The Life of Cicero, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter viii.

Cæsar’s Death.

B.C. 44, ætat. 63.

After the dinner-party at Puteoli, described in the last chapter, Cicero came up to Rome, and was engaged in literary pursuits. Cæsar was now master and lord of everything. In January Cicero wrote to his friend Curio, and told him with disgust of the tomfooleries which were being carried on at the election of Quæstors. An empty chair had been put down, and was declared to be the Consul’s chair. Then it was taken away, and another chair was placed, and another Consul was declared. It wanted then but a few hours to the end of the consular year — but not the less was Caninius, the new Consul, appointed, “who would not sleep during his Consulship,” which lasted but from mid-day to the evening. “If you saw all this you would not fail to weep,” says Cicero!1 After this he seems to have recovered from his sorrow. We have a correspondence with Poetus which always typifies hilarity of spirits. There is a discussion, of which we have but the one side, on “double entendre” and plain speaking. Poetus had advocated the propriety of calling a spade a spade, and Cicero shows him the inexpediency. Then we come suddenly upon his letter to Atticus, written on the 7th of April, three weeks after the fall of Cæsar.

Mommsen endeavors to explain the intention of Cæsar in the adoption of the names by which he chose to be called, and in his acceptance of those which, without his choosing, were imposed upon him.2 He has done it perhaps with too great precision, but he leaves upon our minds a correct idea of the resolution which Cæsar had made to be King, Emperor, Dictator, or what not, before he started for Macedonia, B.C. 49,3 and the disinclination which moved him at once to proclaim himself a tyrant. Dictator was the title which he first assumed, as being temporary, Roman, and in a certain degree usual. He was Dictator for an indefinite period, annually, for ten years, and, when he died, had been designated Dictator for life. He had already been, for the last two years, named “Imperator” for life; but that title — which I think to have had a military sound in men’s ears, though it may, as Mommsen says, imply also civil rule — was not enough to convey to men all that it was necessary that they should understand. Till the moment of his triumph had come, and that “Veni, vidi, vici” had been flaunted in the eyes of Rome — till Cæsar, though he had been ashamed to call himself a king, had consented to be associated with the gods — Brutus, Cassius, and those others, sixty in number we are told, who became the conspirators, had hardly realized the fact that the Republic was altogether at an end. A bitter time had come upon them; but it was softened by the personal urbanity of the victor. But now, gradually, the truth was declaring itself, and the conspiracy was formed. I am inclined to think that Shakspeare has been right in his conception of the plot. “I do fear the people choose Cæsar for their king,” says Brutus. “I had as lief not be, as live to be in awe of such a thing as I myself,” says Cassius.4 It had come home to them at length that Cæsar was to be king, and therefore they conspired.

It would be a difficult task in the present era to recommend to my readers the murderers of Cæsar as honest, loyal politicians, who did for their country, in its emergency, the best that the circumstances would allow. The feeling of the world in regard to murder has so changed during the last two thousand years, that men, hindered by their sense of what is at present odious, refuse to throw themselves back into the condition of things a knowledge of which can have come to them only from books. They measure events individually by the present scale, and refuse to see that Brutus should be judged by us now in reference to the judgment that was formed of it then. In an age in which it was considered wise and fitting to destroy the nobles of a barbarous community which had defended itself, and to sell all others as slaves, so that the perpetrator simply recorded the act he had done as though necessary, can it have been a base thing to kill a tyrant? Was it considered base by other Romans of the day? Was that plea ever made even by Cæsar’s friends, or was it not acknowledged by them all that “Brutus was an honorable man,” even when they had collected themselves sufficiently to look upon him as an enemy? It appears abundantly in Cicero’s letters that no one dreamed of regarding them as we regard assassins now, or spoke of Cæsar’s death as we look upon assassination. “Shall we defend the deeds of him at whose death we are rejoiced?” he says: and again, he deplores the feeling of regret which was growing in Rome on account of Cæsar’s death, “lest it should be dangerous to those who have slain the tyrant for us.”5 We find that Quintilian, among his stock lessons in oratory, constantly refers to the old established rule that a man did a good deed who had killed a tyrant — a lesson which he had taken from the Greek teachers.6 We are, therefore, bound to accept this murder as a thing praiseworthy according to the light of the age in which it was done, and to recognize the fact that it was so regarded by the men of the day.

