Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren

Mucius the Left-Handed

But Porsena still remained with his army on the other side of the river. He thought that by preventing food from being sent into the city he could force the inhabitants to surrender. So he got ships and stationed them on the Tiber to drive away or seize any vessels that should attempt to come to Rome with food.

Now there was in Rome at this time a very brave young man named Caius Mucius, and he thought of a plan to save the city. His plan was to march boldly into the enemy's camp and kill King Porsena. So he concealed a sword under his tunic and went across the river to the Etruscan camp. Then he made his way to the place where the king was sitting.

It happened that it was pay day in the army and the soldiers were getting their money. A secretary, who sat beside the king and was dressed very much like him, was talking to the men and giving them orders. Mucius mistook the secretary for Porsena and rushed forward and stabbed him to death. Instantly the daring Roman was seized by the guards. He heard the soldiers crying out that the secretary was killed. Then he knew what a mistake he had made.

Porsena was greatly enraged at seeing his secretary killed, and in a loud and angry voice he commanded Mucius to tell who he was and why he had committed such a deed. Without showing any sign of fear the bold Mucius answered:

"I am a Roman citizen. I came here to kill you, because you are an enemy of my country. I have failed, but there are others to come after me who will not fail. Your life will be constantly in danger, and you will be killed when you least expect it."

On hearing these words Porsena jumped from his seat in a great fury and threatened to burn Mucius to death if he did not at once tell all about the others who were coming to kill him. But Mucius was not frightened, and to show how little he cared about the king's threat he thrust his right hand into the flame of a fire which had been lighted close by and held it there without flinching. At the same time he cried out to the king:

"Behold how little we Romans care for pain when it is to defend our country."

Porsena was astonished at this sight, and he so much admired the courage and patriotism of the Roman that he ordered the guards to set him free. Then Mucius said to the king:

"In return for your kindness I now tell you of my own free will what I would not tell you when you threatened me with punishment. Know then that three hundred Roman youths have bound themselves by oath to kill you, each to make the attempt in his turn. The lot fell first on me. I have failed, but the attempt will be made again and again until some one succeeds."

[Illustration] from Famous Men of Rome by John Haaren


King Porsena was so terrified on hearing this that he resolved to make peace at once with Rome. So he immediately sent messengers to the Senate, and terms of peace were quickly agreed upon.

The Senate rewarded Mucius by giving him a tract of land on the banks of the Tiber. This land was afterwards called the Mucian Meadows. Mucius himself got the name of Scævola, a Latin word which means left-handed. He had lost the use of his right hand by burning it in the fire.