Caesar: A Sketch
by James Anthony Froude
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[Sidenote: March 17, B.C. 45.] [Sidenote: B.C. 45.] The scene of the conflict which ended the civil war was the plain of Munda. The day was the 17th of March, B.C. 45. Spanish tradition places Munda on the Mediterranean, near Gibraltar. The real Munda was on the Guadalquiver, so near to Cordova that the remains of the beaten army found shelter within its walls after the battle. Caesar had been so invariably victorious in his engagements in the open field that the result might have been thought a foregone conclusion. Legendary history reported in the next generation that the elements had been pregnant with auguries. Images had sweated; the sky had blazed with meteors; celestial armies, the spirits of the past and future, had battled among the constellations. The signs had been unfavorable to the Pompeians; the eagles of their legions had dropped the golden thunderbolts from their talons, spread their wings, and had flown away to Caesar. In reality, the eagles had remained in their places till the standards fell from the hands of their dead defenders; and the battle was one of the most desperate in which Caesar had ever been engaged. The numbers were nearly equal—the material on both sides equally good. Pompey's army was composed of revolted Roman soldiers. In arms, in discipline, in stubborn fierceness, there was no difference. The Pompeians had the advantage of situation, the village of Munda, with the hill on which it stood, being in the centre of their lines. The Moorish and Spanish auxiliaries, of whom there were large bodies on either side, stood apart when the legions closed; they having no further interest in the matter than in siding with the conqueror, when fortune had decided who the conqueror was to be. There were no manoeuvres; no scientific evolutions. The Pompeians knew that there was no hope for them if they were defeated. Caesar's men, weary and savage at the protraction of the war, were determined to make a last end of it; and the two armies fought hand to hand with their short swords, with set teeth and pressed lips, opened only with a sharp cry as an enemy fell dead. So equal was the struggle, so doubtful at one moment the issue of it, that Caesar himself sprang from his horse, seized a standard, and rallied a wavering legion. It seemed as if the men meant all to stand and kill or be killed as long as daylight lasted. The ill fate of Labienus decided the victory. He had seen, as he supposed, some movement which alarmed him among Caesar's Moorish auxiliaries, and had galloped conspicuously across the field to lead a division to check them. A shout rose, "He flies—he flies!" A panic ran along the Pompeian lines. They gave way, and Caesar's legions forced a road between their ranks. One wing broke off and made for Cordova; the rest plunged wildly within the ditch and walls of Munda, the avenging sword smiting behind into the huddled mass of fugitives. Scarcely a prisoner was taken. Thirty thousand fell on the field, among them three thousand Roman knights, the last remains of the haughty youths who had threatened Caesar with their swords in the senate-house, and had hacked Clodius's mob in the Forum. Among them was slain Labienus—his desertion of his general, his insults and his cruelties to his comrades, expiated at last in his own blood. Attius Varus was killed also, who had been with Juba when he destroyed Curio. The tragedy was being knitted up in the deaths of the last actors in it. The eagles of the thirteen legions were all taken. The two Pompeys escaped on their horses, Sextus disappearing in the mountains of Grenada or the Sierra Morena; Cnaeus flying for Gibraltar, where he hoped to find a friendly squadron.

Munda was at once blockaded, the enclosing wall—savage evidence of the temper of the conquerors—being built of dead bodies pinned together with lances, and on the top of it a fringe of heads on swords' points with the faces turned toward the town. A sally was attempted at midnight, and failed. The desperate wretches then fought among themselves, till at length the place was surrendered, and fourteen thousand of those who still survived were taken, and spared. Their comrades, who had made their way into Cordova, were less fortunate. When the result of the battle was known, the leading citizen, who had headed the revolt against Caesar, gathered all that belonged to him into a heap, poured turpentine over it, and, after a last feast with his family, burnt himself, his house, his children, and servants. In the midst of the tumult the walls were stormed. Cordova was given up to plunder and massacre, and twenty-two thousand miserable people—most of them, it may be hoped, the fugitives from Munda—were killed. The example sufficed. Every town opened its gates, and Spain was once more submissive. Sextus Pompey successfully concealed himself. Cnaeus reached Gibraltar, but to find that most of the ships which he looked for had been taken by Caesar's fleet. He tried to cross to the African coast, but was driven back by bad weather, and search parties were instantly on his track. He had been wounded; he had sprained his ankle in his flight. Strength and hope were gone. He was carried on a litter to a cave on a mountain side, where his pursuers found him, cut off his head, and spared Cicero from further anxiety.

Thus bloodily ended the Civil War, which the Senate of Rome had undertaken against Caesar, to escape the reforms which were threatened by his second consulship. They had involuntarily rendered their country the best service which they were capable of conferring upon it, for the attempts which Caesar would have made to amend a system too decayed to benefit by the process had been rendered forever impossible by their persistence. The free constitution of the Republic had issued at last in elections which were a mockery of representation, in courts of law which were an insult to justice, and in the conversion of the Provinces of the Empire into the feeding-grounds of a gluttonous aristocracy. In the army alone the Roman character and the Roman honor survived. In the Imperator, therefore, as chief of the army, the care of the Provinces, the direction of public policy, the sovereign authority in the last appeal, could alone thenceforward reside. The Senate might remain as a Council of State; the magistrates might bear their old names, and administer their old functions. But the authority of the executive government lay in the loyalty, the morality, and the patriotism of the legions to whom the power had been transferred. Fortunately for Rome, the change came before decay had eaten into the bone, and the genius of the Empire had still a refuge from platform oratory and senatorial wrangling in the hearts of her soldiers.

Caesar did not immediately return to Italy. Affairs in Rome were no longer pressing, and, after the carelessness and blunders of his lieutenants, the administration of the Peninsula required his personal inspection. From open revolts in any part of the Roman dominions he had nothing more to fear. The last card had been played, and the game of open resistance was lost beyond recovery. There might be dangers of another kind: dangers from ambitious generals, who might hope to take Caesar's place on his death; or dangers from constitutional philosophers, like Cicero, who had thought from the first that the Civil War had been a mistake, "that Caesar was but mortal, and that there were many ways in which a man might die." A reflection so frankly expressed, by so respectable a person, must have occurred to many others as well as to Cicero; Caesar could not but have foreseen in what resources disappointed fanaticism or baffled selfishness might seek refuge. But of such possibilities he was prepared to take his chance; he did not fly from them, he did not seek them; he took his work as he found it, and remained in Spain through the summer, imposing fines and allotting rewards, readjusting the taxation, and extending the political privileges of the Roman colonies. It was not till late in the autumn that he again turned his face toward Rome.

[1] In connection with this subject it is worth while to mention another change in the division of time, not introduced by Caesar, but which came into general use about a century after. The week of seven days was unknown to the Greeks and to the Romans of the Commonwealth, the days of the month being counted by the phases of the moon. The seven-days division was supposed by the Romans to be Egyptian. We know it to have been Jewish, and it was probably introduced to the general world on the first spread of Christianity. It was universally adopted at any rate after Christianity had been planted in different parts of the Empire, but while the Government and the mass of the people were still unconverted to the new religion. The week was accepted for its convenience; but while accepted it was paganized; and the seven days were allotted to the five planets and the sun and moon in the order which still survives among the Latin nations, and here in England with a further introduction of Scandinavian mythology. The principle of the distribution was what is popularly called "the music of the spheres," and turns on a law of Greek music, which is called by Don Cassius the [Greek: armonia dia teddaron]. Assuming the earth to be the centre of the universe, the celestial bodies which have a proper movement of their own among the stars were arranged in the order of their apparent periods of revolution—Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, the Moon. The Jewish Jehovah was identified by the Graeco-Romans with Saturn, the oldest of the heathen personal gods. The Sabbath was the day supposed to be specially devoted to him. The first day of the week was, therefore, given to Saturn. Passing over Jupiter and Mars, according to the laws of the [Greek: armonia], the next day was given to the Sun; again passing over two, the next to the Moon, and so on, going round again to the rest, till the still existing order came out. Dies Saturni, dies Solis, dies Lunae, dies Martis, dies Mercurri, dies Jovis, and dies Veneris. See Dion Cassius, Historia Romana, lib. xxxvii. c. 18. Dion Cassius gives a second account of the distribution, depending on the twenty-four hours of the day. But the twenty-four hours being a division purely artificial, this explanation is of less interest.

[2] To Atticus, x. 12.

[3] "Cum vivere ipsum turpe sit nobis."—To Atticus, xiii. 28.

[4] "Peream nisi sollicitus sum, ac malo veterem et clementem dominum habere, quam novum et crudelem experiri. Scis, Cnaeus quam sit fatuus. Scis, quomodo crudelitatem virtutem putet. Scis, quam se semper a nobis derisum putet. Vereor, ne nos rustice gladio velit [Greek: antimuktaerisai]"—To Caius Cassius, Ad Fam. xv. 19.


