On Livy, Money & Power

This post was originally published on Plumfield Academy’s blog.


This text from Livy was the basis of a recent discussion by 5th & 6th graders at Plumfield:

            Now the sons of Ancus, since they had been grown to manhood, had taken it ill that Tarquin had been preferred before them to the throne of their father, and now they were the more angry, seeing how he had chosen another than them to be King after him. “See now,” they said, “this fellow that is not a Roman nay, nor an Italian, but a stranger from Greece, how being made tutor to us by the King our father, he filched the throne from us by craft, and now handeth it over to one that is the son of a bond-woman. Surely this is a shameful thing for this city and people. For the kingdom of Romulus, that is now a god [57] in heaven, will pass within the space of a hundred years to one that is a slave.”
And first they would avenge themselves on King Tarquin. This they did after this fashion. They chose them two shepherds, the fiercest of their company, and caused them to come, carrying crooks of iron, after their custom, within the King’s palace; who, so soon as they were come within the porch, made as if they had a grievous quarrel the one against the other, and cried out that the King should be the judge between them; for in those days kings were wont to perform the office of a judge. So they that kept order in the palace brought them before the King. At the first they made both of them a great uproar, crying out against each other; but afterward, when the beadle bade them be quiet if they would be heard of the King, bare themselves in more orderly fashion. Then the first began to tell his story; but when the King turned to him, and was wholly given up to hearing what the man might say, the other dealt him a great blow upon the head with the iron which he carried. And when he had done this he left the iron where it was, and [58] hasted, he and his companion with him, to escape by the door. Then some of the ministers of the court caught the King as he fell ready to die upon the ground, and others laid hold on the murderers and hindered them from escaping. At the same time much people ran together to the place, wondering what new thing had happened. But Queen Tanaquil gave command that they should shut the doors of the palace, and would have none remain within but her own folk. And first she prepared with all diligence such things as might be serviceable in the dressing of the wound, making as if there were some hope that the King might yet live; and next she devised how, this hope failing her, things might nevertheless be ordered according to her wish. Sending, therefore, for Servius in all haste, she pointed to the King, as he lay now ready to die, and spake, saying, “Servius, my son, this kingdom is thine if thou wilt only show thyself a man. Neither shall it go to them who have done this wicked deed, albeit not by their own hands. Rouse thyself, therefore, and follow the leading of the gods, who in days [59] past, showed that thy head should bear great honor by the fire from heaven which they caused to shine round about it. Let that fire stir thee this day. Nor do thou take account of thy birth. For we also were strangers to this city and yet have borne rule therein. Bethink thee, therefore, what manner of man thou art, rather than of whom thou wast born. And if perchance thine own counsels are troubled at so grievous a chance, be thou obedient unto mine.”
 After this, as the people without the palace cried aloud and would have thrust in the doors, the Queen went to an upper chamber and spake to the multitude through a window that looked upon the New Street (for the palace of the King stood hard by the temple of Jupiter the Stayer). “Be of good courage and hope,” she said; “the king was stunned by the suddenness of the blow, but the iron entered not deep into the flesh, and he came speedily to himself. Now we have washed off the blood and looked into the wound. All is well. Be of good cheer, therefore, and believe that before many days be past ye shall see the King. Meanwhile, render [60] due obedience to Servius, who will do justice between man and man in the room of the King and order all else that shall be needed.” So Servius came forth to the people, wearing the royal robe, with the men that bare the axes after him; and sitting down on the throne of the King, heard the causes of them that sought for justice, giving judgment in some things, and in others making mention that he would consult King Tarquin. This he did for many days, none knowing that the King was dead, and established himself in power, while he made as if he were administering the power of another. And when Queen Tanaquil thought that the due time was come, she gave out that King Tarquin was dead, and commanded that mourning should be made for him according to custom. And Servius, coming forth with his guards about him, was proclaimed King; only at the first the Senate alone, and not the people, consented. As for the sons of Ancus, when they heard that the murderers had been taken, and that the King was yet alive, and that Servius also was so well established in his power, they fled to the town of Suessa Pometia.
– excerpt from Stories by Livy, found here

After reading through this text together and after a moment of silence to absorb the story, the teacher asked for comments. It was quiet for a while, until one young boy piped up, “I think that Queen was power-hungry, she was a manipulative person who would do anything to get the guys she wanted into power, to do what she wanted, and she was just plain evil.”

“Oh, really? Anyone else?”

“Well…” began a young girl thoughtfully, “I don’t know that she was evil, just because she wanted power. After all lots of people want power.”

“So, what is it that makes something evil?” inquired the teacher. “Can someone want power so that they are then able to do good things for their community?”

“Isn’t it like money?” asked the girl. “Money itself isn’t bad or good, but it’s what you do with it. What if someone wanted more money so they could do good things for their country?”

“What about that saying ‘The love of money is the root of all evil?’” queried the boy.

“What about it?”

“It says that the love of money, or maybe power, is the root of evil, not money or power.”

“So, it might depend on what the Queen wants to do with her power,” the girl interjected.

“Maybe,” agreed the teacher. “What do the rest of you think?” Hands flew in the air as the conversation continued.


One of the principle of the Charlotte Mason methodology is that students are invited to engage with living books, books that are “worthy,” beautifully written and filled with powerful and inspiring ideas. The role of the teacher, then is to introduce the author and the student and to not get in the way. Learning the delicate art of stepping aside and not doing the work of making connections between ideas for the student is no easy task, but it’s what we strive for in the classroom.

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