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Gaius Mucius Scaevola

(? 7th - 6th century BC)

Lars Porsenna was a persistent man. Frustrated by Horatius Cocles' stand at the bridge over the Tiber, he decided to put Rome under siege and starve her into submission. No supplies could pass through his lines into the city. Gaius Mucius, appalled at the idea that Rome might fall to the Etruscans, asked for permission to sneak out of Rome and infiltrate the enemy camp with the intent to kill Porsenna. With a sword hidden in his tunic he slipped into the camp and sought the king. He found two men on a dais, surrounded by troops waiting to be paid. Both were dressed alike in rich clothing. Which was the king? If he were to ask, he would surely be discovered as a spy. He judged that the man distributing the coins was the king, leapt upon the dais, and killed the man. He fled through the crowd but was apprehended. When he was dragged back to the dais, he discovered that he had killed the wrong man and that Porsenna was still quite alive.

Knowing that punishment was inevitable, Mucius boldly stated his name, that he was a Roman citizen, and proclaimed his intent to assassinate the king. He went on to declare that he was just an ordinary Roman and that any Roman would do the same thing as he to protect their city-state. He warned the king that nowhere would he be safe from Romans seeking to kill him and eliminate the danger he posed for Rome. To demonstrate his resolution and indifference to physical suffering, Mucius thrust his right hand into a flame burning on an altar next to which he was standing.

Impressed by such bravery, Porsenna decided to allow Mucius to return home to Rome. Mucius responded that he wished to honor the king's kindness by sharing the information with him that there were 300 more Romans sworn to kill the king and that Mucius had just happened to draw the first lot. The king, intimidated by this false tale and unwilling to risk death at the hands of such loyal and determined men, sent envoys to Rome suing for peace. Upon his release and return to Rome, Mucius was given the cognomen Scaevola ('left-handed') and awarded land across the Tiber.

D. Fite, 2002.

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