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The villagers gather in the town square. Whispers of murder, mayhem, and an uprising fill the courtyard. Some even wonder at plots of uprooting the King from the throne!
A man with a commanding voice climbs the steps of the podium and shouts these rousing words, “Let it be known, that on this day, the seventh of the first month of the year, Lucretia, the beautiful noble woman has been raped by Sextus Tarquinius! And she has bravely killed herself to maintain the honor of her family and husband.”
Gasps emit from the crowd. Men draw their wives nearer as if protecting them from the mere mention of the name; children hide behind their mothers’ skirts.
The speaker clears his throat and again speaks, “Who will fight? Who will take up arms against a false King, and a false family? Who will aid in be-ridding Rome of tyranny, and evil?” He raises his arm in the sign of strength. Soon enough, the village men are all chanting and cheering. They will fight.
The Rape of Lucretia is a well-known tragedy in Roman history. Although rape is one of the main messages, it is not the only meaning found identified in this story. Lucretia’s noble husband Collatine vows vengeance upon his wife’s dead body and carries her corpse throughout the streets of Rome enraging the citizens at the sight of Sextus Tarquinius’s evil deed; one cannot help but wonder if this rape was an easy way to pin the blame on the Roman King. The people took Collatine’s rage as a sign of sorrow, but it might have been a strategically planned attack used to eventually rally the citizens of Rome into uprising against the King.
The Rape of Lucretia is a tale of the dangers women faced in Rome. During the Roman Empire, women were seen as property and nothing else. Women had no voting rights, had no say in politics, and could not be seen in public without their husband’s or brother’s approval. And they had to take a chaperone with them at all times. Noble women were kept on an even stricter leash; their virtue could have been sullied at the merest whisper of adultery. Knowing this, questions arise about the validity of Lucretia’s rape.
Lucretia’s husband was said to have bragged so much that he and his war friends held a competition of their wives. When they visited Rome, all of the men agreed “the prize of this contest in womanly virtues fell to Lucretia.” But according to Roman history, women weren’t even allowed to appear without their husband’s permission; wives were required to quietly stay out of the way while their husbands and friends dined and entertained one another. This raises the question; did Lucretia even meet Sextus Tarquinius? It was the custom for Roman men to conservatively guard their wives even from their friends. Only males who were family ever truly got in close proximity with fellow relative females. Lucretia was a noble woman of wealth and stature, so she certainly would have been protected from the prying eyes.
Another part of Lucretia’s rape includes her entertaining and letting Sextus Tarquinius to stay at her and her husband’s wealthy estate. Lucretia apparently, “kindly welcomed Tarquinius…gave him dinner…and led him to a guest-chamber.” The story also mentions, Collatine wasn’t in the city when Sextus visited Lucretia. Looking at Roman custom, Lucretia shouldn’t have even opened the door. Lucretia was a noble, virtuous woman, who would have faced the backlash of gossip and rumors in female Roman society. Roman women had influence in politics and knew one of their weapons was the ability to sully an opponent’s reputation through gossip. If Lucretia truly was a noble woman, part of her education taught to her by her mother would’ve been how to handle other Roman women and their wagging tongues. These lessons of wit and speech included how to avoid gossip being spread by defending one’s actions and virtues. Knowing this, it raises another question; did Lucretia even have the chance to be raped by Sextus Tarquinius if chaperones were there to guard her honor?
If this was the case, Lucretia would have (in reality), sent word to her husband and had several chaperones to watch the exchange between Sextus Tarquinius and herself. The story mentions, Tarquinius brought with him” a single attendant.” The role of this attendant was to maintain and ensure civility between the two.
After looking at Lucretia’s side of the story, her husband, Collatine’s actions must also be examined. Viewing Collatine’s actions from the Roman public’s point of view, one would infer Collatine was so enraged by Lucretia’s rape, that he struck out at the one thing Sextus Tarquinius loved above all else: his position of power. As the story states, “(the men) I will pursue Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and his (relations –including Sextus) wicked wife…and that I will suffer neither them nor any other to be king in Rome!” One could infer that Collatine would “rape” the one thing Sextus held dear just like he raped Collatine’s love –his wife Lucretia. Collatine along with Lucretia’s father and his dear friend Brutus continue on their rampage of vengeance until Sextus Tarquinius is banished from Rome, and his relations are driven out of the city banished as well.
Yet, looking at the facts, one can find holes in this story. Could Lucretia’s rape have been a clever strategy to rally the people of Rome to up rise against the Tarquinius family. The story of Lucretia’s Rape states, “Common people…were especially resentful the King should have kept them employed so long as artisans and doing the work of slaves.” This and other passages tell of the social unrest within Roman society. The masses of impoverished people were unhappy with being treated as slave workers while their rulers and the wealthy dined off of their hard work. Is it that far of a stretch to consider perhaps, Collatine and Lucretia’s family used this social unrest to further enrage the citizens of Rome when they announced her rape by the prince Sextus Tarquinius? Is it a stretch to wonder that plotting to get rid of the throne in Rome wasn’t already a plan supporters had in the works waiting for the right time to spring on the people?
In a mere few days, Lucretia’s husband, father, and relatives stirred the Roman people into revolt. Much of the population took up arms against the Tarquinius King and the army was able to drive back his forces and make them leave the kingdom. Sextus Tarquinius was exiled and banned from the city. When he returned to his home country he was executed for murder. A few months later, Collatine and Brutus were named consuls of the Republic of Rome and were granted much power and prestige over the people. Lucretia’s Rape is not only a symbol of a woman’s lack of voice in Roman society, but also symbolizes the historical overturning of Rome from a monarchy to a republic.
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