The Life of Cicero, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter viii.

Cicero as Consul.

Hitherto everything had succeeded with Cicero. His fortune and his fame had gone hand-inhand. The good-will of the citizens had been accorded to him on all possible occasions. He had risen surely, if not quickly, to the top of his profession, and had so placed himself there as to have torn the wreath from the brow of his predecessor and rival, Hortensius. On no memorable occasion had he been beaten. If now and then he had failed to win a cause in which he was interested, it was as to some matter in which, as he had said to Atticus in speaking of his contemplated defence of Catiline, he was not called on to break his heart if he were beaten. We may imagine that his life had been as happy up to this point as a man’s life may be. He had married well. Children had been born to him, who were the source of infinite delight. He had provided himself with houses, marbles, books, and all the intellectual luxuries which well-used wealth could produce. Friends were thick around him. His industry, his ability, and his honesty were acknowledged. The citizens had given him all that it was in their power to give. Now at the earliest possible day, with circumstances of much more than usual honor, he was put in the highest place which his country had to offer, and knew himself to be the one man in whom his country at this moment trusted. Then came the one twelve-month, the apex of his fortunes; and after that, for the twenty years that followed, there fell upon him one misery after another — one trouble on the head of another trouble — so cruelly that the reader, knowing the manner of the Romans, almost wonders that he condescended to live.

B.C. 64, ætat. 43.

He was chosen Consul, we are told, not by the votes but by the unanimous acclamation of the citizens. What was the exact manner of doing this we can hardly now understand. The Consuls were elected by ballot, wooden tickets having been distributed to the people for the purpose; but Cicero tells us that no voting tickets were used in his case, but that he was elected by the combined voice of the whole people.1

He had stood with six competitors. Of these it is only necessary to mention two, as by them only was Cicero’s life affected, and as out of the six, only they seem to have come prominently forward during the canvassing. These were Catiline the conspirator, as we shall have to call him in dealing with his name in the next chapter, and Caius Antonius, one of the sons of Marc Antony, the great orator of the preceding age, and uncle of the Marc Antony with whom we are all so well acquainted, and with whom we shall have so much to do before we get to the end of this work. Cicero was so easily the first that it may be said of him that he walked over the course. Whether this was achieved by the Machiavellian arts which his brother Quintus taught in his treatise De Petitione Consulatus, or was attributable to his general popularity, may be a matter of doubt. As far as we can judge from the signs which remain to us of the public feeling of the period, it seems that he was at this time regarded with singular affection by his countrymen. He had robbed none, and had been cruel to no one. He had already abandoned the profit of provincial government — to which he was by custom entitled after the lapse of his year’s duty as Prætor — in order that he might remain in Rome among the people. Though one of the Senate himself — and full of the glory of the Senate, as he had declared plainly enough in that passage from one of the Verrine orations which I have quoted — he had generally pleaded on the popular side. Such was his cleverness, that even when on the unpopular side — as he may be supposed to have been when defending Fonteius — he had given a popular aspect to the cause in hand. We cannot doubt, judging from the loud expression of the people’s joy at his election, that he had made himself beloved But, nevertheless, he omitted none of those cares which it was expected that a candidate should take. He made his electioneering speech “in toga candida”— in a white robe, as candidates did, and were thence so called. It has not come down to us, nor do we regret it, judging from the extracts which have been collected from the notes which Asconius wrote upon it. It was full of personal abuse of Antony and Catiline, his competitors. Such was the practice of Rome at this time, as it was also with us not very long since. We shall have more than enough of such eloquence before we have done our task. When we come to the language in which Cicero spoke of Clodius, his enemy, of Piso and Gabinius, the Consuls who allowed him to be banished, and of Marc Antony, his last great opponent — the nephew of the man who was now his colleague — we shall have very much of it. It must again be pleaded that the foul abuse which fell from other lips has not been preserved and that Cicero, therefore, must not be supposed to have been more foul mouthed than his rivals. We can easily imagine that he was more bitter than others, because he had more power to throw into his words the meaning which he intended them to convey.

