Livy: Rape of Lucretia

Not many details are known about Livy's life. He is said to have written philosophical dialogues in his youth (Elder Seneca, Controversiae 10 Praef. 2), but his fame rests on his 142 book history of Rome, called Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City), which he began to write around 29 BCE, after he had moved to Rome. As far as we know, Livy never held public office nor played a role in public life. Livy was acquainted with the emperor Augustus, but scholars debate the extent to which they shared common goals. The later Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 4. 34) reports that Augustus called Livy a "Pompeian", i.e. thought that he had Republican sympathies. He published his history of Rome in installments, working on it for most of his life. He lived three years longer than Augustus, dying in 17CE in his native Patavium.

According to Livy a group of noblemen (including Sextus Tarquin, the son of the last King of Rome) were having a contest to see who had the best wife. Collatinus won. This account may have occurred sometime around 509 BCE, just prior to the foundation of the Roman Republic.

A few days afterwards [the contest] Sextus Tarquin went, unknown to Collatinus [the husband of Lucretia] … [to the house of Lucretia]. He was hospitably received by the household, who suspected nothing, and after supper was conducted to the bedroom set apart for guests. When all around seemed safe and everybody fast asleep, he went in the frenzy of his passion with a naked sword to the sleeping Lucretia, and placing his left hand on her breast, said, "Silence, Lucretia! I am Sextus Tarquin, and I have a sword in my hand; if you utter a word, you shall die."

When the woman, terrified out of her sleep, saw that no help was near, and instant death threatening her, Tarquin began to confess his passion, pleaded, used threats as well as entreaties, and employed every argument likely to influence a female heart. When he saw that she was inflexible and not moved even by the fear of death, he threatened to disgrace her, declaring that he would lay the naked corpse of the slave by her dead body, so that it might be said that she had been slain in foul adultery. By this awful threat, his lust triumphed over her inflexible chastity, and Tarquin went off exulting in having successfully attacked her honour.

Lucretia, overwhelmed with grief at such a frightful outrage, sent a messenger to her father at Rome and to her husband at Ardea, asking them to come to her ….

They found Lucretia sitting in her room prostrate with grief. As they entered, she burst into tears, and to her husband's inquiry whether all was well, replied, "No! what can be well with a woman when her honour is lost? [she told her husband] The marks of a stranger … are in your bed. But it is only the body that has been violated the soul is pure; death shall bear witness to that. But pledge me your solemn word that the adulterer shall not go unpunished. It is Sextus Tarquin, who, coming as an enemy instead of a guest forced from me last night by brutal violence a pleasure fatal to me, and, if you are men, fatal to him." They all successively pledged their word, and tried to console the distracted woman …urging that it is the mind that sins not the body, and where there has been no consent there is no guilt "It is for you," she said, "to see that he gets his deserts: 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." She had a knife concealed in her dress which she plunged into her, heart, and fell dying on the floor.