Once upon a time in the city of Rome lived a noble woman whose name was Cornelia. She lived more than one hundred years before Jesus was born. Cornelia had two fine sons. The name of the older boy was Tiberius Gracchus. The younger boy’s name was Caius Gracchus. Their father, whose name was also Tiberius Gracchus, was one of the leading men in Rome. When the boys were quite young, their father died.
The father’s death was a terrible blow to Cornelia. But she was brave, as well as beautiful and cultured. In those days, the noble ladies of Rome wore beautiful dresses and expensive jewels. Cornelia was not as rich as many of the ladies she knew, but she was a sensible woman. She willingly went without jewels and expensive clothes. She would rather spend her money to educate her sons. She made up her mind that her sons should have the best education that Rome could give. She wanted them to become good, useful men.
Cornelia had many friends, and she enjoyed having her friends visit her. Even kings often sat at her table. She was a charming hostess, and her friends were happy to come to her house and be her guests. Cornelia never talked about her sorrows or how hard it was to raise her sons without her husband to help her. Her wonderful cheerfulness and gentle courtesy made her greatly loved by everyone.
One bright morning, a lady friend came to visit Cornelia. She was beautifully dressed. She wore lovely pearls and flashing diamonds. Cornelia was simply dressed in a plain white robe. No rings or necklaces glittered on her fingers or about her neck. Instead of flashing jewels in her hair, her long, soft hair was gathered up in brown braids that crowned her head. She took her friend for a walk among the flowers and trees in her beautiful garden.
Cornelia’s sons, Tiberius and Caius, were standing in the vine-covered summer house. They were looking at their mother and her friend.
“Isn’t our mother’s friend a handsome lady?” said Caius to Tiberius. “She looks like a queen.”
“She is not half as beautiful as our mother,” replied Tiberius who was nine years older than his little brother. “She has a fine dress, but her face is not so noble and kind as our mother’s is. It is our mother who is like a queen.”
“You’re right,” answered the younger boy. “No woman in Rome looks as much like a queen as does our mother.”
Soon Cornelia came down the garden path to speak to the boys. She looked into her sons’ proud eyes with a loving smile. “Boys,” she said, “I have something to tell you.”
They bowed before her as Roman boys were taught to do.
“What is it, Mother?” they asked.
“When you come home from school today, you are to dine with us here in the garden.”
Again they bowed as politely as if their mother really were a queen. Then they left the garden and went to school.
While they were gone, Cornelia’s friend opened a wonderful little box of jewels that she had brought. She wanted to show them to Cornelia. Carefully, she picked up first one shining jewel and then another. She showed Cornelia their beautiful colors. She told her of their great value. There were diamonds and pearls and rubies and many other kinds of gems. They were indeed beautiful.
At last she looked up at Cornelia and said, “Is it true, Cornelia, that you have no jewels? Is it true, as I have heard, that you are too poor to own them?”
Just then, Tiberius and Caius came in from school.
“No, I am not poor,” answered the fond mother as she drew her two boys to her side. “Here are my jewels! They are worth more than all the expensive gems you have shown me.”
Tiberius and Caius Gracchus grew to be great men in Rome. They stood for what they knew was right. They tried to pass laws that would help the poor. Tiberius helped the common people find comfortable homes. Caius helped them to be able to buy enough food so they wouldn’t go hungry. They both worked hard to make Rome a better place to live. And that is why the world still likes to hear the story of Cornelia’s “jewels.”
Storytime, Character-building Stories for Children, 48, 49.