Caesar came back to Rome to resume the suspended work of practical reform. His first care was to remove the fears which the final spasm of rebellion had again provoked. He had already granted an amnesty. But the optimates were conscious that they had desired and hoped that the Pompeys might be victorious in Spain. Caesar invited the surviving leaders of the party to sue for pardon on not unbecoming conditions. Hitherto they had kept no faith with him, and on the first show of opportunity had relapsed into defiance. His forbearance had been attributed to want of power rather than of will to punish; when they saw him again triumphant, they assumed that the representative of the Marian principles would show at last the colors of his uncle, and that Rome would again run with blood. He knew them all. He knew that they hated him, and would continue to hate him; but he supposed that they had recognized the hopelessness and uselessness of farther conspiracy. By destroying him they would fall only under the rod of less scrupulous conquerors; and therefore he was content that they should ask to be forgiven. To show further that the past was really to be forgotten, he drew no distinction between his enemies and his friends, and he recommended impartially for office those whose rank or services to the State entitled them to look for promotion. Thus he pardoned and advanced Caius Cassius, who would have killed him in Cilicia.[1] But Cassius had saved Syria from being overrun by the Parthians after the death of Crassus; and the service to the State outweighed the injury to himself. So he pardoned and advanced Marcus Brutus, his friend Servilia's son, who had fought against him at Pharsalia, and had been saved from death there by his special orders. So he pardoned and protected Cicero; so Marcus Marcellus, who, as consul, had moved that he should be recalled from his government, and had flogged the citizen of Como, in scorn of the privileges which Caesar had granted to the colony. So he pardoned also Quintus Ligarius,[2] who had betrayed his confidence in Africa; so a hundred others, who now submitted, accepted his favors, and bound themselves to plot against him no more. To the widows and children of those who had fallen in the war he restored the estates and honors of their families. Finally, as some were still sullen, and refused to sue for a forgiveness which might imply an acknowledgment of guilt, he renewed the general amnesty of the previous year; and, as a last evidence that his victory was not the triumph of democracy, but the consolidation of a united Empire, he restored the statues of Sylla and Pompey, which had been thrown down in the revolution, and again dedicated them with a public ceremonial.

Having thus proved that, so far as he was concerned, he nourished no resentment against the persons of the optimates, or against their principles, so far as they were consistent with the future welfare of the Roman State, Caesar set himself again to the reorganization of the administration. Unfortunately, each step that he took was a fresh crime in the eyes of men whose pleasant monopoly of power he had overthrown. But this was a necessity of the revolution. They had fought for their supremacy, and had lost the day.

He increased the number of the Senate to nine hundred, filling its ranks from eminent provincials; introducing even barbarian Gauls, and, still worse, libertini, the sons of liberated slaves, who had risen to distinction by their own merit. The new members came in slowly, and it is needless to say were unwillingly received; a private handbill was sent round, recommending the coldest of greetings to them.[3]

The inferior magistrates were now responsible to himself as Dictator. He added to their numbers also, and to check the mischiefs of the annual elections, he ordered that they should be chosen for three years. He cut short the corn grants, which nursed the city mob in idleness; and from among the impoverished citizens he furnished out masses of colonists to repair the decay of ancient cities. Corinth rose from its ashes under Caesar's care. Eighty thousand Italians were settled down on the site of Carthage. As inspector of morals, Caesar inherited in an invigorated form the power of the censors. Senators and officials who had discredited themselves by dishonesty were ruthlessly degraded. His own private habits and the habits of his household were models of frugality. He made an effort, in which Augustus afterward imitated him, to check the luxury which was eating into the Roman character. He forbade the idle young patricians to be carried about by slaves in litters. The markets of the world had been ransacked to provide dainties for these gentlemen. He appointed inspectors to survey the dealers' stalls, and occasionally prohibited dishes were carried off from the dinner table under the eyes of the disappointed guests,[4] Enemies enough Caesar made by these measures; but it could not be said of him that he allowed indulgences to himself which he interdicted to others. His domestic economy was strict and simple, the accounts being kept to a sesterce. His frugality was hospitable. He had two tables always, one for his civilian friends, another for his officers, who dined in uniform. The food was plain, but the best of its kind; and he was not to be played with in such matters. An unlucky baker who supplied his guests with bread of worse quality than he furnished for himself was put in chains. Against moral offences he was still more severe. He, the supposed example of licentiousness with women, executed his favorite freedman for adultery with a Roman lady. A senator had married a woman two days after her divorce from her first husband; Caesar pronounced the marriage void.

[Sidenote: B.C. 45-44.] Law reforms went on. Caesar appointed a commission to examine the huge mass of precedents, reduce them to principles, and form a Digest. He called in Marcus Varro's help to form libraries in the great towns. He encouraged physicians and men of science to settle in Rome, by offering them the freedom of the city. To maintain the free population of Italy, he required the planters and farmers to employ a fixed proportion of free laborers on their estates. He put an end to the pleasant tours of senators at the expense of the provinces; their proper place was Italy, and he allowed them to go abroad only when they were in office or in the service of the governors. He formed large engineering plans, a plan to drain the Pontine marches and the Fucine lake, a plan to form a new channel for the Tiber, another to improve the roads, another to cut the Isthmus of Corinth. These were his employments during the few months of life which were left to him after the close of the war. His health was growing visibly weaker, but his superhuman energy remained unimpaired. He was even meditating and was making preparation for a last campaign. The authority of Rome on the eastern frontier had not recovered from the effects of the destruction of the army of Crassus. The Parthians were insolent and aggressive. Caesar had determined to go in person to bring them to their senses as soon as he could leave Rome. Partly, it was said that he felt his life would be safer with the troops; partly, he desired to leave the administration free from his overpowering presence, that it might learn to go alone; partly and chiefly, he wished to spend such time as might remain to him where he could do most service to his country. But he was growing weary of the thankless burden. He was heard often to say that he had lived long enough. Men of high nature do not find the task of governing their fellow-creatures particularly delightful.

The Senate meanwhile was occupied in showing the sincerity of their conversion by inventing honors for their new master, and smothering him with distinctions since they had failed to defeat him in the field. Few recruits had yet joined them, and they were still substantially the old body. They voted Caesar the name of Liberator. They struck medals for him, in which he was described as Pater Patriae, an epithet which Cicero had once with quickened pulse heard given to himself by Pompey. "Imperator" had been a title conferred hitherto by soldiers in the field on a successful general. It was now granted to Caesar in a special sense, and was made hereditary in his family, with the command-in-chief of the army for his life. The Senate gave him also the charge of the treasury. They made him consul for ten years. Statues were to be erected to him in the temples, on the Rostra, and in the Capitol, where he was to stand as an eighth among the seven Kings of Rome. In the excess of their adoration, they desired even to place his image in the Temple of Quirinus himself, with an inscription to him as [Greek: Theos animaetos], the invincible god. Golden chairs, gilt chariots, triumphal robes were piled one upon another with laurelled fasces and laurelled wreaths. His birthday was made a perpetual holiday, and the month Quinctilis[5] was renamed, in honor of him, July. A temple to Concord was to be erected in commemoration of his clemency. His person was declared sacred, and to injure him by word or deed was to be counted sacrilege. The Fortune of Caesar was introduced into the constitutional oath, and the Senate took a solemn pledge to maintain his acts inviolate. Finally, they arrived at a conclusion that he was not a man at all; no longer Caius Julius, but Divus Julius, a god or the son of god. A temple was to be built to Caesar as another Quirinus, and Antony was to be his priest.

Caesar knew the meaning of all this. He must accept their flattery and become ridiculous, or he must appear to treat with contumely the Senate which offered it. The sinister purpose started occasionally into sight. One obsequious senator proposed that every woman in Rome should be at his disposition, and filthy libels against him were set floating under the surface. The object, he perfectly understood, "was to draw him into a position more and more invidious, that he might the sooner perish." [6] The praise and the slander of such men were alike indifferent to him. So far as he was concerned, they might call him what they pleased; god in public, and devil in their epigrams, if it so seemed good to them. It was difficult for him to know precisely how to act, but he declined his divine honors; and he declined the ten years' consulship. Though he was sole consul for the year, he took a colleague, and when his colleague died on the last day of office, he named another, that the customary forms might be observed. Let him do what he would, malice still misconstrued him. Cicero, the most prominent now of his senatorial flatterers, was the sharpest with his satire behind the scenes. "Caesar," he said, "had given so active a consul that there was no sleeping under him." [7]

Caesar was more and more weary of it. He knew that the Senate hated him; he knew that they would kill him, if they could. All these men whose lips were running over with adulation, were longing to drive their daggers into him. He was willing to live, if they would let him live; but, for himself, he had ceased to care about it. He disdained to take precautions against assassination. On his first return from Spain, he had been attended by a guard; but he dismissed it in spite of the remonstrances of his friends, and went daily into the senate-house alone and unarmed. He spoke often of his danger with entire openness; but he seemed to think that he had some security in the certainty that, if he was murdered, the Civil War would break out again, as if personal hatred was ever checked by fear of consequences. It was something to feel that he had not lived in vain. The Gauls were settling into peaceful habits. The soil of Gaul was now as well cultivated as Italy. Barges loaded with merchandise were passing freely along the Rhone and the Saone, the Loire, the Moselle, and the Rhine. [8] The best of the chiefs were made senators of Rome, and the people were happy and contented. What he had done for Gaul he might, if he lived, do for Spain, and Africa, and the East. But it was the concern of others more than of himself. "Better," he said, "to die at once than live in perpetual dread of treason."