We are told now that Cicero “hated” Cæsar. There was no such hatred as the word implies. And we are told of “assassins,” with an intention to bring down on the perpetrators of the deed the odium they would have deserved had the deed been done today; but the word has, I think, been misused. A king was abominable to Roman ears, and was especially distasteful to men like Cicero, Brutus, and the other “optimates” who claimed to be peers. To be “primus inter pares” had been Cicero’s ambition — to be the leading oligarch of the day. Cæsar had gradually mounted higher and still higher, but always leaving some hope — infinitesimally small at last — that he might be induced to submit himself to the Republic. Sulla had submitted. Personally there was no hatred; but that hope had almost vanished, and therefore, judging as a Roman, when the deed was done, Cicero believed it to have been a glorious deed. There can be no doubt on that subject. The passages in which he praises it are too numerous for direct quotation; but there they are, interspersed through the letters and the Philippics. There was no doubt of his approval. The “assassination” of Cæsar, if that is to be the word used, was to his idea a glorious act done on behalf of humanity. The all-powerful tyrant who had usurped dominion over his country had been made away with, and again they might fall back upon the law. He had filched the army. He had run through various provinces, and had enriched himself with their wealth. He was above all law; he was worse than a Marius or a Sulla, who confessed themselves, by their open violence, to be temporary evils. Cæsar was creating himself king for all time. No law had established him. No plebiscite of the nation had endowed him with kingly power. With his life in his hands, he had dared to do it, and was almost successful. It is of no purpose to say that he was right and Cicero was wrong in their views as to the government of so mean a people as the Romans had become. Cicero’s form of government, under men who were not Ciceros, had been wrong, and had led to a state of things in which a tyrant might for the time be the lesser evil; but not on that account was Cicero wrong to applaud the deed which removed Cæsar. Middleton in his life (vol. ii, p. 435) gives us the opinion of Suetonius on this subject, and tells us that the best and wisest men in Rome supposed Cæsar to have been justly killed. Mr. Forsyth generously abstains from blaming the deed, as to which he leaves his readers to form their own opinion. Abeken expresses no opinion concerning its morality, nor does Morabin. It is the critics of Cicero’s works who have condemned him without thinking much, perhaps, of the judgment they have given.

But Cicero was not in the conspiracy, nor had he even contemplated Cæsar’s death. Assertions to the contrary have been made both lately and in former years, but without foundation. I have already alluded to some of these, and have shown that phrases in his letters have been misinterpreted. A passage was quoted by M. Du Rozoir — Ad Att., lib. x., 8 —“I don’t think that he can endure longer than six months. He must fall, even if we do nothing.” How often might it be said that the murder of an English minister had been intended if the utterings of such words be taken as a testimony! He quotes again — Ad Att., lib. xiii., 40 —“What good news could Brutus hear of Cæsar, unless that he hung himself?” This is to be taken as meditating Cæsar’s death, and is quoted by a French critic, after two thousand years, in proof of Cicero’s fatal ill-will!7 The whole tenor of Cicero’s letters proves that he had never entertained the idea of Cæsar’s destruction.

How long before the time the conspiracy may have been in existence we have no means of knowing; but we feel that Cicero was not a man likely to be taken into the plot. He would have dissuaded Brutus and Cassius. Judging from what we know of his character, we think that he would have distrusted its success. Though he rejoiced in it after it was done, he would have been wretched while burdened with the secret. At any rate, we have the fact that he was not so burdened. The sight of Cæsar’s slaughter, when he saw it, must have struck him with infinite surprise, but we have no knowledge of what his feelings may have been when the crowd had gathered round the doomed man. Cicero has left us no description of the moment in which Cæsar is supposed to have gathered his toga over his face so that he might fall with dignity. It certainly is the case that when you take your facts from the chance correspondence of a man you lose something of the most touching episodes of the day. The writer passes these things by, as having been surely handled elsewhere. It is always so with Cicero. The trial of Milo, the passing of the Rubicon, the battle of the Pharsalus, and the murder of Pompey are, with the death of Cæsar, alike unnoticed. “I have paid him a visit as to whom we spoke this morning. Nothing could be more forlorn.”8 It is thus the next letter begins, after Cæsar’s death, and the person he refers to is Matius, Cæsar’s friend; but in three weeks the world had become used to Cæsar’s death. The scene had passed away, and the inhabitants of Rome were already becoming accustomed to his absence. But there can be no doubt as to Cicero’s presence at Cæsar’s fall. He says so clearly to Atticus.9 Morabin throws a doubt upon it. The story goes that Brutus, descending from the platform on which Cæsar had been seated, and brandishing the bloody dagger in his hand, appealed to Cicero. Morabin says that there is no proof of this, and alleges that Brutus did it for stage effect. But he cannot have seen the letter above quoted, or seeing it, must have misunderstood it.10

It soon became evident to the conspirators that they had scotched the snake, and not killed it. Cassius and others had desired that Antony also should be killed, and with him Lepidus. That Antony would be dangerous they were sure. But Marcus Brutus and Decimus overruled their counsels. Marcus had declared that the “blood of the tyrant was all that the people required.”11 The people required nothing of the kind. They were desirous only of ease and quiet, and were anxious to follow either side which might be able to lead them and had something to give away. But Antony had been spared; and though cowed at the moment by the death of Cæsar, and by the assumption of a certain dignified forbearance on the part of the conspirators, was soon ready again to fight the battle for the Cæsareans. It is singular to see how completely he was cowed, and how quickly he recovered himself.

