We now come to the beginning of the work of Cicero’s life. This at first consisted in his employment as an advocate, from which he gradually rose into public or political occupation, as so often happens with a successful barrister in our time. We do not know with absolute certainty even in what year Cicero began his pleadings, or in what cause. It may probably have been in 81 B.C., when he was twenty-five, or in his twenty-sixth year. Of the pleadings of which we know the particulars, that in the defence of Sextus Roscius Amerinus, which took place undoubtedly in the year 80 B.C., ætat twenty-seven, was probably the earliest. As to that, we have his speech nearly entire, as we have also one for Publius Quintius, which has generally been printed first among the orator’s works. It has, however, I think, been made clear that that spoken for Sextus Roscius came before it. It is certain that there had been others before either of them. In that for Sextus he says that he had never spoken before in any public cause,1 such as was the accusation in which he was now engaged, from which the inference has to be made that he had been engaged in private causes; and in that for Quintius he declares that there was wanting to him in that matter an aid which he had been accustomed to enjoy in others.2 No doubt he had tried his ‘prentice hand in cases of less importance. That of these two the defence of Sextus Roscius came first, is also to be found in his own words. More than once, in pleading for Quintius, he speaks of the proscriptions and confiscations of Sulla as evils then some time past. These were brought nominally to a close in June, 81; but it has been supposed by those who have placed this oration first that it was spoken in that very year. This seems to have been impossible. “I am most unwilling,” says he, “to call to mind that subject, the very memory of which should be wiped out from our thoughts.”3 When the tone of the two speeches is compared, it will become evident that that for Sextus Roscius was spoken the first. It was, as I have said, spoken in his twenty-seventh year, B.C. 80, the year after the proscription lists had been closed, when Sulla was still Dictator, and when the sales of confiscated goods, though no longer legal, were still carried on under assumed authority. As to such violation of Sulla’s own enactment, Cicero excuses the Dictator in this very speech, likening him to Great Jove the Thunderer. Even “Jupiter Optimus Maximus,” as he is whose nod the heavens, the earth, and seas obey — even he cannot so look after his numerous affairs but that the winds and the storms will be too strong sometimes, or the heat too great, or the cold too bitter. If so, how can we wonder that Sulla, who has to rule the State, to govern, in fact, the world, should not be able himself to see to everything? Jove probably found it convenient not to see many things. Such must certainly have been the case with Sulla.
I will venture, as other biographers have done before, to tell the story of Sextus Roscius of Ameria at some length, because it is in itself a tale of powerful romance, mysterious, grim, betraying guilt of the deepest dye, misery most profound, and audacity unparalleled; because, in a word, it is as interesting as any novel that modern fiction has produced; and also, I will tell it, because it lets in a flood of light upon the condition of Rome at the time. Our hair is made to stand on end when we remember that men had to pick their steps in such a State as this, and to live if it were possible, and, if not, then to be ready to die. We come in upon the fag-end of the proscription, and see, not the bloody wreath of Sulla as he triumphed on his Marian foes, not the cruel persecution of the ruler determined to establish his order of things by slaughtering every foe, but the necessary accompaniments of such ruthless deeds — those attendant villanies for which the Jupiter Optimus Maximus of the day had neither ears nor eyes. If in history we can ever get a glimpse at the real life of the people, it is always more interesting than any account of the great facts, however grand.
The Kalends of June had been fixed by Sulla as the day on which the slaughter legalized by the proscriptions should cease. In the September following an old gentleman named Sextus Roscius was murdered in the streets of Rome as he was going home from supper one night, attended by two slaves. By whom he was murdered, probably more than one or two knew then, but nobody knows now. He was a man of reputation, well acquainted with the Metelluses and Messalas of the day, and passing rich. His name had been down on no proscription list, for he had been a friend of Sulla’s friends. He was supposed, when he was murdered, to be worth about six million of sesterces, or something between fifty and sixty thousand pounds of our money. Though there was at that time much money in Rome, this amounted to wealth; and though we cannot say who murdered the man, we may feel sure that he was murdered for his money.
Immediately on his death his chattels were seized and sold — or divided, probably, without being sold — including his slaves, in whom, as with every rich Roman, much of his wealth was invested; and his landed estates — his farms, of which he had many — were also divided. As to the actual way in which this was done, we are left much in the dark. Had the name of Sextus Roscius been on one of the lists, even though the list would then have been out of date, we could have understood that it should have been so. Jupiter Optimus Maximus could not see everything, and great advantages were taken. We must only suppose that things were so much out of order that they who had been accustomed to seize upon the goods of the proscribed were able to stretch their hands so as to grasp almost anything that came in their way. They could no longer procure a rich man’s name to be put down on the list, but they could pretend that it had been put down. At any rate, certain persons seized and divided the chattels of the murdered man as though he had been proscribed.
