Consider, therefore, whether it is more just that a most honourable and brave man, that a most virtuous citizen, should be given up to the most hostile and ferocious nations, or restored to his freedom, especially when there are so many circumstances which cooperate in entreating your favourable disposition in aid of this man's safety. First of all, there is the antiquity of his family, which we are aware proceeds from Tusculum, a most illustrious municipality, and whose fame is engraved and handed down on monuments of the exploits of its members; secondly, there have been continual praetorships in that family, which have been distinguished by every sort of honour, and especially by the credit of unimpeachable innocence; besides that, there is the recent memory of his father, by whose blood, not only the troop of Asculum, by whom he was slain, but the whole of that social war has been stained with the deep dye of wickedness; lastly, there is the man himself, honourable and upright in every particular of his life, and in military affairs not only endued with the greatest wisdom, and the most brilliant courage, but also skillful through personal experience in carrying on war, beyond almost any man of the present age.
Wherefore, if you do require to be reminded at all by me, O judges, (which, in truth, you do not,) it seems to me I may, without presuming too much on my authority, give you this gentle hint,—that you ought to consider that those men are carefully to be preserved by you, whose valour, and energy, and good fortune in military affairs have been tried and ascertained. There has been a greater abundance of such men in the republic than there is now; and when there was, people consulted not only their safety, but their honour also. What, then, ought you to do now, when military studies have become obsolete among our youth, and when our best men and our greatest generals have been taken from us, partly by age, and partly by the dissensions of the state and the ill fortune of the republic? When so many wars are necessarily undertaken by us, when so many arise suddenly and unexpectedly, do you not think that you ought to preserve this man for the critical occasions of the republic, and to excite others by his example to the pursuit of honour and virtue?
Recollect what lieutenants Lucius Julius, and Publius Rutilius, and Lucius Cato, and Cnaeus Pompeius have lately had in war. You will see that at that time there existed also Marcus Cornutus, Lucius Cinna, and Lucius Sulla, men of praetorian rank, and of the greatest skill in war; and, besides them, Caius Marius, Publius Didius, Quintus Catulus, and Publius Crassus, men not learned in the science of war through books, but accomplished and renowned by their achievements and their victories. Come now, cast your eyes over the senate house, look thoroughly into every part of the republic; do you see no possible event in which you may require men like those? or, if any such event should arise, do you think that the Roman people is at this moment rich in such men? And if you carefully consider all these circumstances, you will rather, O judges, retain at home, for yourselves and for your children, a man energetic in undertaking the toils of war, gallant in encountering its dangers, skillful in its practice and its discipline, prudent in his designs, fortunate and successful in their accomplishment, than deliver him over to nations most hostile to the Roman people, and most cruel, by condemning him.
But the Gauls are attacking Fonteius with hostile standards as it were; they pursue him, and press upon him with the most extreme eagerness, with the most extreme audacity. I see it. But we, O judges, you being our helpers, with many and strong defences, will resist that savage and intolerable band of barbarians. Our first bulwark against their attacks is Macedonia, a province loyal and well affected to the Roman people, which says, that itself and its cities were preserved, not only by the wisdom, but even by the hand of Fonteius, and which now repels the attacks and dangers of the Gauls from his head, as it was defended itself from the invasion and desolation of the Thracians.
On the opposite side stands the further Spain, which is able in this case not only to withstand the eagerness of the accusers by its own honest disposition, but which can even refute the perjuries of wicked men by its testimonies and by its panegyrics. And even from Gaul itself most faithful and most important assistance is derived. As an assistance to this unhappy and innocent man, the city of the Massilians has come forward, which is labouring now, not only in order to appear to requite with proper gratitude the exertions of the man by whom it has been preserved, but which also believes that it has been placed in those districts for that very object, and with that express destiny, to prevent those nations from being able to injure our countrymen.
The colony of Narbonne fights equally on behalf of the safety of Marcus Fonteius, which, having been lately delivered from the blockade of the enemy by this man, is now moved at his misery and danger. Lastly, as is right in a Gallic war—as the principles and customs of our ancestors enjoin—there is not one Roman citizen who thinks he requires any excuse for being eager in this man's behalf. All the publicans of that province, all the farmers, all the graziers, all the traders, with one heart and one voice, defended Marcus Fonteius. But if Induciomarus himself, the leader of the Allobroges, and of all the rest of the Gauls, despise such powerful aid as this which we have, shall he still tear and drag away this man from the embrace of his mother, a most admirable and most miserable woman, and that, too, while you are looking on? especially when a vestal virgin on the other side is folding her own brother in her embraces, and imploring, O judges, your good faith, and that of the Roman people; she who has been, on behalf of you and of your children, occupied for so many years in propitiating the immortal gods, in order now to be able to propitiate you when supplicating for her own safety and that of her brother.
What protection, what comfort, will that unhappy maiden have left, if she loses this her brother? For other women can bring forth protectors for themselves—can have in their homes a companion and a partner in all their fortunes; but to this maiden, what is there that can be agreeable or dear, except her brother? Do not, O judges, allow the altars of the immortal gods, and of our mother Vesta, to be reminded of your tribunal by the daily lamentations of a holy virgin. Beware lest that eternal flame, which is now preserved by the nightly toils and vigils of Fonteia, should be said to have been extinguished by the tears of your priestess.
A vestal virgin is stretching out towards you her suppliant hands, those same hands which she is accustomed to stretch out, on your behalf, to the immortal gods. Consider how dangerous, how arrogant a deed it would be for you to reject her entreaties, when, if the immortal gods were to despise her prayers, all these things which we see around us could not be preserved. Do not you see, O judges, that all of a sudden, Marcus Fonteius himself, brave as he is, is moved to shed tears at the mention of his parent and his sister?—he who never has known fear in battle, he who in arms has often thrown himself on the ranks and numbers of the enemy, thinking, while he was facing such dangers, that he left behind him the same consolation to his relatives that his own father had left to him; yet now, for all that, is agitated and alarmed, lest he should not only cease to be an ornament and an assistant to his family, but lest he should even leave them eternal disgrace and ignominy, together with the bitterest grief.
Oh how unequal is thy fortune, O Marcus Fonteius! If you could have chosen, how much would you have preferred perishing by the weapons of the Gauls rather than by their perjuries! For then virtue would have been the companion of your life, glory your comrade in death; but now, what agony is it for you to endure the sufferings caused by their power and victory over you, at their pleasure, who have before now been either conquered by your arms, or forced to submit against their will to your authority. From this danger, O judges, defend a brave and innocent citizen: take care to be seen to place more confidence in our own witnesses than in foreigners; to have more regard for the: safety of our citizens than for the pleasure of our enemies; to think the entreaties of her who presides over your sacrifices of more importance than the audacity of those men who have waged war against the sacrifices and temples of all nations. Lastly, take care, O judges, (the dignity of the Roman people is especially concerned in this,) to show that the prayers of a vestal virgin have more influence over you than the threats of Gaul.