Being intent upon completing the temple, the king called in workmen from every quarter of Etruria, and used for this purpose not only the state funds but labourers drawn from the commons. This work was far from light in itself, and was added to their military service. Yet the plebeians felt less abused at having to build with their own hands the temples of the gods, than they did when they came to be transferred to other tasks also, which, while less in show, were yet rather more laborious.
I mean the erection of seats in the circus, and the construction underground of the Great Sewer, as a receptacle for all the offscourings of the City, —two works for which the new splendour of these days has scarcely been able to produce a match.
After making the plebeians toil at these hard tasks, the king felt that a populace which had now no work to do was only a burden to the City; he wished, moreover, by sending out settlers, to extend the frontiers of his dominions.
He therefore sent colonists to Signia and Circei, to1
safeguard the City by land and sea.
While he was thus occupied, a terrible portent appeared. A snake glided out of a wooden pillar, causing fright and commotion in the palace. As for the king himself, his heart was not so much struck with sudden terror as filled with anxious forebodings.
Now for public prodigies none but Etruscan soothsayers were wont to be employed, but this domestic apparition, as he regarded it, so thoroughly alarmed him that he determined to send to Delphi, the most famous oracle in the world;
and, not daring to trust the oracle's reply to anybody else, he sent two of his sons, through strange lands, as they were then, and over stranger seas, to Greece.
Titus and Arruns were the ones who went; and, to bear them company, Lucius Junius Brutus was sent too, the son of Tarquinia, sister of the king, a young man of a very different mind from that which he pretended to bear. Having heard that the leading men of the state, and among them his own brother, had been put to death by his uncle, he determined to leave nothing in his disposition which the king might justly fear, nor anything in his fortune to covet, resolving to find safety in contempt, where justice afforded no protection.
He therefore deliberately assumed the appearance of stupidity, and permitted himself and his property to become the spoil of the king; he even accepted the surname Brutus,2
that behind the screen afforded by this title the great soul which was to free the Roman People might bide its time unseen.
He it was who was then taken by the Tarquinii to Delphi, more as a butt than as a comrade; and he is said to have carried a golden staff inclosed within one [p. 197]
of cornel wood, hollowed out to receive it, as a gift3
to Apollo, and a roundabout indication of his own character.
When they came there, and had carried out their father's instructions, a desire sprang up in the hearts of the youths to find out which one of them should be king at Rome. From the depths of the cavern this answer, they say, was returned: “The highest power at Rome shall be his, young men, who shall be first among you to kiss his mother.”
The Tarquinii, anxious that Sextus, who had been left in Rome, might know nothing of the answer and have no share in the rule, gave orders that the incident should be kept strictly secret; as between themselves, they decided by lot which should be first, upon their return to Rome, to give their mother a kiss.
Brutus thought the Pythian utterance had another meaning; pretending to stumble, he fell and touched his lips to Earth, evidently regarding her as the common mother of all mortals.
They then returned to Rome, where preparations for war with the Rutuli were being pushed with the greatest vigour.