Old Roscius, when he was killed, had one son, of whom we are told that he lived always in the country at Ameria, looking after his father’s farms, never visiting the capital, which was distant from Ameria something under fifty miles; a rough, uncouth, and probably honest man — one, at any rate, to whom the ways of the city were unknown, and who must have been but partially acquainted with the doings of the time.4 As we read the story, we feel that very much depends on the character of this man, and we are aware that our only description of him comes from his own advocate. Cicero would probably say much which, though beyond the truth, could not be absolutely refuted, but would state as facts nothing that was absolutely false. Cicero describes him as a middle-aged man, who never left his farm, doing his duty well by his father, as whose agent he acted on the land — a simple, unambitious, ignorant man, to whom one’s sympathies are due rather than our antipathy, because of his devotion to agriculture. He was now accused of having murdered his father. The accusation was conducted by one Erucius, who in his opening speech — the speech made before that by Cicero — had evidently spoken ill of rural employments. Then Cicero reminds him, and the judges, and the Court how greatly agriculture had been honored in the old days, when Consuls were taken from the ploughs. The imagination, however, of the reader pictures to itself a man who could hardly have been a Consul at any time — one silent, lonely, uncouth, and altogether separate from the pleasant intercourses of life. Erucius had declared of him that he never took part in any festivity. Cicero uses this to show that he was not likely to have been tempted by luxury to violence. Old Roscius had had two sons, of whom he had kept one with him in Rome — the one, probably, whose society had been dearest to him. He, however, had died, and our Roscius — Sextus Roscius Amerinus, as he came to be called when he was made famous by the murder — was left on one of the farms down in the country. The accusation would probably not have been made, had he not been known to be a man sullen, silent, rough, and unpopular — as to whom such a murder might be supposed to be credible.
Why should any accusation have been made unless there was clear evidence as to guilt? That is the first question which presents itself. This son received no benefit from his father’s death. He had in fact been absolutely beggared by it — had lost the farm, the farming utensils, every slave in the place, all of which had belonged to his father, and not to himself. They had been taken, and divided; taken by persons called “Sectores,” informers or sequestrators, who took possession of and sold — or did not sell — confiscated goods. Such men in this case had pounced down upon the goods of the murdered man at once and swallowed them all up, not leaving an acre or a slave to our Roscius. Cicero tells us who divided the spoil among them. There were two other Rosciuses, distant relatives, probably, both named Titus; Titus Roscius Magnus, who sojourned in Rome, and who seems to have exercised the trade of informer and assassin during the proscriptions, and Titus Roscius Capito, who, when at home, lived at Ameria, but of whom Cicero tells us that he had become an apt pupil of the other during this affair. They had got large shares, but they shared also with one Chrysogonus, the freedman and favorite of Sulla, who did the dirty work for Jupiter Optimus Maximus when Jupiter Optimus Maximus had not time to do it himself. We presume that Chrysogonus had the greater part of the plunder. As to Capito, the apt pupil, we are told again and again that he got three farms for himself.
Again, it is necessary to say that all these facts come from Cicero, who, in accordance with the authorized practice of barristers, would scruple at saying nothing which he found in his instructions. How instructions were conveyed to an advocate in those days we do not quite know. There was no system of attorneys. But the story was probably made out for the “patronus” or advocate by an underling, and in some way prepared for him. That which was thus prepared he exaggerated as the case might seem to require. It has to be understood of Cicero that he possessed great art and, no doubt, great audacity in such exaggeration; in regard to which we should certainly not bear very heavily upon him now, unless we are prepared to bear more heavily upon those who do the same thing in our own enlightened days. But Cicero, even as a young man, knew his business much too well to put forward statements which could be disproved. The accusation came first; then the speech in defence; after that the evidence, which was offered only on the side of the accuser, and which was subject to cross-examination. Cicero would have no opportunity of producing evidence. He was thus exempted from the necessity of proving his statements, but was subject to have them all disproved. I think we may take it for granted that the property of the murdered man was divided as he tells us.
If that was so, why should any accusation have been made? Our Sextus seems to have been too much crushed by the dangers of his position to have attempted to get back any part of his father’s wealth. He had betaken himself to the protection of a certain noble lady, one Metella, whose family had been his father’s friends, and by her and her friends the defence was no doubt managed. “You have my farms,” he is made to say by his advocate; “I live on the charity of another. I abandon everything because I am placid by nature, and because it must be so. My house, which is closed to me, is open to you: I endure it. You have possessed yourself of my whole establishment; I have not one single slave. I suffer all this, and feel that I must suffer it. What do you want more? Why do you persecute me further? In what do you think that I shall hurt you? How do I interfere with you? In what do I oppose you? Is it your wish to kill a man for the sake of plunder? You have your plunder. If for the sake of hatred, what hatred can you feel against him of whose land you have taken possession before you had even known him?”5 Of all this, which is the advocate’s appeal to pity, we may believe as little as we please. Cicero is addressing the judge, and desires only an acquittal. But the argument shows that no overt act in quest of restitution had as yet been made. Nevertheless, Chrysogonus feared such action, and had arranged with the two Tituses that something should be done to prevent it. What are we to think of the condition of a city in which not only could a man be murdered for his wealth walking home from supper — that, indeed, might happen in London if there existed the means of getting at the man’s money when the man was dead — but in which such a plot could be concerted in order that the robbery might be consummated? “We have murdered the man and taken his money under the false plea that his goods had been confiscated. Friends, we find, are interfering — these Metellas and Metelluses, probably. There is a son who is the natural heir. Let us say that he killed his own father. The courts of law, which have only just been reopened since the dear days of proscription, disorder, and confiscation, will hardly yet be alert enough to acquit a man in opposition to the Dictator’s favorite. Let us get him convicted, and, as a parricide, sewed up alive in a bag and thrown into the river”— as some of us have perhaps seen cats drowned, for such was the punishment —“and then he at least will not disturb us.” It must have thus been that the plot was arranged.
