The Life of Cicero, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter i.

His Return from Exile.

Cicero’s life for the next two years was made conspicuous by a series of speeches which were produced by his exile and his return. These are remarkable for the praise lavished on himself, and by the violence with which he attacked his enemies. It must be owned that never was abuse more abusive, or self-praise uttered in language more laudatory.1 Cicero had now done all that was useful in his public life. The great monuments of his literature are to come. None of these had as yet been written except a small portion of his letters — about a tenth — and of these he thought no more in regard to the public than do any ordinary letter-writers of today. Some poems had been produced, and a history of his own Consulship in Greek; but these are unknown to us. He had already become the greatest orator, perhaps, of all time — and we have many of the speeches spoken by him. Some we have — those five, namely, telling the story of Verres — not intended to be spoken, but written for the occasion of the day rather than with a view to permanent literature. He had been Quæstor, Ædile, Prætor, and Consul, with singular and undeviating success. He had been honest in the exercise of public functions when to be honest was to be singular. He had bought golden opinions from all sorts of people. He had been true to his country, and useful also — a combination which it was given to no other public man of those days to achieve. Having been Prætor and Consul, he had refused the accustomed rewards, and had abstained from the provinces. His speeches, with but few exceptions, had hitherto been made in favor of honesty. They are declamations against injustice, against bribery, against cruelty, and all on behalf of decent civilized life. Had he died then, he would not have become the hero of literature, the marvel among men of letters whom the reading world admires; but he would have been a great man, and would have saved himself from the bitterness of Cæsarean tongues.

His public work was in truth done. His further service consisted of the government of Cilicia for a year — an employment that was odious to him, though his performance of it was a blessing to the province. After that there came the vain struggle with Cæsar, the attempt to make the best of Cæsar victorious, the last loud shriek on behalf of the Republic, and then all was over. The fourteen years of life which yet remained to him sufficed for erecting that literary monument of which I have spoken, but his public usefulness was done. To the reader of his biography it will seem that these coming fourteen years will lack much of the grace which adorned the last twenty. The biographer will be driven to make excuses, which he will not do without believing in the truth of them, but doubting much whether he may beget belief in others. He thinks that he can see the man passing from one form to another — his doubting devotion to Pompey, his enforced adherence to Cæsar, his passionate opposition to Antony; but he can still see him true to his country, and ever on the alert against tyranny and on behalf of pure patriotism.

At the present we have to deal with Cicero in no vacillating spirit, but loudly exultant and loudly censorious. Within the two years following his return he made a series of speeches, in all of which we find the altered tone of his mind. There is no longer that belief in the ultimate success of justice, and ultimate triumph of the Republic, which glowed in his Verrine and Catiline orations. He is forced to descend in his aspirations. It is not whether Rome shall be free, or the bench of justice pure, but whether Cicero shall be avenged and Gabinius punished. It may have been right — it was right — that Cicero should be avenged and Gabinius punished; but it must be admitted that the subjects are less alluring.

His first oration, as generally received, was made to the Senate in honor of his return. The second was addressed to the people on the same subject. The third was spoken to the college of priests, with the view of recovering the ground on which his house had stood, and which Clodius had attempted to alienate forever by dedicating it to a pretended religious purpose. The next, as coming on our list, though not so in time, was addressed again to the Senate concerning official reports made by the public soothsayers as interpreters of occult signs, as to whether certain portents had been sent by the gods to show that Cicero ought not to have back his house. Before this was made he had defended Sextius, who as Tribune had been peculiarly serviceable in assisting his return. This was before a bench of judges; and separated from this, though made apparently at the same time, is a violent attack upon Vatinius, one of Cæsar’s creatures, who was a witness against Sextius. Then there is a seventh, regarding the disposition of the provinces among the Proprætors and Proconsuls, the object of which was to enforce the recall of Piso from Macedonia and Gabinius from Syria, and to win Cæsar’s favor by showing that Cæsar should be allowed to keep the two Gauls and Illyricum. To these must be added two others, made within the same period, for Cælius and Balbus. The close friendship between Cicero and the young man Cælius was one of the singular details of the orator’s life. Balbus was a Spaniard, attached to Cæsar, and remarkable as having been the first man not an Italian who achieved the honor of the Consulship.

It has been disputed whether the first four of these orations were really the work of Cicero, certain German critics and English scholars having declared them to be “parum Ciceronias”— too little like Cicero. That is the phrase used by Nobbe, who published a valuable edition of all Cicero’s works, after the text of Ernesti, in a single volume. Mr. Long, in his introduction to these orations, denounces them in language so strong as to rob them of all chance of absolute acceptance from those who know the accuracy of Mr. Long’s scholarship.2 There may probably have been subsequent interpolations. The first of the four, however, is so closely referred to by Cicero himself in the speech made by him two years subsequently in the defence of Plancius, that the fact of an address to the Senate in the praise of those who had assisted him in his return cannot be doubted; and we are expressly told by the orator that, because of the importance of the occasion, he had written it out before he spoke it.3 As to the Latinity, it is not within my scope, nor indeed within my power, to express a confident opinion; but as to the matter of the speech, I think that Cicero, in his then frame of mind, might have uttered what is attributed to him. Having said so much, I shall best continue my narrative by dealing with the four speeches as though they were genuine.

B.C. 57, ætat. 50.

Cicero landed at Brundisium on the 5th of August, the day on which his recall from exile had been enacted by the people, and there met his daughter Tullia, who had come to welcome him back to Italy on that her birthday. But she had come as a widow, having just lost her first husband, Piso Frugi. At this time she was not more than nineteen years old. Of Tullia’s feelings we know nothing from her own expressions, as they have not reached us; but from the warmth of her father’s love for her, and by the closeness of their friendship, we are led to imagine that the joy of her life depended more on him than on any of her three husbands. She did not live long with either of them, and died soon after the birth of a child, having been divorced from the third. I take it, there was much of triumph in the meeting, though Piso Frugi had died so lately.

The return of Cicero to Rome was altogether triumphant. It must be remembered that the contemporary accounts we have had of it are altogether from his own pen. They are taken chiefly from the orations I have named above, though subsequent allusions to the glory of his return to Rome are not uncommon in his works. But had his boasting not been true, the contradictions to them would have been made in such a way as to have reached our ears. Plutarch, indeed, declares that Cicero’s account of the glory of his return fell short of the truth.

