Editor’s Note: This is the eighth chapter of Romulus, by Jacob Abbott (published 1902)
VIII. The Twins
Although the temple of Vesta itself, at Alba Longa, was the principal scene of the duties which devolved upon the vestal virgins, still they were not wholly confined in their avocations to that sacred edifice, but were often called upon, one or two at a time, to perform services, or to assist in the celebration of rites, at other places in the city and vicinity.
There was a temple consecrated to Mars near to Alba. It was situated in an opening in the woods, in some little glen or valley at the base of the mountain. There was a stream of water running through the ground, and Rhea in the performance of her duties as a vestal was required at one time to pass to and fro through the groves in this solitary place to fetch water. Here she allowed herself, in violation of her vestal vows, to form the acquaintance of a man, whom she met in the groves. She knew well that by doing so she made herself subject to the most dreadful penalties in case her fault should become known. Still she yielded to the temptation, and allowed herself to be persuaded to remain with the stranger. She said afterward, when the facts were brought to light, that her meeting with this companion was wholly unintentional on her part. She saw a wolf in the grove, she said, and she ran terrified into a cave to escape from him, and that the man came to her there, to protect her, and then compelled her to remain with him. Besides, from his dress, and countenance, and air, she had believed him, she said, to be the God Mars himself, and thought that it was not her duty to resist his will.
However this may be, her stolen interview or interviews with this stranger were not known at the time, and Rhea perhaps thought that her fault would never be discovered. Some weeks after this, however, it was observed by her companions and friends that she began to appear thoughtful and depressed. Her dejection increased day by day; her face became wan and pale, and her eyes were often filled with tears. They asked her what was the cause of her trouble. She said that she was sick. She was soon afterward excused from her duties in the Vestal temple, and went away, and remained for some time shut up in retirement and seclusion. There at length two children, twins, were born to her.
It was only through the influence of Antho, Rhea’s cousin, that the unhappy vestal was not put to death by Amulius, before her children were born, at the time when her fault was first discovered. The laws of the State in respect to vestal virgins, which were inexorably severe, would have justified him in causing her to be executed at once, but Antho interceded so earnestly for her unhappy cousin, that Amulius for a time spared her life. When, however, her sons were born, the anger of Amulius broke out anew. If she had remained childless he would probably have allowed her to live, though she could of course never have been restored to her office in the temple of Vesta. Or if she had given birth to a daughter she might have been pardoned, since a daughter, on account of her sex, would have been little likely to disturb Amulius in the possession of the kingdom. But the existence of two sons, born directly in the line of the succession, and each of them having claims superior to his own, endangered, most imminently, he perceived, his possession of power. He was of course greatly enraged.
He caused Rhea to be shut up in close imprisonment, and as for the boys, he ordered them to be thrown into the Tiber. The Tiber was at some considerable distance from Alba; but it was probably near the place where Rhea had resided in her retirement, and where the children were born.
A peasant of that region was entrusted with the task of throwing the children into the river. Whether his official duty in undertaking this commission required him actually to drown the boys, or whether he was allowed to give the helpless babes some little chance for their lives, is not known. At all events he determined that in committing the children to the stream he would so arrange it that they should float away from his sight, in order that he might not himself be a witness of their dying struggles and cries. He accordingly put them upon a species of float that he made,—a sort of box or trough, as would seem from the ancient descriptions, which he had hollowed out from a log,—and disposing their little limbs carefully within this narrow receptacle, he pushed the frail boat, with its navigators still more frail, out upon the current of the river.
The name of the peasant who performed this task was Faustulus. The peasant also who subsequently,—as will hereafter appear,—found and took charge of the children, is spoken of by the ancient historians as Faustulus, too. In fact we might well suppose that no man, however rustic and rude, could give his time and his thoughts to two such babes long enough to make an ark for them, for the purpose of making it possible to save their lives, and then place them carefully in it to send them away, without becoming so far interested in their fate, and so touched by their mute and confiding helplessness, as to feel prompted to follow the stream to see how so perilous a navigation would end. We have, however, no direct evidence that Faustulus did so watch the progress of his boat down the river. The story is that it was drifted along, now whirling in eddies, and now shooting down over rapid currents, until at last, at a bend in the river, it was thrown upon the beach, and being turned over by the concussion, the children were rolled out upon the sand.