Antony was chosen as Cicero’s colleague. It seems, from such evidence as we are able to get on the subject, that Cicero trusted Antony no better than he did Catiline, but, appreciating the wisdom of the maxim, “divide et impera”— separate your enemies and you will get the better of them, which was no doubt known as well then as now — he soon determined to use Antony as his ally against Catiline, who was presumed to reckon Antony among his fellow-conspirators. Sallust puts into the mouth of Catiline a declaration to this effect,2 and Cicero did use Antony for the purpose. The story of Catiline’s conspiracy is so essentially the story of Cicero’s Consulship, that I may be justified in hurrying over the other events of his year’s rule; but still there is something that must be told. Though Catiline’s conduct was under his eye during the whole year, it was not till October that the affairs in which we shall have to interest ourselves commenced.

Of what may have been the nature of the administrative work done by the great Roman officers of State we know very little; perhaps I might better say that we know nothing. Men, in their own diaries, when they keep them, or even in their private letters, are seldom apt to say much of those daily doings which are matter of routine to themselves, and are by them supposed to be as little interesting to others. A Prime-minister with us, were he as prone to reveal himself in correspondence as was Cicero with his friend Atticus, would hardly say when he went to the Treasury Chambers or what he did when he got there. We may imagine that to a Cabinet Minister even a Cabinet Council would, after many sittings, become a matter of course. A leading barrister would hardly leave behind him a record of his work in chambers. It has thus come to pass that, though we can picture to ourselves a Cicero before the judges, or addressing the people from the rostra, or uttering his opinion in the Senate, we know nothing of him as he sat in his office and did his consular work. We cannot but suppose that there must have been an office with many clerks. There must have been heavy daily work. The whole operation of government was under the Consul’s charge, and to Cicero, with a Catiline on his hands, this must have been more than usually heavy. How he did it, with what assistance, sitting at what writing-table, dressed in what robes, with what surroundings of archives and red tape, I cannot make manifest to myself. I can imagine that there must have been much of dignity, as there was with all leading Romans, but beyond that I cannot advance even in fancying what was the official life of a Consul.

In the old days the Consul used, as a matter of course, to go out and do the fighting. When there was an enemy here, or an enemy there, the Consul was bound to hurry off with his army, north or south, to different parts of Italy. But gradually this system became impracticable. Distances became too great, as the Empire extended itself beyond the bounds of Italy, to admit of the absence of the Consuls. Wars prolonged themselves through many campaigns, as notably did that which was soon to take place in Gaul under Cæsar. The Consuls remained at home, and Generals were sent out with proconsular authority. This had become so certainly the case, that Cicero on becoming Consul had no fear of being called on to fight the enemies of his country. There was much fighting then in course of being done by Pompey in the East; but this would give but little trouble to the great officers at home, unless it might be in sending out necessary supplies.

The Consul’s work, however, was severe enough. We find from his own words, in a letter to Atticus written in the year but one after his Consulship, 61 B.C., that as Consul he made twelve public addresses. Each of them must have been a work of labor, requiring a full mastery over the subject in hand, and an arrangement of words very different in their polished perfection from the generality of parliamentary speeches to which we are accustomed. The getting up of his cases must have taken great time. Letters went slowly and at a heavy cost. Writing must have been tedious when that most common was done with a metal point on soft wax. An advocate who was earnest in a case had to do much for himself. We have heard how Cicero made his way over to Sicily, creeping in a little boat through the dangers prepared for him, in order that he might get up the evidence against Verres. In defending Aulus Cluentius when he was Prætor, Cicero must have found the work to have been immense. In preparing the attack upon Catiline it seems that every witness was brought to himself. There were four Catiline speeches made in the year of his Consulship, but in the same year many others were delivered by him. He mentions, as we shall see just now, twelve various speeches made in the year of his Consulship.

