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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book I Chapter 56: The Mission to Delphi.[509 BC]
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Determined to finish his temple, he sent for workmen from all parts of Etruria, and not only used the public treasury to defray the cost, but also compelled the plebeians to take their share of the work. This was in addition to their military service, and was anything but a light burden. Still they felt it less of a hardship to build the temples of the gods with their own hands, than they did afterwards when they were transferred to other tasks less imposing, but involving greater toil - the construction of the " fori" in the Circus and that of the Cloaca Maxima, a subterranean tunnel to receive all the sewage of the City. The magnificence of these two works could hardly be equalled by anything in the present day. When the plebeians were no longer required for these works, he considered that such a multitude of unemployed would prove a burden to the State, and as he wished the frontiers of the empire to be more widely colonised, he sent colonists to Signia and Circeii to serve as a protection to the City by land and sea. |
While he was carrying out these undertakings a frightful portent appeared; a snake gliding out of a wooden column created confusion and panic in the palace. The king himself was not so much terrified as filled with anxious forebodings. The Etruscan soothsayers were only employed to interpret prodigies which affected the State; but this one concerned him and his house personally, so he decided to send to the world-famed oracle of Delphi. Fearing to entrust the oracular response to any one else, he sent two of his sons to Greece, through lands at that time unknown and over seas still less known. Titus and Arruns started on their journey. They had as a travelling companion Lucius Junius Brutus, the son of the king's sister, Tarquinia, a young man of a very different character from that which he had assumed. When he heard of the massacre of the chiefs of the State, amongst them his own brother, by his uncle's orders, he determined that his intelligence should give the king no cause for alarm nor his fortune any provocation to his avarice, and that as the laws afforded no protection, he would seek safety in obscurity and neglect. Accordingly he carefully kept up the appearance and conduct of an idiot, leaving the king to do what he liked with his person and property, and did not even protest against his nickname of "Brutus"; for under the protection of that nickname the soul which was one day to liberate Rome was awaiting its destined hour. The story runs that when brought to Delphi by the Tarquins, more as a butt for their sport than as a companion, he had with him a golden staff enclosed in a hollow one of cornel wood, which he offered to Apollo as a mystical emblem of his own character. After executing their father's commission the young men were desirous of ascertaining to which of them the kingdom of Rome would come. A voice came from the lowest depths of the cavern: "Whichever of you, young men, shall be the first to kiss his mother, he shall hold supreme sway in Rome." Sextus had remained behind in Rome and to keep him in ignorance of this oracle and so deprive him of any chance of coming to the throne, the two Tarquins insisted upon absolute silence being kept on the subject. They drew lots to decide which of them should be the first to kiss his mother. On their return to Rome, Brutus, thinking that the oracular utterance had another meaning, pretended to stumble, and as he fell kissed the ground, for the earth is of course the common mother of us all.