The neighboring thickets soon of course resounded with their plaintive cries. A mother wolf who was sleeping there came out to see what was the matter. Now a mother, of whatever race, is irresistibly drawn by an instinct, if incapable of a sentiment, of affection, to love and to cherish any thing that is newly born. The wolf caressed the helpless babes, imagining perhaps that they were her own offspring; and lying down by their side she cherished and fed them, watching all the time with a fierce and vigilant eye for any approaching enemy or danger. The rude nursery might very naturally be supposed to be in dangerous proximity to the water, but it happened that the river, when the babes were set adrift in it, was very high, from the effect of rains upon the mountains, and thus soon after the children were thrown upon the land, the water began to subside. In a short time it wholly returned to its accustomed channel, leaving the children on the warm sand, high above all danger. The wolf was not their only guardian. A woodpecker, the tradition says, watched over them too, and brought them berries and other sylvan food. The reader will perhaps be disposed to hesitate a little in receiving this last statement for sober history, but as no part of the whole narrative will bear any very rigid scrutiny, we may as well take the story of the woodpecker along with the rest.
In a short time the children were rescued from their exposed situation by a shepherd, who is called Faustulus, and may or may not have been the same with the Faustulus by whom they had been exposed. Faustulus carried the children to his hut; and there the maternal attentions of the wolf and the woodpecker were replaced by those of the shepherd’s wife. Her name was Larentia. Faustulus was one of Amulius’s herdsmen, having the care of the flocks and herds that grazed on this part of the royal domain, but living, like any other shepherd, in great seclusion, in his hut in the forests. He not only rescued the children, but he brought home and preserved the trough in which they had been floated down the river. He put this relic aside, thinking that the day might perhaps come in which there would be occasion to produce it. He told the story of the children only to a very few trustworthy friends, and he accompanied the communication, in the cases where he made it, with many injunctions of secrecy. He named the foundlings Romulus and Remus, and as they grew up they passed generally for the shepherd’s sons.
Faustulus felt a great degree of interest, and a high sense of responsibility too, in having these young princes under his care. He took great pains to protect them from all possible harm, and to instruct them in every thing which it was in those days considered important for young men to know. It is even said that he sent them to a town in Latium where there was some sort of seminary of learning, that their minds might receive a proper intellectual culture. As they grew up they were both handsome in form and in countenance, and were characterized by a graceful dignity of air and demeanor, which made them very attractive in the eyes of all who beheld them. They were prominent among the young herdsmen and hunters of the forest, for their courage, their activity, their strength, their various personal accomplishments, and their high and generous qualities of mind. Romulus was more silent and thoughtful than his brother, and seemed to possess in some respects superior mental powers. Both were regarded by all who knew them with feelings of the highest respect and consideration.
Romulus and Remus treated their own companions and equals, that is the young shepherds and herdsmen of the mountains, with great courtesy and kindness, and were very kindly regarded by them in return. They, however, evinced a great degree of independence of spirit in respect to the various bailiffs and chief herdsmen, and other officers of field and forest police, who exercised authority in the region where they lived. These men were sometimes haughty and domineering, and the peasantry in general stood greatly in awe of them. Romulus and Remus, however, always faced them without fear, never seeming to be alarmed at their threats, or at any other exhibitions of their anger. In fact, the boys seemed to be imbued with a native loftiness and fearlessness of character, as if they had inherited a spirit of confidence and courage with their royal blood, or had imbibed a portion of the indomitable temper of their fierce foster mother.
They were generous, however, as well as brave. They took the part of the weak and the oppressed against the tyrannical and the strong in the rustic contentions that they witnessed; they interposed to help the feeble, to relieve those who were in want, and to protect the defenseless. They hunted wild beasts, they fought against robbers, they rescued and saved the lost. For amusements, they practiced running, wrestling, racing, throwing javelins and spears, and other athletic feats and accomplishments—in every thing excelling all their competitors, and becoming in the end greatly renowned.
Numitor, the father of Rhea Silvia, whom Amulius had dethroned and banished from Alba, was all this time still living; and he had now at length become so far reconciled to Amulius as to be allowed to reside in Alba—though he lived there as a private citizen. He owned, it seems, some estates near the Tiber, where he had flocks and herds that were tended by his shepherds and herdsmen. It happened at one time that some contention arose between the herdsmen of Numitor and those of Amulius, among whom Romulus and Remus were residing. Now as the young men had thus far, of course, no idea whatever of their relationship to Numitor, there was no reason why they should feel any special interest in his affairs, and they accordingly, as might naturally have been expected, took part with Amulius in this quarrel, since Faustulus, and all the shepherds around them were on that side. The herdsmen of Numitor in the course of the quarrel drove away some of the cattle which were claimed as belonging to the herdsmen of Amulius. Romulus and Remus headed a band which they hastily called together, to pursue the depredators and bring the cattle back. They succeeded in this expedition, and recaptured the herd. This incensed the party of Numitor and they determined on revenge.