It may be taken for granted that with that feeble monster, the citizen populace of Rome, Cicero had again risen to a popularity equal to that which had been bestowed upon him when he had just driven Catiline out of Rome. Of what nature were the crowds who were thus loud in the praise of their great Consul, and as loud afterward in their rejoicings at the return of the great exile, we must form our own opinion from circumstantial evidence. There was a mass of people, with keen ears taking artistic delight in eloquence and in personal graces, but determined to be idle, and to be fed as well as amused in their idleness; and there were also vast bands of men ready to fight — bands of gladiators they have been called, though it is probable that but few of them had ever been trained to the arena — whose business it was to shout as well as to fight on behalf of their patrons. We shall not be justified in supposing that those who on the two occasions named gave their sweet voices for Cicero were only the well-ordered, though idle, proportion of the people, whereas they who had voted against him in favor of Clodius had all been assassins, bullies, and swordsmen. We shall probably be nearer the mark if we imagine that the citizens generally were actuated by the prevailing feelings of their leaders at the moment, but were carried into enthusiasm when enabled, without detriment to their interests, to express their feelings for one who was in truth popular with them. When Cicero, after the death of the five conspirators, declared that the men “had lived”—“vixerunt”— his own power was sufficient to insure the people that they would be safe in praising him. When he came back to Rome, Pompey had been urgent for his return, and Cæsar had acceded to it. When the bill was passed for banishing him, the Triumvirate had been against him, and Clodius had been able to hound on his crew. But Milo also had a crew, and Milo was Cicero’s friend. As the Clodian crew helped to drive Cicero from Rome, so did Milo’s crew help to bring him back again.

Cicero, on reaching Rome, went at once to the Capitol, to the temple of Jupiter, and there returned thanks for the great thing that had been done for him. He was accompanied by a vast procession who from the temple went with him to his brother’s house, where he met his wife, and where he resided for a time. His own house in the close neighborhood had been destroyed. He reached Rome on the 4th of September, and on the 5th an opportunity was given to the then hero of the day for expressing his thanks to the Senate for what they had done for him. His intellect had not grown rusty in Macedonia, though he had been idle. On the 5th, Cicero spoke to the Senate; on the 6th, to the people. Before the end of the month he made a much longer speech to the priests in defence of his own property. Out of the full heart the mouth speaks, and his heart was very full of the subject.

His first object was to thank the Senate and the leading members of it for their goodness to him. The glowing language in which this is done goes against the grain with us when we read continuously the events of his life as told by himself. His last grievous words had been expressions of despair addressed to Atticus; now he breaks out into a pæan of triumph. We have to remember that eight months had intervened, and that the time had sufficed to turn darkness into light. “If I cannot thank you as I ought, O Conscript Fathers, for the undying favors which you have conferred on me, on my brother, and my children, ascribe it, I beseech you, to the greatness of the things you have done for me, and not to the defect of my virtue.” Then he praises the two Consuls, naming them, Lentulus and Metellus — Metellus, as the reader will remember, having till lately been his enemy. He lauds the Prætors and the Tribunes, two of the latter members having opposed his return; but he is loudest in praise of Pompey — that “Sampsiceramus,” that “Hierosolymarius,” that “Arabarches” into whose character he had seen so clearly when writing from Macedonia to Atticus — that “Cn. Pompey who, by his valor, his glory, his achievements, stands conspicuously the first of all nations, of all ages, of all history.” We cannot but be angry when we read the words, though we may understand how well he understood that he was impotent to do anything for the Republic unless he could bring such a man as Pompey to act with him. We must remember, too, how impossible it was that one Roman should rise above the falsehood common to Romans. We cannot ourselves always escape even yet from the atmosphere of duplicity in which policy delights. He describes the state of Rome in his absence. “When I was gone, you”— you, the Senate —“could decree nothing for your citizens, or for your allies, or for the dependent kings. The judges could give no judgment; the people could not record their votes; the Senate availed nothing by its authority. You saw only a silent Forum, a speechless Senate-house, a city dumb and deserted.” We may suppose that Rome was what Cicero described it to be when he was in exile, and Cæsar had gone to his provinces; but its condition had been the result of the crushing tyranny of the Triumvirate rather than of Cicero’s absence.

Lentulus, the present Consul, had been, he says, a second father, almost a god, to him. But he would not have needed the hand of a Consul to raise him from the ground, had he not been wounded by consular hands. Catulus, one of Rome’s best citizens, had told him that though Rome had now and again suffered from a bad Consul, she had never before been afflicted by two together. While there was one Consul worthy of the name, Catulus had declared that Cicero would be safe. But there had come two, two together, whose spirits had been so narrow, so low, so depraved, so burdened with greed and ignorance, “that they had been unable to comprehend, much less to sustain the splendor of the name of Consul. Not Consuls were they, but buyers and sellers of provinces.” These were Piso and Gabinius, of whom the former was now governor of Macedonia, and the latter of Syria. Cicero’s scorn against these men, who as Consuls had permitted his exile, became a passion with him. His subsequent hatred of Antony was not as bitter. He had come there to thank the assembled Senators for their care of him, but he is carried off so violently by his anger that he devotes a considerable portion of his speech to these indignant utterances. The reader does not regret it. Abuse makes better reading than praise, has a stronger vitality, and seems, alas, to come more thoroughly from the heart! Those who think that genuine invective has its charms would ill spare Piso and Gabinius.