It was a plot so foul that nothing could be fouler; but not the less was it carried out persistently with the knowledge and the assistance of many. Erucius, the accuser, who seems to have been put forward on the part of Chrysogonus, asserted that the man had caused his father to be murdered because of hatred. The father was going to disinherit the son, and therefore the son murdered the father. In this there might have been some probability, had there been any evidence of such an intention on the father’s part. But there was none. Cicero declares that the father had never thought of disinheriting his son. There had been no quarrel, no hatred. This had been assumed as a reason — falsely. There was in fact no cause for such a deed; nor was it possible that the son should have done it. The father was killed in Rome when, as was evident, the son was fifty miles off. He never left his farm. Erucius, the accuser, had said, and had said truly, that Rome was full of murderers.6 But who was the most likely to have employed such a person: this rough husbandman, who had no intercourse with Rome, who knew no one there, who knew little of Roman ways, who had nothing to get by the murder when committed, or they who had long been concerned with murderers, who knew Rome, and who were now found to have the property in their hands?
The two slaves who had been with the old man when he was killed, surely they might tell something? Here there comes out incidentally the fact that slaves when they were examined as witnesses were tortured, quite as a matter of course, so that their evidence might be extracted. This is spoken of with no horror by Cicero, nor, as far as I can remember, by other Roman writers. It was regarded as an established rule of life that a slave, if brought into a court of law, should be made to tell the truth by such appliances. This was so common that one is tempted to hope, and almost to suppose that the “question” was not ordinarily administered with circumstances of extreme cruelty. We hear, indeed, of slaves having their liberty given them in order that, being free, they may not be forced by torture to tell the truth;7 but had the cruelty been of the nature described by Scott in “Old Mortality,” when the poor preacher’s limbs were mangled, I think we should have heard more of it. Nor was the torture always applied, but only when the expected evidence was not otherwise forth-coming. Cicero explains, in the little dialogue given below, how the thing was carried on.8 “You had better tell the truth now, my friend: Was it so and so?” The slave knows that, if he says it was so, there is the cross for him, or the “little horse;” but that, if he will say the contrary, he will save his joints from racking. And yet the evidence went for what it was worth.
In this case of Roscius there had certainly been two slaves present; but Cicero, who, as counsel for the defence, could call no witnesses, had not the power to bring them into court; nor could slaves have been made to give evidence against their masters. These slaves, who had belonged to the murdered man, were now the property either of Chrysogonus or of the two Tituses. There was no getting at their evidence but by permission of their masters, and this was withheld. Cicero demands that they shall be produced, knowing that the demand will have no effect. “The man here,” he says, pointing to the accused, “asks for it, prays for it. What will you do in this case? Why do you refuse?”9
By this time the reader is brought to feel that the accused person cannot possibly have been guilty; and if the reader, how much more the hearer? Then Cicero goes on to show who in truth were guilty. “Doubt now if you can, judges, by whom Roscius was killed: whether by him who, by his father’s death, is plunged into poverty and trouble — who is forbidden even to investigate the truth — or by those who are afraid of real evidence, who themselves possess the plunder, who live in the midst of murder, and on the proceeds of murder.”10
Then he addresses one of the Tituses, Titus Magnus, who seems to have been sitting in the court, and who is rebuked for his impudence in doing so: “Who can doubt who was the murderer — you who have got all the plunder, or this man who has lost everything? But if it be added to this that you were a pauper before — that you have been known as a greedy fellow, as a dare-devil, as the avowed enemy of him who has been killed — then need one ask what has brought you to do such a deed as this?”11
He next tells what took place, as far as it was known, immediately after the murder. The man had been killed coming home from supper, in September, after it was dark, say at eight or nine o’clock, and the fact was known in Ameria before dawn. Travelling was not then very quick; but a messenger, one Mallius Glaucia, a man on very close terms with Titus Magnus, was sent down at once in a light gig to travel through the night and take the information to Titus Capito Why was all this hurry? How did Glaucia hear of the murder so quickly? What cause to travel all through the night? Why was it necessary that Capito should know all about it at once? “I cannot think,” says Cicero, “only that I see that Capito has got three of the farms out of the thirteen which the murdered man owned!” But Capito is to be produced as a witness, and Cicero gives us to understand what sort of cross-examination he will have to undergo.
In all this the reader has to imagine much, and to come to conclusions as to facts of which he has no evidence. When that hurried messenger was sent, there was probably no idea of accusing the son. The two real contrivers of the murder would have been more on their guard had they intended such a course. It had been conceived that when the man was dead and his goods seized, the fear of Sulla’s favorite, the still customary dread of the horrors of the time, would cause the son to shrink from inquiry. Hitherto, when men had been killed and their goods taken, even if the killing and the taking had not been done strictly in accordance with Sulla’s ordinance, it had been found safer to be silent and to endure; but this poor wretch, Sextus, had friends in Rome — friends who were friends of Sulla — of whom Chrysogonus and the Tituses had probably not bethought themselves. When it came to pass that more stir was made than they had expected, then the accusation became necessary.
But, in order to obtain the needed official support and aid, Chrysogonus must be sought. Sulla was then at Volaterra, in Etruria perhaps 150 miles north-west from Rome, and with him was his favorite Chrysogonus. In four days from the time of this murder the news was earned thither, and, so Cicero states, by the same messenger — by Glaucia — who had taken it to Ameria. Chrysogonus immediately saw to the selling of the goods, and from this Cicero implies that Chrysogonus and the two Tituses were in partnership.