Mommsen finishes his history with a loud pæan in praise of Cæsar, but does not tell us of his death. His readers, had they nothing else to inform them, might be led to suppose that he had gone direct to heaven, or at any rate had vanished from the world, as soon as he had made the Empire perfect. He seems to have thought that had he described the work of the daggers in the Senate-house he would have acknowledged the mortality of his godlike hero. We have no right to complain of his omissions. For research, for labor, and for accuracy he has produced a work almost without parallel. That he should have seen how great was Cæsar because he accomplished so much, and that he should have thought Cicero to be small because, burdened with scruples of justice, he did so little, is in the idiosyncrasy of the man. A Cæsar was wanted, impervious to clemency, to justice, to moderation — a man who could work with any tools. “Men had forgotten what honesty was. A person who refused a bribe was regarded not as an upright man but as a personal foe.”12 Cæsar took money, and gave bribes, when he had the money to pay them, without a scruple. It would be absurd to talk about him as dishonest. He was above honesty. He was “supra grammaticam.” It is well that some one should have arisen to sing the praises of such a man — some two or three in these latter days. To me the character of the man is unpleasant to contemplate, unimpressionable, very far from divine. There is none of the human softness necessary for love; none of the human weakness needed for sympathy.

On the 15th of March Cæsar fell. When the murder had been effected. Brutus and the others concerned in it went out among the people expecting to be greeted as saviors of their country. Brutus did address the populace, and was well received; but some bad feeling seems to have been aroused by hard expressions as to Cæsar’s memory coming from one of the Prætors. For the people, though they regarded Cæsar as a tyrant, and expressed themselves as gratified when told that the would-be king had been slaughtered, still did not endure to hear ill spoken of him. He had understood that it behooved a tyrant to be generous, and appealed among them always with full hands — not having been scrupulous as to his mode of filling them. Then the conspirators, frightened at menacing words from the crowd, betook themselves to the Capitol. Why they should have gone to the Capitol as to a sanctuary I do not think that we know. The Capitol is that hill to a portion of which access is now had by the steps of the church of the Ara Coeli in front, and from the Forum in the rear. On one side was the fall from the Tarpeian rock down which malefactors were flung. On the top of it was the temple to Jupiter, standing on the site of the present church. And it was here that Brutus and Cassius and the other conspirators sought for safety on the evening of the day on which Cæsar had been killed. Here they remained for the two following days, till on the 18th they ventured down into the city. On the 17th Dolabella claimed to be Consul, in compliance with Cæsar’s promise, and on the same day the Senate, moved by Antony, decreed a public funeral to Cæsar. We may imagine that the decree was made by them with fainting hearts. There were many fainting hearts in Rome during those days, for it became very soon apparent that the conspirators had carried their plot no farther than the death of Cæsar.

Brutus, as far as the public service was concerned, was an unpractical, useless man. We know nothing of public work done by him to much purpose. He was filled with high ideas as to his own position among the oligarchs, and with especial notions as to what was due by Rome to men of his name. He had a fierce conception of his own rights — among which to be Prætor, and Consul, and Governor of a province were among the number. But he had taken early in life to literature and philosophy, and eschewed the crowd of “Fish-ponders,” such as were Antony and Dolabella, men prone to indulge the luxury of their own senses. His idea of liberty seems to have been much the same as Cicero’s — the liberty to live as one of the first men in Rome; but it was not accompanied, as it was with Cicero, by an innate desire to do good to those around him. To maintain the Prætors, Consuls, and Governors so that each man high in position should win his way to them as he might be able to obtain the voices of the people, and not to leave them to be bestowed at the call of one man who had thrust himself higher than all — that seems to have been his beau ideal of Roman government. It was Cicero’s also — with the addition that when he had achieved his high place he should serve the people honestly. Brutus had killed Cæsar, but had spared Antony, thinking that all things would fall into their accustomed places when the tyrant should be no more. But he found that Cæsar had been tyrant long enough to create a lust for tyranny; and that though he might suffice to kill a king, he had no aptitude for ruling a people.