[Sidenote: B.C. 44.] But Caesar was aware that conspiracies were being formed against him; and that he spoke freely of his danger, appears from a speech delivered in the middle of the winter by Cicero in Caesar's presence. It has been seen that Cicero had lately spoken of Caesar's continuance in life as a disgrace to the State. It has been seen also that he had long thought of assassination as the readiest means of ending it. He asserted afterward that he had not been consulted when the murder was actually accomplished; but the perpetrators were assured of his approbation, and when Caesar was killed he deliberately claimed for himself a share of the guilt, if guilt there could be in what he regarded as the most glorious achievement in human history,[9] It maybe assumed, therefore, that Cicero's views upon the subject had remained unchanged since the beginning of the Civil War, and that his sentiments were no secret among his intimate friends.

Cicero is the second great figure in the history of the time. He has obtained the immortality which he so much desired, and we are, therefore, entitled and obliged to scrutinize his conduct with a niceness which would be ungracious and unnecessary in the case of a less distinguished man. After Pharsalia he had concluded that the continuance of the war would be unjustifiable. He had put himself in communication with Antony and Caesar's friend and secretary Oppius, and at their advice he went from Greece to Brindisi, to remain there till Caesar's pleasure should be known. He was very miserable. He had joined Pompey with confessed reluctance, and family quarrels had followed on Pompey's defeat. His brother Quintus, whom he had drawn away from Caesar, regretted having taken his advice. His sons and nephews were equally querulous and dissatisfied; and for himself, he dared not appear in the streets of Brindisi, lest Caesar's soldiers should insult or injure him. Antony, however, encouraged him to hope. He assured him that Caesar was well disposed to him, and would not only pardon him, but would show him every possible favor,[10] and with these expectations he contrived for a while to comfort himself. He had regarded the struggle as over, and Caesar's side as completely victorious. But gradually the scene seemed to change. Caesar was long in returning. The optimates rallied in Africa, and there was again a chance that they might win after all. His first thought was always for himself. If the constitution survived under Caesar, as he was inclined to think that in some shape it would, he had expected that a place would be found in it for him.[11] But how if Caesar himself should not survive? How if he should be killed in Alexandria? How if he should be defeated by Metellus Scipio? He described himself as excruciated with anxiety.[12] Through the year which followed he wavered from day to day as the prospect varied, now cursing his folly for having followed the Senate to Greece, now for having deserted them, blaming himself at one time for his indecision, at another for having committed himself to either side.[13]

Gradually his alarms subsided. The Senate's party was finally overthrown. Caesar wrote to him affectionately, and allowed him to retain his title as Imperator. When it appeared that he had nothing personally to fear, he recovered his spirits, and he recovered along with them a hope that the constitution might be restored, after all, by other means than war. "Caesar could not live forever, and there were many ways in which a man might die."

Caesar had dined with him in the country, on his way home from Spain. He had been as kind as Cicero could wish, but had avoided politics. When Caesar went on to Rome, Cicero followed him, resumed his place in the Senate, which was then in the full fervor of its affected adulation, and took an early opportunity of speaking. Marcus Marcellus had been in exile since Pharsalia. The Senate had interceded for his pardon, and Caesar had granted it, and granted it with a completeness which exceeded expectation. Cicero rose to thank him in his presence, in terms which most certainly did not express his real feelings, whatever may have been the purpose which they concealed.

* * * * *

"He had long been silent," he said, "not from fear, but from grief and diffidence. The time for silence was past. Thenceforward he intended to speak his thoughts freely in his ancient manner. Such kindness, such unheard-of generosity, such moderation in power, such incredible and almost godlike wisdom, he felt himself unable to pass over without giving expression to his emotions." [14] No flow of genius, no faculty of speech or writing, could adequately describe Caesar's actions, yet on that day he had achieved a yet greater glory. Often had Cicero thought, and often had said to others, that no king or general had ever performed such exploits as Caesar. In war, however, officers, soldiers, allies, circumstances, fortune, claimed a share in the result; and there were victories greater than could be won on the battlefield, where the honor was undivided.

"To have conquered yourself," he said, addressing Caesar directly, "to have restrained your resentment, not only to have restored a distinguished opponent to his civil rights, but to have given him more than he had lost, is a deed which raises you above humanity, and makes you most like to God. Your wars will be spoken of to the end of time in all lands and tongues; but in tales of battles we are deafened by the shoutings and the blare of trumpets. Justice, mercy, moderation, wisdom, we admire even in fiction, or in persons whom we have never seen; how much more must we admire them in you, who are present here before us, and in whose face we read a purpose to restore us to such remnants of our liberty as have survived the war! How can we praise, how can we love you sufficiently? By the gods, the very walls of this house are eloquent with gratitude.... No conqueror in a civil war was ever so mild as you have been. To-day you have surpassed yourself. You have overcome victory in giving back the spoils to the conquered. By the laws of war we were under your feet, to be destroyed, if you so willed. We live by your goodness.... Observe, conscript fathers, how comprehensive is Caesar's sentence. We were in arms against him, how impelled I know not. He cannot acquit us of mistake, but he holds us innocent of crime, for he has given us back Marcellus at your entreaty. Me, of his own free will, he has restored to myself and to my country. He has brought back the most illustrious survivors of the war. You see them gathered here in this full assembly. He has not regarded them as enemies. He has concluded that you entered into the conflict with him rather in ignorance and unfounded fear than from any motives of ambition or hostility.

"For me, I was always for peace. Caesar was for peace, so was Marcellus. There were violent men among you, whose success Marcellus dreaded. Each party had a cause. I will not compare them. I will compare rather the victory of the one with the possible victory of the other. Caesar's wars ended with the last battle. The sword is now sheathed. Those whom we have lost fell in the fury of the fight, not one by the resentment of the conqueror. Caesar, if he could, would bring back to life many who lie dead. For the others, we all feared what they might do if the day had been theirs. They not only threatened those who were in arms against them, but those who sate quietly at home."

* * * * *

Cicero then said that he had heard a fear of assassination expressed by Caesar. By whom, he asked, could such an attempt be made? Not by those whom he had forgiven, for none were more attached to him. Not by his comrades, for they could not be so mad as to conspire against the general to whom they owed all that they possessed. Not by his enemies, for he had no enemies. Those who had been his enemies were either dead through their own obstinacy, or were alive through his generosity. It was possible, however, he admitted, that there might be some such danger.

* * * * *

"Be you, therefore," he said, again speaking to Caesar,—"be you watchful, and let us be diligent. Who is so careless of his own and the common welfare as to be ignorant that on your preservation his own depends, and that all our lives are bound up in yours? I, as in duty bound, think of you by night and day; I ponder over the accidents of humanity, the uncertainty of health, the frailty of our common nature, and I grieve to think that the Commonwealth which ought to be immortal should hang on the breath of a single man. If to these perils be added a nefarious conspiracy, to what god can we turn for help? War has laid prostrate our institutions; you alone can restore them. The courts of justice need to be reconstituted, credit to be recovered, license to be repressed, the thinned ranks of the citizens to be repaired. The bonds of society are relaxed. In such a war, and with such a temper in men's hearts, the State must have lost many of its greatest ornaments, be the event what it would. These wounds need healing, and you alone can heal them. With sorrow I have heard you say that you have lived long enough. For nature it may be that you have, and perhaps for glory. But for your country you have not. Put away, I beseech you, this contempt of death. Be not wise at our expense. You repeat often, I am told, that you do not wish for longer life. I believe you mean it; nor should I blame you, if you had to think only of yourself. But by your actions you have involved the welfare of each citizen and of the whole Commonwealth in your own. Your work is unfinished: the foundations are hardly laid, and is it for you to be measuring calmly your term of days by your own desires?... If, Caesar, the result of your immortal deeds is to be no more than this, that, after defeating your enemies, you are to leave the State in the condition in which it now stands, your splendid qualities will be more admired than honored. It remains for you to rebuild the constitution. Live till this is done. Live till you see your country tranquil, and at peace. Then, when your last debt is paid, when you have filled the measure of your existence to overflowing, then say, if you will, that you have had enough of life. Your life is not the life which is bounded by the union of your soul and body, your life is that which shall continue fresh in the memory of ages to come, which posterity will cherish, and eternity itself keep guard over. Much has been done which men will admire: much remains to be done, which they can praise. They will read with wonder of empires and provinces, of the Rhine, the ocean, and the Nile, of battles without number, of amazing victories, of countless monuments and triumphs; but unless this Commonwealth be wisely re-established in institutions by you bestowed upon us, your name will travel widely over the world, but will have no stable habitation; and those who come after us will dispute about you as we have disputed. Some will extol you to the skies, others will find something wanting and the most important element of all. Remember the tribunal before which you will hereafter stand. The ages that are to be will try you, with minds, it may be, less prejudiced than ours, uninfluenced either by desire to please you or by envy of your greatness.

"Our dissensions have been crushed by the arms, and extinguished by the lenity of the conqueror. Let all of us, not the wise only, but every citizen who has ordinary sense, be guided by a single desire. Salvation there can be none for us, Caesar, unless you are preserved. Therefore, we exhort you, we beseech you, to watch over your own safety. You believe that you are threatened by a secret peril. From my own heart I say, and I speak for others as well as myself, we will stand as sentries over your safety, and we will interpose our own bodies between you and any danger which may menace you." [15]

* * * * *

Such, in compressed form, for necessary brevity, but deserving to be studied in its own brilliant language, was the speech delivered by Cicero, in the Senate in Caesar's presence, within a few weeks of his murder. The authenticity of it has been questioned, but without result beyond creating a doubt whether it was edited and corrected, according to his usual habit, by Cicero himself. The external evidence of genuineness is as good as for any of his other orations, and the Senate possessed no other speaker known to us, to whom, with any probability, so splendid an illustration of Roman eloquence could be assigned.