I imagine that the words spoken can in no case have been identical with those which have come to us — which were, as we may say, prepared for the press by Tiro, his slave and secretary. We have evidence as to some of them, especially as to the second Catiline oration, that time did not admit of its being written and learned by heart after the occurrence of the circumstances to which it alludes. It needs must have been extemporary, with such mental preparation as one night may have sufficed to give him. How the words may have been taken down in such a case we do not quite know; but we are aware that short-hand writers were employed, though there can hardly have been a science of stenography perfected as is that with us.3 The words which we read were probably much polished before they were published, but how far this was done we do not know. What we do know is that the words which he spoke moved, convinced, and charmed those who heard them, as do the words we read move, convince and charm us. Of these twelve consular speeches Cicero gives a special account to his friend. “I will send you,” he says, “the speechlings4 which you require, as well as some others, seeing that those which I have written out at the request of a few young men please you also. It was an advantage to me here to follow the example of that fellow-citizen of yours in those orations which he called his Philippics. In these he brightened himself up, and discarded his ‘nisi prius’ way of speaking, so that he might achieve something more dignified, something more statesman-like. So I have done with these speeches of mine which may be called ‘consulares,’” as having been made not only in his consular year but also with something of consular dignity. “Of these, one, on the new land laws proposed, was spoken in the Senate on the kalends of January. The second, on the same subject, to the people. The third was respecting Otho’s law.5 The fourth was in defence of Rabirius.6 The fifth was in reference to the children of those who had lost their property and their rank under Sulla’s proscription.7 The sixth was an address to the people, and explained why I renounced my provincial government.8 The seventh drove Catiline out of the city. The eighth was addressed to the people the day after Catiline fled. The ninth was again spoken to the people, on the day on which the Allobroges gave their evidence. Then, again, the tenth was addressed to the Senate on the fifth of December”— also respecting Catiline. “There are also two short supplementary speeches on the Agrarian war. You shall have the whole body of them. As what I write and what I do are equally interesting to you, you will gather from the same documents all my doings and all my sayings.”

It is not to be supposed that in this list are contained all the speeches which he made in his consular year, but those only which he made as Consul — those to which he was desirous of adding something of the dignity of statesmanship, something beyond the weight attached to his pleadings as a lawyer. As an advocate, Consul though he was, he continued to perform his work; from whence we learn that no State dignity was so high as to exempt an established pleader from the duty of defending his friends. Hortensius, when Consul elect, had undertaken to defend Verres. Cicero defended Murena when he was Consul. He defended C. Calpurnius Piso also, who was accused, as were so many, of proconsular extortion; but whether in this year or in the preceding is not, I think, known.9 Of his speech on that occasion we have nothing remaining. Of his pleading for Murena we have, if not the whole, the material part, and, though nobody cares very much for Murena now, the oration is very amusing. It was made toward the end of the year, on the 20th of November, after the second Catiline oration, and before the third, at the very moment in which Cicero was fully occupied with the evidence on which he intended to convict Catiline’s fellow-conspirators. As I read it I am carried away by wonder, rather than admiration, at the energy of the man who could at such a period of his life give up his time to master the details necessary for the trial of Murena.

Early in the year Cicero had caused a law to be passed — which, after him, was called the Lex Tullia — increasing the stringency of the enactments against bribery on the part of consular candidates. His intention had probably been to hinder Catiline, who was again about to become a candidate. But Murena, who was elected, was supposed to have been caught in the meshes of the net, and also Silanus, the other Consul designate. Cato, the man of stern nature, the great Stoic of the day, was delighted to have an opportunity of proceeding against some one, and not very sorry to attack Murena with weapons provided from the armory of Murena’s friend, Cicero. Silanus, however, who happened to be cousin to Cato, was allowed to pass unmolested. Sulpicius, who was one of the disappointed candidates, Cato, and Postumius were the accusers. Hortensius, Crassus, and Cicero were combined together for the defence of Murena. But as we read the single pleading that has come to us, we feel that, unlike those Roman trials generally, this was carried on without any acrimony on either side. I think it must have been that Cato wished to have an opportunity of displaying his virtue, but it had been arranged that Murena was to be acquitted. Murena was accused, among other things, of dancing! Greeks might dance, as we hear from Cornelius Nepos,10 but for a Roman Consul it would be disgraceful in the highest extreme. A lady, indeed, might dance, but not much. Sallust tells us of Sempronia — who was, indeed, a very bad female if all that he says of her be true — that she danced more elegantly than became an honest woman.11 She was the wife of a Consul. But a male Roman of high standing might not dance at all. Cicero defends his friend by showing how impossible it was — how monstrous the idea. “No man would dance unless drunk or mad.” Nevertheless, I imagine that Murena had danced.

