V. HOW A PROUD KING FELL.
The new king was a tyrant. He was elected by no general consent of the people he governed; he allowed himself to be bound by no laws; he recognized no limit to his authority; and he surrounded himself with a body-guard for protection from the attacks of any who might wish to take the crown from him in the way that he had snatched it from his predecessor. As soon as possible after coming to the throne, he swept away all privilege and right that had been conceded to the commons, commanded that there should no longer be any of those assemblages on the occasions of festivals and sacrifices that had before tended to unite the people and to break the monotony of their lives; he put the poor at taskwork, and mistrusted, banished, or murdered the rich. To strengthen the position of Rome as chief of the confederates cities, and his own position as the ruler of Rome, he gave his daughter to Octavius Mamilius of Tusculum to wife; and to beautify the capital he warred against other peoples, and with their spoil pushed forward the work on the great temple on the Capitoline Hill, [Footnote: This hill is said to have received its name from the fact that as the men were preparing for the foundation of the temple, they came upon a human head, fresh and bleeding, from which it was augured that the spot was to become the head of the world. (Caput, a head.)] a wonderful and massy structure.
It is said that Amalthea, the mysterious sibyl of Cumæ, one day came to Tarquin with nine sealed prophetical books (which, she said, contained the destiny of the Romans and the mode to bring it about), that she offered to sell. The king refused, naturally unwilling to pay for things that he could not examine; and thereupon the unreasonable being went away and destroyed three of the volumes that she had described as of inestimable value. Soon after she returned and offered the remaining six for the price that she had demanded for the nine. Once more, the tyrant declined the offer, and again the aged sibyl destroyed three, and demanded the original price for the remainder. The king's curiosity was now aroused, and he bought the three books, upon which the prophetess vanished. The volumes were placed under the new temple on the Capitoline, no one doubting that they actually contained precepts of the utmost importance. The wise-looking augurs came together, peered into the rolls, and told the king and the people that they were right, and age after age the books were appealed to for direction, though, as the people never were permitted even to peep into the sacred cell in which they were hidden, they never could be quite certain that the augurs who consulted them found any thing in them that they did not put there themselves.
While Tarquinius was going on with his great works, while he was oppressing his own people and conquering his neighbors uninterruptedly, he was suddenly startled by a dire portent. A serpent crawled out from beneath the altar in his palace and coolly ate the flesh of the royal sacrifice. The meaning of this appalling omen could not be allowed to remain uncertain, and as no one in Italy was able to explain it, Tarquin sent to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, to ask the signification. Delphi is a place situated in the midst of the most sublime scenery of Greece, just north of the Gulf of Corinth. Shut in on all sides by stupendous cliffs, among which flow the inspiring waters of the Castalian Spring, thousands of feet above which frowns the summit of Parnassus, on which Deucalion is said to have landed after the deluge, this romantic valley makes a deep impression on the mind of the visitor, and it is not strange that at an age when signs and wonders were looked for in every direction, it should have become the home of a sibyl.
The king's messengers to Delphi were his two sons and a nephew named Lucius Junius Brutus, a young man who had saved his life by taking advantage of the fact that a madman was esteemed sacred by the Romans, and assuming an appearance of stupidity [Footnote: Brutus in Latin means irrational, dull, stupid, brutish, which senses our word "brute" preserves.] at a time when his tyrannical uncle had put his brother to death that he might appropriate his wealth. Upon hearing the question of the king, the oracle said that the portent foretold the fall of Tarquin. The sons then asked who should take his throne, and the reply was: "He who shall first kiss his mother." Brutus had propitiated the oracle by the present of a hollow stick filled with gold, and learned the symbolical meaning of this reply. The sons decided to allow their remaining brother Sextus to know the answer, and to determine by lot which of them should rule; but Brutus kept his own counsel, and on reaching home, fell upon mother earth, as by accident, and kissed the ground, thus observing the terms of the oracle.