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Chapter 8



A nobler spirit warm'd Her sons; and roused by tyrants, nobler still It burn'd in Brutus.--Thomson.


1. LU'CIUS TARQUIN'IUS, afterwards called Super'bus, or the Proud, having placed himself upon the throne, in consequence of this horrid deed, was resolved to support his dignity with the same violence with which it was acquired. Regardless of the senate or the people's approbation, he seemed to claim the crown by an hereditary right, and refused burial to the late king's' body, under pretence of his being an usurper. 2. All the good part of mankind, however, looked upon his accession with detestation and horror: and this act of inefficient cruelty only served to confirm their hatred. 3. Conscious of this, he ordered all such as he suspected to have been attached to Ser'vius, to be put to death; and fearing the natural consequences of his tyranny, he increased the guard round his person.

4. His chief policy seems to have been to keep the people always employed either in wars or public works, by which means he diverted their attention from his unlawful method of coming to the crown. He first marched against the Sab'ines, who refused to pay him obedience; and he soon reduced them to submission. 5. In the meantime, many of the discontented patricians, abandoning their native country, took refuge in Ga'bii, a city of Latium, about twelve miles from Rome, waiting an opportunity to take up arms, and drive Tarquin from his throne. To escape this danger. Tarquin had recourse to the following stratagem. 6. He caused his son Sextus to counterfeit desertion, upon pretence of barbarous usage, and to seek refuge among the inhabitants of the place. There, by artful complaints and studied lamentations, Sextus so prevailed upon the pity of the people, as to be chosen their governor, and, soon after, general of their army. 7. At first, in every engagement, he appeared successful; till, at length, finding himself entirely possessed of the confidence of the state, he sent a trusty messenger to his father for instructions. Tarquin made no answer; but taking the messenger to the garden, he cut down before him the tallest poppies. Sextus readily understood the meaning of this reply, and found means to destroy or remove, one by one, the principal men of the city; taking care to confiscate their effects among the people. 8. The charms of this dividend kept the giddy populace blind to their approaching ruin, till they found themselves at last without counsellors or head; and, in the end, fell under the power of Tarquin, without even striking a blow.[1]

9. But, while he was engaged in wars abroad, he took care not to suffer the people to continue in idleness at home. He undertook to build the Capitol, the foundation of which had been laid in a former reign; and an extraordinary event contributed to hasten the execution of his design. A woman, in strange attire, made her appearance at Rome, and came to the king, offering to sell nine books, which, she said, were of her own composing. 10. Not knowing the abilities of the seller, or that she was, in fact, one of the celebrated _Sybils_, whose prophecies were never found to fail, Tarquin refused to buy them. Upon this she departed, and burning three of her books, returned again, demanding the same price for the six remaining. 11. Being once more despised as an impostor, she again departed, and burning three more, she returned with the remaining three, still asking the same price as at first. Tarquin, surprised at the inconsistency of her behaviour, consulted the augurs, to be advised what to do. These much blamed him for not buying the nine, and commanded him to take the three remaining, at whatsoever price they were to be had. 12. The woman, says the historian, after thus selling and delivering the three prophetic volumes, and advising him to have a special attention to what they contained, vanished from before him, and was never seen after. A trick this, invented probably by Tarquin himself, to impose upon the people; and to find in the Sybil's leaves whatever the government might require. However this was, he chose proper persons to keep them, who, though but two at first, were afterwards increased to fifteen, under the name of _Quindecemviri_. The important volumes were put into a stone chest, and a vault in the newly designed building was thought the properest place to secure them.[2]

13. The people, having been now for four years together employed in building the Capitol, began, at last, to wish for something new to engage them; Tarquin, therefore, to satisfy their wishes, proclaimed war against the Ru'tuli, upon a frivolous pretence of their having entertained some malefactors, whom he had banished; and invested their chief city, Ar'dea, which lay about sixteen miles from Rome. 14. While the army was encamped before this place, the king's son Sextus Tarquinius, Collati'nus a noble Roman, and some others, sitting in a tent drinking together, the discourse turned upon wives, each man preferring the beauty and virtue of his own. Collati'nus offered to decide the dispute by putting it to an immediate trial, whose wife should be found possessed of the greatest beauty, and most sedulously employed at that very hour: being heated with wine, the proposal was relished by the whole company; and, taking horse without delay, they posted to Rome, though the night was already pretty far advanced.

