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Menenius Agrippa’s fable

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Secessio plebis on Mons Sacer
Secessio plebis on Mons Sacer

In 494 BCE there was a so-called first plebeian secession, which was a rebellion against the patrician rule in Rome. To convince the crowd to stop the rebellion, the ruling class sent a special emissary. It was a certain Menenius Agrippaconsul for 503 BCE – who was friendly with the masses.

Wishing to justify the idleness of the privileged mass, he told the following fable:

At the time when the parts of the human body did not, as now, all agree together, but the several members had each their own counsel, and their own language, the other parts were indignant that, while everything was provided for the gratification of the belly by their labour and service, the belly, resting calmly in their midst, did nothing but enjoy the pleasures afforded it. They accordingly entered into a conspiracy, that neither should the hands convey food to the mouth, nor the mouth receive it when presented, nor the teeth have anything to chew: while desiring, under the influence of this indignation, to starve out the belly, the individual members themselves and the entire body were reduced to the last degree of emaciation. Thence it became apparent that the office of the belly as well was no idle one, that it did not receive more nourishment than it supplied, sending, as it did, to all parts of the body that blood from which we derive life and vigour, distributed equally through the veins when perfected by the digestion of the food.

Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, II.32

Of course, the stomach mentioned in the story is the patrician layer. Eventually, an agreement was reached between the patricians and the plebeians, and the office of the people’s tribune was established under it.

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