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in, he heard her to the following effect: "Our dress and our very
persons, my son, might tell you, though we should say nothing ourselves,
in how forlorn a condition we have lived at home since your banishment
and absence from us; and now consider with yourself, whether we may
not pass for the most unfortunate of all women, to have that sight,
which should be the sweetest that we could see, converted, through
I know not what fatality, to one of all others the most formidable
and dreadful,- Volumnia to behold her son, and Vergilia her husband,
in arms against the walls of Rome. Even prayer itself, whence others
gain comfort and relief in all manner of misfortunes, is that which
most adds to our confusion and distress; since our best wishes are
inconsistent with themselves, nor can we at the same time petition
the gods for Rome's victory and your preservation, but what the worst
of our enemies would imprecate as a curse, is the very object of our
vows. Your wife and children are under the sad necessity, that they
must either be deprived of you or of their native soil. As for myself,
I am resolved not to wait till war shall determine this alternative
for me; but if I cannot prevail with you to prefer amity and concord
to quarrel and hostility, and to be the benefactor to both parties
rather than the destroyer of one of them, be assured of this from
me, and reckon steadfastly upon it, that you shall not be able to
reach your country, unless you trample first upon the corpse of her
that brought you into life. For it will be ill in me to wait and loiter
in the world till the day wherein I shall see a child of mine, either
led in triumph by his own countrymen, or triumphing over them. Did
I require you to save your country by ruining the Volscians, then,
I confess, my son, the case would be hard for you to solve. It is
base to bring destitution on our fellow-citizens; it is unjust to
betray those who have placed their confidence in us. But, as it is,
we do but desire a deliverance equally expedient for them and us;
only more glorious and honourable on the Volscian side, who, as superior
in arms, will be thought freely to bestow the two greatest of blessings,
peace and friendship, even when they themselves receive the same.
If we obtain these, the common thanks will be chiefly due to you as
the principal cause; but if they be not granted, you alone must expect
to bear the blame from both nations. The chance of all war is uncertain,
yet thus much is certain in the present, that you, by conquering Rome,
will only get the reputation of having undone your country; but if
the Volscians happen to be defeated under your conduct, then the world
will say, that, to satisfy a revengeful humour, you brought misery
on your friends and patrons."
Marcius listened to his mother while she spoke without answering her
a word; and Volumnia, seeing him stand mute also for a long time after
she had ceased, resumed: "O my son," said she, "what is the meaning
of this silence? Is it a duty to postpone everything to a sense of
injuries, and wrong to gratify a mother in a request like this? Is
it the characteristic of a great man to remember wrongs that have
been done him, and not the part of a great and good man to remember
benefits such as those that children receive from parents, and to
requite them with honour and respect? You, methinks, who are so relentless
in the punishment of the ungrateful, should not be more careless than
others to be grateful yourself. You have punished your country already;
you have not yet paid your debt to me. Nature and religion, surely
unattended by any constraint, should have won your consent to petitions
so worthy and so just as these; but if it must be so, I will even
use my last resource." Having said this, she threw herself down at
his feet, as did also his wife and children; upon which Marcius, crying
out, "O mother! what is it you have done to me!" raised her up from
the ground, and pressing her right hand with more than ordinary vehemence,
"You have gained a victory," said he, "fortunate enough for the Romans,
but destructive to your son; whom you, though none else, have defeated."
After which, and a little private conference with his mother and his
wife, he sent them back again to Rome, as they desired of him.
The next morning, he broke up his camp, and led the Volscians homeward,

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