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The Story of the Romans by  H. A. Guerber


 

 

THE DEATH OF LUCRETIA

TARQUIN was so cruel and tyrannical that he was both feared and disliked by the Romans. They would have been only too glad to get rid of him, but they were waiting for a leader and for a good opportunity.

During the siege of a town called Ardea, the king's sons and their cousins, Collatinus, once began to quarrel about the merit of their wives. Each one boasted that his was the best, and to settle the dispute they agreed to leave the camp and visit the home of each, so as to see exactly how the women were employed during the absence of their husbands.

[63] Collatinus and the princes quickly galloped back to Rome, and all the houses were visited in turn. They found that the daughters-in-law of the king were idle and frivolous, for they were all at a banquet; but they saw Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, spinning in the midst of her maidens, and teaching them while she worked.


[Illustration]

Lucretia and her Maids.

This woman, so usefully employed, and such a model wife and housekeeper, was also very beautiful. When the princes saw her, they all said that Collatinus was right in their dispute, for his wife was the best of all the Roman women.

Lucretia's beauty had made a deep impression upon one of the princes. This was Sextus Tarquinius, who had betrayed Gabii, and he slipped away from the camp one night and went to visit her.

He waited till she was alone, so that there might be no one to protect her, and then he insulted her grossly; for he was as cowardly as he was wicked.

Lucretia, as we have seen, was a good and pure woman, so, of course, she could neither tell a lie, nor hide anything from her husband which she thought he should know. She therefore sent a messenger to Collatinus and to her father, bidding them come to her quickly.

Collatinus came, accompanied by his father-in-law and by Brutus, who had come with them because he suspected that something was wrong. Lucretia received them sadly, and, in answer to her husband's anxious questions, told him about the visit of Sextus and how he had insulted her.

Her story ended, she added that she had no desire to live any longer, but preferred death to disgrace. Then, [65] before any one could stop her, Lucretia drew a dagger from the folds of her robe, plunged it into her heart, and sank dead at her husband's feet.

Of course you all know that self-murder is a terrible crime, and that no one has a right to take the life which God has given. But the Romans, on the contrary, believed that it was a far nobler thing to end their lives by violence than to suffer trouble or disgrace. Lucretia's action was therefore considered very brave by all the Romans, whose admiration was kindled by her virtues, and greatly increased by her tragic death.

Collatinus and Lucretia's father were at first speechless with horror; but Brutus, the supposed idiot, drew the bloody dagger from her breast. He swore that her death should be avenged, and that Rome should be freed from the tyranny of the wicked Tarquins, who were all unfit to reign. This oath was repeated by Collatinus and his father-in-law.

By the advice of Brutus, Lucretia's dead body was laid on a bier, and carried to the market place, where all might see her bleeding side. There Brutus told the assembled people that this young and beautiful woman had died on account of the wickedness of Sextus Tarquinius, and that he had sworn to avenge her.

Excited by this speech, the people all cried out that they would help him, and they voted that the Tarquin family should be driven out of Rome. Next they said that the name of the king should never be used again.

When the news of the people's fury reached the ears of Tarquin, he fled to a town in Etruria. Sextus, also, tried to escape from his just punishment, but [66] he went to Gabii, where the people rose up and put him to death.

It was thus that the Roman monarchy ended, after seven kings had occupied the throne. Their rule had lasted about two hundred and forty-five years; but although ancient Rome was for a long time the principal city in Europe, it was never under a king again.

The exiled Tarquins, driven from the city, were forced to remain in Etruria. But Brutus, the man whom they had despised, remained at the head of affairs, and was given the title "Deliverer of the People," because he had freed the Romans from the tyranny of the Tarquins.


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