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Helene A. Guerber

The Mysterious Books

I N the mean while, Tullia was anxiously awaiting news of her father's murder, and was wondering if anything had happened to spoil the plans which she had helped her husband to make. Too impatient to wait any longer, she finally ordered her servants to get her chariot ready, and then drove off to find Tarquin.

When the chariot had turned into the narrow street which led to the senate, the driver suddenly pulled up his horses. Tullia then asked him why he did not go on. The man told her that he could not pass because the king's body lay across the street; but when she heard this, she haughtily bade him drive over it. We are told that the inhuman daughter was splashed with her father's blood when she appeared in the senate to congratulate her wicked husband upon the success of their plan. This horrible act of cruelty was never forgotten in Rome, and the street where the murder took place was known as Wicked Street, and was always considered unlucky.

The new king soon showed that he had a full right to the surname of Superbus, which meant insolent as well as haughty. When the people came to ask his permission to bury the dead king, he said, "Romulus, the founder of Rome, did without a funeral; Servius needs none."

A man who did not scruple to commit murder in order to obtain the throne, must have been very bad at heart, and Tarquin soon became extremely cruel in the way he governed the people of Rome. The poor were obliged to work day and night on the buildings which he wished to erect; and he treated many of the nobles so rudely that they left Rome and went to live in the neighboring city of Gabii.

One of the principle edifices built by Tarquin, at the cost of so much suffering to the poor, was a temple for the service of the god Jupiter. It seems that as the builders were digging for the foundations, they suddenly came across a very well-preserved skull.

As the Romans were very superstitious, they immediately sent for the augurs to tell them the hidden meaning of the discovery. After some thought, the augurs said it was a sign that the gods were going to make this place the head of the world.

Now the Latin word for head is caput,  and the Romans in later times thought that this was what gave its name to Capitol, as the Temple of Jupiter was always called. This famous building stood on the Caitoline hill, not far from the citadel of which you have already heard. Every year there was a great festival, in which all the Romans marched up the hill and went into the temple. There, in the presence of the people, one of the priests drove a nail into the wall, to keep a record of the time which had passed since the building of the temple.

Tarquinius Superbus had partly finished the Capitol, when he received a very strange visit. The Sibyl, or prophetess, who dwelt in a cave at Cumæ, came to see him. She carried nine rolls, or books, which she offered to sell him for three hundred pieces of gold.

Tarquin asked what the books contained, and she replied that it was prophecies about Rome. He wished to see them, but the Sibyl would not let him look at a single page until he had bought them. Now, although the king knew she was a prophetess, he did not want to pay so much; and when he told the woman so, she went away in anger.


Cumæan Sibyl.

Not long after, the Sibyl again visited Tarquin. This time, she brought only six books, for which, however, she demanded the same price as for the nine. Tarquin, surprised, asked her what had become of the other volumes; and she answered shortly that they were burned.

Tarquin again wanted to see the books, and was again refused even a glimpse into them. Then he found fault with the price, and again Sibyl grew angry, and went away with her six volumes.

Although the king fancied that he would never see her again, she soon returned with only three volumes. She said that all the others were burned, and asked him three hundred pieces of gold for those that were left. The king, awed by her manner, bought them without further ado.

When the priests opened the mysterious volumes, they said that the prophecies concerning Rome were too wonderful for any one but themselves to see. The books were therefore placed in a stone chest in the Capitol, where the priests guarded them night and day.

From time to time, whenever any great trouble occurred, and the people did not know what to do, the augurs peeped into these volumes. Here they said they always found some good advice; but we now think that they pretended to read from the volume whatever they wished the Romans to do.