Cicero seizes an opportunity of quizzing Cato for his stoicism, and uses it delightfully. Horace was not more happy when, in defence of Aristippus, he declared that any philosopher would turn up his nose at cabbage if he could get himself asked to the tables of rich men.12 “There was one Zeno,” Cicero says, “who laid down laws. No wise man would forgive any fault. No man worthy of the name of man would allow himself to be pitiful. Wise men are beautiful, even though deformed; rich though penniless; kings though they be slaves. We who are not wise are mere exiles, runagates, enemies of our country, and madmen. Any fault is an unpardonable crime. To kill an old cock, if you do not want it, is as bad as to murder your father!”13 And these doctrines, he goes on to say, which are used by most of us merely as something to talk about, this man Cato absolutely believes, and tries to live by them. I shall have to refer back to this when I speak of Cicero’s philosophy more at length; but his common-sense crops up continually in the expressions which he uses for defending the ordinary conditions of a man’s life, in opposition to that impossible superiority to mundane things which the philosophers professed to teach their pupils. He turns to Cato and asks him questions, which he answers himself with his own philosophy: “Would you pardon nothing? Well, yes; but not all things. Would you do nothing for friendship? Sometimes, unless duty should stand in the way. Would you never be moved to pity? I would maintain my habit of sincerity, but something must no doubt be allowed to humanity. It is good to stick to your opinion, but only until some better opinion shall have prevailed with you.” In all this the humanity of our Cicero, as opposed equally to the impossible virtue of a Cato or the abominable vice of a Verres, is in advance of his age, and reminds us of what Christ has taught us.

But the best morsel in the whole oration is that in which he snubs the lawyers. It must be understood that Cicero did not pride himself on being a lawyer. He was an advocate, and if he wanted law there were those of an inferior grade to whom he could go to get it. In truth, he did understand the law, being a man of deep research, who inquired into everything. As legal points had been raised, he thus addresses Sulpicius, who seems to have affected a knowledge of jurisprudence, who had been a candidate for the Consulship, and who was his own intimate friend: “I must put you out of your conceit,” he says; “it was your other gifts, not a knowledge of the laws — your moderation, your wisdom, your justice — which, in my opinion, made you worthy of being loved. I will not say you threw away your time in studying law, but it was not thus you made yourself worthy of the Consulship.14 That power of eloquence, majestic and full of dignity which has so often availed in raising a man to the Consulship, is able by its words to move the minds of the Senate and the people and the judges.15 But in such a poor science as that of law what honor can there be? Its details are taken up with mere words and fragments of words.16 They forget all equity in points of law, and stick to the mere letter.”17 He goes through a presumed scene of chicanery, which, Consul as he was, he must have acted before the judges and the people, no doubt to the extreme delight of them all. At last he says, “Full as I am of business, if you raise my wrath I will make myself a lawyer, and learn it all in three days.”18 From these and many other passages in Cicero’s writings and speeches, and also from Quintilian, we learn that a Roman advocate was by no means the same as an English barrister. The science which he was supposed to have learned was simply that of telling his story in effective language. It no doubt came to pass that he had much to do in getting up the details of his story — what we may call the evidence — but he looked elsewhere, to men of another profession, for his law. The “juris consultus” or the “juris peritus” was the lawyer, and as such was regarded as being of much less importance than the “patronus” or advocate, who stood before the whole city and pleaded the cause. In this trial of Murena, who was by trade a soldier, it suited Cicero to belittle lawyers and to extol the army. When he is telling Sulpicius that it was not by being a lawyer that a man could become Consul, he goes on to praise the high dignity of his client’s profession. “The greatest glory is achieved by those who excel in battle. All our empire, all our republic, is defended and made strong by them.”19 It was thus that the advocate could speak! This comes from the man who always took glory to himself in declaring that the “toga” was superior to helmet and shield. He had already declared that they erred who thought that they were going to get his own private opinion in speeches made in law courts.20 He knew how to defend his friend Murena, who was a soldier, and in doing so could say very sharp things, though yet in joke, against his friend Sulpicius, the lawyer. But in truth few men understood the Roman law better than did Cicero.

