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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 25: The Breaking Point

Synopsis of Chapter 25: The Breaking Point

After draining the wealth of Gabii, Superbus sets his eyes on Ardea, enlisting the Latins by claiming they will help "liberate" this Latin city from the Etruscans. While beseigeing the city, Sextus slips away to commit a foul deed. Lucretia cannot live with the atrocity Sextus committed against her, and begs her family to avenge her. Brutus and Collatinus arouse the ire of the people and take over the city of Roma, banishing the king. The seige of Ardea is lifted, and the city of Gabii has its revenge against Sextus.

Excerpt from Chapter 25: The Breaking Point

"Don't look at me! I have humiliated you, Collatinus, and I have been humiliated. I cannot live with the memory."

They all beseeched her to tell them what had happened.

"It was Sextus Tarquin. He came as a friend, he said. How could I refuse him hospitality? But he was no friend."

The story came out in bits and pieces. Sextus committed an outrageous crime. The listeners suspected it was even worse than Lucretia could give words to.

"I assure you, husband, he took from me what he wanted, I never gave him anything. But he spoiled me for you, I am ruined. How can I live with this dishonor?"

All four men were horror struck and filled with anger, but Collatinus was almost out of his head with grief for his poor wife's state. Was there nothing he could do to take away some of her pain? Then she spoke:

"Avenge me! I call upon each of you to avenge me. He is an enemy to all mankind. What he did to me last night must be punished. Swear to me you will take my revenge."

They all swore immediately, desperate to sooth her agitation. It is not your fault, they assured her, you did not give your consent. Please do not take this outrage upon your own head.

"Although I acquit myself of the sin, I do not free myself from the penalty; no unchaste woman shall henceforth live and plead Lucretia's example." Saying this, she pulled out a knife she had concealed in her dress and before anyone could stop her, plunged the knife into her heart. Panic-struck, the men rushed forward to catch her as she fell to the floor. It was too late to save her. Her chaste heart would beat no more. Howls of grief were heard in the street outside.

Brutus drew the bloody knife from Lucretia's wound and holding it before him, said, "By this blood most pure I swear, and I call on the gods to bear witness, that with fire and sword and every means in my power, I will drive out Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, together with his cursed wife and his whole brood, and I will not suffer them or anyone else to reign in Roma."

He handed the knife to Collatinus, who swore a similar oath, and then Lucretius and Valerius swore also upon the knife still fresh with Lucretia's blood. They stared at Luc, amazed. The oath he swore was but one reason to look at Brutus with new eyes, for he was a man who was suddenly transformed, Brutus no longer. How could they account for this dramatic change in a man they all thought was a simpleton?

"The time has come," Brutus commanded. "We have much to do and we must act fast. I have prepared for this day for many years, and I know exactly what we are going to do. But first help me lift her, Publius."

Brutus and Valerius carried Lucretia's limp body out into the plaza, followed by her father and a husband who was inconsolable. The people of Collatia came from every direction, adding their voices to the well of grief that must have been heard by Jupiter Optimus Maximus above. The story of the tragedy quickly circulated throughout the crowd.

"We have all suffered at the hand of the Tarquins," Brutus declared to the crowd. "But no longer. There will be time enough for tears later, but now I call upon every able-bodied man to follow me to Roma. We are taking the city and justice will be served!"


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