This outrage was followed by another, committed in Rome, which was inspired by lust and was no less shocking in its consequences than that which had led, through the rape and the death of Lucretia, to the expulsion of the Tarquinii from the City and from their throne; thus not only did the same end befall the decemvirs as had befallen the kings, but the same cause deprived them of their power.
Appius Claudius was seized with the desire to debauch a certain maiden belonging to the plebs. The girl's father, Lucius Verginius, a [p. 145]
centurion of rank, was serving on Algidus, a man1
of exemplary life at home and in the army.
His wife had been brought up in the same principles, and his children were being trained in them. He had betrothed his daughter to the former tribune Lucius Icilius, an active man of proven courage in the cause of the plebeians.
She was a grown girl, remarkably beautiful, and Appius, crazed with love, attempted to seduce her with money and promises. But finding that her modesty was proof against everything, he resolved on a course of cruel and tyrannical violence.
He commissioned Marcus Claudius, his client, to claim the girl as his slave, and not to yield to those who demanded her liberation, thinking that the absence of the maiden's father afforded an opportunity for the wrong.
As Verginia was entering the Forum —for there, in booths, were the elementary schools —the minister of the decemvir's lust laid his hand upon her, and calling her the daughter of his bond-woman and herself a slave, commanded her to follow him, and threatened to drag her off by force if she hung back.
Terror made the maiden speechless, but the cries of her nurse imploring help of the Quirites quickly brought a crowd about them. The names of Verginius her father and of her betrothed Icilius were known and popular. Their acquaintance were led to support the girl out of regard for them; the crowd was influenced by the shamelessness of the attempt.
She was already safe from violence, when the claimant protested that there was no occasion for the people to become excited; he was proceeding lawfully, not by force.
He then summoned the girl to court. She was advised by her supporters to 145 [p. 147]
follow him, and they went before the tribunal of2
Appius. The plaintiff acted out a comedy familiar to the judge, since it was he and no other who had invented the plot: The girl had been born, said Marcus, in his house, and had thence been stealthily conveyed to the home of Verginius and palmed off upon him as his own;
he had good evidence for what he said, and would prove it even though Verginius himself were judge, who was more wronged than he was; meanwhile it was right that the hand-maid should follow her master.
The friends of the girl said that Verginius was absent on the service of the state; he would be at hand in two days' time if he were given notice of the matter; it was unjust that a man should be involved in litigation about his children when away from home;
they therefore requested Appius to leave the case open until the father arrived, and in accordance with the law he had himself proposed, grant the custody of the girl to the defendants,3
nor suffer a grown maiden's honour to be jeopardized before her freedom should be adjudicated.