Now, therefore, let us turn to the second Philippic delivered in the following summer when the deed had been accomplished which Cicero professed to hold in so much abhorrence. Then, fiercely challenging for himself a share in the glory of tyrannicide, he exclaimed:

* * * * *

"What difference is there between advice beforehand and approbation afterward? What does it matter whether I wished it to be done, or rejoiced that it was done? Is there a man, save Antony and those who were glad to have Caesar reign over us, that did not wish him to be killed, or that disapproved when he was killed? All were in fault, for all the Boni joined in killing him, so far as lay in them. Some were not consulted, some wanted courage, some opportunity. All were willing," [16]

Expressions so vehemently opposite compel us to compare them. Was it that Cicero was so carried away by the stream of his oratory, that he spoke like an actor, under artificial emotion which the occasion called for? Was it that he was deliberately trying to persuade Caesar that from the Senate he had nothing to fear, and so to put him off his guard? If, as he declared, he himself and the Boni, who were listening to him, desired so unanimously to see Caesar killed, how else can his language be interpreted? Cicero stands before the tribunal of posterity, to which he was so fond of appealing. In him, too, while "there is much to admire," "something may be found wanting."

Meanwhile the Senate went its way, still inventing fresh titles and conferring fresh powers. Caesar said that these vain distinctions needed limitation, rather than increase; but the flattery had a purpose in it, and would not be checked.

One day a deputation waited on him with the proffer of some "new marvel." [17] He was sitting in front of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, and when the senators approached he neglected to rise to receive them. Some said that he was moving, but that Cornelius Balbus pulled him down. Others said that he was unwell. Pontius Aquila, a tribune, had shortly before refused to rise to Caesar. The senators thought he meant to read them a lesson in return. He intended to be king, it seemed; the constitution was gone, another Tarquin was about to seize the throne of Republican Rome.

Caesar was king in fact, and to recognize facts is more salutary than to ignore them. An acknowledgment of Caesar as king might have made the problem of reorganization easier than it proved. The army had thought of it. He was on the point of starting for Parthia, and a prophecy had said that the Parthians could only be conquered by a king.—But the Roman people were sensitive about names. Though their liberties were restricted for the present, they liked to hope that one day the Forum might recover its greatness. The Senate, meditating on the insult which they had received, concluded that Caesar might be tempted, and that if they could bring him to consent he would lose the people's hearts. They had already made him Dictator for life; they voted next that he really should be King, and, not formally perhaps, but tentatively, they offered him the crown. He was sounded as to whether he would accept it. He understood the snare, and refused. What was to be done next? He would soon be gone to the East. Rome and its hollow adulations would lie behind him, and their one opportunity would be gone also. They employed some one to place a diadem on the head of his statue which stood upon the Rostra.[18] It was done publicly, in the midst of a vast crowd, in Caesar's presence. Two eager tribunes tore the diadem down, and ordered the offender into custody. The treachery of the Senate was not the only danger. His friends in the army had the same ambition for him. A few days later, as he was riding through the streets, he was saluted as King by the mob. Caesar answered calmly that he was not King but Caesar, and there the matter might have ended; but the tribunes rushed into the crowd to arrest the leaders; a riot followed, for which Caesar blamed them; they complained noisily; he brought their conduct before the Senate, and they were censured and suspended. But suspicion was doing its work, and honest republican hearts began to heat and kindle.

The kingship assumed a more serious form on the 15th of February at the Lupercalia—the ancient carnival. Caesar was in his chair, in his consular purple, wearing a wreath of bay, wrought in gold. The honor of the wreath was the only distinction which he had accepted from the Senate with pleasure. He retained a remnant of youthful vanity, and the twisted leaves concealed his baldness. Antony, his colleague in the consulship, approached with a tiara, and placed it on Caesar's head, saying, "The people give you this by my hand." That Antony had no sinister purpose is obvious. He perhaps spoke for the army;[19] or it may be that Caesar himself suggested Antony's action, that he might end the agitation of so dangerous a subject. He answered in a loud voice "that the Romans had no king but God," and ordered that the tiara should be taken to the Capitol, and placed on the statue of Jupiter Olympius. The crowd burst into an enthusiastic cheer; and an inscription on a brass tablet recorded that the Roman people had offered Caesar the crown by the hands of the consul, and that Caesar had refused it.

The question of the kingship was over; but a vague alarm had been created, which answered the purpose of the optimates. Caesar was at their mercy any day. They had sworn to maintain all his acts. They had sworn, after Cicero's speech, individually and collectively to defend his life. Caesar, whether he believed them sincere or not, had taken them at their word, and came daily to the Senate unarmed and without a guard. He had a protection in the people. If the optimates killed him without preparation, they knew that they would be immediately massacred. But an atmosphere of suspicion and uncertainty had been successfully generated, of which they determined to take immediate advantage. There were no troops in the city. Lepidus, Caesar's master of the horse, who had been appointed governor of Gaul, was outside the gates, with a few cohorts; but Lepidus was a person of feeble character, and they trusted to be able to deal with him.

Sixty senators, in all, were parties to the immediate conspiracy. Of these nine-tenths were members of the old faction whom Caesar had pardoned, and who, of all his acts, resented most that he had been able to pardon them. They were the men who had stayed at home, like Cicero, from the fields of Thapsus and Munda, and had pretended penitence and submission that they might take an easier road to rid themselves of their enemy. Their motives were the ambition of their order and personal hatred of Caesar; but they persuaded themselves that they were animated by patriotism, and as, in their hands, the Republic had been a mockery of liberty, so they aimed at restoring it by a mock tyrannicide. Their oaths and their professions were nothing to them. If they were entitled to kill Caesar, they were entitled equally to deceive him. No stronger evidence is needed of the demoralization of the Roman Senate than the completeness with which they were able to disguise from themselves the baseness of their treachery. One man only they were able to attract into co-operation who had a reputation for honesty, and could be conceived, without absurdity, to be animated by a disinterested purpose.

Marcus Brutus was the son of Cato's sister Servilia, the friend, and a scandal said the mistress, of Caesar. That he was Caesar's son was not too absurd for the credulity of Roman drawing-rooms. Brutus himself could not have believed in the existence of such a relation, for he was deeply attached to his mother; and although, under the influence of his uncle Cato, he had taken the Senate's side in the war, he had accepted afterward not pardon only from Caesar, but favors of many kinds, for which he had professed, and probably felt, some real gratitude. He had married Cato's daughter Portia, and on Cato's death had published a eulogy upon him. Caesar left him free to think and write what he pleased. He had made him praetor; he had nominated him to the governorship of Macedonia. Brutus was perhaps the only member of the senatorial party in whom Caesar felt genuine confidence. His known integrity, and Caesar's acknowledged regard for him, made his accession to the conspiracy an object of particular importance. The name of Brutus would be a guarantee to the people of rectitude of intention. Brutus, as the world went, was of more than average honesty. He had sworn to be faithful to Caesar as the rest had sworn, and an oath with him was not a thing to be emotionalized away; but he was a fanatical republican, a man of gloomy habits, given to dreams and omens, and easily liable to be influenced by appeals to visionary feelings. Caius Cassius, his brother-in-law, was employed to work upon him. Cassius, too, was praetor that year, having been also nominated to office by Caesar. He knew Brutus, he knew where and how to move him. He reminded him of the great traditions of his name. A Brutus had delivered Rome from the Tarquins. The blood of a Brutus was consecrated to liberty. This, too, was mockery; Brutus, who expelled the Tarquins, put his sons to death, and died childless; Marcus Brutus came of good plebeian family, with no glories of tyrannicide about them; but an imaginary genealogy suited well with the spurious heroics which veiled the motives of Caesar's murderers.

Brutus, once wrought upon, became with Cassius the most ardent in the cause which assumed the aspect to him of a sacred duty. Behind them were the crowd of senators of the familiar faction, and others worse than they, who had not even the excuse of having been partisans of the beaten cause; men who had fought at Caesar's side till the war was over, and believed, like Labienus, that to them Caesar owed his fortune, and that he alone ought not to reap the harvest. One of these was Trebonius, who had misconducted himself in Spain, and was smarting under the recollection of his own failures. Trebonius had long before sounded Antony on the desirableness of removing their chief. Antony, though he remained himself true, had unfortunately kept his friend's counsel. Trebonius had been named by Caesar for a future consulship, but a distant reward was too little for him. Another and a yet baser traitor was Decimus Brutus, whom Caesar valued and trusted beyond all his officers, whom he had selected as guardian for Augustus, and had noticed, as was seen afterward, with special affection in his will. The services of these men were invaluable to the conspirators on account of their influence with the army. Decimus Brutus, like Labienus, had enriched himself in Caesar's campaigns, and had amassed near half a million of English money.[20] It may have been easy to persuade him and Trebonius that a grateful Republic would consider no recompense too large to men who would sacrifice their commander to their country. To Caesar they could be no more than satellites; the first prizes of the Empire would be offered to the choice of the saviours of the constitution.

