In ages past when men were closer to the gods there was no great need for laws. In the golden age evil and base things were not thought of, therefore no laws, no need for laws. In the silver age men's thoughts might stray to base things, but their noble soul recoiled from wickedness, therefore no laws, no need for laws. In the bronze age there were some wicked men, beastly men the likes of Geryon and Cacus, but at once some hero rose to slay them, therefore no laws, no need for laws.
But today in our iron age there are laws and the need for laws too. For golden tradition will not satisfy us. The golden tiller by which our ancestors steer the ship of state will not satisfy us. The golden thread our ancestors afforded us to guide us through the maze of life, it no longer satisfies us.
Ah! How we have fallen from past glories! In the past our ancestors tended to the soil and gave thank to the gods! To go against tradition would shock them far more than we'd be shocked by seeing a man eat his own dung. To call out that it is good to break tradition would shock them, as it would shock us to hear a man call out for mothers roasting their infants. But what could they think of the call to set aside tradition and replace it with sterile law? Of cutting down the living behest of our ancestors and replace it with words carved into cold stone? Could they even understand such evil? Could they fathom it?
Can you hear your ancestors now? 'But how can words written on stone overpower living tradition? Has some god breathed life into the stone that it can speak and beget offspring? If not how can unchanging words on stone be a guide for men of flesh and blood who do speak and beget offspring?'
So now this? So now this outrage? So now this new blasphemy? Oh, forgive me for leaping from one strand to another without mentioning the name of this offence, but I am too old fashioned! It seems to me unfitting, ill omened, to mention evil things in a temple consecrated to the gods! Ah forgive me o spirit, whatsoever be your name, if these words offend you, but I must name the crime by its true name.
Marriage between plebeians!
Does it not sound ridiculous? Like one of the logical paradoxes expounded by some crazed Greek philosopher? How can there be marriage between plebeians you ask? A good question, for marriage is a sacred rite that binds together two patricians. It is that ritual by which we call upon the gods to witness a union that shall bring benefit to the state.
For the gods take a keen interest in marriages that will give birth to priests, consuls, noble leaders, augurs, generals, and senators. For by blessing such marriages they bless the city that they love so much. Furthermore in such marriages all the rites can be performed properly, the gods appeased by sacrifice and ritual purity. Nothing foul will be present at such a wedding, nothing that will bring the wrath of the gods upon the city!
But what of unions between plebeians? Unions I say for that is what they are. Such unions may last all life you say, 'tis true, the union between turtledoves last all life but would we perform marriage rites for them? We must not look at the longevity at the relationship, but at what blessings or curses would be wrought by solemnising it.
What interest should the gods have in marriages that will give birth to butchers, carpenters, dung gatherers, tanners, brewers, tailors, cobblers, fishwives, and bricklayers? By blessing these marriages what might be accomplished? How does the city benefit from this? Furthermore shall we truly believe that the rites of marriage could be properly performed between such people? That the proper sacrifice and ritual should be condoned, and that the tanner shall purify himself in the face of the gods? Ai! Ai! Even with the best of will how shall they know the right way to present themselves, or avoid that some foulness and pollution shall offend the gods?
Morality and the safety of our city is both united, if you love tradition and love your ancestors then I pray that you stand with me against solemnising the union of plebeians! For I refuse to call it marriage.
If this appeal to morality and tradition will not take with you, then here I will offer a second argument. Marriage is a sacred rite between two people of the class you write epic poetry about. We hear epic poems written about kings and nobles, of heroes with divine parentage, and of the gods themselves. If now we change our customs, shall we also begin to write epic poems of cobblers and cooks? When we recite...
Delicious wines the attending herald brought;
The gold gave lustre to the purple draught.
Lured with the vapour of the fragrant feast,
In rush'd the suitors with voracious haste;
Marshall'd in order due, to each a sewer
Presents, to bathe his hands, a radiant ewer.
Luxurious then they feast. Observant round
Gay stripling youths the brimming goblets crown'd.
The rage of hunger quell'd, they all advance
Shall that from now on be part of an epic verse about the splendid efforts of the cook? Of how he nobly went forth from the kitchen, bravely looked for good ingredients, and with great skill haggled the merchant down to a fair price? Shall this now be our verse and entertainment?
It would certainly entertain our neighbours, who would laugh at us and have little fear, now that we hold our rites so cheap.
Furthermore I should say that the plebeians themselves would gain nothing from it. They are not prevented from living in unions as they please and to divide up their estate and children as they please. Why then would they want to dress themselves up in our gowns and play at being patricians? First there is a certain childishness, of children playing at generals and marriage. But second there is an evil sense of envy, not understanding the true nature of marriage they think it is something wonderful that we keep to ourselves, and refuse to share with them out of malice.
We Patricians keep ourselves pure in the eyes of the gods and conduct marriages that draw the attention of the gods, even though such marriages can be hard to bear at times. This we do for our love of the city. But for this sacred rite to be sacred it must be separate from profane things. When we prepare our auguries we also prepare a sacred space around the altar, to mark it apart from the rest of the city. Therefore when we prepare our marriages, we also prepare a sacred space around them, to mark them apart from other unions.
But in their rage the plebeians act like the suitors of Penelope; they wish to break into another man's house and feast upon his good, thinking that this will bring them great blessings, while in fact it will only bring them doom. For the gods hate this sort of jealous greed.
Therefore for all these reasons we must keep marriage pure and not let threats and cajoling break this down, least we place our whole city at risk.