But we must go back to that agrarian law respecting which, as he tells us, four of his consular speeches were made. This had been brought forward by Rullus, one of the Tribunes, toward the end of the last year. The Tribunes came into office in December, whereas at this period of the Republic the Consuls were in power only on and from January 1st. Cicero, who had been unable to get the particulars of the new law till it had been proclaimed, had but a few days to master its details. It was, to his thinking, altogether revolutionary. We have the words of many of the clauses; and though it is difficult at this distance of time to realize what would have been its effect, I think we are entitled to say that it was intended to subvert all property. Property, speaking of it generally, cannot be destroyed The land remains, and the combined results of man’s industry are too numerous, too large, and too lasting to become a wholesale prey to man’s anger or madness. Even the elements when out of order can do but little toward perfecting destruction. A deluge is wanted — or that crash of doom which, whether it is to come or not, is believed by the world to be very distant. But it is within human power to destroy possession, and redistribute the goods which industry, avarice, or perhaps injustice has congregated. They who own property are in these days so much stronger than those who have none, that an idea of any such redistribution does not create much alarm among the possessors. The spirit of communism does not prevail among people who have learned that it is, in truth, easier to earn than to steal. But with the Romans political economy had naturally not advanced so far as with us. A subversion of property had to a great extent taken place no later than in Sulla’s time. How this had been effected the story of the property of Roscius Amerinus has explained to us. Under Sulla’s enactments no man with a house, with hoarded money, with a family of slaves, with rich ornaments, was safe. Property had been made to change hands recklessly, ruthlessly, violently, by the illegal application of a law promulgated by a single individual, who, however, had himself been instigated by no other idea than that of reestablishing the political order of things which he approved. Rullus, probably with other motives, was desirous of effecting a subversion which, though equally great, should be made altogether in a different direction. The ostensible purpose was something as follows: as the Roman people had by their valor and wisdom achieved for Rome great victories, and therefore great wealth, they, as Roman citizens, were entitled to the enjoyment of what they had won; whereas, in fact, the sweets of victory fell to the lot only of a few aristocrats. For the reform of this evil it should be enacted that all public property which had been thus acquired, whether land or chattels, should be sold, and with the proceeds other lands should be bought fit for the use of Roman citizens, and be given to those who would choose to have it. It was specially suggested that the rich country called the Campania — that in which Naples now stands with its adjacent isles — should be bought up and given over to a great Roman colony. For the purpose of carrying out this law ten magistrates should be appointed, with plenipotentiary power both as to buying and selling. There were many underplots in this. No one need sell unless he chose to sell; but at this moment much land was held by no other title than that of Sulla’s proscriptions. The present possessors were in daily fear of dispossession, by some new law made with the object of restoring their property to those who had been so cruelly robbed. These would be very glad to get any price in hand for land of which their tenure was so doubtful; and these were the men whom the “decemviri,” or ten magistrates, would be anxious to assist. We are told that the father-in-law of Rullus himself had made a large acquisition by his use of Sulla’s proscriptions. And then there would be the instantaneous selling of the vast districts obtained by conquest and now held by the Roman State. When so much land would be thrown into the market it would be sold very cheap and would be sold to those whom the “decemviri” might choose to favor. We can hardly now hope to unravel all the intended details, but we may be sure that the basis on which property stood would have been altogether changed by the measure. The “decemviri” were to have plenary power for ten years. All the taxes in all the provinces were to be sold, or put up to market. Everything supposed to belong to the Roman State was to be sold in every province, for the sake of collecting together a huge sum of money, which was to be divided in the shape of land among the poorer Romans. Whatever may have been the private intentions of Rullus, whether good or bad, it is evident, even at this distance of time, that a redistribution of property was intended which can only be described as a general subversion. To this the new Consul opposed himself vehemently, successfully, and, we must needs say, patriotically.

