Ab urbe condita libri

The History of Rome

By T. Livius Patavinus

I.57

In this permanent camp, as it happens in wars more long than bitter, plenty of men were on leave, yet the nobles were more than the soldiers were: certain royal youths frequently wore out leisure in feasting and revelries among themselves.  By chance while these were drinking with Sextus Tarquinius, where also Collatinus Tarquinius, the son of Egerus, dined, a mention of wives occurred.  Each praised his wife utterly; thereupon with the struggle aroused, Collatinus said that words were not necessary; indeed, in a few hours it could be known how much his Lucretia surpassed the rest.  “Why not, if the vigor of youth is present, do we mount the horses and visit, seeing in person the characters of our wives?  Let it be the surest test for each wife what she should appear to the eyes of her husband at the unexpected arrival.”  They had become roused with wine; “Come then,” all said; with summoned horses, they flew away to Rome.  When first they had arrived there at dusk, they proceeded thence into Collatia, where they discovered Lucretia not at all like the royal daughters-in-law, whom they had seen in a banquet and at play with their peers wasting time, but devoted late at night to the wool among her late-working handmaids sitting in the middle of the house.  The glory of the womanly contest was Lucretia’s.  The husband and the Tarquins coming, and welcomed courteously; the married victor kindly summoned the royal youths.  There an evil lust for raping Lucretia seized Sextus Tarquinius; not only the figure but also the chastity observed incited him.  Then indeed, they returned from nocturnal youthful fun into the camp.

I.58

A few days later, Sextus Tarquinius, unknown to Collatinus, came to Collatia with one companion.  Where courteously withdrawn from the men unaware of his plan, when he was led after dinner into the guestroom, burning with passion, after things seemed sufficiently safe and everyone seemed near sleep, he came to the sleeping Lucretia with a sword drawn and with the left hand having fallen upon the breast of the woman he said, “Be quiet Lucretia, I am Sextus Tarquinius; there is a sword in my hand; you shall die, if you should utter a sound.”  When the woman, startled from sleep, saw no help and death threatening nearby, Tarquinius confessed his love, he adored, he mingled threats with prayers, he influenced the womanly soul in all manners.  When he saw the obstinate woman and indeed, she did not bend to the fear of death, he added dishonor to fear: he said that he would place a murdered nude slave with her dead body, that it may be said that she had been killed in vile adultery.  By this terror, when his vengeful lust had conquered her stubborn chastity, Tarquinius left, savage in the defeat of womanly grace.  Lucretia, mourning at such a great evil, sent a messenger to Rome to her father and to Ardea to her husband, to come with a single faithful friend; they must act, and quickly; a horrible thing had happened.  Spurius Lucretius came with Publius Valerius, son of Volesus; Collatinus came with Lucius Junius Brutus, with whom he was met returning to Rome by chance by the messenger of his wife.  They found Lucretia weeping, sitting in her room.  Tears rose at their arrival, to her husband asking, “Are you well?”  “No,” she said; “For what is well for the woman with lost chastity?  There are remnants of a strange man.  Collatinus, they are in your bed; moreover, there is violated a body alone, an innocent spirit; death shall be the testimony.  Yet give your right hands as a pledge; it shall not be with impunity for the adulterer.  It is Sextus Tarquinius, an enemy last night instead of a guest, who clad with violence here stole a pleasure destructive to me, and if you are men, to him.”  All gave the oath in turn; they consoled the woman sick at heart, by averting the pain from the compelled woman onto the author of the crime: they said that the mind sins, not the body, and he from whom the plan was absent, the guilt was absent.  “You,” she said, “you must see what is destined for him: I free myself, even if free from sin, I am not free from punishment; and then no shameless woman shall live by the example of Lucretia.”  The knife, which she had hidden under her clothes, she thrust it into her heart.  Falling forward onto the wound, the dying woman collapsed.  Her husband and father lamented.

I.59

Brutus, with the others occupied with weeping, holding before himself the knife taken from Lucretia’s wound, flowing with blood, said, “By this blood most chaste before the prince’s injury I vow, and I make you, gods, the testimony that I shall seek vengeance on Lucius Tarquinius Superbus with his criminal wife and the entire stock of his children with the sword, fire, and with every means I am able, and suffer no one else to reign at Rome.”  Then he gave the knife to Collatinus, thence to Lucretius and Valerius, astounded at the strange thing, whence came this new spirit in Brutus’ breast.  They swore as it had been ordained; having been turned all the way from weeping into anger, followed the lead of Brutus already calling him thence to conquer the kingdom.

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