stones had been thrown nor any weapons used, and there were more shouts and expressions of rage than hurts.
The senate was convened in confusion, and they deliberated in still greater confusion. Those who had been roughly handled demanded an investigation, and all the more violent members urged the resolution, not only with speeches but with shouts and uproar.
When at length their passions had subsided, and the consuls berated them for showing as little sanity in the Curia as the people had shown in the Forum, they began to deliberate in an orderly manner.
Three proposals were made. Publius Verginius advised against a general relief: only those who, relying on the promise of Publius Servilius the consul, had fought in the Volscian, Auruncan, and Sabine wars should, he thought, be considered.
Titus Largius held that this was no time for merely requiting services; [p. 313]
the whole commons was submerged in debt, and3
the situation could not be remedied unless provision were made for all; indeed, if some were treated in one way and some in another, it would heighten the discontent instead of allaying it.
Appius Claudius, naturally harsh, and rendered savage by the hatred of the plebs on the one hand and the praises of the Fathers on the other, said that it was not misery but licence that had stirred up so great a hubbub, and that wantonness was what ailed the plebs rather than anger.
That was precisely the mischief which the appeal occasioned; for the consuls might threaten but could not command, when those who had shared in the guilt might be constituted the court of appeal.
“Come,” said he, “let us appoint a dictator, from whom there is no appeal.
At once this frenzy which has now set everything ablaze will be stilled. Let anybody strike a lictor then, knowing that the right to scourge and behead him rests with that one man whose majesty he has violated!”