He goes back to his eulogy, and names various Prætors and officers who have worked on his behalf. Then he declares that by the view of the present Consul, Lentulus, a decree has been passed in his favor more glorious than has been awarded to any other single Roman citizen — namely that from all Italy those who wished well to their country should be collected together for the purpose of bringing him back from his banishment — him, Cicero. There is much in this in praise of Lentulus, but more in praise of Cicero. Throughout these orations we feel that Cicero is put forward as the hero, whereas Piso and Gabinius are the demons of the piece. “What could I leave as a richer legacy to my posterity,” he goes on to say, opening another clause of his speech, “than that the Senate should have decreed that the citizen who had not come forward in my defence was one regardless of the Republic.” By these boastings, though he was at the moment at the top of the ladder of popularity, he was offending the self-importance of all around him. He was offending especially Pompey, with whom it was his fate to have to act.4 But that was little to the offence he was giving to those who were to come many centuries after him, who would not look into the matter with sufficient accuracy to find that his vanity deserved forgiveness because of his humanity and desire for progress. “O Lentulus,” he says, at the end of the oration, “since I am restored to the Republic, as with me the Republic is itself restored, I will slacken nothing in my efforts at liberty; but, if it may be possible, will add something to my energy.” In translating a word here and there as I have done, I feel at every expression my incapacity. There is no such thing as good translation. If you wish to drink the water, with its life and vigor in it, you must go to the fountain and drink it there.

On the day following he made a similar speech to the people — if, indeed, the speech we have was from his mouth or his pen — as to which it has been remarked that in it he made no allusion to Clodius, though he was as bitter as ever against the late Consuls. From this we may gather that, though his audience was delighted to hear him, even in his self-praise, there might have been dispute had he spoken ill of one who had been popular as Tribune. His praise of Pompey was almost more fulsome than that of the day before, and the same may be said of his self-glorification. Of his brother’s devotion to him he speaks in touching words, but in words which make us remember how untrue to him afterward was that very brother. There are phrases so magnificent throughout this short piece that they obtain from us, as they are read, forgiveness for the writer’s faults. “Sic ulciscar facinorum singula.” Let the reader of Latin turn to chapter ix. of the oration and see how the speaker declares that he will avenge himself against the evil-doers whom he has denounced.

Cicero, though he had returned triumphant, had come back ruined in purse, except so far as he could depend on the Senate and the people for reimbursing to him the losses to which he had been subjected. The decree of the Senate had declared that his goods should be returned to him, but the validity of such a promise would depend on the value which might be put upon the goods in question. His house on the Palatine Hill had been razed to the ground; his Tusculan and Formian villas had been destroyed; his books, his pictures, his marble columns, his very trees, had been stolen; but, worst of all, an attempt had been made to deprive him forever of the choicest spot of ground in all the city, the Park Lane of Rome, by devoting the space which had belonged to him to the service of one of the gods. Clodius had caused something of a temple to Liberty to be built there, because ground so consecrated was deemed at Rome, as with us, to be devoted by consecration to the perpetual service of religion. It was with the view of contesting this point that Cicero made his next speech, Pro Domo Sua, for the recovery of his house, before the Bench of Priests in Rome. It was for the priests to decide this question. The Senate could decree the restitution of property generally, but it was necessary that that spot of ground should be liberated from the thraldom of sacerdotal tenure by sacerdotal interference. These priests were all men of high birth and distinction in the Republic. Nineteen among them were “Consulares,” or past-Consuls. Superstitious awe affects more lightly the consciences of priests than the hearts of those who trust the priests for their guidance. Familiarity does breed contempt. Cicero, in making this speech, probably felt that, if he could carry the people with him, the College of Priests would not hold the prey with grasping hands. The nineteen Consulares would care little for the sanctity of the ground if they could be brought to wish well to Cicero. He did his best. He wrote to Atticus concerning it a few days after the speech was made, and declared that if he had ever spoken well on any occasion he had done so then, so deep had been his grief, and so great the importance of the occasion;5 and he at once informs his friend of the decision of the Bench, and of the ground on which it was based. “If he who declares that he dedicated the ground had not been appointed to that business by the people, nor had been expressly commanded by the people to do it, then that spot of ground can be restored without any breach of religion.” Cicero asserts that he was at once congratulated on having gained his cause, the world knowing very well that no such authority had been conferred on Clodius. In the present mood of Rome, all the priests, with the nineteen Consulares, were no doubt willing that Cicero should have back his ground. The Senate had to interpret the decision, and on the discussion of the question among them Clodius endeavored to talk against time. When, however, he had spoken for three hours, he allowed himself to be coughed down. It may be seen that in some respects even Roman fortitude has been excelled in our days.