But it seems that when the fact of the death of old Roscius was known at Ameria — at which place he was an occasional resident himself, and the most conspicuous man in the place — the inhabitants, struck with horror, determined to send a deputation to Sulla. Something of what was being done with their townsman’s property was probably known, and there seems to have been a desire for justice. Ten townsmen were chosen to go to Sulla, and to beg that he would personally look into the matter. Here, again, we are very much in the dark, because this very Capito, to whom these farms were allotted as his share, was not only chosen to be one of the ten, but actually became their spokesman and their manager. The great object was to keep Sulla himself in the dark, and this Capito managed to do by the aid of Chrysogonus. None of the ten were allowed to see Sulla. They are hoaxed into believing that Chrysogonus himself will look to it, and so they go back to Ameria, having achieved nothing. We are tempted to believe that the deputation was a false deputation, each of whom probably had his little share, so that in this way there might be an appearance of justice. If it was so, Cicero has not chosen to tell that part of the story, having, no doubt, some good advocate’s reason for omitting it.
So far the matter had gone with the Tituses, and with Chrysogonus who had got his lion’s share. Our poor Roscius, the victim, did at first abandon his property, and allow himself to be awed into silence. We cannot but think that he was a poor creature, and can fancy that he had lived a wretched life during all the murders of the Sullan proscriptions. But in his abject misery he had found his way up among the great friends of his family at Rome, and had there been charged with the parricide, because Chrysogonus and the Tituses began to be afraid of what these great friends might do.
This is the story as Cicero has been able to tell it in his speech. Beyond that, we only know that the man was acquitted. Whether he got back part of his father’s property there is nothing to inform us. Whether further inquiry was made as to the murder; whether evil befell those two Tituses or Chrysogonus was made to disgorge, there has been no one to inform us. The matter was of little importance in Rome, where murders and organized robberies of the kind were the common incidents of every-day life. History would have meddled with nothing so ordinary had not it happened that the case fell into the hands of a man so great a master of his language that it has been worth the while of ages to perpetuate the speech which he made in the matter. But the story, as a story of Roman life, is interesting, and it gives a slight aid to history in explaining the condition of things which Sulla had produced.
The attack upon Chrysogonus is bold, and cannot but have been offensive to Sulla, though Sulla is by name absolved from immediate blame. Chrysogonus himself, the favorite, he does not spare, saying words so bitter of tone that one would think that the judges — Sulla’s judges — would have stopped him, had they been able. “Putting aside Sextus Roscius,” he says, “I demand, first of all, why the goods of an esteemed citizen were sold; then, why have the goods been sold of one who had not himself been proscribed, and who had not been killed while defending Sulla’s enemies? It is against those only that the law is made. Then I demand why they were sold when the legal day for such sales had passed, and why they were sold for such a trifle.”12 Then he gives us a picture of Chrysogonus flaunting down the streets. “You have seen him, judges, how, his locks combed and perfumed, he swims along the Forum”— he, a freedman, with a crowd of Roman citizens at his heels, that all may see that he thinks himself inferior to none —“the only happy man of the day, the only one with any power in his hands.”13
This trial was, as has been said, a “causa publica,” a criminal accusation of such importance as to demand that it should be tried before a full bench of judges. Of these the number would be uncertain, but they were probably above fifty. The Prætor of the day — the Prætor to whom by lot had fallen for that year that peculiar duty — presided, and the judges all sat round him. Their duty seems to have consisted in listening to the pleadings, and then in voting. Each judge could vote14 “guilty,” “acquitted,” or “not proven,” as they do in Scotland. They were, in fact, jurymen rather than judges. It does not seem that any amount of legal lore was looked for specially in the judges, who at different periods had been taken from various orders of the citizens, but who at this moment, by a special law enacted by Sulla, were selected only from the Senators. We have ample evidence that at this period the judges in Rome were most corrupt. They were tainted by a double corruption: that of standing by their order instead of standing by the public — each man among them feeling that his turn to be accused might come — and that also of taking direct bribes. Cicero on various occasions — on this, for instance, and notably in the trial of Verres, to which we shall come soon — felt very strongly that his only means of getting a true verdict from the majority of judges was to frighten them into temporary honesty by the magnitude of the occasion. If a trial could be slurred through with indifferent advocates, with nothing to create public notice, with no efforts of genius to attract admiration, and a large attendance and consequent sympathy the judgment would, as a matter of course, be bought. In such a case as this of Sextus Roscius, the poor wretch would be condemned, sewed up in his bag, and thrown into the sea, a portion of the plunder would be divided among the judges, and nothing further would be said about it. But if an orator could achieve for himself such a reputation that the world would come and listen to him, if he could so speak that Rome should be made to talk about the trial, then might the judges be frightened into a true verdict. It may be understood, therefore, of what importance it was to obtain the services of a Cicero, or of a Hortensius, who was unrivalled at the Roman bar when Cicero began to plead.
