Lemprier on the Rape Lucretia and the Birth of the Roman Republic

One of my goals for 2019 is to present a paper to the Shakespeare and Contemporary Writers Conference that takes place in Hiroshima in September.

The topic I have chosen is Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece, almost certainly in comparison with Machiavelli’s La Mandragola, and perhaps also referring to Livy and Ovid as sources, and to Jonson’s Volpone, and also Shakespeare’s other works that reference the story, his early tragedy, Titus Andronicus and his late romance, Cymbeline.

Today I began with a perusal of my facsimile of the 1865 edition of Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary (which I recorded as having purchased on 4th December 1984, the same year it was published, towards the end of the first term of my second year at York University (U. K.).

Lempriere’s dictionary was first published as the Bibliotheca Classica in 1788 and is itself now an English classic. According to the blurb on the fly of the book cover, the dictionary was

an inspiration to dramatists and poets, especially the romantic poets of the early nineteenth century such as Keats, who is said to have known the book almost by heart.

And so, here is Lempriere’s account of the rape of Lucretia and the founding of the Roman republic of which it was productive (to imitate the idiom of Lempriere).

LUCRETIA, a celebrated Roman lady, daughter of Lucretius, and wife of Tarquinius Collatinus. Her accomplishments unhappily proved fatal to her happiness, and to her life, and the praises which a number of young nobles at Ardea, among whom were Collatinus and the sons of Tarquin, bestowed upon the domestic virtues of their wives at home, were productive of a revolution in the state.

While every one was warm with the idea, it was universally agreed to leave the camp and go to Rome, to ascertain the veracity of their respective assertions. Collatinus had the pleasure to see his expectations fulfilled in the highest degree, and, while the wives of other Romans were involved in the riot and dissipation of a feast, Lucretia was found at home, diligently employed in the midst of her female servants, and easing their labour by sharing it herself.

The beauty and innocence of Lucretia inflamed the passion of Sextus, the son of Tarquin, who was a witness of her virtues and industry. He cherished his criminal desires, secretly retired from the camp, and came to the house of Lucretia, where, as the friend of her husband he met with a kind reception.

In the dead of night, he introduced himself to Lucretia, who refused to his intreaties what her fear of shame at last granted to his threats. She yielded to her ravisher, when he threatened to murder her, and to slay one of her slaves, and put him in her bed, that this apparent adultery might seem to have met with the punishment which it deserved.

Lucretia, thus dishonoured, in the morning sent for her husband and her father from the camp, and, after she had revealed to them the indignities she had suffered from the son of Tarquin, nd entreated them to avenge her wrongs, she stabbed herself with a dagger which she had previously concealed under her clothes.

This fatal blow was the signal for rebellion. The body of the virtuous Lucretia was exposed to the eyes of the senate and of the people, and the violence and barbarity of Sextus, joined to the unpopularity and oppression of his father, so irritated the Roman populace, that they from that moment expelled the Tarquins for ever from Rome.

Brutus, who was present at the tragical death of Lucretia, kindled the flames of rebellion, and the republican consular government was established A. U. C. 244.

Note: A. U. C. = Ab Urbe Condita, or “since the founding of the city.