It was now that those scenes took place which Shakspeare has described with such accuracy — the public funeral, Antony’s oration, and the rising of the people against the conspirators. Antony, when he found that no plan had been devised for carrying on the government, and that the men were struck by amazement at the deed they had themselves done, collected his thoughts and did his best to put himself in Cæsar’s place. Cicero had pleaded in the Senate for a general amnesty, and had carried it as far as the voice of the Senate could do so. But the amnesty only intended that men should pretend to think that all should be forgotten and forgiven. There was no forgiving, as there could be no forgetting. Then Cæsar’s will was brought forth. They could not surely dispute his will or destroy it. In this way Antony got hold of the dead man’s papers, and with the aid of the dead man’s private secretary or amanuensis, one Fabricius, began a series of most unblushing forgeries. He procured, or said that he procured, a decree to be passed confirming by law all Cæsar’s written purposes. Such a decree he could use to any extent to which he could carry with him the sympathies of the people. He did use it to a great extent, and seems at this period to have contemplated the assumption of dictatorial power in his own hands. Antony was nearly being one of the greatest rascals the world has known. The desire was there, and so was the intellect, had it not been weighted by personal luxury and indulgence.

Now young Octavius came upon the scene. He was the great-nephew of Cæsar, whose sister Julia had married one Marcus Atius. Their daughter Atia had married Caius Octavius, and of that marriage Augustus was the child. When Octavius, the father, died, Atia, the widow, married Marcius Philippus, who was Consul B.C. 56. Cæsar, having no nearer heir, took charge of the boy, and had, for the last years of his life, treated him as his son, though he had not adopted him. At this period the youth had been sent to Apollonia, on the other side of the Adriatic, in Macedonia, to study with Apollodorus, a Greek tutor, and was there when he heard of Cæsar’s death. He was informed that Cæsar had made him his heir and at once crossed over into Italy with his friend Agrippa. On the way up to Rome he met Cicero at one of his southern villas, and in the presence of the great orator behaved himself with becoming respect. He was then not twenty years old, but in the present difficulty of his position conducted himself with a caution most unlike a boy. He had only come, he said for what his great-uncle had left him; and when he found that Antony had spent the money, does not appear to have expressed himself immediately in anger. He went on to Rome, where he found that Antony and Dolabella and Marcus Brutus and Decimus Brutus and Cassius were scrambling for the provinces and the legions. Some of the soldiers came to him, asking him to avenge his uncle’s death; but he was too prudent as yet to declare any purpose of revenge.

Not long after Cæsar’s death Cicero left Rome, and spent the ensuing month travelling about among his different villas. On the 14th of April he writes to Atticus, declaring that whatever evil might befall him he would find comfort in the ides of March. In the same letter he calls Brutus and the others “our heroes,” and begs his friend to send him news — or if not news, then a letter without news.13 In the next he again calls them his heroes, but adds that he can take no pleasure in anything but in the deed that had been done. Men are still praising the work of Cæsar, and he laments that they should be so inconsistent. “Though they laud those who had destroyed Cæsar, at the same time they praise his deeds.”14 In the same letter he tells Atticus that the people in all the villages are full of joy. “It cannot be told how eager they are — how they run out to meet me, and to hear my accounts of what was done. But the Senate passes no decree!”15 He speaks of going into Greece to see his son — whom he never lived to see again — telling him of letters from the lad from Athens, which, he thinks, however, may be hypocritical, though he is comforted by finding their language to be clear. He has recovered his good-humor, and can be jocose. One Cluvius has left him a property at Puteoli, and the house has tumbled down; but he has sent for Chrysippus, an architect. But what are houses falling to him? He can thank Socrates and all his followers that they have taught him to disregard such worldly things. Nevertheless, he has deemed it expedient to take the advice of a certain friend as to turning the tumble-down house into profitable shape.16 A little later he expresses his great disgust that Cæsar, in the public speeches in Rome, should be spoken of as that “great and most excellent man.”17 And yet he had said, but a few months since, in his oration for King Deiotarus, in the presence of Cæsar, “that he looked only into his eyes, only into his face — that he regarded only him.” The flattery and the indignant reprobation do, in truth, come very near upon each other, and induce us to ask whether the fact of having to live in the presence of royalty be not injurious to the moral man. Could any of us have refused to speak to Cæsar with adulation — any of us whom circumstances compelled to speak to him? Power had made Cæsar desirous of a mode of address hardly becoming a man to give or a man to receive. Does not the etiquette of today require from us certain courtesies of conversation, which I would call abject were it not that etiquette requires them? Nevertheless, making the best allowance that I can for Cicero, the difference of his language within a month or two is very painful. In the letter above quoted Octavius comes to him, and we can see how willing was the young aspirant to flatter him.

