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The legends of ancient Rome tell the story of Lucretia. It tells how the age of the Roman Kingdom ended and the age of the Roman Republic began. It is the story of why the last Roman king, a true tyrant, named Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud, as in “the arrogant”), was finally overthrown. It also shows the powerful public outrage over the wrongful death of a virtuous woman.
The legend goes that, one night, a group of Roman nobles was getting drunk and bragging about whose wife was the most virtuous. To settle the argument, they rode to each of their houses so that the others could see just how their wives spent their idle time. All of the wives were found feasting or relaxing, except for Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus. When the nobles arrived at the house of Collatinus, Lucretia was found busily spinning wool. Her virtue and her beauty caught the drunken eye of Sextus, the son of King Tarquin.
On the next day, while Collatinus was away, Sextus returned. Since he was a cousin of Collatinus, Sextus was received by Lucretia as a relative and as a guest. Sextus then threatened, blackmailed, and raped Lucretia. Later, when Sextus had left and Collatinus had returned, Lucretia told her husband what Sextus had done, and then, to preserve her honor, she drew a knife and killed herself. Immediately afterward, Collatinus, Brutus, and others swore an oath that the evil Tarquin family could no longer be allowed to rule over Rome. They spread the news of the outrage of Lucretia’s death far and wide. Tarquinius Superbus and his family were soon exiled and the Roman Republic was born.