The Rape of Lucretia: A History of the Ancient Wife Who Changed the Destiny of Rome
Sextus Tarquinius was the son of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome who was engaged in the siege of Ardea at the time. One day, Sextus invited his friends for supper and drinks at his house. Among his guests was Tarquinius Collatinus, one of his distant kinsmen. The men started talking about their wives and, fueled by wine, each of them praised his own wife excessively. Collatinus finally declared that no one was more worthy than his wife, Lucretia.
Tarquinius Superbus (Public Domain)
As his friends scoffed, Collatinus invited them to ride their horses to his house and see for themselves what his wife was doing at home. The men agreed and they all went on horseback to the city. They visited each of their houses and found every single one of their wives getting ready for a night out. Finally, they arrived at the house of Collatinus and found Lucretia, with her servants, working on her spinning in the middle of her house. It was then that Sextus was said to have been seduced both by Lucretia’s beauty and virtue.
Lucretia (Public Domain)
A few days later, Sextus returned to the house of Collatinus. Collatinus was, at this time, away at Ardea. Lucretia received him graciously and granted him the hospitality according to his status as the son of the king. Sextus waited until everyone else was asleep before taking up his sword and went to Lucretia's bedroom. Placing his sword against her, Sextus woke Lucretia with a low voice and declared his love for her. After begging, threatening and exhausting every method of seducing Lucretia, who would rather die than submit to him, Sextus finally said, “when I have killed you, I will put next to you the body of a nude slave. Everyone will say that you were killed during a dishonorable act of adultery.” With this final threat, Sextus succeeded. After he raped Lucretia, he left.
Tarquin and Lucretia, by Titian. (Public Domain)
The distraught Lucretia sent messengers to her husband and her father, Spurius Lucretius – prefect of Rome, asking them each to come at once with a good friend, because a terrible thing had happened in her husband’s house. Spurius Lucretius came with Publius Valerius and Collatinus came with Lucius Junius Brutus. When she saw them, Lucretia began to cry. She told them what has happened to her and charged them to avenge her honor. After promising her that they would pursue Sextus, they tried to appease Lucretia’s sorrow by saying what had happened to her was not her fault. Lucretia said, Nec ulla deinde inpudica Lucretiae exemplo vivet. (“Not in time to come shall ever unchaste woman live through the example of Lucretia”) Then, as the men looked at each other in despair and confusion, Lucretia took up a dagger and plunged it into her heart. She died amid the cries of her husband and father.
Overthrowing the King of Rome
Brutus, who came with Collatinus, took the dagger from Lucretia's wound, called the grieving party to order and proposed that they drive the Tarquinii from Rome. Holding the bloody dagger in his hand, he swore that he would do everything in his power to overthrow the dominion of the Tarquinii…
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Top Image: Lucretia And Tarquin, 17 th century painting (Public Domain) Deriv.