The intense interest which Cicero threw into his work is as manifest in these agrarian orations as in those subsequently made as to the Catiline conspiracy. He ascends in his energy to a dignity of self-praise which induces the reader to feel that a man who could so speak of himself without fear of contradiction had a right to assert the supremacy of his own character and intellect. He condescends, on the other hand, to a virulence of personal abuse against Rullus which, though it is to our taste offensive, is, even to us, persuasive, making us feel that such a man should not have undertaken such a work. He is describing the way in which the bill was first introduced: “Our Tribunes at last enter upon their office. The harangue to be made by Rullus is especially expected. He is the projector of the law, and it was expected that he would carry himself with an air of special audacity. When he was only Tribune elect he began to put on a different countenance, to speak with a different voice, to walk with a different step. We all saw how he appeared with soiled raiment, with his person uncared for, and foul with dirt, with his hair and beard uncombed and untrimmed.”21 In Rome men under afflictions, particularly if under accusation, showed themselves in soiled garments so as to attract pity, and the meaning here is that Rullus went about as though under grief at the condition of his poor fellow-citizens, who were distressed by the want of this agrarian law. No description could be more likely to turn an individual into ridicule than this of his taking upon himself to represent in his own person the sorrows of the city. The picture of the man with the self-assumed garments of public woe, as though he were big enough to exhibit the grief of all Rome, could not but be effective. It has been supposed that Cicero was insulting the Tribune because he was dirty. Not so. He was ridiculing Rullus because Rullus had dared to go about in mourning —“sordidatus”— on behalf of his country.

But the tone in which Cicero speaks of himself is magnificent. It is so grand as to make us feel that a Consul of Rome, who had the cares of Rome on his shoulders, was entitled to declare his own greatness to the Senate and to the people. There are the two important orations — that spoken first in the Senate, and then the speech to the people from which I have already quoted the passage personal to Rullus. In both of them he declares his own idea of a Consul, and of himself as Consul. He has been speaking of the effect of the proposed law on the revenues of the State, and then proceeds: “But I pass by what I have to say on that matter and reserve it for the people. I speak now of the danger which menaces our safety and our liberty. For what will there be left to us untouched in the Republic, what will remain of your authority and freedom, when Rullus, and those whom you fear much more than Rullus,22 with this band of ready knaves, with all the rascaldom of Rome, laden with gold and silver, shall have seized on Capua and all the cities round? To all this, Senators”— Patres conscripti he calls them —“I will oppose what power I have. As long as I am Consul I will not suffer them to carry out their designs against the Republic.

“But you, Rullus, and those who are with you, have been mistaken grievously in supposing that you will be regarded as friends of the people in your attempts to subvert the Republic in opposition to a Consul who is known in very truth to be the people’s friend I call upon you, I invite you to meet me in the assembly. Let us have the people of Rome as a judge between us. Let us look round and see what it is that the people really desire. We shall find that there is nothing so dear to them as peace and quietness and ease. You have handed over the city to me full of anxiety, depressed with fear, disturbed by these projected laws and seditious assemblies.” (It must be remembered that he had only on that very day begun his Consulship) “The wicked you have filled with hope, the good with fear. You have robbed the Forum of loyalty and the Republic of dignity. But now, when in the midst of these troubles of mind and body, when in this great darkness the voice and the authority of the Consul has been heard by the people — when he shall have made it plain that there is no cause for fear, that no strange army shall enroll itself, no bands collect themselves; that there shall be no new colonies, no sale of the revenue, no altered empire, no royal ‘decemvirs,’ no second Rome, no other centre of rule but this; that while I am Consul there shall be perfect peace, perfect ease — do you suppose that I shall dread the superior popularity of your new agrarian law? Shall I, do you think, be afraid to hold my own against you in an assembly of the citizens when I shall have exposed the iniquity of your designs, the fraud of this law, the plots which your Tribunes of the people, popular as they think themselves, have contrived against the Roman people? Shall I fear — I who have determined to be Consul after that fashion in which alone a man may do so in dignity and freedom, reaching to ask nothing for myself which any Tribune could object to have given to me?”23

This was to the Senate, but he is bolder still when he addresses the people. He begins by reminding them that it has always been the custom of the great officers of state, who have enjoyed the right of having in their houses the busts and images of their ancestors, in their first speech to the people to join with thanks for the favors done to themselves some records of the noble deeds done by their forefathers.24 He, however, could do nothing of the kind: he had no such right: none in his family had achieved such dignity. To speak of himself might seem too proud, but to be silent would be ungrateful. Therefore would he restrain himself, but would still say something, so that he might acknowledge what he had received. Then he would leave it for them to judge whether he had deserved what they had done for him.