He sees already that, in spite of the promised amnesty, there must be internecine feud. “I shall have to go into the camp with young Sextus”— Sextus Pompeius —“or perhaps with Brutus, a prospect at my years most odious.” Then he quotes two lines of Homer, altering a word: “To you, my child, is not given the glory of war; eloquence, charming eloquence, must be the weapon with which you will fight.” We hear of his contemplated journey into Greece, under the protection of a free legation. He was going for the sake of his son; but would not people say that he went to avoid the present danger? and might it not be the case that he should be of service if he remained?18 We see that the old state of doubt is again falling upon him. [Greek: Aideomai Trôas.] Otherwise he could go and make himself safe in Athens. There is a correspondence between him and Antony, of which he sends copies to Atticus. Antony writes to him, begging him to allow Sextus Clodius to return from his banishment. This Sextus had been condemned because of the riot on the death of his uncle in Milo’s affair, and Antony wishes to have him back. Cicero replies that he will certainly accede to Antony’s views. It had always been a law with him, he says, not to maintain a feeling of hatred against his humbler enemies. But in both these letters we see the subtilty and caution of the writers. Antony could have brought back Sextus without Cicero, and Cicero knew that he could do so. Cicero had no power over the law. But it suited Antony to write courteously a letter which might elicit an uncivil reply. Cicero, however, knew better, and answered it civilly.

He writes to Tiro telling him that he has not the slightest intention of quarrelling with his old friend Antony, and will write to Antony, but not till he shall have seen him, Tiro; showing on what terms of friendship he stands with his former slave, for Tiro had by this time been manumitted.19 He writes to Tiro quite as he might have written to a younger Atticus, and speaks to him of Atticus with all the familiarity of confirmed friendship. There must have been something very sweet in the nature of the intercourse which bound such a man as Cicero to such another as Tiro.

Atticus applies to him, desiring him to use his influence respecting a certain question of importance as to Buthrotum. Buthrotum was a town in Epirus opposite to the island of Corcyra, in which Atticus had an important interest. The lands about the place were to be divided, and to be distributed to Roman soldiers — much, as we may suppose to the injury of Atticus. He has earnestly begged the interference of Cicero for the protection of the Buthrotians, and Cicero tells him that he wishes he could have seen Antony on the subject, but that Antony is too much busied looking after the soldiers in the Campagna. Cicero fails to have the wishes of Atticus carried out, and shortly the subject becomes lost in the general confusion. But the discussion shows of how much importance at the present moment Cicero’s interference with Antony is considered. It shows also that up to this period, a few months previous to the envenomed hatred of the second Philippic, Antony and Cicero were presumed to be on terms of intimate friendship.

The worship of Cæsar had been commenced in Rome, and an altar had been set up to him in the Forum as to a god. Had Cæsar, when he perished, been said to have usurped the sovereign authority, his body would have been thrown out as unworthy of noble treatment. Such treatment the custom of the Republic required. It had been allowed to be buried, and had been honored, not disgraced. Now, on the spot where the funeral pile had been made, the altar was erected, and crowds of men clamored round it, worshipping. That this was the work of Antony we cannot doubt. But Dolabella, Cicero’s repudiated son-in-law, who in furtherance of a promise from Cæsar had seized the Consulship, was jealous of Antony and caused the altar to be thrown down and the worshippers to be dispersed. Many were killed in the struggle — for, though the Republic was so jealous of the lives of the citizens as not to allow a criminal to be executed without an expression of the voice of the entire people, any number might fall in a street tumult, and but little would be thought about it. Dolabella destroyed the altar, and Cicero was profuse in his thanks.20 For though Tullia had been divorced, and had since died, there was no cause for a quarrel. Divorces were so common that no family odium was necessarily created. Cicero was at this moment most anxious to get back from Dolabella his daughter’s dowry. It was never repaid. Indeed, a time was quickly coming in which such payments were out of the question, and Dolabella soon took a side altogether opposed to the Republic — for which he cared nothing. He was bought by Antony, having been ready to be bought by any one. He went to Syria as governor before the end of the year, and at Smyrna, on his road, he committed one of those acts of horror on Trebonius, an adverse governor, in which the Romans of the day would revel when liberated from control. Cassius came to avenge his friend Trebonius, and Dolabella, finding himself worsted, destroyed himself. He had not progressed so far in corruption as Verres, because time had not permitted it — but that was the direction in which he was travelling. At the present moment, however, no praise was too fervid to be bestowed upon him by Cicero’s pen. That turning of Cæsar into a god was opposed to every feeling of his heart, both, as to men and as to gods.

A little farther on21 we find him complaining of the state of things very grievously: “That we should have feared this thing, and not have feared the other!”— meaning Cæsar and Antony. He declares that he must often read, for his own consolation, his treatise on old age, then just written and addressed to Atticus. “Old age is making me bitter,” he says; “I am annoyed at everything. But my life has been lived. Let the young look to the future.” We here meet the name of Cærellia in a letter to his friend. She had probably been sent to make up the quarrel between him and his young wife Publilia. Nothing came of it, and it is mentioned only because Cærellia’s name has been joined so often with that of Cicero by subsequent writers. In the whole course of his correspondence with Atticus I do not remember it to occur, except in one or two letters at this period. I imagine that some story respecting the lady was handed down, and was published by Dio Cassius when the Greek historian found that it served his purpose to abuse Cicero.

