"There is one thing in regard to which conscientious scruples implanted in our minds compel us to complain in particular, and at the same time we would have you, conscript fathers, give us your attention and, if you approve, free your state from impiety.
For we have seen with what punctiliousness you worship, not your own gods merely, but even welcome them from abroad.1
We have in our city a sanctuary of Proserpina, a temple of whose sanctity I believe some report reached you in the war with Pyrrhus.2
When on his return from Sicily he was passing Locri in his fleet, among other shameful acts which he visited upon our state for its loyalty to you, he despoiled the treasury of Proserpina3
as well, which had been untouched down to that time. And, that done, he put the money on shipboard, setting out himself by land. What happened, conscript fathers, in consequence?
On the following day the fleet was shattered by a terrible storm, and all the ships which had the sacred money on board were cast upon our shores.
Having at last learned from this great disaster that the gods do exist, the haughtiest [p. 277]
of kings ordered that all the money should be sought4
out and restored to the treasure-chambers of Proserpina. And yet never thereafter did he meet with any success, and having been driven out of Italy, he rashly entered Argos by night and died an inconspicuous and inglorious death.5
Although your legatus and the tribunes had heard all this and a thousand other occurrences which were repeated to them, not merely to increase religious feeling but as facts repeatedly confirmed for us and our ancestors by the evident intervention of the goddess, they nevertheless dared to lay sacrilegious hands upon those treasure-chambers that were not to be touched,
and by that unspeakable plunder to bring pollution upon themselves and their homes and upon your soldiers.
With such men, conscript fathers, I beg of you for conscience' sake not to undertake any action either in Italy or in Africa until you first atone for their crime, lest for the sacrilege committed they make amends not only by their own blood but also by a disaster to the state.
"Even now, however, the wrath of the goddess is not idle, conscript fathers, as regards either your commanders or your men.
Several times already have they clashed with each other in actual battle. Pleminius was in command of the one faction, of the other faction two tribunes of the soldiers. They have fought each other with the sword as fiercely as against the Carthaginians, and by their madness would have given Hannibal a chance to regain Locri, had not Scipio forestalled that in answer to our call for help.
True, you may say, the soldiers polluted by sacrilege are indeed frenzied, but the power of the goddess has not been manifest in punishing the [p. 279]
On the contrary, it is6
there that it was most evident. The tribunes were scourged by the legatus;7
whereupon the legatus was isolated by a ruse of the tribunes, and besides receiving wounds in every part of his body, he was left half-dead after even his nose and ears had been mutilated.
Then when the legatus had recovered from his wounds and the tribunes of the soldiers had been thrown into chains, then, after scourging them and racking them with all the torments applied to slaves, he put them to death, then forbade burial of the dead.
"Such are the penalties the goddess has exacted of those who despoil her temple, nor will she cease to drive them on by every form of madness until the consecrated money has been replaced in her treasury.
Our ancestors once in a serious war with the Crotonians8
desired to bring that money over into the city, since the temple is outside the city. In the night a voice from the sanctuary was heard: let them keep their hands off; the goddess will defend her temples. Since conscientious scruples were raised against moving the treasure away, they planned to surround the temple with a wall of defence.
The walls had already been raised to a considerable height when suddenly they fell in ruins. But both at this time and at that, and often on other occasions, the goddess has either defended her abode and her temple, or else has exacted heavy penalties from those who profaned them.
To avenge wrongs done to us, however, no one but you, conscript fathers, [p. 281]
has the power —and may no one else have it!
you and your protection we have come for refuge as suppliants. It makes no difference to us whether you allow Locri to remain under that legatus, under that garrison, or surrender it to angry Hannibal and the Carthaginians for punishment. We do not demand that you at once believe us in regard to an absent defendant, his case unheard. Let him come, let him hear in person, in person let him disprove.
If there is any crime which a man can perpetrate upon human beings that he has failed to commit upon us, we do not refuse to endure all the same wrongs again, if that is possible for us, while he is to be acquitted of every crime against gods and men.