In the first portion of this speech, Pro Domo Sua, Cicero devotes himself to a matter which has no bearing on his house. Concomitant with Cicero’s return there had come a famine in Rome. Such a calamity was of frequent occurrence, though I doubt whether their famines ever led to mortality so frightful as that which desolated Ireland just before the repeal of the Corn Laws. No records, as far as I am aware, have reached us of men perishing in the streets; but scarcity was not uncommon, and on such occasions complaints would become very loud. The feeding of the people was a matter of great difficulty, and subject to various chances. We do not at all know what was the number to be fed, including the free and the slaves, but have been led by surmises to suppose that it was under a million even in the time of Augustus. But even though the number was no more than five hundred thousand at this time, the procuring of food must have been a complicated and difficult matter. It was not produced in the country. It was imported chiefly from Sicily and Africa, and was plentiful or the reverse, not only in accordance with the seasons but as certain officers of state were diligent and honest, or fraudulent and rapacious. We know from one of the Verrine orations the nature of the laws on the subject, but cannot but marvel that, even with the assistance of such laws, the supply could be maintained with any fair proportion to the demand. The people looked to the government for the supply, and when it fell short would make their troubles known with seditious grumblings, which would occasionally assume the guise of insurrection. At this period of Cicero’s return food had become scarce and dear; and Clodius, who was now in arms against Pompey as well as against Cicero, caused it to be believed that the strangers flocking into Rome to welcome Cicero had eaten up the food which should have filled the bellies of the people. An idea farther from truth could hardly have been entertained: no chance influx of visitors on such a population could have had the supposed effect. But the idea was spread abroad, and it was necessary that something should be done to quiet the minds of the populace. Pompey had hitherto been the resource in State difficulties. Pompey had scattered the pirates, who seem, however, at this period to have been gathering head again. Pompey had conquered Mithridates. Let Pompey have a commission to find food for Rome. Pompey himself entertained the idea of a commission which should for a time give him almost unlimited power. Cæsar was increasing his legions and becoming dominant in the West. Pompey, who still thought himself the bigger man of the two, felt the necessity of some great step in rivalry of Cæsar. The proposal made on his behalf was that all the treasure belonging to the State should be placed at his disposal; that he should have an army and a fleet, and should be for five years superior in authority to every Proconsul in his own province. This was the first great struggle made by Pompey to strangle the growing power of Cæsar. It failed altogether.6 The fear of Cæsar had already become too great in the bosoms of Roman Senators to permit them to attempt to crush him in his absence. But a mitigated law was passed, enjoining Pompey to provide the food required, and conferring upon him certain powers. Cicero was nominated as his first lieutenant, and accepted the position. He never acted, however, giving it up to his brother Quintus. A speech which he made to the people on the passing of the law is not extant; but as there was hot blood about it in Rome, he took the opportunity of justifying the appointment of Pompey in the earlier portion of this oration to the priests. It must be understood that he did not lend his aid toward giving those greater powers which Pompey was anxious to obtain. His trust in Pompey had never been a perfect trust since the first days of the Triumvirate. To Cicero’s thinking, both Pompey and Cæsar were conspirators against the Republic. Cæsar was the bolder, and therefore the more dangerous. It might probably come to pass that the services of Pompey would be needed for restraining Cæsar. Pompey naturally belonged to the “optimates,” while Cæsar was as naturally a conspirator. But there never again could come a time in which Cicero would willingly intrust Pompey with such power as was given to him nine years before by the Lex Manilia. Nevertheless, he could still say grand things in praise of Pompey. “To Pompey have been intrusted wars without number, wars most dangerous to the State, wars by sea and wars by land, wars extraordinary in their nature. If there be a man who regrets that this has been done, that man must regret the victories which Rome has won.” But his abuse of Clodius is infinitely stronger than his praise of Pompey. For the passages in which he alluded to the sister of Clodius I must refer the reader to the speech itself. It is impossible here to translate them or to describe them. And these words were spoken before the College of Priests, of whom nineteen were Consulares! And they were prepared with such care that Cicero specially boasted of them to Atticus, and declares that they should be put into the hands of all young orators. Montesquieu says that the Roman legislators, in establishing their religion, had no view of using it for the improvement of manners or of morals.7 The nature of their rites and ceremonies gives us evidence enough that it was so. If further testimony were wanting, it might be found in this address, Ad Pontifices. Cicero himself was a man of singularly clean life as a Roman nobleman, but, in abusing his enemy, he was restrained by no sense of what we consider the decency of language.

He argues the question as to his house very well, as he did all questions. He tells the priests that the whole joy of his restoration must depend on their decision. Citizens who had hitherto been made subject to such penalties had been malefactors; whereas, it was acknowledged of him that he had been a benefactor to the city. Clodius had set up on the spot, not a statue of Liberty, but, as was well known to all men, the figure of a Greek prostitute. The priests had not been consulted. The people had not ratified the proposed consecration. Of the necessity of such authority he gives various examples. “And this has been done,” he says, “by an impure and impious enemy of all religions — by this man among women, and woman among men — who has gone through the ceremony so hurriedly, so violently, that his mind and his tongue and his voice have been equally inconsistent with each other.” “My fortune,” he says, as he ends his speech, “all moderate as it is, will suffice for me. The memory of my name will be a patrimony sufficient for my children;” but if his house be so taken from him, so stolen, so falsely dedicated to religion, he cannot live without disgrace. Of course he got back his house; and with his house about £16,000 for its reerection, and £4000 for the damage done to the Tusculan villa with £2000 for the Formian villa. With these sums he was not contented; and indeed they could hardly have represented fairly the immense injury done to him.

B.C. 56, ætat. 51.

So ended the work of the year of his return. From the following year, besides the speeches, we have twenty-six letters of which nine were written to Lentulus, the late Consul, who had now gone to Cilicia as Proconsul. Lentulus had befriended him, and he found it necessary to show his gratitude by a continued correspondence, and by a close attendance to the interests of the absent officer. These letters are full of details of Roman politics, too intricate for such a work as this — perhaps I might almost say too uninteresting, as they refer specially to Lentulus himself. In one of them he tells his friend that he has at last been able to secure the friendship of Pompey for him. It was, after all, but a show of friendship. He has supped with Pompey, and says that when he talks to Pompey everything seems to go well: no one can be more gracious than Pompey. But when he sees the friends by whom Pompey is surrounded he knows, as all others know, that the affair is in truth going just as he would not have it.8 We feel as we read these letters, in which Pompey’s name is continually before us, how much Pompey prevailed by his personal appearance, by his power of saying gracious things, and then again by his power of holding his tongue. “You know the slowness of the man,” he says to Lentulus, “and his silence.”9 A slow, cautious, hypocritical man, who knew well how to use the allurements of personal manners! These letters to Lentulus are full of flattery.

There are five letters to his brother Quintus, dealing with the politics of the time, especially with the then King of Egypt, who was to be, or was not to be, restored. From all these things, however, I endeavor to abstain as much as possible, as matters not peculiarly affecting the character of Cicero. He gives his brother an account of the doings in the Senate, which is interesting as showing us how that august assembly conducted itself. While Pompey was speaking with much dignity, Clodius and his supporters in vain struggled with shouts and cries to put him down. At noon Pompey sat down, and Clodius got possession of the rostra, and in the middle of a violent tumult remained on his feet for two hours. Then, on Pompey’s side, the “optimates” sang indecent songs —“versus obscenissimi”— in reference to Clodius and his sister Clodia. Clodius, rising in his anger, demanded, “Who had brought the famine?” “Pompey,” shouted the Clodians. “Who wanted to go to Egypt?” demanded Clodius. “Pompey,” again shouted his followers. After that, at three o’clock, at a given signal, they began to spit upon their opponents. Then there was a fight, in which each party tried to drive the others out. The “optimates” were getting the best of it, when Cicero thought it as well to run off lest he should be hurt in the tumult.10 What hope could there be for an oligarchy when such things occurred in the Senate? Cicero in this letter speaks complacently of resisting force by force in the city. Even Cato, the law-abiding, precise Cato, thought it necessary to fall into the fashion and go about Rome with an armed following. He bought a company of gladiators and circus-men; but was obliged to sell them, as Cicero tells his brother with glee, because he could not afford to feed them.11