On June 22nd he sent news to Atticus of his nephew. Young Quintus had written home to his father to declare his repentance. He had been in receipt of money from Antony, and had done Antony’s dirty work. He had been “Antoni dextella”—“Antony’s right hand”— according to Cicero, and had quarrelled absolutely with his father and his uncle. He now expresses his sorrow, and declares that he would come himself at once, but that there might be danger to his father. And there is money to be expected if he will only wait. “Did you ever hear of a worse knave?” Cicero adds. Probably not; but yet he was able to convince his father and his uncle, and some time afterward absolutely offered to prosecute Antony for stealing the public money out of the treasury. He thought, as did some others, that the course of things was going against Antony. As a consequence of this he was named in the proscriptions, and killed, with his father. In the same letter Cicero consults Atticus as to the best mode of going to Greece. Brundisium is the usual way, but he has been told by Tiro that there are soldiers in the town.22 He is now at Arpinum, on his journey, and receives a letter from Brutus inviting him back to Rome, to see the games given by Brutus. He is annoyed to think that Brutus should expect this. “These shows are now only honorable to him who is bound to give them,” he says; “I am not bound to see them, and to be present would be dishonorable.”23 Then comes his parting with Atticus, showing a demonstrative tenderness foreign to the sternness of our northern nature. “That you should have wept when you had parted from me, has grieved me greatly. Had you done it in my presence, I should not have gone at all.”24 “Nonis Juliis!”25 he exclaims. The name of July had already come into use — the name which has been in use ever since — the name of the man who had now been destroyed! The idea distresses him. “Shall Brutus talk of July?” It seems that some advertisement had been published as to his games in which the month was so called.

Writing from one of his villas in the south, he tells Atticus that his nephew has again been with him, and has repented him of all his sins. I think that Cicero never wrote anything vainer than this: “He has been so changed,” he says, “by reading some of my writings which I happened to have by me, and by my words and precepts, that he is just such a citizen as I would have him.”26 Could it be that he should suppose that one whom he had a few days since described as the biggest knave he knew should be so changed by a few words well written and well pronounced? Young Quintus must in truth have been a clever knave. In the same letter Cicero tells us that Tiro had collected about seventy of his letters with a view to publication. We have at present over seven hundred written before that day.

Just as he is starting he gives his friend a very wide commission: “By your love for me, do manage my matters for me. I have left enough to pay everything that I owe. But it will happen, as it often does, that they who owe me will not be punctual. If anything of that kind should happen, only think of my character. Put me right before the world by borrowing, or even by selling, if it be necessary.”27 This is not the language of a man in distress, but of one anxious that none should lose a shilling by him. He again thinks of starting from Brundisium, and promises, when he has arrived there, instantly to begin a new work. He has sent his De Gloria to Atticus; a treatise which we have lost. We should be glad to know how he treated this most difficult subject. We are astonished at his fecundity and readiness. He was now nearly sixty-three, and, as he travels about the country, he takes with him all the adjuncts necessary for the writing of treatises such as he composed at this period of his life! His Topica, containing Aristotelian instructions as to a lawyer’s work, he put together on board ship, immediately after this, for the benefit of Trebatius, to whom it had been promised.

