Rome: Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi

Cornelia was the daughter of Scipio Africanus, a famous Roman general. She married a Roman political leader, Tiberius Gracchus, and their two sons, Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus, later became famous political leaders as well, even more famous than their father.

After Cornelia's husband died, she devoted all her time and attention to raising her three young children; she had a daughter in addition to her two sons. Suitors sought her hand in marriage, but she refused them all. King Ptolemy VIII of Egypt even asked her to be his wife, but she would not take the crown that he offered. Instead, she gave all her affection and energy to her children.

One day Cornelia had gone shopping in the forum together with her two sons and her daughter. As they strolled among the crowds, she noticed some women whom she knew. "Greetings, my friends," said Cornelia.

The women replied, "Greetings to you, Cornelia." They smiled at her, while also discreetly inspecting her appearance. As usual, Cornelia was wearing plain and simple clothing with no adornments of any kind. Although she was a wealthy and powerful woman, she did not wear jewels or other signs of wealth. The other women, however, were wearing expensive clothes and jewelry which glinted and flashed in the sun.

One of the women could not restrain herself and had to comment on the dramatic contrast in their appearances. "Excuse my boldness, Cornelia," she said, "but I am curious why it is that you wear no jewelry of any kind."

The quick-witted Cornelia laughed and then embraced her children, pulling them close to her as she replied, "These are my jewels."


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