There are seven letters also to Atticus — always more interesting than any of the others. There is in these the most perfect good-feeling, so that we may know that the complaints made by him in his exile had had no effect of estranging his friend; and we learn from them his real, innermost thoughts, as they are not given even to his brother — as thoughts have surely seldom been confided by one man of action to another. Atticus had complained that he had not been allowed to see a certain letter which Cicero had written to Cæsar. This he had called a [Greek: palinôdia], or recantation, and it had been addressed to Cæsar with the view of professing a withdrawal to some extent of his opposition to the Triumvirate. It had been of sufficient moment to be talked about. Atticus had heard of it, and had complained that it had not been sent to him. Cicero puts forward his excuses, and then bursts out with the real truth:

“Why should I nibble round the unpalatable morsel which has to be swallowed?” The recantation had seemed to himself to be almost base, and he had been ashamed of it. “But,” says he, “farewell to all true, upright, honest policy. You could hardly believe what treachery there is in those who ought to be our leading men, and who would be so if there was any truth in them.”12 He does not rely upon those who, if they were true to their party, would enable the party to stand firmly even against Cæsar. Therefore it becomes necessary for him to truckle to Cæsar, not for himself but for his party. Unsupported he cannot stand in open hostility to Cæsar. He truckles. He writes to Cæsar, singing Cæsar’s praises. It is for the party rather than for himself, but yet he is ashamed of it.

There is a letter to Lucceius, an historian of the day then much thought of, of whom however our later world has heard nothing. Lucceius is writing chronicles of the time, and Cicero boldly demands to be praised. “Ut ornes mea postulem”13—“I ask you to praise me.” But he becomes much bolder than that. “Again and again I beseech you, without any beating about the bush, to speak more highly of me than you perhaps think that I deserve, even though in doing so you abandon all the laws of history.” Then he uses beautiful flattery to his correspondent. Alexander had wished to be painted only by Apelles. He desires to be praised by none but Lucceius. Lucceius, we are told, did as he was asked.

B.C. 56, ætat. 51.

I will return to the speeches of the period to which this chapter is devoted, taking that first which he made to the Senate as to the report of the soothsayers respecting certain prodigies. Readers familiar with Livy will remember how frequently, in time of disaster, the anger of Heaven was supposed to have been shown by signs and miracles, indications that the gods were displeased, and that expiations were necessary.14 The superstition, as is the fate of all superstitions, had frequently been used for most ungodlike purposes. If a man had a political enemy, what could do him better service than to make the populace believe that a house had been crushed by a thunder-bolt, or that a woman had given birth to a pig instead of a child, because Jupiter had been offended by that enemy’s devices? By using such a plea the Grecians got into Troy, together with the wooden horse, many years ago. The Scotch worshippers of the Sabbath declared the other day, when the bridge over the Tay was blown away, that the Lord had interposed to prevent travelling on Sunday!

Cicero had not been long back from his exile when the gods began to show their anger. A statue of Juno twisted itself half round; a wolf had been seen in the city; three citizens were struck with lightning; arms were heard to clang, and then wide subterranean noises. Nothing was easier than the preparation and continuing of such portents. For many years past the heavens above and the earth beneath had been put into requisition for prodigies.15 The soothsayers were always well pleased to declare that there had been some neglect of the gods. It is in the nature of things that the superstitious tendencies of mankind shall fall a prey to priestcraft. The quarrels between Cicero and Clodius were as full of life as ever. In this year, Clodius being Ædile, there had come on debates as to a law passed by Cæsar as Consul, in opposition to Bibulus, for the distribution of lands among the citizens. There was a question as to a certain tax which was to be levied on these lands. The tax-gatherers were supported by Cicero, and denounced by Clodius. Then Clodius and his friends found out that the gods were showering their anger down upon the city because the ground on which Cicero’s house had once stood was being desecrated by its reerection. An appeal was made to the soothsayers. They reported, and Cicero rejoined. The soothsayers had of course been mysterious and doubtful. Cicero first shows that the devotion of his ground to sacred purposes had been an absurdity, and then he declares that the gods are angry, not with him but with Clodius. To say that the gods were not angry at all was more than Cicero dared. The piece, taken as a morsel of declamatory art, is full of vigor, is powerful in invective, and carries us along in full agreement with the orator; but at the conclusion we are led to wish that Cicero could have employed his intellect on higher matters.

There are, however, one or two passages which draw the reader into deep mental inquiry as to the religious feelings of the time. In one, which might have been written by Paley, Cicero declares his belief in the creative power of some god — or gods, as he calls them.16 And we see also the perverse dealings of the Romans with these gods, dealings which were very troublesome — not to be got over except by stratagem. The gods were made use of by one party and the other for dishonest state purposes. When Cicero tells his hearers what the gods intended to signify by making noises in the sky, and other divine voices, we feel sure that he was either hoaxing them who heard him or saying what he knew they would not believe.

B.C. 56, ætat. 51.

Previous to the speech as to the “aruspices,” he had defended Sextius — or Sestius, as he is frequently called — on a charge brought against him by Clodius in respect of violence. We at once think of the commonplace from Juvenal:

“Quis tulerit Gracchos de seditione querentes.”

But Rome, without remonstrating, put up with any absurdity of that kind. Sextius and Milo and others had been joined together in opposing the election of Clodius as Ædile, and had probably met violence with violence. As surely as an English master of hounds has grooms and whips ready at his command, Milo had a band of bullies prepared for violence. Clodius himself had brought an action against Milo, who was defended by Pompey in person. The case against Sextius was intrusted to Albinovanus, and Hortensius undertook the defence. Sextius before had been one of the most forward in obtaining the return of Cicero, and had travelled into Gaul to see Cæsar and to procure Cæsar’s assent. Cæsar had not then assented; but not the less great had been the favor conferred by Sextius on Cicero. Cicero had been grateful, but it seems that Sextius had thought not sufficiently grateful; hence there had grown up something of a quarrel. But Cicero, when he heard of the proceeding against his old friend, at once offered his assistance. For a Roman to have more than one counsel to plead for him was as common as for an Englishman. Cicero was therefore added to Hortensius, and the two great advocates of the day spoke on the same side. We are told that Hortensius managed the evidence, showing, probably, that Clodius struck the first blow. Cicero then addressed the judges with the object of gaining their favor for the accused. In this he was successful, and Sextius was acquitted. As regards Sextius and his quarrel with Clodius, the oration has but little interest for us. There is not, indeed, much about Sextius in it. It is a continuation of the pæan which Cicero was still singing as to his own return, but it is distinguished from his former utterances by finer thought and finer language. The description of public virtue as displayed by Cato has perhaps, in regard to melody of words and grandeur of sentiment, never been beaten. I give the orator’s words below in his own language, because in no other way can any idea of the sound be conveyed.17 There is, too, a definition made very cleverly to suit his own point of view between the conservatives and the liberals of the day. “Optimates” is the name by which the former are known; the latter are called “Populares.”18

