But it chanced that Sextus, the king’s son, when he saw the fair Lucretia, was smitten with lustful passion; and a few days after he came again to Collatia, and Lucretia entertained him hospitably as her husband’s cousin and friend.
Continuing Romans Establish Republic,
our selection from A History of Rome by Henry George Liddell published in 1855. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in eight easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Romans Establish Republic.
Time: 510 BC
The king, not content with the interpretation of his Etruscan soothsayers, sent persons to consult the famous oracle of the Greeks at Delphi, and the persons he sent were his own sons Titus and Aruns, and his sister’s son, L. Junius, a young man who, to avoid his uncle’s jealousy, feigned to be without common sense, wherefore he was called Brutus or the Dullard. The answer given by the oracle was that the chief power of Rome should belong to him of the three who should first kiss his mother; and the two sons of King Tarquin agreed to draw lots which of them should do this as soon as they returned home. But Brutus perceived that the oracle had another sense; so as soon as they landed in Italy he fell down on the ground as if he had stumbled, and kissed the earth, for she (he thought) was the true mother of all mortal things.
When the sons of Tarquin returned with their cousin, L. Junius Brutus, they found the king at war with the Rutulians of Ardea. Being unable to take the place by storm, he was forced to blockade it; and while the Roman army was encamped before the town the young men used to amuse themselves at night with wine and wassail. One night there was a feast, at which Sextus, the king’s third son, was present, as also Collatinus, the son of Egerius, the king’s uncle, who had been made governor of Collatia. So they soon began to dispute about the worthiness of their wives; and when each maintained that his own wife was worthiest, “Come, gentlemen,” said Collatinus, “let us take horse and see what our wives are doing; they expect us not, and so we shall know the truth.” All agreed, and they galloped to Rome, and there they found the wives of all the others feasting and revelling: but when they came to Collatia they found Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, not making merry like the rest, but sitting in the midst of her handmaids carding wool and spinning; so they all allowed that Lucretia was the worthiest.
Now Lucretia was the daughter of a noble Roman, Spurius Lucretius, who was at this time prefect of the city; for it was the custom, when the kings went out to war, that they left a chief man at home to administer all things in the king’s name, and he was called prefect of the city.
But it chanced that Sextus, the king’s son, when he saw the fair Lucretia, was smitten with lustful passion; and a few days after he came again to Collatia, and Lucretia entertained him hospitably as her husband’s cousin and friend. But at midnight he arose and came with stealthy steps to her bedside: and holding a sword in his right hand, and laying his left hand upon her breast, he bade her yield to his wicked desires; for if not, he would slay her and lay one of her slaves beside her, and would declare that he had taken them in adultery. So for shame she consented to that which no fear would have wrung from her: and Sextus, having wrought this deed of shame, returned to the camp.
Then Lucretia sent to Rome for her father, and to the camp at Ardea for her husband. They came in haste. Lucretius brought with him P. Valerius, and Collatinus brought L. Junius Brutus, his cousin, And they came in and asked if all was well Then she told them what was done: “but,” she said, “my body only has suffered the shame, for my will consented not to the deed. Therefore,” she cried, “avenge me on the wretch Sextus. As for me, though my heart has not sinned, I can live no longer. No one shall say that Lucretia set an example of living in unchastity.” So she drew forth a knife and stabbed herself to the heart.
When they saw that, her father and her husband cried aloud; but Brutus drew the knife from the wound, and holding it up, spoke thus: “By this pure blood I swear before the gods that I will pursue L. Tarquinius the Proud and all his bloody house with fire, sword, or in whatsoever way I may, and that neither they nor any other shall hereafter be king in Rome.” Then he gave the knife to Collatinus and Lucretius and Valerius, and they all swore likewise, much marvelling to hear such words from L. Junius the Dullard. And they took up the body of Lucretia, and carried it into the Forum, and called on the men of Collatia to rise against the tyrant. So they set a guard at the gates of the town, to prevent any news of the matter being carried to King Tarquin: and they themselves, followed by the youth of Collatia, went to Rome. Here Brutus, who was chief captain of the knights, called the people together, and he told them what had been done, and called on them by the deed of shame wrought against Lucretius and Collatinus–by all that they had suffered from the tyrants–by the abominable murder of good King Servius–to assist them in taking vengeance on the Tarquins. So it was hastily agreed to banish Tarquinius and his family. The youth declared themselves ready to follow Brutus against the king’s army, and the seniors put themselves under the rule of Lucretius, the prefect of the city. In this tumult, the wicked Tullia fled from her house, pursued by the curses of all men, who prayed that the avengers of her father’s blood might be upon her.
When the king heard what had passed, he set off in all haste for the city. Brutus also set off for the camp at Ardea; and he turned aside that he might not meet his uncle the king. So he came to the camp at Ardea, and the king came to Rome. And all the Romans at Ardea welcomed Brutus, and joined their arms to his, and thrust out all the king’s sons from the camp. But the people of Rome shut the gates against the king, so that he could not enter.
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