Children's Plutarch: Tales of the Romans - F. J. Gould

The Twins

The cattle were feeding on the pasture, but the master was not there. He was going toward the river, and he was carrying a burden in his arms. When he reached the edge of the stream he paused. The water ran toward the Mediterranean Sea, rough and noisy.

"I shall not put them straight into the water," he said to himself; "I will leave them here, and perhaps the river will rise and carry them away."

It did. As the flood crept round the wooden trough or cradle, it rocked and then floated. Inside the trough lay two lovely and chubby boy-babes—twins—princes. Their uncle had taken their father's land and theirs, and had bidden the herdsman drown the twins.

The flood of the river Tiber carried the cradle to a green spot, where grew a wild fig-tree. The box lay on the grass, and when the flood went down it still stayed on land. And behold (or you will behold these things if you believe the ancient tale!), a big she-wolf came and gazed at the babes with her fierce and shifty eyes, and she seemed to think they were little cubs that needed her milk, and so she fed them. As they grew older, and were able to toddle about, and were too old for wolf's milk, they got food from a friendly woodpecker. I cannot say whether the woodpecker, with his long beak and tongue, brought the boys food such as he ate himself (that would be insects and grubs), or whether he was good enough to bring berries and other fruits. After a while, however, the herdsman took charge of the boys altogether, and saved the woodpecker any further trouble.

The twins became stout, tall, and strong young fellows, who minded cattle for the chieftain Amulius. One day a loud cry was heard.

"Our cattle have been stolen!"

"Who has taken them?"

"The herdsmen of the chieftain Numitor."

"Follow us!" shouted the tall twins; "we will get them back again!"

A furious fight took place. The twins won. The cattle were brought back in triumph. Then the brothers knew that more war would follow. They joined company with runaway slaves and other people who had no settled homes. These people looked upon the twins—Romulus and Remus—as captains. But Remus was captured, and taken to the house of Numitor.

The herdsman went to Romulus and said:

"Your brother is in danger of death. He will perhaps be killed by his grandfather Numitor."

"I never knew Numitor was our grandfather," replied Romulus.

"Yet it is so. Your mother was his daughter. But Amulius took the power, and wanted to get rid of you two boys, and bade me leave you in the cradle on the river Tiber, where you would soon have been drowned. But it happened otherwise, and I brought you up after a wolf and a woodpecker had fed you."

"I can hardly believe you."

"Well, here is the box you and Remus sailed in. Take it at once to Numitor. Tell him who you are. Perhaps he will spare Remus's life."

Romulus ran straightway to the house of the chief, burst into the room where he was questioning poor Remus, showed the cradle, and told all the strange story. And Numitor, looking at the faces of the young men, saw a likeness to his daughter, and felt sure the tale was true. The two brothers went off with a band of armed men to punish their great-uncle Amulius. Before the little army walked several standard-bearers, carrying poles, on the tops of which were fastened bunches of grass and shrubs. An attack was made on the tyrant's house, and Amulius was slain.

The two young chiefs—for such they now were—made up their minds to build a city of their own. They ploughed with a share or blade drawn by an ox, and ploughed a furrow in a sort of circle. This circle was the line on which the walls were built. But Remus never builded. He had told Romulus that the city ought to be built in another and safer spot.

"If you build here," he said, "the enemy will easily enter—as easily as this."

So saying, he jumped over the ploughed line in a mocking manner.

In anger Romulus and his friends fell upon Remus and struck him, and he died. When his passion cooled, great was the sorrow of Romulus; but it was too late; his brother was dead. The city that was being built would now be called after the brother who was left alive—Rome.

On a hill near Rome you could see huts, in which dwelt the men who had joined Romulus, because they had nowhere else to go—slaves who had escaped from their lords, men who had slain neighbors and dreaded being punished by their tribe. After a time you could notice that the folk were divided into classes. First came Romulus the chieftain; he sat on a chair of state; his coat was of purple, and a purple cloak hung over his shoulders. As he walked through the new city, the lictors marched before him, bearing bundles of rods and thongs of leather. If Romulus ordered any man to be beaten, the lictors beat the offender with the rods. If he said "Bind that man prisoner," they bound the person with the leather thongs or straps.

A hundred older men, called the Fathers, or Patricians (Pat-rish'-ans), sat together in a council or senate.

The young men who were strong and quick were chosen for soldiers—on foot or horseback.

Certain men would watch birds flying, and if the birds flew in a particular manner they would say:

"It is not the right time to begin a war"—or whatever the purpose might be.

If the birds flew in what they thought a better way, the watchers would say:

"The time is good. The war may begin," or "The house may be built," etc.

These men were called Augurs, and were a kind of priests. Thus we see the classes—the King, the Fathers, the Soldiers, the Priests. The rest were known as the People.

A great feast was held one day. Romulus sat on a throne, dressed in purple. The Romans had asked another tribe, called Sabines (Sab-ins), to come to the merry-making, and the Sabines had come, with many maidens, who were ready to dance with the young men of Rome. Suddenly Romulus stood up, and folded his cloak about him.

A shout arose. The Roman young men rushed among the Sabines, and each seized hold of a maiden, and dragged her away to the city, while the Sabine men were held back from interfering. I almost think the young ladies had been told beforehand what would be done, and perhaps they had agreed to be carried away. The story goes on to tell that the Roman young men married the Sabine young women. Romulus had made this plan for the capture, for he thought it was of little use to have a city with so few women in it. For without the women, how could there be true homes?

Wars went on between Romans and Sabines for some years. At last a day came when each side had fiercely attacked the other; each had fled; each had begun the fight again. A crowd of women ran in between the armies. Their hair was disordered; they uttered loud cries. Some carried their babies. Some knelt on the ground, and wept over the bodies of the dead. And one woman spoke for the rest:

"O men, do you wish to hurt us women still more? We were carried away from our fathers and brothers. And now what do we see? Our fathers and brothers are in deadly quarrel with our husbands. Whoever is killed is a lost friend to us. This war robs us of our husbands and our brothers and fathers. We beseech you to stop."

And the Romans and Sabines heard the prayer of the women and made peace, and became one people. How happy it would be if all the tribes of the earth to-day did likewise! And you girls who read this page must help in the making of peace all over the world.

But one woman was not so noble. Before the peace-making of which I have just told you, the Sabines once laid siege to Rome, and a Roman woman named Tarpeia (Tar-pee-a) told the enemy she would open the gate to them by night, if they would give her the bracelets of gold which they wore on their left hands. They agreed. She opened the gate, the Sabines ran in. But they did not respect the traitor. The Sabine chief threw at her his bracelet and his shield (which was on his left arm). All the others did likewise, and the false woman sank under a heavy pile of shields and bracelets, and died. And, after all, the Sabines did not win.

Romulus ruled his city for a long time. One day, when he stood among the people in an assembly, the sky became dark, thunder rolled, and all was tempest. Then the sky cleared to brightness. But Romulus could nowhere be seen. People said the gods had taken him away. Of course, this is only a legend.

Not long after that, when the people were gathered together at the place where the senate sat, a senator walked in, and cried:

"O people, I have seen Romulus!"

"Tell us where and how?"

He then told the following story.

He had met Romulus, dressed in bright armor, on the road near the city.

"Why, O King, did you leave the people who loved you?"

"My good friend, I dwelt on earth and built a city, and did my work, and now the gods have called me to heaven. Farewell. Go and tell the Romans that by the exercise of temperance and courage they shall become the greatest people in the world."