There were three special modes of oratory in which Cicero displayed his powers. He spoke either before the judges — a large body of judges who sat collected round the Prætor, as in the case of Sextus Roscius — or in cases of civil law before a single judge, selected by the Prætor, who sat with an assessor, as in the case of Roscius the actor, which shall be mentioned just now. This was the recognized work of his life, in which he was engaged, at any rate, in his earlier years; or he spoke to the populace, in what was called the Concio, or assembly of the people — speeches made before a crowd called together for a special purpose, as were the second and third orations against Catiline; or in the Senate, in which a political rather than a judicial sentence was sought from the votes of the Senators. There was a fourth mode of address, which in the days of the Emperors became common, when the advocate spoke “ad Principem;” that is, to the Emperor himself, or to some ruler acting for him as sole judge. It was thus that Cicero pleaded before Cæsar for Ligarius and for King Deiotarus, in the latter years of his life. In each of these a separate manner and a distinct line had to be adopted, in all of which he seems to have been equally happy, and equally powerful. In judging of his speeches, we are bound to remember that they were not probably uttered with their words arranged as we read them. Some of those we have were never spoken at all, as was the case with the five last Verrene orations, and with the second, by far the longest of the Philippics. Some, as was specially the case with the defence of Milo, the language of which is perhaps as perfect as that of any oration which has reached us from ancient or modern days, were only spoken in part; so that that which we read bears but small relation to that which was heard. All were probably retouched for publication.15 That words so perfect in their construction should have flowed from a man’s mouth, often with but little preparation, we cannot conceive. But we know from the evidence of the day, and from the character which remained of him through after Roman ages, how great was the immediate effect of his oratory. We can imagine him, in this case of Sextus Roscius, standing out in the open air in the Forum, with the movable furniture of the court around him, the seats on which the judges sat with the Prætor in the midst of them, all Senators in their white robes, with broad purple borders. There too were seated, we may suppose on lower benches, the friends of the accused and the supporters of the accusation, and around, at the back of the orator, was such a crowd as he by the character of his eloquence may have drawn to the spot. Cicero was still a young man; but his name had made itself known and we can imagine that some tidings had got abroad as to the bold words which would be spoken in reference to Sulla and Chrysogonus. The scene must have been very different from that of one of our dingy courts, in which the ermine is made splendid only by the purity and learning of the man who wears it. In Rome all exterior gifts were there. Cicero knew how to use them, so that the judges who made so large a part in the pageant should not dare to disgrace themselves because of its publicity. Quintilian gives his pupils much advice as to the way in which they should dress themselves16 and hold their togas — changing the folds of the garment so as to suit the different parts of the speech — how they should move their arms, and hold their heads, and turn their necks; even how they should comb their hair when they came to stand in public and plead at the bar. All these arts, with many changes, no doubt, as years rolled on, had come down to him from days before Cicero; but he always refers to Cicero as though his were the palmy days of Roman eloquence. We can well believe that Cicero had studied many of these arts by his twenty-seventh year — that he knew how to hold his toga and how to drop it — how to make the proper angle with his elbow — how to comb his hair, and yet not be a fop — and to add to the glory of his voice all the personal graces which were at his command.
Sextus Roscius Amerinus, with all his misfortunes, injustices, and miseries, is now to us no more than the name of a fable; but to those who know it, the fable is, I think, more attractive than most novels.
We know that Cicero pleaded other causes before he went to Greece in the year 79 B.C., especially those for Publius Quintius, of which we have his speech, and that for a lady of Arretium, in which he defended her right to be regarded as a free woman of that city. In this speech he again attacked Sulla, the rights of the lady in question having been placed in jeopardy by an enactment made by the Dictator; and again Cicero was successful. This is not extant. Then he started on his travels, as to which I have already spoken. While he was absent Sulla died, and the condition of the Republic during his absence was anything but hopeful. Lepidus was Consul during these two years, than whom no weaker officer ever held rule in Rome — or rebelled against Rome; and Sertorius, who was in truth a great man, was in arms against Rome in Spain, as a rebel, though he was in truth struggling to create a new Roman power, which should be purer than that existing in Italy. What Cicero thought of the condition of his country at this time we have no means of knowing. If he then wrote letters, they have not been preserved. His spoken words speak plainly enough of the condition of the courts of law, and let us know how resolved he was to oppose himself to their iniquities. A young man may devote himself to politics with as much ardor as a senior, but he cannot do so if he be intent on a profession. It is only when his business is so well grasped by him as to sit easily on him, that he is able to undertake the second occupation.
There is a rumor that Cicero, when he returned home from Greece, thought for awhile of giving himself up to philosophy, so that he was called Greek and Sophist in ridicule. It is not, however, to be believed that he ever for a moment abandoned the purpose he had formed for his own career. It will become evident as we go on with his life, that this so-called philosophy of the Greeks was never to him a matter of more than interesting inquiry. A full, active, human life, in which he might achieve for himself all the charms of high rank, gilded by intelligence, erudition, and refined luxury, in which also he might serve his country, his order, and his friends — just such a life as our leading men propose to themselves here, today, in our country — this is what Cicero had determined to achieve from his earliest years, and it was not likely that he should be turned from it by the pseudo logic of Greek philosophers. That the logic even of the Academy was false to him we have ample evidence, not only in his life but in his writings. There is a story that, during his travels, he consulted the oracle at Delphi as to his future career, and that on being told that he must look to his own genius and not to the opinion of the world at large, he determined to abandon the honors of the Republic. That he should have talked among the young men of the day of his philosophic investigations till they laughed at him and gave him a nickname, may be probable, but it cannot have been that he ever thought of giving up the bar.