July had come, and at last he resolved to sail from Pompeii and to coast round to Sicily. He lands for a night at Velia, where he finds Brutus, with whom he has an interview. Then he writes a letter to Trebatius, who had there a charming villa, bought no doubt with Gallic spoils. He is reminded of his promise, and going on to Rhegium writes his Topica, which he sends to Trebatius from that place. Thence he went across to Syracuse, but was afraid to stay there, fearing that his motions might be watched, and that Antony would think that he had objects of State in his journey. He had already been told that some attributed his going to a desire to be present at the Olympian games; but the first notion seems to have been that he had given the Republic up as lost, and was seeking safety elsewhere. From this we are made to perceive how closely his motions were watched, and how much men thought of them. From Syracuse he started for Athens — which place, however, he was doomed never to see again. He was carried back to Leucopetra on the continent; and though he made another effort, he was, he says, again brought back. There, at the villa of his friend Valerius, he learned tidings which induced him to change his purpose, and hurry off to Rome. Brutus and Cassius had published a decree of the Senate, calling all the Senators, and especially the Consulares, to Rome. There was reason to suppose that Antony was willing to relax his pretensions. They had strenuously demanded his attendance, and whispers were heard that he had fled from the difficulties of the times. “When I heard this, I at once abandoned my journey, with which, indeed, I had never been well pleased.”28 Then he enters into a long disquisition with Atticus as to the advice which had been given to him, both by Atticus and by Brutus, and he says some hard words to Atticus. But he leaves an impression on the reader’s mind that Brutus had so disturbed him by what had passed between them at Velia, that from that moment his doubts as to going, which had been always strong, had overmastered him. It was not the winds at Leucopetra that hindered his journey, but the taunting words which Brutus had spoken. It was suggested to him that he was deserting his country. The reproach had been felt by him to be heavy, for he had promised to Atticus that he would return by the first of January; yet he could not but feel that there was something in it of truth. The very months during which he would be absent would be the months of danger. Indeed, looking out upon the political horizon then, it seemed as though the nearest months, those they were then passing, would be the most dangerous. If Antony could be got rid of, be made to leave Italy, there might be something for an honest Senator to do — a man with consular authority — a something which might not jeopardize his life. When men now call a politician of those days a coward for wishing to avoid the heat of the battle, they hardly think what it is for an old man to leave his retreat and rush into the Forum, and there encounter such a one as Antony, and such soldiers as were his soldiers. Cicero, who had been brave enough in the emergencies of his career, and had gone about his work sometimes regardless of his life, no doubt thought of all this. It would be pleasant to him again to see his son, and to look upon the rough doings of Rome from amid the safety of Athens; but when his countrymen told him that he had not as yet done enough — when Brutus, with his cold, bitter words, rebuked him for going — then his thoughts turned round on the quick pivot on which they were balanced, and he hurried back to the fight.

He travelled at once up to Rome, which he reached on the last of August, and there received a message from Antony demanding his presence in the Senate on the next day. He had been greeted on his journey once again by the enthusiastic welcome of his countrymen, who looked to receive some especial advantage from his honesty and patriotism. Once again he was made proud by the clamors of a trusting people. But he had not come to Rome to be Antony’s puppet. Antony had some measure to bring before the Senate in honor of Cæsar which it would not suit Cicero to support or to oppose. He sent to say that he was tired after his journey and would not come. Upon this the critics deal hardly with him, and call him a coward. “With an incredible pusillanimity,” says M. Du Rozoir, “Cicero excused himself, alleging his health and the fatigue of his voyage.” “He pretended that he was too tired to be present,” says Mr Long. It appears to me that they who have read Cicero’s works with the greatest care have become so enveloped by the power of his words as to expect from them an unnatural weight. If a politician of today, finding that it did not suit him to appear in the House of Commons on a certain evening, and that it would best become him to allow a debate to pass without his presence, were to make such an excuse, would he be treated after the same fashion? Pusillanimity, and pretence, in regard to those Philippics in which he seems to have courted death by every harsh word that he uttered! The reader who has begun to think so must change his mind, and be prepared, as he progresses, to find quite another fault with Cicero. Impetuous, self-confident, rash; throwing down the gage with internecine fury; striving to crush with his words the man who had the command of the legions of Rome; sticking at nothing which could inflict a blow; forcing men by his descriptions to such contempt of Antony that they should be induced to leave the stronger party, lest they too should incur something of the wrath of the orator — that they will find to be the line which Cicero adopted, and the demeanor he put on during the next twelve months! He thundered with his Philippics through Rome, addressing now the Senate and now the people with a hardihood which you may condemn as being unbecoming one so old, who should have been taught equanimity by experience; but pusillanimity and pretence will not be the offences you will bring against him.

Antony, not finding that Cicero had come at his call, declared in the Senate that he would send his workmen to dig him out from his house. Cicero alludes to this on the next day without passion.29 Antony was not present, and in this speech he expresses no bitterness of anger. It should hardly have been named one of the Philippics, which title might well have been commenced with the second. The name, it should be understood, has been adopted from a jocular allusion by Cicero to the Philippics of Demosthenes, made in a letter to Brutus. We have at least the reply of Brutus, if indeed the letter be genuine, which is much to be doubted.30 But he had no purpose of affixing his name to them. For many years afterward they were called Antonianæ, and the first general use of the term by which we know them has probably been comparatively modern. The one name does as well as another, but it is odd that speeches from Demosthenes should have given a name to others so well known as these made by Cicero against Antony. Plutarch, however, mentions the name, saying that it had been given to the speeches by Cicero himself.