15. There they found Lucre'tia, the wife of Collati'nus, not like the other women of her age, spending the time in ease and luxury, but spinning in the midst of her maids, and cheerfully portioning out their tasks. Her modest beauty, and the easy reception she gave her husband and his friends, so charmed them all, that they unanimously gave her the preference, but kindled, in the breast of Sextus Tarquin'ius, a detestable passion, which occasioned the grossest insult and injury to Lucre'tia, who, detesting the light, and resolving to destroy herself for the crime of another, demanded her husband Collati'nus, and Spu'rius, her father, to come to her; an indelible disgrace having befallen the family. 16. They instantly obeyed the summons, bringing with them Valerius, a kinsman of her father, and Junius Bru'tus, a reputed idiot, whose father Tarquin had murdered, and who had accidentally met the messenger by the way. 17. Their arrival only served to increase Lucre'tia's poignant anguish; they found her in a state of the deepest desperation, and vainly attempted to give her relief. After passionately charging Sextus Tarquin'ius with the basest perfidy towards her husband and injury to herself, she drew a poinard from beneath her robe, and instantly plunging it into her bosom, expired without a groan. 18. Struck with sorrow, pity, and indignation, Spu'rius and Collati'nus gave vent to their grief; but Bru'tus, drawing the poinard, reeking, from Lucre'tia's wound, and lifting it up towards heaven, "Be witness, ye gods," he cried, "that, from this moment, I proclaim myself the avenger of the chaste Lucretia's cause; from this moment I profess myself the enemy of Tarquin and his wicked house; from henceforth this life, while life continues, shall be employed in opposition to tyranny, and for the happiness and freedom of my much-loved country." 19. A new amazement seized the hearers: he, whom they had hitherto considered as an idiot, now appearing, in his real character, the friend of justice, and of Rome. He told them, that tears and lamentations were unmanly, when vengeance called so loudly; and, delivering the poinard to the rest, imposed the same oath upon them which he himself had just taken.

20. Ju'nius Brutus was the son of Marcus Ju'nius, who was put to death by Tarquin the Proud, and the grandson of Tarquin the elder. He had received an excellent education from his father, and had, from nature, strong sense and an inflexible attachment to virtue; but knowing that Tarquin had murdered his father and his eldest brother, he counterfeited a fool, in order to escape the same danger, and thence obtained the surname of Bru'tus. Tarquin, thinking his folly real, despised the man; and having possessed himself of his estate, kept him as an idiot in his house, merely with a view of making sport for his children.

21. Brutus, however, only waited this opportunity to avenge the cause of his family. He ordered Lucre'tia's dead body to be brought out to view, and exposing it in the public forum, inflamed the ardour of the citizens by a display of the horrid transaction. He obtained a decree of the senate, that Tarquin and his family should be for ever banished from Rome, and that it should be capital for any to plead for, or to attempt his future return. 22. Thus this monarch, who had now reigned twenty-five years, being expelled his kingdom, went to take refuge with his family at Ci'ra, a little city of _Etru'ria_. In the mean time the Roman army made a truce with the enemy, and Bru'tus was proclaimed deliverer of the people.

Thus ended with Tarquin, after a continuance of two hundred and forty-five years, the regal state of Rome.


Questions for Examination.

1. What was the conduct of Lucius Tarquinius at the commencement of his reign?

2. Was his claim quietly acquiesced in?

3. What means did he adopt for his security?

4. By what means did he divert the people's attention from the unlawful manner in which he acquired the crown?

5. What happened in the mean time?

6. To what mean artifice did he have recourse?

7. How did Sextus accomplish his father's design?

8. What were the effects of this measure?

9. In what way did he employ his subjects at home during his absence, and what extraordinary event occurred?

10. Did he accept her offer?

11. Was her second application successful, and what followed?

12. What became of the Sybil, and what is the general opinion respecting this transaction?

13. Upon what pretence did Tarquin proclaim war against the Rutuli?

14. What remarkable event took place at the siege of Ardea?

15. What was the consequence of this intemperate frolic?

16. How did Lucretia support the loss of her honour?

17. Did they obey her summons, and who did they bring with them?

18. What was the consequence of their arrival?

19. What effect had this dreadful catastrophe on those present?

20. How was this unexpected resolution received?

21. Give some account of Brutus.

22. For what reason, and by what means, did Brutus endeavour the abolition of royalty?

23. What became of Tarquin after his expulsion?



[1] This story is manifestly a fiction formed from the Greek traditions respecting Zopy'nus and Thrasybu'lus. It is decisively contradicted by the fact, that a treaty for the union of the Romans and Gabians, on equitable terms, was preserved in the Capitol. It was painted on a shield covered with the hide of the bull which had been sacrificed at the ratification of the league.

[2] The Capitol, or temple of Jupiter Capitoli'nus.

Oliver Goldsmith