Attached to this speech for Sextius is a declamation against Vatinius, who was one of the witnesses employed by the prosecutor. Instead of examining this witness regularly, he talked him down by a separate oration. We have no other instance of such a forensic manoeuvre either in Cicero’s practice or in our accounts of the doings of other Roman advocates. This has reached us as a separate oration. It is a coarse tirade of abuse against a man whom we believe to have been bad, but as to whom we feel that we are not justified in supposing that we can get his true character here. He was a creature of Cæsar’s, and Cicero was able to say words as to Vatinius which he was unwilling to speak as to Cæsar and his doings. It must be added here that two years later Cicero pleaded for this very Vatinius, at the joint request of Cæsar and Pompey, when Vatinius on leaving the Prætorship was accused of corruption.

B.C. 56, ætat. 51.

The nature of the reward to which the aspiring oligarch of Rome always turned his eyes has been sufficiently explained. He looked to be the governor of a province. At this period of which we are speaking there was no reticence in the matter. Syria, or Macedonia, or Hispania had been the prize, or Sicily, or Sardinia. It was quite understood that an aspiring oligarch went through the dust and danger and expense of political life in order that at last he might fill his coffers with provincial plunder. There were various laws as to which these governments were allotted to the plunderers. Of these we need only allude to the Leges Semproniæ, or laws proposed B.C. 123, by Caius Sempronius Gracchus, for the distribution of those provinces which were to be enjoyed by Proconsuls. There were prætorian provinces and consular provinces, though there was no law making it sure that any province should be either consular or prætorian. But the Senate, without the interference of the people and free from the Tribunes’ veto, had the selection of provinces for the Consuls; whereas, for those intended for the Prætors, the people had the right of voting and the Tribunes of the people had a right of putting a veto on the propositions made. Now, in this year there came before the Senate a discussion as to the fate of three Proconsuls — not as to the primary allocation of provinces to them, but on the question whether they should be continued in the government which they held. Piso was in Macedonia, where he was supposed to have disgraced himself and the Empire which he served. Gabinius was in Syria, where it was acknowledged that he had done good service, though his own personal character stood very low. Cæsar was lord in the two Gauls — that is, on both sides of the Alps, in Northern Italy, and in that portion of modern France along the Mediterranean which had been already colonized — and was also governor of Illyricum. He had already made it manifest to all men that the subjugation of a new empire was his object rather than provincial plunder. Whether we love the memory of Cæsar as of a great man who showed himself fit to rule the world, or turn away from him as from one who set his iron heel on the necks of men, and by doing so retarded for centuries the liberties of mankind, we have to admit that he rose by the light of his own genius altogether above the ambition of his contemporaries. If we prefer, as I do, the humanity of Cicero, we must confess to ourselves the supremacy of Cæsar, and acknowledge ourselves to belong to the beaten cause. “Victrix causa Deis placuit; sed victa Catoni.” In discussing the fate of these proconsular officials we feel now the absurdity of mixing together in the same debate the name of Piso and Gabinius with that of Cæsar. Yet such was the subject in dispute when Cicero made his speech, De Provinciis Consularibus, as to the adjudication of the consular provinces.

There was a strong opinion among many Senators that Cæsar should be stopped in his career. I need not here investigate the motives, either great or little, on which this opinion was founded. There was hardly a Senator among them who would not have wished Cæsar to be put down, though there were many who did not dare declare their wishes. There were reasons for peculiar jealousy on the part of the Senate. Cisalpine Gaul had been voted for him by the intervention of the people, and especially by that of the Tribune Vatinius — to Cæsar who was Consularis, whose reward should have been an affair solely for the Senate. Then there had arisen a demand, a most unusual demand, for the other Gaul also. The giving of two provinces to one governor was altogether contrary to the practice of the State; but so was the permanent and acknowledged continuance of a conspiracy such as the Triumvirate unusual. Cæsar himself was very unusual. Then the Senate, feeling that the second province would certainly be obtained, and anxious to preserve some shred of their prerogative, themselves voted the Farther Gaul. As it must be done, let it at any rate be said that they had done it. But as they had sent Cæsar over the Alps so they could recall him, or try to recall him. Therefore, with the question as to Piso and Gabinius, which really meant nothing, came up this also as to Cæsar, which meant a great deal.

But Cæsar had already done great things in Gaul. He had defeated the Helvetians and driven Ariovistus out of the country. He had carried eight legions among the distant Belgæ, and had conquered the Nervii. In this very year he had built a huge fleet, and had destroyed the Veneti, a seafaring people on the coast of the present Brittany. The more powerful he showed himself to be, the more difficult it was to recall him; but also the more desirable in the eyes of many. In the first portion of his speech Cicero handles Piso and Gabinius with his usual invective. There was no considerable party desirous of renewing to them their governments, but Cicero always revelled in the pleasure of abusing them. He devotes by far the longer part of his oration to the merit of Cæsar.19 As for recalling him, it would be irrational. Who had counted more enemies in Rome than Marius? but did they recall Marius when he was fighting for the Republic?20 Hitherto the Republic had been forced to fear the Gauls. Rome had always been on the defence against them. Now it had been brought about by Cæsar that the limits of the world were the limits of the Roman Empire.21 The conquest was not yet finished, but surely it should be left to him who had begun it so well. Even though Cæsar were to demand to return himself, thinking that he had done enough for his own glory, it would be for the Senators to restrain him — for the Senate to bid him finish the work that he had in hand.22 As for himself, continued Cicero, if Cæsar had been his enemy, what of that? Cæsar was not his enemy now. He had told the Senate what offers of employment Cæsar had made him. If he could not forget, yet he would forgive, former injuries.23

