Venus Victrix – “The Oath of Lucretia”

For heroines in Greek mythology, things don’t often end well. The case is similar for their counterparts in Roman mythology, which the Romans patriotically took as the historical foundations of their people, city, and their free republic. Several important stages in the evolution of the Roman state were catalyzed by various women’s sexual violation: Romulus’ mother Rhea Silvia raped by the god Mars, the Sabine maidens abducted by Romulus and his men, and the flashpoint of the revolution that overthrew the monarchy, that is the rape of Lucretia.

Lucretia was a Roman noblewoman, whose fame for her chastity, ironically, proved her undoing. Such a reputation excited the lust of prince Sextus, son of Rome’s tyrannical seventh king Tarquin the Proud. One night he crept into Lucretia’s room, and told her that if she did not submit to him, he would kill both her and one of her slaves, then frame her for adultery with that slave. More concerned for her reputation than her life, Lucretia gave her unwilling consent. The next day, Lucretia summoned her husband and friends, including the Roman nobleman Lucius Brutus, and revealed all that had happened to her. According to the historian Livy, she denounced Sextus’ crime and demanded vengeance, while at the same time absolving herself of any guilt. But despite everyone’s confidence in her innocence, she pulled out a dagger and plunged it into her heart, saying that “no woman should live by Lucretia’s example.” In other words, Lucretia wished to go down in history as a paragon of chastity, rather than as a precedent for women to make false rape accusations to cover up their willing adulteries.

Lucretia’s suicide inspired her family, and especially Brutus, to see Sextus’ outrage as part of a wider pattern of injustices inflicted on the Romans by the Tarquinian royal family. They exiled them, fought a war against those who tried to restore them, and founded a constitutional republic, vowing never again to live under a king. Lucretia, though deprived of the agency of actively leading that revolution, was honored as a martyr to the republican cause.

The Texan heavy/doom metal band Venus Victrix bring Lucretia back to life in this opening track to their 2014 album Venus Victrix I. Vocalist Tiffany Marie puts on the persona of Lucretia delivering a new monologue. She dresses in funereal black mourning clothes, conducting a funeral for herself. Like a priestess she sees her death as not only a sacrifice, but a fulfillment of prophecy, foretold in the “sacred scrolls” of the Sibylline books. Her oracular powers peer not only into the future, but into the Roman past, to its founding when Romulus and Remus were raised by wolves. She recognizes the bestial nature of the monarchy as nothing new. Not only a prophetess, but she also styles herself as a Vestal Virgin, with Vesta’s fire burning in her chest. In other words, Lucretia is herself a symbol of Rome, a symbol that has been violated by a king whose kingdom is destined to fall. Revealing the dagger, itself a symbol of Sextus’ violating phallus, she calls for vengeance. Sic semper tyrannis. Thus always for tyrants.

I wrap myself in black
This dress dark as night
A mourning shawl, though none have died
Though when I make my oath
The consequence foreseen
I’ve seen the sacred scrolls, I know what it will bring
A glimpse into Rome’s past,
You’ll see – we are a people raised by wolves.
This great dishonor, a crying shame unto Rome’s daughter
The scared flame of Vesta’s Virgins burns inside of me
A kingdom will fall and a people freed.
To my father’s house I fly
With vengeance in my breast
A dagger, sleeve-concealed, destined for my chest
A glimpse into Rome’s past,
You’ll see – we are a people raised by wolves.
This great dishonor, a crying shame unto Rome’s daughter
The scared flame of Vesta’s Virgins burns inside of me
A kingdom will fall and a people freed.
My solemn word is pledged
My gilded knife held high,
“By Mars, avenge my death! My oath sealed as I die!”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s