So composed was this memorable band, to whom was to fall the bad distinction of completing the ruin of the senatorial rule. Caesar would have spared something of it; enough, perhaps, to have thrown up shoots again as soon as he had himself passed away in the common course of nature. By combining in a focus the most hateful characteristics of the order, by revolting the moral instincts of mankind by ingratitude and treachery, they stripped their cause by their own hands of the false glamour which they hoped to throw over it. The profligacy and avarice, the cynical disregard of obligation, which had marked the Senate's supremacy for a century, had exhibited abundantly their unfitness for the high functions which had descended to them; but custom and natural tenderness for a form of government, the past history of which had been so glorious, might have continued still to shield them from the penalty of their iniquities. The murder of Caesar filled the measure of their crimes, and gave the last and necessary impulse to the closing act of the revolution.

Thus the ides of March drew near. Caesar was to set out in a few days for Parthia. Decimus Brutus was going, as governor, to the north of Italy, Lepidus to Gaul, Marcus Brutus to Macedonia, and Trebonius to Asia Minor. Antony, Caesar's colleague in the consulship, was to remain in Italy. Dolabella, Cicero's son-in-law, was to be consul with him as soon as Caesar should have left for the East. The foreign appointments were all made for five years, and in another week the party would be scattered. The time for action had come, if action there was to be. Papers were dropped in Brutus's room, bidding him awake from his sleep. On the statue of Junius Brutus some hot republican wrote "Would that thou wast alive!" The assassination in itself was easy, for Caesar would take no precautions. So portentous an intention could not be kept entirely secret; many friends warned him to beware; but he disdained too heartily the worst that his enemies could do to him to vex himself with thinking of them, and he forbade the subject to be mentioned any more in his presence. Portents, prophecies, soothsayings, frightful aspects in the sacrifices, natural growths of alarm and excitement, were equally vain. "Am I to be frightened," he said, in answer to some report of the haruspices, "because a sheep is without a heart?"

[Sidenote: March 14, B.C. 44.] An important meeting of the Senate had been called for the ides (the 15th) of the month. The Pontifices, it was whispered, intended to bring on again the question of the kingship before Caesar's departure. The occasion would be appropriate. The senate-house itself was a convenient scene of operations. The conspirators met at supper the evening before at Cassius's house. Cicero, to his regret, was not invited. The plan was simple, and was rapidly arranged. Caesar would attend unarmed. The senators not in the secret would be unarmed also. The party who intended to act were to provide themselves with poniards, which could be easily concealed in their paper boxes. So far all was simple; but a question rose whether Caesar only was to be killed, or whether Antony and Lepidus were to be despatched along with him. They decided that Caesar's death would be sufficient. To spill blood without necessity would mar, it was thought, the sublimity of their exploit. Some of them liked Antony. None supposed that either he or Lepidus would be dangerous when Caesar was gone. In this resolution Cicero thought that they made a fatal mistake;[21] fine emotions were good in their place, in the perorations of speeches and such like; Antony, as Cicero admitted, had been signally kind to him; but the killing Caesar was a serious business, and his friends should have died along with him. It was determined otherwise. Antony and Lepidus were not to be touched. For the rest, the assassins had merely to be in their places in the Senate in good time. When Caesar entered, Trebonius was to detain Antony in conversation at the door. The others were to gather about Caesar's chair on pretence of presenting a petition, and so could make an end. A gang of gladiators were to be secreted in the adjoining theatre to be ready should any unforeseen difficulty present itself.

The same evening, the 14th of March, Caesar was at a "Last Supper" at the house of Lepidus. The conversation turned on death, and on the kind of death which was most to be desired. Caesar, who was signing papers while the rest wore talking, looked up and said, "A sudden one." When great men die, imagination insists that all nature shall have felt the shock. Strange stories were told in after years of the uneasy labors of the elements that night.

A little ere the mightiest Julius fell, The graves did open, and the sheeted dead Did squeak and jibber in the Roman streets.

The armor of Mars, which stood in the hall of the Pontifical Palace, crashed down upon the pavement. The door of Caesar's room flew open. Calpurnia dreamt her husband was murdered, and that she saw him ascending into heaven, and received by the hand of God.[22] In the morning the sacrifices were again unfavorable. Caesar was restless. Some natural disorder affected his spirits, and his spirits were reacting on his body. Contrary to his usual habit, he gave way to depression. He decided, at his wife's entreaty, that he would not attend the Senate that day.

[Sidenote: March 15, B.C. 44.] The house was full. The conspirators were in their places with their daggers ready. Attendants came in to remove Caesar's chair. It was announced that he was not coming. Delay might be fatal. They conjectured that he already suspected something. A day's respite, and all might be discovered. His familiar friend whom he trusted—the coincidence is striking!—was employed to betray him. Decimus Brutus, whom it was impossible for him to distrust, went to entreat his attendance, giving reasons to which he knew that Caesar would listen, unless the plot had been actually betrayed. It was now eleven in the forenoon. Caesar shook off his uneasiness, and rose to go. As he crossed the hall, his statue fell, and shivered on the stones. Some servant, perhaps, had heard whispers, and wished to warn him. As he still passed on, a stranger thrust a scroll into his hand, and begged him to read it on the spot. It contained a list of the conspirators, with a clear account of the plot. He supposed it to be a petition, and placed it carelessly among his other papers. The fate of the Empire hung upon a thread, but the thread was not broken, As Caesar had lived to reconstruct the Roman world, so his death was necessary to finish the work. He went on to the Curia, and the senators said to themselves that the augurs had foretold his fate, but he would not listen; he was doomed for his "contempt of religion." [23]

Antony, who was in attendance, was detained, as had been arranged, by Trebonius. Caesar entered, and took his seat. His presence awed men, in spite of themselves, and the conspirators had determined to act at once, lest they should lose courage to act at all. He was familiar and easy of access. They gathered round him. He knew them all. There was not one from whom he had not a right to expect some sort of gratitude, and the movement suggested no suspicion. One had a story to tell him; another some favor to ask. Tullius Cimber, whom he had just made governor of Bithynia, then came close to him, with some request which he was unwilling to grant. Cimber caught his gown, as if in entreaty, and dragged it from his shoulders. Cassius,[24] who was standing behind, stabbed him in the throat. He started up with a cry, and caught Cassius's arm. Another poniard entered his breast, giving a mortal wound. He looked round, and seeing not one friendly face, but only a ring of daggers pointing at him, he drew his gown over his head, gathered the folds about him that he might fall decently, and sank down without uttering another word,[25] Cicero was present. The feelings with which he watched the scene are unrecorded, but may easily be imagined. Waving his dagger, dripping with Caesar's blood, Brutus shouted to Cicero by name, congratulating him that liberty was restored.[26] The Senate rose with shrieks and confusion, and rushed into the Forum. The crowd outside caught the words that Caesar was dead, and scattered to their houses. Antony, guessing that those who had killed Caesar would not spare himself, hurried off into concealment. The murderers, bleeding some of them from wounds which they had given one another in their eagerness, followed, crying that the tyrant was dead, and that Rome was free; and the body of the great Caesar was left alone in the house where a few weeks before Cicero told him that he was so necessary to his country that every senator would die before harm should reach him!

[1] Apparently when Caesar touched there on his way to Egypt, after Pharsalia. Cicero says (Philippic ii. 11): "Quid? C. Cassius ... qui etiam sine his clarissimis viris, hanc rem in Cilicia ad ostium fluminis Cydni confecisset, si ille ad eam ripam quam constituerat, non ad contrariam, navi appulisset."

[2] To be distinguished from Publius Ligarius, who had been put to death before Thapsus.

[3] The Gauls were especially obnoxious, and epigrams were circulated to insult them:—

"Gallos Caesar in triumphum ducit, idem in Curiam. Galli braccas deposuerunt, latum clavum sumpserunt"

SUETONIUS, Vita Jullii Caesaris, 80.

[4] Suetonius.

[5] The fifth, dating the beginning of the year, in the old style, from March.

[6] Dion Cassius.

[7] The second consul who had been put in held office but for a few hours.

[8] Dion Cassius.

[9] See the 2nd Philippic, passim. In a letter to Decimus Brutus, he says: "Quare hortatione tu quidem non egos, si ne illa quidem in re, quae a te gesta est post hominum memoriam maxima, hortatorem desiderasti." Ad Fam. xi. 5.

[10] To Atticus, xi. 5, 6.

[11] Ad Caelium, Ad Fam. ii. 16.

[12] To Atticus, xi. 7.

[13] See To Atticus, xi. 7-9; To Terentia, Ad Fam. xiv. 12.

[14] "Tantam enim mansuetudinem, tam inusitatam inauditamque clementiam, tantum in summa potestate rerum omnium modum, tam denique incredibilem sapientiam ac paene divinam tacitus nullo modo praeterire possum."—Pro Marco Marcello, 1.

[15] Pro Marco Marcello, abridged.

[16] "Non intelligis, si id quod me arguis voluisse interfici Caesarem crimen sit, etiam laetatum esse morte Caesaris crimen esse? Quid enim interest inter suasorem facti et approbatorem? Aut quid refert utrum voluerim fieri an gaudeam factum? Ecquis est igitur te excepto et iis qui illum regnare gaudebant, qui illud aut fieri noluerit, aut factum improbarit? Omnes enim in culpa. Etenim omnes boni quantum in ipsis fuit Caesarem occiderunt. Aliis consilium, aliis animus, aliis occasio defuit. Voluntas nemini."—2nd Philippic, 12.

[17] Dion Cassius.