It is important for the reading of Cicero’s character that we should trace the meaning of his utterances about Cæsar from this time up to the day on which Cæsar was killed — his utterances in public, and those which are found in his letters to Atticus and his brother. That there was much of pretence — of falsehood, if a hard word be necessary to suit the severity of those who judge the man hardly — is admitted. How he praised Pompey in public, dispraising him in private, at one and the same moment, has been declared. How he applied for praise, whether deserved or not, has been shown. In excuse, not in defence, of this I allege that the Romans of the day were habitually false after this fashion. The application to Lucceius proves the habitual falseness not of Cicero only, but of Lucceius also; and the private words written to Atticus, in opposition to the public words with which Atticus was well acquainted, prove the falseness also of Atticus. It was Roman; it was Italian; it was cosmopolitan; it was human. I only wish that it were possible to declare that it is no longer Italian, no longer cosmopolitan, no longer human. To this day it is very difficult even for an honorable man to tell the whole truth in the varying circumstances of public life. The establishment of even a theory of truth, with all the advantages which have come to us from Christianity, has been so difficult, hitherto so imperfect, that we ought, I think, to consider well the circumstances before we stigmatize Cicero as specially false. To my reading he seems to have been specially true. When Cæsar won his way up to power, Cicero was courteous to him, flattered him, and, though, never subservient, yet was anxious to comply when compliance was possible. Nevertheless, we know well that the whole scheme of Cæsar’s political life was opposed to the scheme entertained by Cicero. It was Cicero’s desire to maintain as much as he could of the old form of oligarchical rule under which, as a constitution, the Roman Empire had been created. It was Cæsar’s intention to sweep it all away. We can see that now; but Cicero could only see it in part. To his outlook the man had some sense of order, and had all the elements of greatness. He was better, at any rate, than a Verres, a Catiline, a Clodius, a Piso, or a Gabinius. If he thought that by flattery he could bring Cæsar somewhat round, there might be conceit in his so thinking, but there could be no treachery. In doing so he did not abandon his political beau ideal. If better times came, or a better man, he would use them. In the mean time he could do more by managing Cæsar than by opposing him. He was far enough from succeeding in the management of Cæsar, but he did do much in keeping his party together. It was in this spirit that he advocated before the Senate the maintenance of Cæsar’s authority in the two Gauls. The Senate decreed the withdrawal of Piso and Gabinius, but decided to leave Cæsar where he was. Mommsen deals very hardly with Cicero as to this period of his life. “They used him accordingly as — what he was good for — an advocate.” “Cicero himself had to thank his literary reputation for the respectful treatment which he experienced from Cæsar.” The question we have to ask ourselves is whether he did his best to forward that scheme of politics which he thought to be good for the Republic. To me it seems that he did do so. He certainly did nothing with the object of filling his own pockets. I doubt whether as much can be said with perfect truth as to any other Roman of the period, unless it be Cato.

Balbus, for whom Cicero also spoke in this year, was a Spaniard of Cadiz, to whom Pompey had given the citizenship of Rome, who had become one of Cæsar’s servants and friends, and whose citizenship was now disputed. Cicero pleaded in favor of the claim, and gained his cause. There were, no doubt, certain laws in accordance with which Balbus was or was not a citizen; but Cicero here says that because Balbus was a good man, therefore there should be no question as to his citizenship.24 This could hardly be a good legal argument. But we are glad to have the main principles of Roman citizenship laid down for us in this oration. A man cannot belong to more than one State at a time. A man cannot be turned out of his State against his will. A man cannot be forced to remain in his State against his will.25 This Balbus was acknowledged as a Roman, rose to be one of Cæsar’s leading ministers, and was elected Consul of the Empire B.C. 40. Thirty-four years afterward his nephew became Consul. Nearly three centuries after that, A.D. 237, a descendant of Balbus was chosen as Emperor, under the name of Balbinus, and is spoken of by Gibbon with eulogy.26

I know no work on Cicero written more pleasantly, or inspired by a higher spirit of justice, than that of Gaston Boissier, of the French Academy, called Cicéron et ses Amis. Among his chapters one is devoted to Cicero’s remarkable intimacy with Cælius, which should be read by all who wish to study Cicero. We have now come to the speech which he made in this year in defence of Cælius. Cælius had entered public life very early, as the son of a rich citizen who was anxious that his heir should be enabled to shine as well by his father’s wealth as by his own intellect. When he was still a boy, according to our ideas of boyhood, he was apprenticed to Cicero,27 as was customary, in order that he might pick up the crumbs which fell from the great man’s table. It was thus that a young man would hear what was best worth hearing; thus he would become acquainted with those who were best worth knowing; thus that he would learn in public life all that was best worth learning. Cælius heard all, and knew many, and learned much; but he perhaps learned too much at too early an age. He became bright and clever, but unruly and dissipated. Cicero, however, loved him well. He always liked the society of bright young men, and could forgive their morals if their wit were good. Clodius — even Clodius, young Curio, Cælius and afterward Dolabella, were companions with whom he loved to associate. When he was in Cilicia, as Proconsul, this Cælius became almost a second Atticus to him, in the writing of news from Rome.

But Cælius had become one of Clodia’s many lovers, and seems for a time to have been the first favorite, to the detriment of poor Catullus. The rich father had, it seems, quarrelled with his son, and Cælius was in want of money. He borrowed it from Clodia, and then, without paying his debt, treated Clodia as she had treated Catullus. The lady tried to get her money back, and when she failed she accused her former lover of an attempt to poison her. This she did so that Cælius was tried for the offence. There were no less than four accusers, or advocates, on her behalf, of whom her brother was one. Cælius was defended by Crassus as well as by Cicero, and was acquitted. All these cases combined political views with criminal charges. Cælius was declared to have been a Catilinian conspirator. He was also accused of being in debt, of having quarrelled with his father, of having insulted women, of having beaten a Senator, of having practised bribery, of having committed various murders, and of having perpetrated all social and political excesses to which his enemies could give a name. It was probable that his life had been very irregular, but it was not probably true that he had attempted to poison Clodia.