In the year of his return to Rome, when he was thirty, he married Terentia, a noble lady, of whom we are informed that she had a good fortune, and that her sister was one of the Vestal Virgins.17 Her nobility is inferred from the fact that the virgins were, as a rule, chosen from the noble families, though the law required only that they should be the daughters of free parents, and of persons engaged in no mean pursuits. As to the more important question of Terentia’s fortune there has never been a doubt. Plutarch, however, does not make it out to have been very great, assuming a sum which was equal to about £4200 of our money. He tells us at the same time that Cicero’s own fortune was less than £4000. But in both of these statements, Plutarch, who was forced to take his facts where he could get them, and was not very particular in his authority, probably erred. The early education of Cicero, and the care taken to provide him with all that money could purchase, is, I think, conclusive of his father’s wealth; and the mode of life adopted by Cicero shows that at no period did he think it necessary to live as men do live with small incomes.
We shall find, as we go on, that he spent his money freely, as men did at Rome who had the command of large means. We are aware that he was often in debt. We find that from his letters. But he owed money not as a needy man does, but as one who is speculative, sanguine, and quite confident of his own resources. The management of incomes was not so fixed a thing then as it is with us now. Speculation was even more rampant, and rising men were willing and were able to become indebted for enormous sums, having no security to offer but the promise of their future career. Cæsar’s debts during various times of his life were proverbial. He is said to have owed over £300,000 before he reached his first step in the public employment. Cicero rushed into no such danger as this. We know, indeed, that when the time came to him for public expenditure on a great scale, as, for instance, when he was filling the office of Ædile, he kept within bounds, and he did not lavish money which he did not possess. We know also that he refrained, altogether refrained, from the iniquitous habits of making large fortunes which were open to the great politicians of the Republic. To be Quæstor that he might be Ædile, Ædile that he might be Prætor and Consul, and Prætor and Consul that he might rob a province — pillage Sicily, Spain, or Asia, and then at last come back a rich man, rich enough to cope with all his creditors, and to bribe the judges should he be accused for his misdeeds — these were the usual steps to take by enterprising Romans toward power, wealth, and enjoyment. But it will be observed, in this sequence of circumstances, the robbery of the province was essential to success. This was sometimes done after so magnificent a fashion as to have become an immortal fact in history. The instance of Verres will be narrated in the next chapter but one. Something of moderation was more general, so that the fleeced provincial might still live, and prefer sufferance to the doubtful chances of recovery. A Proconsul might rob a great deal, and still return with hands apparently clean, bringing with him a score of provincial Deputies to laud his goodness before the citizens at home. But Cicero robbed not at all. Even they who have been most hard upon his name, accusing him of insincerity and sometimes of want of patriotism, because his Roman mode of declaring himself without reserve in his letters has been perpetuated for us by the excellence of their language, even they have acknowledged that he kept his hands studiously clean in the service of his country, when to have clean hands was so peculiar as to be regarded as absurd.
There were other means in which a noble Roman might make money, and might do so without leaving the city. An orator might be paid for his services as an advocate. Cicero, had such a trade been opened to him, might have made almost any sum to which his imagination could have stretched itself. Such a trade was carried on to a very great extent. It was illegal, such payment having been forbidden by the “Lex Cincia De Muneribus,” passed more than a century before Cicero began his pleadings.18 But the law had become a dead letter in the majority of cases. There can be no doubt that Hortensius, the predecessor and great rival of Cicero, took presents, if not absolute payment. Indeed, the myth of honorary work, which is in itself absurd, was no more practicable in Rome than it has been found to be in England, where every barrister is theoretically presumed to work for nothing. That the “Lex Cincia,” as far as the payment of advocates went, was absurd, may be allowed by us all. Services for which no regular payment can be exacted will always cost more than those which have a defined price. But Cicero would not break the law. It has been hinted rather than stated that he, like other orators of the day, had his price. He himself tells us that he took nothing; and no instance has been adduced that he had ever done so. He is free enough in accusing Hortensius of having accepted a beautiful statuette, an ivory sphinx of great value. What he knew of Hortensius, Hortensius would have known of him, had it been there to know; and what Hortensius or others had heard would certainly have been told. As far as we can learn, there is no ground for accusing Cicero of taking fees or presents beyond the probability that he would do so. I think we are justified in believing that he did not do so, because those who watched his conduct closely found no opportunity of exposing him. That he was paid by different allied States for undertaking their protection in the Senate, is probable, such having been a custom not illegal. We know that he was specially charged with the affairs of Dyrrachium, and had probably amicable relations with other allied communities. This, however, must have been later in life, when his name was sufficiently high to insure the value of his services, and when he was a Senator.
