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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book I Chapter 26: Horatius' Murder of his Sister.
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Before the armies separated, Mettius inquired what commands he was to receive in accordance with the terms of the treaty. Tullus ordered him to keep the Alban soldiery under arms, as he would require their services if there were war with the Veientines. Both armies then withdrew to their homes. |
Horatius' was marching at the head of the Roman army, carrying in front of him his triple spoils. His sister [Note 1], who had been betrothed to one of the Curiatii, met him outside the Capene gate. She recognised on her brother's shoulders the cloak of her betrothed, which she had made with her own hands; and bursting into tears she tore her hair and called her dead lover by name. The triumphant soldier was so enraged by his sister's outburst of grief in the midst of his own triumph and the public rejoicing that he drew his sword and stabbed the girl. "Go," he cried, in bitter reproach, "go to your betrothed with your ill-timed love, forgetful as you are of your dead brothers, of the one who still lives and of your country! So perish every Roman woman who mourns for an enemy!"
The deed horrified patricians and plebeians alike; but his recent services were a set-off to it. He was brought before the king for trial. To avoid responsibility for passing a harsh sentence, which would be repugnant to the populace, and then carrying it into execution, the king summoned an assembly of the people, and said: "I appoint two duumvirs to judge the treason of Horatius according to law." The dreadful language of the law was: "The duumvirs shall judge cases of treason; if the accused appeal from the duumvirs the appeal shall be heard; if their sentence be confirmed the lictor shall hang him by a rope on the fatal tree and shall scourge him either within or without the pomoerium." The duumvirs appointed under this law did not think that by its provisions they had the power to acquit even an innocent person. Accordingly they condemned him; then one of them said Publius Horatius, I pronounce you guilty of treason. Lictor, bind his hands." The lictor had approached and was fastening the cord, when Horatius, at the suggestion of Tullus, who placed a merciful interpretation on the law, said "I appeal." The appeal was accordingly brought before the people.
Their decision was mainly influenced by Publius Horatius the father, who declared that his daughter had been justly slain, had it not been so, he would have exerted his authority as a father in punishing his son. Then he implored them not to bereave of all his children the man whom they had so lately seen surrounded with such noble offspring. Whilst saying this he embraced his son, and then, pointing to the spoils of the Curiatii suspended on the spot now called the Pila Horatia, he said: "Can you bear, Quirites to see bound scourged, and tortured beneath the gallows the man whom you saw, lately, coming in triumph adorned with his foemen's spoils? Why, the Albans themselves could not bear the sight of such a hideous spectacle. Go, lictor, bind those hands which when armed but a little time ago won dominion for the Roman people. Go, cover the head of the liberator of this City! Hang him on the fatal tree, scourge him within the pomoerium if only it be amongst the trophies of his foes or without if only it be amongst the tombs of the Curiatii! To what place can you take this youth where the monuments of his splendid exploits will not vindicate him from such a shameful punishment?" The father's tears and the young soldier's courage ready to meet every peril were too much for the people. They acquitted him because they admired his bravery rather than because they regarded his cause as a just one. But since a murder in broad daylight demanded some expiation, the father was commanded to make an atonement for his son at the cost of the State. After offering certain expiatory sacrifices he erected a beam across the street and made the young man pass under it, as under a yoke, with his head covered. This beam exists to-day, having always been kept in repair by the State: it is called "The Sister's Beam." A tomb of hewn stone was constructed for Horatia on the spot where she was murdered.
Note 1: sister = Horatia