[18] So Dion Cassius states, on what authority we know not. Suetonius says that as Caesar was returning from the Latin festival some one placed a laurel crown on the statue, tied with a white riband.

[19] The fact is certain. Cicero taunted Antony with it in the Senate, in the Second Philippic.

[20] "Cum ad rem publicam liberandam accessi, HS. mihi fuit quadringenties amplius."—Decimus Brutus to Cicero, Ad Fam. xi. 10.

[21] "Vellem Idibus Martiis me ad coenam invitasses. Reliquiarum nihil fuisset."—Ad Cassium, Ad Fam. xii. 4. And again: "Quam vellem ad illas pulcherrimas epulas me Idibus Martiis invitasses! Reliquiarum nihil haberemus."—Ad Trebonium, Ad Fam. x. 28.

[22] Dion Cassius, C. Julius Caesar, xliv. 17.

[23] "Spreta religione."—Suetonius.

[24] Not perhaps Caius Cassius, but another. Suetonius says "alter e Cassiis."

[25] So says Suetonius, the best extant authority, who refers to the famous words addressed to Brutus only as a legend: "Atque ita tribus et viginti plagis confossus est, uno modo ad primum ictum gemitu sine voce edito. Etsi tradiderunt quidam Marco Bruto irruenti dixisse [Greek: kai su ei ekeinon kai su teknon]"—Julius Caesar, 82.

[26] "Cruentum alte extollens Marcus Brutus pugionem, Ciceronem nominatim exclamavit atque ei recuperatam libertatem est gratulatus."—Philippic ii. 12.


[Sidenote: March 16, B.C. 44.] The tyrannicides, as the murderers of Caesar called themselves, had expected that the Roman mob would be caught by the cry of liberty, and would hail them as the deliverers of their country. They found that the people did not respond as they had anticipated. The city was stunned. The Forum was empty. The gladiators, whom they had secreted in the Temple, broke out and plundered the unprotected booths. A dead and ominous silence prevailed everywhere. At length a few citizens collected in knots. Brutus spoke, and Cassius spoke. They extolled their old constitution. They said that Caesar had overthrown it; that they had slain him, not from private hatred or private interest, but to restore the liberties of Rome. The audience was dead and cold. No answering shouts came back to reassure them. The citizens could not forget that these men who spoke so fairly had a few days before fawned on Caesar as the saviour of the Empire, and, as if human honors were too little, had voted a temple to him as a god. The fire would not kindle. Lepidus came in with troops, and occupied the Forum. The conspirators withdrew into the Capitol, where Cicero and others joined them, and the night was passed in earnest discussion what next was to be done. They had intended to declare that Caesar had been a tyrant, to throw his body into the Tiber, and to confiscate his property to the State. They discovered to their consternation that, if Caesar was a tyrant, all his acts would be invalidated. The praetors and tribunes held their offices, the governors their provinces, under Caesar's nomination. If Caesar's acts were set aside, Decimus Brutus was not governor of North Italy, nor Marcus Brutus of Macedonia; nor was Dolabella consul, as he had instantly claimed to be on Caesar's death. Their names, and the names of many more whom Caesar had promoted, would have to be laid before the Comitia, and in the doubtful humor of the people they little liked the risk. That the dilemma should have been totally unforeseen was characteristic of the men and their capacity.

Nor was this the worst. Lands had been allotted to Caesar's troops. Many thousands of colonists were waiting to depart for Carthage and Corinth and other places where settlements had been provided for them. These arrangements would equally fall through, and it was easy to know what would follow. Antony and Lepidus, too, had to be reckoned with. Antony, as the surviving consul, was the supreme lawful authority in the city; and Lepidus and his soldiers might have a word to say if the body of their great commander was flung into the river as the corpse of a malefactor. Interest and fear suggested more moderate counsels. The conspirators determined that Caesar's appointments must stand; his acts, it seemed, must stand also; and his remains, therefore, must be treated with respect. Imagination took another flight. Caesar's death might be regarded as a sacrifice, an expiatory offering for the sins of the nation; and the divided parties might embrace in virtue of the atonement. They agreed to send for Antony, and invite him to assist in saving society; and they asked Cicero to be their messenger. Cicero, great and many as his faults might be, was not a fool. He declined to go on so absurd a mission. He knew Antony too well to dream that he could be imposed on by fantastic illusions. Antony, he said, would promise anything, but if they trusted him, they would have reason to repent.[1] Others, however, undertook the office. Antony agreed to meet them, and the next morning the Senate was assembled in the Temple of Terra.

Antony presided as consul, and after a few words from him Cicero rose. He disapproved of the course which his friends were taking; he foresaw what must come of it; but he had been overruled, and he made the best of what he could not help. He gave a sketch of Roman political history. He went back to the secession to Mount Aventine. He spoke of the Gracchi, of Saturninus and Glaucia, of Marius and Sylla, of Sertorius and Pompey, of Caesar and the still unforgotten Clodius. He described the fate of Athens and of other Grecian states into which faction had penetrated. If Rome continued divided, the conquerors would rule over its ruins; therefore he appealed to the two factions to forget their rivalries and to return to peace and concord. But they must decide at once, for the signs were already visible of a fresh conflict.

"Caesar is slain," he said. "The Capitol is occupied by the optimates, the Forum by soldiers, and the people are full of terror. Is violence to be again answered by more violence? These many years we have lived less like men than like wild beasts in cycles of recurring revenge. Let us forget the past. Let us draw a veil over all that has been done, not looking too curiously into the acts of any man. Much may be said to show that Caesar deserved his death, and much against those who have killed him. But to raise the question will breed fresh quarrels; and if we are wise we shall regard the scene which we have witnessed as a convulsion of nature which is now at an end. Let Caesar's ordinances, let Caesar's appointments be maintained. None such must be heard of again. But what is done cannot be undone." [2]

Admirable advice, were it as easy to act on good counsel as to give it. The murder of such a man as Caesar was not to be so easily smoothed over. But the delusive vision seemed for a moment to please. The Senate passed an act of oblivion. The agitation in the army was quieted when the men heard that their lands were secure. But there were two other questions which required an answer, and an immediate one. Caesar's body, after remaining till evening on the floor of the senate-house, had been carried home in the dusk in a litter by three of his servants, and was now lying in his palace. If it was not to be thrown into the Tiber, what was to be done with it? Caesar had left a will, which was safe with his other papers in the hands of Antony. Was the will to be read and recognized? Though Cicero had advised in the Senate that the discussion whether Caesar had deserved death should not be raised, yet it was plain to him and to every one that, unless Caesar was held guilty of conspiring against the Constitution, the murder was and would be regarded as a most execrable crime. He dreaded the effect of a public funeral. He feared that the will might contain provisions which would rouse the passions of the people. Though Caesar was not for various reasons to be pronounced a tyrant, Cicero advised that he should be buried privately, as if his name was under a cloud, and that his property should be escheated to the nation. But the humor of conciliation and the theory of "the atoning sacrifice" had caught the Senate. Caesar had done great things for his country. It would please the army that he should have an honorable sepulture.

[Sidenote: March, B.C. 44.] If they had refused, the result would not have been greatly different. Sooner or later, when the stunning effects of the shock had passed off, the murder must have appeared to Rome and Italy in its true colors. The optimates talked of the Constitution. The Constitution in their hands had been a parody of liberty. Caesar's political life had been spent in wresting from them the powers which they had abused. Caesar had punished the oppressors of the provinces. Caesar had forced the nobles to give the people a share of the public lands. Caesar had opened the doors of citizenship to the libertini, the distant colonists, and the provincials. It was for this that the Senate hated him. For this they had fought against him; for this they murdered him. No Roman had ever served his country better in peace or war, and thus he had been rewarded.

Such thoughts were already working in tens of thousands of breasts. A feeling of resentment was fast rising, with as yet no certain purpose before it. In this mood the funeral could not fail to lead to some fierce explosion. For this reason Antony had pressed for it, and the Senate had given their consent.

The body was brought down to the Forum and placed upon the Rostra. The dress had not been changed; the gown, gashed with daggers and soaked in blood, was still wrapped about it. The will was read first. It reminded the Romans that they had been always in Caesar's thoughts, for he had left each citizen seventy-five drachmas (nearly L3 of English money), and he had left them his gardens on the Tiber as a perpetual recreation ground, a possession which Domitius Ahenobarbus had designed for himself before Pharsalia. He had made Octavius his general heir; among the second heirs, should Octavius fail, he had named Decimus Brutus, who had betrayed him. A deep movement of emotion passed through the crowd when, besides the consideration for themselves, they heard from this record, which could not lie, a proof of the confidence which had been so abused. Antony, after waiting for the passion to work, then came forward.

Cicero had good reason for his fear of Antony. He was a loose soldier, careless in his life, ambitious, extravagant, little more scrupulous perhaps than any average Roman gentleman. But for Caesar his affection was genuine. The people were in intense expectation. He produced the body, all bloody as it had fallen, and he bade a herald first read the votes which the Senate had freshly passed, heaping those extravagant honors upon Caesar which he had not desired, and the oath which the senators had each personally taken to defend him from violence. He then spoke—spoke with the natural vehemence of a friend, yet saying nothing which was not literally true. The services of Caesar neither needed nor permitted the exaggeration of eloquence.

He began with the usual encomiums. He spoke of Caesar's family, his birth, his early history, his personal characteristics, his thrifty private habits, his public liberality; he described him as generous to his friends, forbearing with his enemies, without evil in himself, and reluctant to believe evil of others.

