As always, a new Wednesday means a new story from famous women in history as narrated by Boccaccio! This time, our weekly Women's Wednesday features Lucretia and the tragic events that led to the birth of the Roman Republic.
Lucretia was a Roman noblewoman married to Collatinus, who was related to Tarquinius Priscus, fifth king of Rome. While engaged in the siege of Ardea, Collatinus, together with other noblemen, began arguing and imagining what their wives would be doing while they were away. Being certain of his wife's virtue, Collatinus brought home the company in the middle of the night: there they found Lucretia placidly weaving wool together with her maids - while the other wives were found lavishly banqueting with friends. Intrigued by Lucretia's chastity, one of the king's sons, Sextus Tarquinius, later returned to the house alone. Managing to enter her rooms unnoticed, Sextus threatened to kill her with his sword or frame her for adultery unless she had given herself to him. Shocked and terrified, Lucretia could do nothing but surrender to Sextus' threats.
After the fact, Sextus returned to the siege, while Lucretia called for her husband and father. Desperate, the woman denounced the rape and asked for an oath of vengeance: then, while the men were still debating the proper course of action, she took a dagger she had hidden inside her dress and, torn apart by pain and humiliation, she stabbed herself in the heart.
Lucretia's rape and suicide thus led to the fall of the Roman monarchy, with the royal family of the Tarquinii being ragefully expelled from the city. The remaining prominent families finally instituted a republic, with Collatinus being one of the first consuls.
“Lucretia”, illumination from the manuscript “Des cleres et nobles femmes”, ms. Spencer Collection 033, f. 25r, ca. 1450, The New York Public Library.