by Julian X  /  poetry  /  24 Apr 2008
The Romans, when Tarquinius Superbus was king,
were besieging a city when a bunch of nobles
drunkenly decided to test their wives’ virtue.
Lucretia -- wife of Tarquinius Collatinus --
was judged the best, and after
all rode back, still drunk, to camp,
laughing at the merriment that had helped to pass their time.
But one of the nobles could not forget
the winning bride’s beautiful face; Lucretia’s perfect innocence
haunted Sextus Tarquinius, the king’s son, night after night.
For days, he could not forget her image --
until at last he decided to ride back to her at night,
knowing the way and all alone. He found her house,
and knew well her husband was away -- and so
he entered her house, looking for her. When he surprised her,
she knew him immediately -- but he cared not
and forced her down upon her marriage sheets,
where he tore off her clothes and beat her down
and raped the good and virtuous Lucretia.
The king’s son left her weeping on the bed,
warning her, as his semen began to drip from her raped
and torn vagina, to keep their lovemaking secret
since none would believe her over a king’s son.
If she didn’t, he said he’d return to kill her
for her lie, and he brandished his sword to drive home
his point. He left and rode that night back to camp,
but the next morning both her father and her husband
received a summons at camp from Lucretia.
They rode to her house, where she told her fateful tale
and made them promise to avenge her virtue.
When they had, she thanked them both
and excused herself
to plunge a dagger with great force
deep through her heart.
On this pretext, King Tarquinius Superbus was driven
away to exile, along with his sons. Lusty Sextus went too,
but that could not free him, could not throw off the dogs
in chase for revenge: in exile, he was murdered.
No king would follow the man known as Tarquin the Proud,
and Rome became a republic that deeply hated kings.
The bold rape of Lucretia has been immortalized
in rhyme and painting and stage, a transmutation
for the mere wife of Collatinus for which,
as far as we know, she has never thanked him.
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