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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

The Suicide of Lucretia

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008;65(4):374-375. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.65.4.374.
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The virtuous Lucretia was raped by Sextus Tarquinius, the son of the tyrannical king of Rome, in the 6th century BC.3Afterwards, although she was the victim, Lucretia committed suicide. Fearing posthumous disgrace when Tarquin threatened to kill both her and a male slave and make it appear that she had been caught in adultery with the slave, she yielded her body to him but not her mind. Her suicide was motivated by shame, not guilt; she felt anxious about how others might interpret her behavior if she lived and was concerned that unchaste women would claim blackmail as an excuse for their voluntary sexual encounters (epigraph). Because others could not know her conscience, she decided that suicide would testify to her innocent state of mind. Female chastity was so revered by Lucretia that she took her life rather than violate this ideal. According to the traditions of the time, she died an honorable, heroic death.

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Dutch. Lucretia, 1664. Oil on canvas, 47¼ × 39¼ in (120 × 101 cm). Andrew W. Mellon Collection. Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

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Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), Dutch. Lucretia, 1666. Oil on canvas, 43⅜ × 365/16 in (110 × 92 cm). Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The William Hood Dunwoody Fund.

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