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The Oracle of Delphi

A wicked man is never really happy; and Tarquin, who had committed so many crimes, could not find much enjoyment in life. His conscience troubled him, his sleep was haunted by bad dreams, and he felt so restless that he did not know what to do.

As the Romans believed that dreams were sent by their gods to warn them of the future, Tarquin was very anxious to have an explanation of the visions which disturbed his rest. He asked the Roman priests, but they failed to give him a satisfactory answer; so he decided to send to Delphi, in Greece, and to ask the noted oracle there to interpret these bad dreams.

Now, as you may know, Delphi was a place in the mountains of Greece where there was a temple dedicated to the service of Apollo, god of the sun. In this temple lived a priestess called the Pythoness, who was supposed to converse with the gods, and to make their wishes known to all who consulted her. Any priest who did this was known as an oracle; and at the same time the answers given out were also called oracles.

Now one of Tarquin's crimes was the murder of a nephew. His widowed sister, it seems, had two sons, who were very rich. As the king wanted to get their money, he killed one of them, and spared the other only because he thought him an idiot. In fact, the Romans used to say that this nephew's name, Brutus, was given him because of his brutelike stupidity. The young man, however, was only pretending to be stupid; he was really very intelligent, and was patiently waiting for a chance to avenge his brother's death.

Tarquinius Superbus selected two of his own sons to carry his offerings to the temple of Delphi, and sent Brutus with them as an attendant. After giving the king's offerings, and obtaining an oracle for him, the three young men resolved to question the Pythoness about their own future.

Each gave a present to the priestess. The two princes offered rich gifts, but Brutus gave only the staff which he had used on the journey thither. Although this present seemed very mean, compared with the others, it was in reality much the most valuable, because the staff was hollow, and full of gold.

The young men now asked the Pythoness the question which all three had agreed was the most important. This was the name of the next king of Rome. The priestess, who rarely answered a question directly, replied that he would rule who first kissed his mother on returning home.

Tarquin's sons were much pleased by this answer, and each began to plan how to reach home quickly, and be the first to kiss his mother. Brutus seemed quite indifferent, as usual; but, thanks to his offering, the priestess gave him a hint about what he should do.

Their mission thus satisfactorily ended, the three young men set out for Rome. When they landed upon their native soil, Brutus fell down upon his knees, and kissed the earth, the mother of all mankind. Thus he obeyed the directions of the Pythoness without attracting the attention of the two princes. Intent upon their own hopes, the sons of Tarquin hurried home, kissed their mother at the same moment on either cheek.