They waited some time for a favorable opportunity. At length the time came for celebrating a certain festival called the Lupercalia, which consisted of very rude games and ceremonies, in which men sacrificed goats, and then dressed themselves partially in the skins, and ran about whipping every one whom they met, with thongs made likewise of the skins of goats, or of rabbits, or other animals remarkable for their fecundity. The meaning of the ceremonies, so far as such uncouth and absurd ceremonies could have any meaning, was to honor the god of fertility and fruitfulness, and to promote the fruitfulness of their flocks and herds, during the year ensuing at the time that the celebrations were held.
The retainers and partisans of Numitor determined on availing themselves of this opportunity to accomplish their object. Accordingly, they armed themselves, and coming suddenly upon the spot where the shepherds of Amulius were celebrating the games, they made a rush for Remus, who was at that time, in accordance with the custom, running to and fro, half-naked, and armed only with goat-skin thongs. They succeeded in making him prisoner, and bore him away in triumph to Numitor.
Of course, this daring act produced great excitement throughout the country. Numitor was well pleased with the prize that he had secured, but felt, at the same time, some fear of the responsibility which he incurred by holding the prisoner. He was strongly inclined to proceed against Remus, and punish him himself for the offenses which the herdsmen of his lands charged against him; but he finally concluded that this would not be safe, and he determined, in the end, to refer the case to Amulius for decision. He accordingly sent Remus to Amulius, making grievous charges against him, as a lawless desperado, who, with his brother, Numitor said, were the terror of the forests, through their domineering temper and their acts of robbery and rapine.
The king, pleased, perhaps, with the spirit of deference to his regal authority on the part of his brother, implied in the referring of the case of the accused to him for trial, sent Remus back again to Numitor, saying that Numitor might punish the freebooter himself in any way that he thought best. Remus was accordingly brought again to Numitor’s house. In the mean time, the fact of his being thus made a prisoner, and charged with crime, and the proceedings in relation to him, in sending him back and forth between Amulius and Numitor, strongly attracted public attention. Every one was talking of the prisoner, and discussing the question of his probable fate. The general interest which was thus awakened in respect to him and to his brother Romulus, revived the slumbering recollections in the minds of the old neighbors of Faustulus, of the stories which he had told them of his having found the twins on the bank of the river, in their infancy. They told this story to Romulus, and he or some other friends made it known to Remus while he was still confined.
When Remus was brought before Numitor—who was really his grandfather, though the fact of this relationship was wholly unknown to both of them—Numitor was exceedingly struck with his handsome countenance and form, and with his fearless and noble demeanor. The young prisoner seemed perfectly self-possessed and at his ease; and though he knew well that his life was at stake, there was a certain air of calmness and composure in his manner which seemed to denote very lofty qualities, both of person and mind.
A vague recollection of the lost children of his daughter Rhea immediately flashed across Numitor’s mind. It changed all his anger against Remus to a feeling of wondering interest and curiosity, and gave to his countenance, as he looked upon his prisoner, an expression of kind and tender regard. After a short pause Numitor addressed the young captive—speaking in a gentle and conciliating manner—and asked him who he was, and who his parents were.
“I will frankly tell you all that I know,” said Remus, “since you treat me in so fair and honorable a manner. The king delivered me up to be punished, without listening to what I had to say, but you seem willing to hear before you condemn. My name is Remus, and I have a twin-brother named Romulus. We have always supposed ourselves to be the children of Faustulus; but now, since this difficulty has occurred, we have heard new tidings in respect to our origin. We are told that we were found in our infancy, on the shore of the river, at the place where Faustulus lives, and that near by there was a box or trough, in which we had been floated down to the spot from a place above. When Faustulus found us, there was a wolf and a woodpecker taking care of us and bringing us food. Faustulus carried us to his house, and brought us up as his children. He preserved the trough, too, and has it now.”
Numitor was, of course, greatly excited at hearing this intelligence. He perceived at once that the finding of these children, both in respect to time and place, and to all the attendant circumstances, corresponded so precisely with the exposure of the children of Rhea Silvia as to leave no reasonable ground for doubt that Romulus and Remus were his grandsons. He resolved immediately to communicate this joyful discovery to his daughter, if he could contrive the means of gaining access to her; for during all this time she had been kept in close confinement in her prison.
In the mean time, Romulus himself, at the house of Faustulus, in the forests, had become greatly excited by the circumstances in which he found himself placed. He had been first very much incensed at the capture of Remus, and while concerting with Faustulus plans for rescuing him, Faustulus had explained to him the mystery of his birth. He had informed him not only how he was found with his brother, on the bank of the river, but also had made known to him whose sons he and Remus were. Romulus was, of course, extremely elated at this intelligence. His native courage and energy were quickened anew by his learning that he and his brother were princes, and as he believed, rightfully entitled to the throne. He immediately began to form plans for raising a rebellion against the government of Amulius, with a view of first rescuing Remus from his power, and afterward taking such ulterior steps as circumstances might require.