In this, the first, he is ironically reticent as to Antony’s violence and unpatriotic conduct. Antony was not present, and Cicero tells his hearers with a pleasant joke that to Antony it may be allowed to be absent on the score of ill-health, though the indulgence had been refused to him. Antony is his friend, and why had Antony treated him so roughly? Was it unusual for Senators to be absent? Was Hannibal at the gate, or were they dealing for peace with Pyrrhus, as was the case when they brought the old blind Appius down to the House? Then he comes to the question of the hour, which was, nominally, the sanctioning as law those acts of Cæsar’s which he had decreed by his own will before his death. When a tyrant usurps power for a while and is then deposed, no more difficult question can be debated. Is it not better to take the law as he leaves it, even though the law has become a law illegally, than encounter all the confusion of retrograde action? Nothing could have been more iniquitous than some of Sulla’s laws, but Cicero had opposed their abrogation. But here the question was one not of Cæsar’s laws, but of decrees subsequently made by Antony and palmed off upon the people as having been found among Cæsar’s papers. Soon after Cæsar’s death a decision had been obtained by Antony in favor of Cæsar’s laws or acts, and hence had come these impudent forgeries under the guise of which Antony could cause what writings he chose to be made public. “I think that Cæsar’s acts should be maintained,” says Cicero, “not as being in themselves good, for that no one can assert. I wish that Antony were present here without his usual friends,” he adds, alluding to his armed satellites. “He would tell us after what manner he would maintain those acts of Cæsar’s. Are they to be found in notes and scraps and small documents brought forward by one witness, or not brought forward at all but only told to us? And shall those which he engraved in bronze, and which he wished to be known as the will of the people and as perpetual laws — shall they go for nothing?”31 Here was the point in dispute. The decree had been voted soon after Cæsar’s death, giving the sanction of the Senate to his laws. For peace this had been done, as the best way out of the difficulty which oppressed the State. But it was intolerable that, under this sanction, Antony should have the power of bringing forth new edicts day after day, while the very laws which Cæsar had passed were not maintained. “What better law was there, or more often demanded in the best days of the Republic, than that law,” passed by Cæsar, “under which the provinces were to be held by the Prætors only for one year, and by the Consuls for not more than two? But this law is abolished. So it is thus that Cæsar’s acts are to be maintained?”32 Antony, no doubt, and his friends, having an eye to the fruition of the provinces, had found among Cæsar’s papers — or said they had found — some writing to suit their purpose. All things to be desired were to be found among Cæsar’s papers. “The banished are brought back from banishment, the right of citizenship is given not only to individuals but to whole nations and provinces, exceptions from taxations are granted, by the dead man’s voice.”33 Antony had begun, probably, with some one or two more modest forgeries, and had gone on, strengthened in impudence by his own success, till Cæsar dead was like to be worse to them than Cæsar living. The whole speech is dignified, patriotic, and bold, asserting with truth that which he believed to be right, but never carried into invective or dealing with expressions of anger. It is very short, but I know no speech of his more closely to its purpose. I can see him now, with his toga round him, as he utters the final words: “I have lived perhaps long enough — both as to length of years and the glory I have won. What little may be added, shall be, not for myself, but for you and for the Republic.” The words thus spoken became absolutely true.

1 Ad Div., lib. vii., 30.

2 Mommsen, book v., xi.

3 He left Brundisium on the last day of the year.

4 Shakspeare, Julius Cæsar, act i., sc. 2.

5 Ad Att., lib. xiv., 9, 15.

6 Quintilian, lib. vii., 4.

7 These words will be found in M. Du Rozoir’s summary to the Philippics.

8 Ad Att., lib. xiv., 1.

9 Ibid., 14: “Quam oculis cepi justo interitu tyranni.”

10 Morabin, liv. vi., chap. iii., sec. 6.

11 Velleius Paterculus, lib. ii., ca. lviii.

12 Mommsen, book v., xi.

13 Ad Att., lib. xiv., 4.

14 Ibid., lib. xiv., 6.

15 Ibid., lib. xiv., 7.

16 Ad Att., lib. xiv., 9.

17 Ibid., lib. xiv., 11.

18 Ad Att., lib. xiv., 13.

19 Ad Div., lib. xvi., 23.

20 Ad Div., lib. ix., 11.

21 Ad Att., lib. xiv., 21.

22 Ad Att., lib. xv., 21.

23 Ibid., lib. xv., 26.

24 Ad Att., lib. xv., 27.

25 Ibid., lib. xvi., 1.

26 Ibid., lib. xvi., 5.

27 Ibid., lib. xvi., 2.

28 Ad Att., lib. xvi., 7.

29 Phil., i., 5: “Nimis iracunde hoc quidem, et valde intemperanter.” “Who,” he goes on to say, “has sinned so heavily against the Republic that here, in the Senate, they shall dare to threaten his house by sending the State workmen?”

30 Brutus, Ciceroni, lib. ii., 5: “Jam concedo ut vel Philippici vocentur quod tu quadam epistola jocans scripsisti.” I fear, however, that we must acknowledge that this letter cannot be taken as an authority for the early use of the name.

31 Phil., i., ca. vii.

32 Ibid., i., ca. viii.

33 Ibid., i., ca. x.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01