"Power in most men," he said, "has brought their faults to light. Power in Caesar brought into prominence his excellences. Prosperity did not make him insolent for it gave him a sphere which corresponded to his nature. His first services in Spain a deserved triumph; of his laws I could speak forever. His campaigns in Gaul are known to you all. That land from which the Teutons and Cimbri poured over the Alps is now as well ordered as Italy. Caesar would have added Germany and Britain to your Empire, but his enemies would not have it so. They regarded the Commonwealth as the patrimony of themselves. They brought him home. They went on with their usurpations till you yourselves required his help. He set you free. He set Spain free. He labored for peace with Pompey, but Pompey preferred to go into Greece, to bring the powers of the East upon you, and he perished in his obstinacy.

"Caesar took no honor to himself for this victory. He abhorred the necessity of it. He took no revenge. He praised those who had been faithful to Pompey, and he blamed Pharnaces for deserting him. He was sorry for Pompey's death, and he treated his murderers as they deserved. He settled Egypt and Armenia. He would have disposed of the Parthians had not fresh seditions recalled him to Italy. He quelled those seditions. He restored peace in Africa and Spain, and again his one desire was to spare his fellow-citizens. There was in him an 'inbred goodness.'[3] He was always the same—never carried away by anger, and never spoilt by success. He did not retaliate for the past; he never tried by severity to secure himself for the future. His effort throughout was to save all who would allow themselves to be saved. He repaired old acts of injustice. He restored the families of those who had been proscribed by Sylla, but he burnt unread the correspondence of Pompey and Scipio, that those whom it compromised might neither suffer injury nor fear injury. You honored him as your father; you loved him as your benefactor; you made him chief of the State, not being curious of titles, but regarding the most which you could give as less than he had deserved at your hands. Toward the gods he was High Priest. To you he was Consul; to the army he was Imperator; to the enemies of his country, Dictator. In sum he was Pater Patriae. And this your father, your Pontifex, this hero, whose person was declared inviolable, lies dead—dead, not by disease or age, not by war or visitation of God, but here at home, by conspiracy within your own walls, slain in the Senate-house, the warrior unarmed, the peacemaker naked to his foes, the righteous judge in the seat of judgment. He whom no foreign enemy could hurt has been killed by his fellow-countrymen—he, who had so often shown mercy, by those whom he had spared. Where, Caesar, is your love for mankind? Where is the sacredness of your life? Where are your laws? Here you lie murdered—here in the Forum, through which so often you marched in triumph wreathed with garlands; here upon the Rostra from which you were wont to address your people. Alas for your gray hairs dabbled in blood! alas for this lacerated robe in which you were dressed for the sacrifice!"[4]

Antony's words, as he well knew, were a declaration of irreconcilable war against the murderers and their friends. As his impassioned language did its work the multitude rose into fury. They cursed the conspirators. They cursed the Senate who had sate by while the deed was being done. They had been moved to fury by the murder of Clodius. Ten thousand Clodiuses, had he been all which their imagination painted him, could not equal one Caesar. They took on themselves the order of the funeral. They surrounded the body, which was reverently raised by the officers of the Forum. Part proposed to carry it to the Temple of Jupiter, in the Capitol, and to burn it under the eyes of the assassins; part to take it into the Senate-house and use the meeting-place of the Optimates a second time as the pyre of the people's friend. A few legionaries, perhaps to spare the city a general conflagration, advised that it should be consumed where it lay. The platform was torn up and the broken timbers piled into a heap. Chairs and benches were thrown on to it, the whole crowd rushing wildly to add a chip or splinter. Actors flung in their dresses, musicians their instruments, soldiers their swords. Women added their necklaces and scarves. Mothers brought up their children to contribute toys and playthings. On the pile so composed the body of Caesar was reduced to ashes. The remains were collected with affectionate care and deposited in the tomb of the Caesars, in the Campus Martius. The crowd, it was observed, was composed largely of libertini and of provincials whom Caesar had enfranchised. The demonstrations of sorrow were most remarkable among the Jews, crowds of whom continued for many nights to collect and wail in the Forum at the scene of the singular ceremony.

When the people were in such a mood, Rome was no place for the conspirators. They scattered over the Empire; Decimus Brutus, Marcus Brutus, Cassius, Cimber, Trebonius retreated to the provinces which Caesar had assigned them, the rest clinging to the shelter of their friends. The legions—a striking tribute to Roman discipline—remained by their eagles, faithful to their immediate duties, and obedient to their officers, till it could be seen how events would turn. Lepidus joined the army in Gaul; Antony continued in Rome, holding the administration in his hands and watching the action of the Senate. Caesar was dead. But Caesar still lived. "It was not possible that the grave should hold him." The people said that he was a god, and had gone back to heaven, where his star had been seen ascending;[5] his spirit remained on earth, and the vain blows of the assassins had been but "malicious mockery." "We have killed the king," exclaimed Cicero in the bitterness of his disenchantment, "but the kingdom is with us still;" "we have taken away the tyrant: the tyranny survives." Caesar had not overthrown the oligarchy; their own incapacity, their own selfishness, their own baseness had overthrown them. Caesar had been but the reluctant instrument of the power which metes out to men the inevitable penalties of their own misdeeds. They had dreamt that the Constitution was a living force which would revive of itself as soon as its enemy was gone. They did not know that it was dead already, and that they had themselves destroyed it. The Constitution was but an agreement by which the Roman people had consented to abide for their common good. It had ceased to be for the common good. The experience of fifty miserable years had proved that it meant the supremacy of the rich, maintained by the bought votes of demoralized electors. The soil of Italy, the industry and happiness of tens of millions of mankind, from the Rhine to the Euphrates, had been the spoil of five hundred families and their relatives and dependents, of men whose occupation was luxury, and whose appetites were for monstrous pleasures. The self-respect of reasonable men could no longer tolerate such a rule in Italy or out of it. In killing Caesar the optimates had been as foolish as they were treacherous; for Caesar's efforts had been to reform the Constitution, not to abolish it. The civil war had risen from their dread of his second consulship, which they had feared would make an end of their corruptions; and that the Constitution should be purged of the poison in its veins was the sole condition on which its continuance was possible. The obstinacy, the ferocity, the treachery of the aristocracy had compelled Caesar to crush them; and the more desperate their struggles the more absolute the necessity became. But he alone could have restored as much of popular liberty as was consistent with the responsibilities of such a government as the Empire required. In Caesar alone were combined the intellect and the power necessary for such a work; and they had killed him, and in doing so had passed final sentence on themselves. Not as realities any more, but as harmless phantoms, the forms of the old Republic were henceforth to persist. In the army only remained the imperial consciousness of the honor and duty of Roman citizens, To the army, therefore, the rule was transferred. The Roman nation had grown as the oak grows, self-developed in severe morality, each citizen a law to himself, and therefore capable of political freedom in an unexampled degree. All organizations destined to endure spring from forces inherent in themselves, and must grow freely, or they will not grow at all. When the tree reaches maturity, decay sets in; if it be left standing, the disintegration of the fibre goes swiftly forward; if the stem is severed from the root, the destroying power is arrested, and the timber will endure a thousand years. So it was with Rome. The Constitution under which the Empire had sprung up was poisoned, and was brought to a violent end before it had affected materially for evil the masses of the people. The solid structure was preserved—not to grow any longer, not to produce a new Camillus or a new Regulus, a new Scipio Africanus or a new Tiberius Gracchus, but to form an endurable shelter for civilized mankind, until a fresh spiritual life was developed out of Palestine to remodel the conscience of humanity.

A gleam of hope opened to Cicero in the summer. Octavius, who was in Greece at the time of the murder, came to Rome to claim his inheritance. He was but eighteen, too young for the burden which was thrown upon him; and being unknown, he had the confidence of the legions to win. The army, dispersed over the provinces, had as yet no collective purpose. Antony, it is possible, was jealous of him, and looked on himself as Caesar's true representative and avenger. Octavius, finding Antony hostile, or at least indifferent to his claims, played with the Senate with cool foresight till he felt the ground firm under his feet. Cicero boasted that he would use Octavius to ruin Antony, and would throw him over when he had served his purpose. "Cicero will learn," Octavius said, when the words were reported to him, "that I shall not be played with so easily."

[Sidenote: B.C. 44-43.] [Sidenote: B.C. 43.] For a year the confusion lasted; two of Caesar's officers, Hirtius and Pausa, were chosen consuls by the senatorial party, to please the legions; and Antony contended dubiously with them and Decimus Brutus for some months in the North of Italy. But Antony joined Lepidus, and the Gallic legions with judicial fitness brought Cicero's dreams to the ground. Cicero's friend, Plancus, who commanded in Normandy and Belgium, attempted a faint resistance, but was made to yield to the resolution of his troops. Octavius and Antony came to an understanding; and Caesar's two generals, who were true to his memory, and Octavius, who was the heir of his name, crossed the Alps, at the head of the united army of Gaul, to punish the murder and restore peace to the world. No resistance was possible. Many of the senators, like Cicero, though they had borne no part in the assassination, had taken the guilt of it upon themselves by the enthusiasm of their approval. They were all men who had sworn fidelity to Caesar, and had been ostentatious in their profession of devotion to him. It had become too plain that from such persons no repentance was to be looked for. They were impelled by a malice or a fanaticism which clemency could not touch or reason influence. So long as they lived they would still conspire; and any weapons, either of open war or secret treachery, would seem justifiable to them in the cause which they regarded as sacred. Caesar himself would, no doubt, have again pardoned them. Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus were men of more common mould. The murderers of Caesar, and those who had either instigated them secretly or applauded them afterward, were included in a proscription list, drawn by retributive justice on the model of Sylla's. Such of them as were in Italy were immediately killed. Those in the provinces, as if with the curse of Cain upon their heads, came one by one to miserable ends. Brutus and Cassius fought hard and fell at Philippi. In three years the tyrannicides of the ides of March, with their aiders and abettors, were all dead, some killed in battle, some in prison, some dying by their own hand—slain with the daggers with which they had stabbed their master.

