“You have often heard me complaining of the extravagance of the women and often of the men, both private citizens and magistrates even, and
lamenting that the state is suffering from those two opposing evils, avarice and luxury, which have been the destruction of every great empire.
The better and the happier becomes the fortune of our commonwealth day by day and the greater the empire grows —and already we have crossed into Greece and Asia, places filled with all the allurements of vice, and we are handling the treasures of kings —the more I fear that these things will capture us rather than we them.
Tokens of danger, believe me, were those statues1
which were brought to this city from Syracuse. Altogether too many people do I hear praising the baubles2
of Corinth and Athens and laughing at the fictile [p. 423]
of our Roman gods.
I prefer that these4
gods be propitious to us, and I trust that they will be if we allow them to remain in their own dwellings.
In the memory of our forefathers Pyrrhus, through his agent Cineas, tried to corrupt with gifts the minds of our men and women as well.5
Not yet had the Oppian law been passed to curb female extravagance, yet not one woman took his gifts. What do you think was the reason?
The same thing which caused our ancestors to pass no law on the subject: there was no extravagance to be restrained.
As it is necessary that diseases be known before their cures, so passions are born before the laws which keep them within bounds. What provoked the Licinian law6
about the five hundred iugera
except the uncontrolled desire of joining field to field?
What brought about the Cincian law7
except that the plebeians had already begun to be vassals and tributaries to the senate? And so it is not strange that no Oppian or any other law was needed to limit female extravagance at the time when they spurned gifts of gold and purple voluntarily offered to them.
If it were to-day that Cineas were going about the city with those presents he would have found women standing in the streets to receive them. And for some desires I can find no reason or explanation.
For though it may perhaps cause some natural shame or even anger that what is denied to you is permitted to another, yet, when the dress of all is made alike, what is [p. 425]
there which any of you fears will not be conspicuous8
The worst kind of shame, I tell you, is that derived from stinginess or poverty; but the law takes from you the chance of either, since you do not have what it is not allowed you to have.
' It is just this equality that I will not put up with,' says yonder rich woman. 'Why do I not stand out conspicuous by reason of gold and purple?
Why does the poverty of other women lie concealed under cover of this law, that it may seem that, had it been legal, they would have owned what it is not in their power to own?' Do you wish, citizens, to start a race like this among your wives, so that the rich shall want to own what no other woman can have and the poor, lest they be despised for their poverty, shall spend beyond their means?
Once let these women begin to be ashamed of what they should not be ashamed, and they will not be ashamed of what they ought.
She who can buy from her own purse will buy; she who cannot will beg her husband. Poor wretch that husband, both he who yields and he who yields not, since what he will not himself give he will see given by another man.
Now they publicly address other women's husbands, and, what is more serious, they beg for a law and votes, and from sundry men they get what they ask.
In matters affecting yourself, your property, your children, you, Sir, can be importuned; once the law has ceased to set a limit to your wife's expenditures you will never set it yourself. Do not think, citizens, that the situation which existed before the law was passed will ever return.
It is safer for a criminal to go unaccused than to be acquitted; and luxury, left undisturbed, would have been more endurable [p. 427]
then than it will be now, when it has been, like a9
wild beast, first rendered angry by its very fetters and then let loose. My opinion is that the Oppian law should on no account be repealed; whatever is your decision, I pray that all the gods may prosper it.”