Faustulus, on the other hand, leaving Romulus to raise the forces for his insurrection as he pleased, determined to go himself to Numitor and reveal the secret of the birth of Romulus and Remus to him. In order to confirm and corroborate his story, he took the trough with him, carrying it under his cloak, in order to conceal it from view, and in this manner made his appearance at the gates of Alba.
There was something in his appearance and manner when he arrived at the gate, which attracted the attention of the officers on guard there. He wore the dress of a countryman, and had obviously come in from the forests, a long way; and there was something in his air which denoted hurry and agitation. The soldiers asked him what he had under his cloak, and compelled him to produce the ark to view. The curiosity of the guardsmen was still more strongly aroused at seeing this old relic. It was bound with brass bands, and it had some rude inscription marked upon it. It happened that one of the guard was an old soldier who had been in some way connected with the exposure of the children of Rhea when they were set adrift in the river, and he immediately recognized this trough as the float which they had been placed in. He immediately concluded that some very extraordinary movement was going on,—and he determined to proceed forthwith and inform Amulius of what he had discovered. He accordingly went to the king and informed him that a man had been intercepted at the gate of the city, who was attempting to bring in, concealed under his cloak, the identical ark or float, which to his certain knowledge had been used in the case of the children of Rhea Silvia, for sending them adrift on the waters of the Tiber.
The king was greatly excited and agitated at receiving this intelligence. He ordered Faustulus to be brought into his presence. Faustulus was much terrified at receiving this summons. He had but little time to reflect what to say, and during the few minutes that elapsed while they were conducting him into the presence of the king, he found it hard to determine how much it would be best for him to admit, and how much to deny. Finally, in answer to the interrogations of the king, he acknowledged that he found the children and the ark in which they had been drifted upon the shore, and that he had saved the boys alive, and had brought them up as his children. He said, however, that he did not know where they were. They had gone away, he alleged, some years before, and were now living as shepherds in some distant part of the country, he did not know exactly where.
Amulius then asked Faustulus what he had been intending to do with the trough, which he was bringing so secretly into the city. Faustulus said that he was going to carry it to Rhea in her prison, she having often expressed a strong desire to see it, as a token or memorial which would recall the dear babes that had lain in it very vividly to her mind.
Amulius seemed satisfied that these statements were honest and true, but they awakened in his mind a very great solicitude and anxiety. He feared that the children, being still alive, might some day come to the knowledge of their origin, and so disturb his possession of the throne, and perhaps revenge, by some dreadful retaliation, the wrongs and injuries which he had inflicted upon their mother and their grandfather. The people, he feared, would be very much inclined to take part with them, and not with him, in any contest which might arise; for their sympathies were already on the side of Numitor. In a word, he was greatly alarmed, and he was much at a loss to know what to do, to avert the danger which was impending over him.
He concluded to send to Numitor and inquire of him whether he was aware that the boys were still alive, and if so, if he knew where they were to be found. He accordingly sent a messenger to his brother, commissioned to make these inquiries. This messenger, though in the service of Amulius, was really a friend to Numitor, and on being admitted to Numitor’s presence, when he went to make the inquiries as directed by the king, he found Remus there,—though not, as he had expected, in the attitude of a prisoner awaiting sentence from a judge, but rather in that of a son in affectionate consultation with his father. He soon learned the truth, and immediately expressed his determination to espouse the cause of the prince. “The whole city will be on your side,” said he to Remus. “You have only to place yourself at the head of the population, and proclaim your rights; and you will easily be restored to the possession of them.”
Just at this crisis a tumult was heard at the gates of the city. Romulus had arrived there at the head of the band of peasants and herdsmen that he had collected in the forests. These insurgents were rudely armed and were organized in a very simple and primitive manner. For weapons the peasants bore such implements of agriculture as could be used for weapons, while the huntsmen brought their pikes, and spears, and javelins, and such other projectiles as were employed in those days in hunting wild beasts. The troop was divided into companies of one hundred, and for banners they bore tufts of grass on wisps of straw, or fern, or other herbage, tied at the top of a pole. The armament was rude, but the men were resolute and determined, and they made their appearance at the gates of the city upon the outside, just in time to co-operate with Remus in the rebellion which he had raised within.
The revolt was successful. A revolt is generally successful against a despot, when the great mass of the population desire his downfall. Amulius made a desperate attempt to stem the torrent, but his hour had come. His palace was stormed, and he was slain. The revolution was complete, and Romulus and Remus were masters of the country.