Menenius Agrippa

by Frater Y.V.

"The Man of Earth takes no share in the Government of the Order; for he is not yet called upon to give his life to it in service; and with us Government is Service, and nothing else. The Man of Earth is therefore in much the position of the Plebian in Rome in the time of Menenius Agrippa."

-- Liber 194: An Intimation With Respect to the Constitution of the Order

The plebian, or peasant, class of Rome during the early republic constituted the free (non-slave) work force of the Roman State. They served the State as laborers and soldiers, but had no representation on the Senate, which was restricted to the patrician, or noble, class. However, one of the two consuls of Rome during that period was required to be a plebian by birth, and the presence of a plebian consul in government was supposed to assure the plebians that their interests were being protected. In 503 b.c., the plebian consul was Menenius Agrippa.

At the time, the plebians were growing especially restless over their perceived ill-treatment and lack of representation, and a series of events led to an insurrection in which a large group of them left the City and camped on the Aventine Hill, where they declared their intention to form their own city.

The situation was very dangerous for both sides; the plebians feared an attack from the forces of the senate, and the senators feared economic collapse due to lack of a work force.

It is said that Menenius Agrippa was sent by the Senate to the plebians as a negotiator, and that he appeased them and brought them back into the City to work out a compromise by telling them the ancient fable of The Belly and the Limbs, which follows.

The Belly and the Limbs

Back in the days when the various parts of the body did not necessarily all agree with each other, as they do now, but each had its own ideas and its own voice, some of the parts began to think that it was unfair that they should have to worry and toil to provide everything for the belly, while the belly just sat there in their midst with nothing to do but to enjoy the bounty they brought to it. They therefore conspired together, and agreed that the hands would no longer carry no food to the mouth, the mouth would no longer open for food, and the jaws and teeth would no longer grind up what they received. The belly growled and tossed about in protest; but the limbs remained steadfast in their angry resolve to starve the belly into submission. Soon though, they began to feel weak. Their fatigue grew worse and worse, until they, the belly and the entire body nearly perished from starvation. Thus, it had become clear that even the seemingly idle belly had its own task to perform, and returned as much as it received; by digesting the food brought to it and returning nourishment to the limbs via the blood.