Noble Romans also — noble as they were, and infinitely superior to the little cares of trade — were accustomed to traffic very largely in usury. We shall have a terrible example of such baseness on the part of Brutus — that Brutus whom we have been taught to regard as almost on a par with Cato in purity. To lend money to citizens, or more profitably to allied States and cities, at enormous rates of interest, was the ordinary resource of a Roman nobleman in quest of revenue. The allied city, when absolutely eaten to the bone by one noble Roman, who had plundered it as Proconsul or Governor, would escape from its immediate embarrassment by borrowing money from another noble Roman, who would then grind its very bones in exacting his interest and his principal. Cicero, in the most perfect of his works — the treatise De Officiis, an essay in which he instructs his son as to the way in which a man should endeavor to live so as to be a gentleman — inveighs both against trade and usury. When he tells us that they are to be accounted mean who buy in order that they may sell, we, with our later lights, do not quite agree with him, although he founds his assertion on an idea which is too often supported by the world’s practice, namely, that men cannot do a retail business profitably without lying.19 The doctrine, however, has always been common that retail trade is not compatible with noble bearing, and was practised by all Romans who aspired to be considered among the upper classes. That other and certainly baser means of making money by usury was, however, only too common. Crassus, the noted rich man of Rome in Cæsar’s day, who was one of the first Triumvirate, and who perished ignominiously in Parthia, was known to have gathered much of his wealth by such means. But against this Cicero is as staunchly severe as against shopkeeping. “First of all,” he says, “these profits are despicable which incur the hatred of men, such as those of gatherers of custom and lenders of money on usury.”20
Again, we are entitled to say that Cicero did not condescend to enrich himself by the means which he himself condemns, because, had he done so, the accusations made against him by his contemporaries would have reached our ears. Nor is it probable that a man in addressing his son as to rules of life would have spoken against a method of gathering riches which, had he practised it himself, must have been known to his son. His rules were severe as compared with the habits of the time. His dear friend Atticus did not so govern his conduct, or Brutus, who, when he wrote the De Officiis, was only less dear to him than Atticus. But Cicero himself seems to have done so faithfully. We learn from his letter that he owned house-property in Rome to a considerable extent, having probably thus invested his own money or that of his wife. He inherited also the family house at Arpinum. He makes it a matter for boasting that he had received in the course of his life by legacies nearly £200,000 (twenty million sesterces), in itself a source of great income, and one common with Romans of high position.21 Of the extent of his income it is impossible to speak, or even make a guess. But we do know that he lived always as a rich man — as one who regards such a condition of life as essentially proper to him; and that though he was often in debt, as was customary with noble Romans, he could always write about his debts in a vein of pleasantry, showing that they were not a heavy burden to him; and we know that he could at all times command for himself villas, books, statues, ornaments, columns, galleries, charming shades, and all the delicious appendages of mingled wealth and intelligence. He was as might be some English marquis, who, though up to his eyes in mortgages, is quite sure that he will never want any of the luxuries befitting a marquis. Though we have no authority to tell us how his condition of life became what it was, it is necessary that we should understand that condition if we are to get a clear insight into his life. Of that condition we have ample evidence. He commenced his career as a youth upon whose behalf nothing was spared, and when he settled himself in Rome, with the purport of winning for himself the highest honors of the Republic, he did so with the means of living like a nobleman.
But the point on which it is most necessary to insist is this: that while so many — I may almost say all around him in his own order — were unscrupulous as to their means of getting money, he kept his hands clean. The practice then was much as it is now. A gentleman in our days is supposed to have his hands clean; but there has got abroad among us a feeling that, only let a man rise high enough, soil will not stick to him. To rob is base; but if you rob enough, robbery will become heroism, or, at any rate, magnificence. With Cæsar his debts have been accounted happy audacity; his pillage of Gaul and Spain, and of Rome also, have indicated only the success of the great General; his cruelty, which in cold-blooded efficiency has equalled if not exceeded the blood-thirstiness of any other tyrant, has been called clemency.22 I do not mean to draw a parallel between Cæsar and Cicero. No two men could have been more different in their natures or in their career. But the one has been lauded because he was unscrupulous, and the other has incurred reproach because, at every turn and twist in his life, scruples dominated him. I do not say that he always did what he thought to be right. A man who doubts much can never do that. The thing that was right to him in the thinking became wrong to him in the doing. That from which he has shrunk as evil when it was within his grasp, takes the color of good when it has been beyond his reach. Cicero had not the stuff in him to rule the Rome and the Romans of his period; but he was a man whose hands were free from all stain, either of blood or money; and for so much let him, at any rate, have the credit.
Between the return of Cicero to Rome in 77 B.C. and his election as Quæstor in 75, in which period he married Terentia, he made various speeches in different causes, of which only one remains to us, or rather, a small part of one. This is notable as having been spoken in behalf of that Roscius, the great comic actor, whose name has become familiar to us on account of his excellence, almost as have those of Garrick, of Siddons, and of Talma. It was a pleading as to the value of a slave, and the amount of pecuniary responsibility attaching to Roscius on account of the slave, who had been murdered when in his charge. As to the murder, no question is made. The slave was valuable, and the injury done to his master was a matter of importance. He, having been a slave, could have no stronger a claim for an injury done to himself than would a dog or a horse. The slave, whose name was Panurge — a name which has since been made famous as having been borrowed by Rabelais, probably from this occurrence, and given to his demon of mischief — showed aptitude for acting, and was therefore valuable. Then one Flavius killed him; why or how we do not know; and, having killed him, settled with Roscius for the injury by giving him a small farm. But Roscius had only borrowed or hired the man from one Chærea — or was in partnership with Chærea as to the man — and on that account paid something out of the value of the farm for the loss incurred; but the owner was not satisfied, and after a lapse of time made a further claim. Hence arose the action, in pleading which Cicero was successful. In the fragment we have of the speech there is nothing remarkable except the studied clearness of the language; but it reminds us of the opinion which Cicero had expressed of this actor in the oration which he made for Publius Quintius, who was the brother-in-law of Roscius. “He is such an actor,” says Cicero, “that there is none other on the stage worthy to be seen; and such a man that among men he is the last that should have become an actor.”23 The orator’s praise of the actor is not of much importance. Had not Roscius been great in his profession, his name would not have come down to later ages. Nor is it now matter of great interest that the actor should have been highly praised as a man by his advocate; but it is something for us to know that the stage was generally held in such low repute as to make it seem to be a pity that a good man should have taken himself to such a calling.