Out of the whole party the fate of one only deserves special notice, a man whose splendid talents have bought forgiveness for his faults, and have given him a place in the small circle of the really great whose memory is not allowed to die.

[Sidenote: Dec. 7, B.C. 43.] After the dispersion of the conspirators which followed Caesar's funeral, Cicero had remained in Rome. His timidity seemed to have forsaken him, and he had striven, with an energy which recalled his brightest days, to set the Constitution again upon its feet. Antony charged him in the Senate with having been the contriver of Caesar's death. He replied with invectives fierce and scurrilous as those which he had heaped upon Catiline and Clodius. A time had been when he had affected to look on Antony as his preserver. Now there was no imaginable infamy in which he did not steep his name. He spoke of the murder as the most splendid achievement recorded in history, and he regretted only that he had not been taken into counsel by the deliverers of their country. Antony would not then have been alive to rekindle civil discord. When Antony left Rome, Cicero was for a few months again the head of the State. He ruled the Senate, controlled the Treasury, corresponded with the conspirators in the provinces, and advised their movements. He continued sanguine himself, and he poured spirit into others. No one can refuse admiration to the last blaze of his expiring powers. But when he heard that Antony and Lepidus and Octavius had united, and were coming into Italy with the whole Western army, he saw that all was over. He was now sixty-three—too old for hope. He could hardly have wished to live, and this time he was well assured that there would be no mercy for him. Caesar would have spared a man whom he esteemed in spite of his infirmities. But there was no Caesar now, and fair speeches would serve his turn no longer. He retired from the city with his brother Quintus, and had some half-formed purpose of flying to Brutus, who was still in arms in Macedonia. He even embarked, but without a settled resolution, and he allowed himself to be driven back by a storm. Theatrical even in extremities, he thought of returning to Rome and of killing himself in Caesar's house, that he might bring the curse of his blood upon Octavius. In these uncertainties he drifted into his own villa at Formiae,[6] saying in weariness, and with a sad note of his old self-importance, that he would die in the country which he had so often saved. Here, on the 4th of December, B.C. 43, Popilius Loenas, an officer of Antony's, came to find him. Peasants from the neighborhood brought news to the villa that the soldiers were approaching. His servants thrust him into a litter and carried him down through the woods toward the sea. Loenas followed and overtook him. To his slaves he had been always the gentlest of masters. They would have given their lives in his defence if he would have allowed them; but he bade them set the litter down and save themselves. He thrust out his head between the curtains, and it was instantly struck off.

So ended Cicero, a tragic combination of magnificent talents, high aspirations, and true desire to do right, with an infirmity of purpose and a latent insincerity of character which neutralized and could almost make us forget his nobler qualities. It cannot be said of Cicero that he was blind to the faults of the party to which he attached himself. To him we owe our knowledge of what the Roman aristocrats really were, and of the hopelessness of expecting that they could have been trusted any longer with the administration of the Empire, if the Empire itself was to endure. Cicero's natural place was at Caesar's side; but to Caesar alone of his contemporaries he was conscious of an inferiority which was intolerable to him. In his own eyes he was always the first person. He had been made unhappy by the thought that posterity might rate Pompey above himself. Closer acquaintance had reassured him about Pompey, but in Caesar he was conscious of a higher presence, and he rebelled against the humiliating acknowledgment. Supreme as an orator he could always be, and an order of things was, therefore, most desirable where oratory held the highest place. Thus he chose his part with the "boni," whom he despised while he supported them, drifting on through vacillation into treachery, till "the ingredients of the poisoned chalice" were "commended to his own lips."

In Cicero Nature half-made a great man and left him uncompleted. Our characters are written in our forms, and the bust of Cicero is the key to his history. The brow is broad and strong, the nose large, the lips tightly compressed, the features lean and keen from restless intellectual energy. The loose bending figure, the neck, too weak for the weight of the head, explain the infirmity of will, the passion, the cunning, the vanity, the absence of manliness and veracity. He was born into an age of violence with which he was too feeble to contend. The gratitude of mankind for his literary excellence will forever preserve his memory from too harsh a judgment.

[1] Philippic ii. 35.

[2] Abridged from Dion Cassius, who probably gives no more than the traditionary version of Cicero's words.

[3] [Greek: emphutos chraestotaes] are Dion Cassius's words. Antony's language was differently reported, and perhaps there was no literal record of it. Dion Cassius, however, can hardly have himself composed the version which he gives in his history, for he calls the speech as ill-timed as it was brilliant.

[4] Abridged from Dion Cassius. xliv. 36.

[5] "In deorum numerum relatus est non ore modo decernentium sed et persuasione vulgi."—Suetonius.

[6] Near Gaeta.


It remains to offer a few general remarks on the person whose life and actions I have endeavored to describe in the preceding pages.

In all conditions of human society distinguished men are the subjects of legend; but the character of the legend varies with the disposition of the time. In ages which we call heroic the saint works miracles, the warrior performs exploits beyond the strength of natural man. In ages less visionary which are given to ease and enjoyment the tendency is to bring a great man down to the common level, and to discover or invent faults which shall show that he is or was but a little man after all. Our vanity is soothed by evidence that those who have eclipsed us in the race of life are no better than ourselves, or in some respects are worse than ourselves; and if to these general impulses be added political or personal animosity, accusations of depravity are circulated as surely about such men, and are credited as readily, as under other influences are the marvellous achievements of a Cid or a St. Francis. In the present day we reject miracles and prodigies; we are on our guard against the mythology of hero worship, just as we disbelieve in the eminent superiority of any one of our contemporaries to another. We look less curiously into the mythology of scandal; we accept easily and willingly stories disparaging to illustrious persons in history, because similar stories are told and retold with so much confidence and fluency among the political adversaries of those who have the misfortune to be their successful rivals. The absurdity of a calumny may be as evident as the absurdity of a miracle; the ground for belief may be no more than a lightness of mind, and a less pardonable wish that it may be true. But the idle tale floats in society, and by and by is written down in books and passes into the region of established realities.

The tendency to idolize great men and the tendency to depreciate them arises alike in emotion; but the slanders of disparagement are as truly legends as the wonder-tales of saints and warriors; and anecdotes related of Caesar at patrician dinner-parties at Rome as little deserve attention as the information so freely given upon the habits of modern statesmen in the salons of London and Paris. They are read now by us in classic Latin, but they were recorded by men who hated Caesar and hated all that he had done; and that a poem has survived for two thousand years is no evidence that the author of it, even though he might be a Catullus, was uninfluenced by the common passions of humanity.

Caesar, it is allowed, had extraordinary talents, extraordinary energy, and some commendable qualities; but he was, as the elder Curio said, "omnium mulierum vir et omnium virorum mulier;" he had mistresses in every country which he visited, and he had liaisons with half the ladies in Rome. That Caesar's morality was altogether superior to that of the average of his contemporaries is in a high degree improbable. He was a man of the world, peculiarly attractive to women, and likely to have been attracted by them. On the other hand, the undiscriminating looseness attributed to him would have been peculiarly degrading in a man whose passions were so eminently under control, whose calmness was never known to be discomposed, and who, in everything which he did, acted always with deliberate will. Still worse would it be if, by his example, he made ridiculous his own laws against adultery and indulged himself in vices which he punished in others. What, then, is the evidence? The story of Nicomedes may be passed over. All that is required on that subject has been already said. It was never heard of before Caesar's consulship, and the proofs are no more than the libels of Bibulus, the satire of Catullus, and certain letters of Cicero's which were never published, but were circulated privately in Roman aristocratic society.[1] A story is suspicious which is first produced after twenty years in a moment of political excitement. Caesar spoke of it with stern disgust. He replied to Catullus with an invitation to dinner; otherwise he passed it over in silence—the only answer which an honorable man could give. Suetonius quotes a loose song sung by Caesar's soldiers at his triumph. We know in what terms British sailors often speak of their favorite commanders. Affection, when it expresses itself most emphatically, borrows the language of its opposites. Who would dream of introducing into a serious life of Nelson catches chanted in the forecastle of the "Victory"? But which of the soldiers sang these verses? Does Suetonius mean that the army sang them in chorus as they marched in procession? The very notion is preposterous. It is proved that during Caesar's lifetime scandal was busy with his name; and that it would be so busy, whether justified or not, is certain from the nature of things. Cicero says that no public man in Rome escaped from such imputations. He himself flung them broadcast, and they were equally returned upon himself. The surprise is rather that Caesar's name should have suffered so little, and that he should have been admitted on reflection by Suetonius to have been comparatively free from the abominable form of vice which was then so common.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse