Heroine in Early History
Death 510 B.C.
Lucretia, a heroine in early history, whose ill-treatment by Sextus Tarquinius led to the destruction of the kingdom, and the formation of the republic of Rome, about 510 B.C. she was the wife of Collantinus, near relation of Tarquin, King of Rome. When the Roman army was besieging Ardea the young nobles in their camp fell into a discussion regarding the character of their wives and resolved to ride back and come upon them by surprise. At Rome they found the king’s daughters feasting and making merry. They then rode on to Collatia, and it was late in the night, but they found Lucretia neither feasting nor yet sleeping, but she was sitting with all her handmaids around her, and they all were working at the loom. So when they saw this, they all said, “Lucretia is the worthiest lady.” And she entertained her husband and his kinsmen, and after that they rode back to the camp.
But Sextus, one of the king’s sons, fired by an ignoble passion, returned secretly to Collatia and in the dead of night, entered Lucretia’s room. And he said that if she yielded not to him, he would slay her and one of the slaves with her, and would say to her husband that he had slain her in her adultery. So when Sextus had accomplished his wicked purpose, he went back again to the camp.
Then Lucretia sent for her husband and father and their kinsmen, and related what had happened, adding: “If he be men, avenge it!” And they all swore to her that they would avenge it. Then she said: “I am not guilty; yet must I too share in the punishment of this deed, lest any should think that they may be false to their husbands and live.” And she drew a knife from her bosom, and stabbed herself to the heart. At that sight her husband and father cried aloud, but Lucius Janius Brutus drew the knife from the wound, and held it up, and said: “By this blood I swear, that I will visit this deed upon King Tarquinius, and all his accursed race; neither shall any man hereafter be king in Rome, lest he do the like wickedness.”
When the facts were known, the indignant people rose against the Tarquins, whom they expelled from the city, and established the republican government.
The story is told by Livy, though some historians regard it as a legend.
It is the subject of Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece, and it has been variously adapted by other poets and romancers.
Reference: Famous Women; An Outline of Feminine Achievement Through the Ages With Life Stories of Five Hundred Noted Women By Joseph Adelman. Copyright, 1926 by Ellis M. Lonow Company.