The speech is very well worth the trouble of reading. It is lively, bright, picturesque, and argumentative; and it tells the reader very much of the manners of Rome at the time. It has been condemned for a passage which, to my taste, is the best in the whole piece. Cicero takes upon himself to palliate the pleasures of youth, and we are told that a man so grave, so pure, so excellent in his own life, should not have condescended to utter sentiments so lax in defence of so immoral a young friend. I will endeavor to translate a portion of the passage, and I think that any ladies who may read these pages will agree with me in liking Cicero the better for what he said upon the occasion. He has been speaking of the changes which the manners of the world had undergone, not only in Rome but in Greece, since pleasure had been acknowledged even by philosophers to be necessary to life. “They who advocate one constant course of continual labor as the road to fame are left alone in their schools, deserted by their scholars. Nature herself has begotten for us allurements, seduced by which Virtue herself will occasionally become drowsy. Nature herself leads the young into slippery paths, in which not to stumble now and again is hardly possible. Nature has produced for us a variety of pleasures, to which not only youth, but even middle-age, occasionally yields itself. If, therefore, you shall find one who can avert his eyes from all that is beautiful — who is charmed by no sweet smell, by no soft touch, by no rich flavor — who can turn a deaf ear to coaxing words — I indeed, and perhaps a few others, may think that the gods have been good to such a one; but I doubt whether the world at large will not think that the gods have made him a sorry fellow.” There is very much more of it, delightfully said, and in the same spirit; but I have given enough to show the nature of the excuse for Cælius which has brought down on Cicero the wrath of the moralists.

1 As I shall explain a few pages farther on, four of these speeches are supposed by late critics to be spurious.

2 See Mr. Long’s introduction to these orations. “All this I admit,” says Mr. Long, speaking of some possible disputant; “but he will never convince any man of sense that the first of Roman writers, a man of good understanding, and a master of eloquence, put together such tasteless, feeble, and extravagant compositions.”

3 Pro Cn. Plancio, ca. xxx.: “Nonne etiam illa testis est oratio quæ est a me prima habita in Senatu. * * * Recitetur oratio, quæ propter rei magnitudinem dicta de scripto est.”

4 Quintilian, lib. xi., ca. 1, who as a critic worshipped Cicero, has nevertheless told us very plainly what had been up to his time the feeling of the Roman world as to Cicero’s self-praise: “Reprehensus est in hac parte non mediocriter Cicero.”

5 Ad Att., lib. iv., 2. He recommends that the speech should be put into the hands of all young men, and thus gives further proof that we still here have his own words. When so much has come to us, we cannot but think that an oration so prepared would remain extant.

6 I had better, perhaps, refer my readers to book v., chap. viii., of Mommsen’s History.

7 “Politique des Romains dans la religion;” a treatise which was read by its author to certain students at Bordeaux. It was intended as a preface to a longer work.

8 Ad Div., lib. i., 2.

9 Ad Div., lib. i., 5: “Nosti hominis tarditatem, et taciturnitatem.”

10 Ad Quintum Fratrem, lib. ii., 3.

11 Ibid., lib. ii., 6.

12 Ad Att., lib. iv., 5.

13 Ad Div., lib. v., 12.

14 Very early in the history of Rome it was found expedient to steal an Etruscan soothsayer for the reading of these riddles, which was gallantly done by a young soldier, who ran off with an old prophet in his arms (Livy, v., 15). We are naively told by the historian that the more the prodigies came the more they were believed. On a certain occasion a crowd of them was brought together: Crows built in the temple of Juno. A green tree took fire. The waters of Mantua became bloody. In one place it rained chalk in another fire. Lightning was very destructive, sinking the temple of a god or a nut-tree by the roadside indifferently. An ox spoke in Sicily. A precocious baby cried out “Io triumphe” before it was born. At Spoletum a woman became a man. An altar was seen in the heavens. A ghostly band of armed men appeared in the Janiculum (Livy, xxiv., 10). On such occasions the “aruspices” always ordered a vast slaughter of victims, and no doubt feasted as did the wicked sons of Eli.

Even Horace wrote as though he believed in the anger of the gods — certainly as though he thought that public morals would be improved by renewed attention to them:

Delicta majorum immeritus lues, Romane, donec templa refeceris. — Od., lib. iii., 6.

15 See the Preface by M. Guerault to his translation of this oration, De Aruspium Responsis.

16 Ca. ix.: “Who is there so mad that when he looks up to the heavens he does not acknowledge that there are gods, or dares to think that the things which he sees have sprung from chance — things so wonderful that the most intelligent among us do not understand their motions?”

17 Ca. xxviii.: “Quæ in tempestate sæva quieta est, et lucet in tenebris, et pulsa loco manet tamen, atque hæret in patria, splendetque per se semper, neque alienis unquam sordibus obsolescit.” I regard this as a perfect allocution of words in regard to the arrangement both for the ear and for the intellect.

18 Ca. xliv.: “There have always been two kinds of men who have busied themselves in the State, and have struggled to be each the most prominent. Of these, one set have endeavored to be regarded as ‘populares,’ friends of the people; the other to be and to be considered as ‘optimates,’ the most trustworthy. They who did and said what could please the people were ‘populares,’ but they who so carried themselves as to satisfy every best citizen, they were ‘optimates.’” Cicero, in his definition, no doubt begs the question; but to do so was his object.

19 Mommsen, lib. v., chap. viii., in one of his notes, says that this oration as to the provinces was the very “palinodia” respecting which Cicero wrote to Atticus. The subject discussed was no doubt the same. What authority the historian has found for his statement I do not know; but no writer is generally more correct.

20 De Prov. Cons., ca. viii.

21 Ca. xiii.

22 Ca. xiv.

23 Ca. xviii.

24 Pro C. Balbo, ca. vii.

25 Ibid., ca. xiii.

26 Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ca. vii.

27 There was no covenant, no bond of service, no master’s authority, probably no discipline; but the eager pupil was taught to look upon the anxious tutor with love, respect, and faith.

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