There he spoke, as I understand, to the following effect: "Although I am conscious, Quirites, of no wrong-doing, nevertheless it is with great shame that I have come to this assembly to confront you. To think that you know, to think that future generations will be told, that the Aequi and the Volsci, but now scarce a match for the Hernici, have in the fourth consulship of Titus Quinctius approached the walls of the City of Rome —with impunity, and armed!
We have now for a long time been living under such conditions that my mind could foresee nothing good; yet had I known that such a disgrace was in store for this year, of all others, I should have shunned it even at the cost of exile or of death, in default of other means of escaping office. So! Had they been men whose swords were there at our gates, Rome might have been captured in my consulship!
I had enjoyed honours enough, I had had enough,1
and more than enough, of life; death should have come to me in my third consulship. For whom, pray, did the most dastardly of our enemies feel such contempt?
For us, the consuls, or for you, Quirites? If the fault is ours, deprive us of authority we do not merit; and if that is not enough, then punish us to boot: if yours, may neither god nor man seek to punish your sins, Quirites; only may you yourselves repent of them!
It was not cowardice in you that they despised, nor was it their own courage in which they put their trust; in truth they have been too often beaten and routed, despoiled of their camps, stripped of their lands, and sent under the yoke, not to know both themselves and you: it was the discord betwixt the classes, and the quarrels —poison of this City —between the patricians and the plebs that roused their hopes, as they beheld our greed for power and yours for liberty; your disgust at the patrician magistracies and ours at the plebeian.
In Heaven's name what would you have? You conceived a longing for tribunes of the plebs; for the sake of harmony we granted them. You desired decemvirs; we allowed them to be elected.
You grew exceedingly weary of the decemvirs; we compelled them to abdicate. When your resentment against them persisted in their retirement to private life, we permitted men of the highest birth and the most distinguished careers to suffer death and exile.
Again you desired to choose tribunes of the plebs, and chose them; to appoint consuls of your own faction, and though we saw that this was unfair to the patricians, we beheld even the patrician magistracy presented to the plebs.
That you should [p. 229]
enjoy the support of tribunes and the right of appeal2
to the people; that the decrees of the plebs should be made binding upon the patricians; that on the pretext of equalizing the laws our rights should be trodden under foot —all this we have endured and are now enduring.
What end will there be to our dissensions? Will a time ever come when we can have a united City? Will a time ever come when this can be our common country? We, the beaten party, accept the situation with more equanimity than do you, the victors.
Is it not enough that we must fear you? It was against us that the Aventine was taken; against us that the Sacred Mount was occupied; we have seen the Esquiline almost captured by the enemy, and the Volscian mounting our rampart. The enemy found none to drive him back; against us you show your manhood; against us you have drawn the sword.