In the year 76 B.C. Cicero became father of a daughter, whom we shall know as Tullia — who, as she grew up, became the one person whom he loved best in all the world — and was elected Quæstor. Cicero tells us of himself that in the preceding year he had solicited the Quæstorship, when Cotta was candidate for the Consulship and Hortensius for the Prætorship. There are in the dialogue De Claris Oratoribus — which has had the name of Brutus always given to it — some passages in which the orator tells us more of himself than in any other of his works. I will annex a translation of a small portion because of its intrinsic interest; but I will relegate it to an appendix, because it is too long either for insertion in the text or for a note.24
1 Pro Sexto Roscio, ca. xxi.: “Quod antea causam publicam nullam dixerim.” He says also in the Brutus, ca. xc., “Itaque prima causa publica, pro Sex. Roscio dicta.” By “publica causa” he means a criminal accusation in distinction from a civil action.
2 Pro Publio Quintio, ca. i.: “Quod mihi consuevit in ceteris causis esse adjumento, id quoque in hac causa deficit.”
3 Pro Publio Quintio, ca. xxi.: “Nolo eam rem commemorando renovare, cujus omnino rei memoriam omnem tolli funditus ac deleri arbitror oportere.”
4 Pro Roscio, ca. xlix. Cicero says of him that he would be sure to suppose that anything would have been done according to law of which he should be told that it was done by Sulla’s order. “Putat homo imperitus morum, agricola et rusticus, ista omnia, quæ vos per Sullam gesta esse dicitis, more, lege, jure gentium facta.”
5 Pro Sexto Roscio, ca. 1.
6 Pro Sexto Roscio, ca. xxix.: “Ejusmodi tempus erat, inquit, ut homines vulgo impune occiderentur.”
7 Pro T. A. Milone, ca. xxi.: “Cur igitur cos manumisit? Metuebat scilicit ne indicarent; ne dolorem perferre non possent.”
8 Pro T. A. Milone, ca. xxii.: “Heus tu, Ruscio, verbi gratia, cave sis mentiaris. Clodius insidias fecit Miloni? Fecit. Certa crux. Nullas fecit. Sperata libertas.”
9 Pro Sexto Roscio, ca. xxviii.
11 Ibid., ca. xxxi.
12 Pro Sexto Roscio, ca. xlv.
13 Pro Sexto Roscio, ca. xlvi. The whole picture of Chrysogonus, of his house, of his luxuries, and his vanity, is too long for quotation, but is worth referring to by those who wish to see how bold and how brilliant Cicero could be.
14 They put in tablets of wax, on which they recorded their judgment by inscribing letter, C, A, or NL— Condemno, Absolvo, or Non liquet — intending to show that the means of coming to a decision did not seem to be sufficient.
15 Quintilian tells us, lib. x., ca. vii., that Cicero’s speeches as they had come to his day had been abridged — by which he probably means only arranged — by Tiro, his slave and secretary and friend. “Nam Ciceronis ad præsens modo tempus aptatos libertus Tiro contraxit.”
16 Quintilian, lib. xi., ca. iii.: “Nam et toga, et calecus, et capillus, tam nimia cura, quam negligentia, sunt reprehendenda.” * * * “Sinistrum brachium eo usque allevandum est, ut quasi normalem illum angulum faciat.” Quint., lib. xii., ca. x., “ne hirta toga sit;” don’t let the toga be rumpled; “non serica:” the silk here interdicted was the silk of effeminacy, not that silk of authority of which our barristers are proud. “Ne intonsum caput; non in gradus atque annulos comptum.” It would take too much space were I to give here all the lessons taught by this professor of deportment as to the wearing of the toga.
17 A doubt has been raised whether he was not married when he went to Greece, as otherwise his daughter would seem to have become a wife earlier than is probable. The date, however, has been generally given as it is stated here.
18 Tacitus, Annal., xi., 5, says, “Qua cavetur antiquitus, ne quis, ob causam orandam, pecuniam donumve accipiat.”
19 De Off., lib. i., ca. xlii.: “Sordidi etiam putandi, qui mercantur a mercatoribus, quod statim vendant. Nihil enim proficiunt, nisi admodum mentiantur.”
20 De Off., lib. i., ca. xlii.: “Primum improbantur ii quæstus, qui in odia hominum incurrunt: ut portitorum ut f[oe]neratorum.” The Portitores were inferior collectors of certain dues, stationed at seaports, who are supposed to have been extremely vexatious in their dealings with the public.
21 Philipp., 11–16.
22 Let any who doubt this statement refer to the fate of the inhabitants of Alesia and Uxellodunum. Cæsar did not slay or torture for the sake of cruelty, but was never deterred by humanity when expediency seemed to him to require victims. Men and women, old and young, many or few, they were sacrificed without remorse if his purpose required it.
23 Pro Pub. Quintio, ca. xxv.
24 See Appendix B, Brutus, ca. xcii., xciii.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55