Gesta Romanorum Vol. II (1871)/Of Conscience

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Gesta Romanorum Vol. II  (1871) 
Anonymous, translated by Charles Swan
Of Conscience



Augustine relates, in his work "De Civitate Dei" that Lucretia, a noble Roman lady, was the wife of Calatinus[1]. The latter invited to his castle, Sextus, the son of the emperor Tarquinius, who became violently enamoured of his wife. Selecting a seasonable opportunity, when both Calatinus and the emperor had departed from Rome, he returned to the above mentioned castle, and slept there. During the night, not as a friend but foe, he secretly entered the bed-chamber of Lucretia, and putting one hand upon her breast, while he held a drawn sword in the other, said, "Comply with my wishes, or I will kill you." But she resolutely repelled him; and Sextus, enraged, assured her that he would stab a slave and place him in her bed; so that the world should believe her guilty of the most low-lived and flagrant wickedness. At last, Sextus accomplishing his villainy, went away; and the lady, full of the most corroding griefs, despatched letters to her father and husband; to her brothers, to the emperor, and grand-children, together with the proconsuls; and when they were all present she spoke thus: "Not as a friend, but as a foe, Sextus entered my house. Calatinus, your bed has known the garments of a stranger[2]; but though violated, I am innocent. Acquit me of crime, and I will provide my own punishment." At these words, snatching a sword which she had hidden beneath her robe, she plunged it into her breast. The assembled friends, taking up the weapon, swore by the blood of the injured Lucretia to drive the family of the Tarquins from Rome. And they did so. As for Sextus, the author of this tragedy, he was miserably slaughtered not long after (35) [3].


My beloved, Lucretia is the soul; Sextus is the devil; and the castle represents the heart, into which he enters. The sword is penitence.

  1. Meaning Collatinus. She was the wife of Tarquinius Collatinus.
  2. "Scias tu, O Calatine, vestimenta viri alieni in lecto tuo fuisse;" a refined expression, and little according with the usual indelicacy of the age.
  3. This story is from Saint Austin's City of God. See Note.

Note 35.Page 197.

"A more classical authority for this story, had it been at hand, would have been slighted for St. Austin's City of God, which was the favourite spiritual romance; and which, as the transition from religion to gallantry was anciently very easy, gave rise to the famous old French romance, called the City of Ladies." Warton.