“It is long ago — almost beyond the memory of us now here — since you last made a new man Consul.25 That high office the nobles had reserved for themselves, and defended it, as it were, with ramparts. You have secured it for me, so that in future it shall be open to any who may be worthy of it. Nor have you only made me a Consul, much as that is, but you have done so in such a fashion that but few among the old nobles have been so treated, and no new man —‘novus ante me nemo.’ I have, if you will think of it, been the only new man who has stood for the Consulship in the first year in which it was legal, and who has got it.” Then he goes on to remind them, in words which I have quoted before, that they had elected him by their unanimous voices. All this, he says, had been very grateful to him, but he had quite understood that it had been done that he might labor on their behalf. That such labor was severe, he declares. The Consulship itself must be defended. His period of Consulship to any Consul must be a year of grave responsibility, but more so to him than to any other. To him, should he be in doubt, the great nobles would give no kind advice. To him, should he be overtasked, they would give no assistance. But the first thing he would look for should be their good opinion. To declare now, before the people, that he would exercise his office for the good of the people was his natural duty. But in that place, in which it was difficult to speak after such a fashion, in the Senate itself, on the very first day of his Consulship, he had declared the same thing —“popularem me futurum esse consulem.”26

The course he had to pursue was noble, but very difficult. He desired, certainly, to be recognized as a friend of the people, but he desired so to befriend them that he might support also at the same time the power of the aristocracy. He still believed, as we cannot believe now, that there was a residuum of good in the Senate sufficient to blossom forth into new powers of honest government. When speaking to the oligarchs in the Senate of Rullus and his land law, it was easy enough to carry them with him. That a Consul should oppose a Tribune who was coming forward with a “Lex agraria” in his hands, as the latest disciple of the Gracchi, was not out of the common order of things. Another Consul would either have looked for popularity and increased power of plundering, as Antony might have done, or have stuck to his order, as he would have called it — as might have been the case with the Cottas, Lepiduses and Pisos of preceding years. But Cicero determined to oppose the demagogue Tribune by proving himself to the people to be more of a demagogue than he. He succeeded, and Rullus with his agrarian law was sent back into darkness. I regard the second speech against Rullus as the ne plus ultra, the very beau ideal of a political harangue to the people on the side of order and good government.

I cannot finish this chapter, in which I have attempted to describe the lesser operations of Cicero’s Consulship, without again alluding to the picture drawn by Virgil of a great man quelling the storms of a seditious rising by the gravity of his presence and the weight of his words.27 The poet surely had in his memory some occasion in which had taken place this great triumph of character and intellect combined. When the knights, during Cicero’s Consulship essayed to take their privileged places in the public theatre, in accordance with a law passed by Roscius Otho a few years earlier (B.C. 68), the founder of the obnoxious law himself entered the building. The people, enraged against a man who had interfered with them and their pleasures, and who had brought them, as it were under new restraints from the aristocracy, arose in a body and began to break everything that came to hand. “Tum pietate gravem!” The Consul was sent for. He called on the people to follow him out of the theatre to the Temple of Bellona, and there addressed to them that wonderful oration by which they were sent away not only pacified but in good-humor with Otho himself. “Iste regit dictis animos et pectora mulcet.” I have spoken of Pliny’s eulogy as to the great Consul’s doings of the year. The passage is short and I will translate it:28 “But, Marcus Tullius, how shall I reconcile it to myself to be silent as to you, or by what special glory shall I best declare your excellence? How better than by referring to the grand testimony given to you by the whole nation, and to the achievements of your Consulship as a specimen of your entire life? At your voice the tribes gave up their agrarian law, which was as the very bread in their mouths. At your persuasion they pardoned Otho his law and bore with good-humor the difference of the seats assigned to them. At your prayer the children of the proscribed forbore from demanding their rights of citizenship. Catiline was put to flight by your skill and eloquence. It was you who silenced29 M. Antony. Hail, thou who wert first addressed as the father of your country — the first who, in the garb of peace, hast deserved a triumph and won the laurel wreath of eloquence.” This was grand praise to be spoken of a man more than a hundred years after his death, by one who had no peculiar sympathies with him other than those created by literary affinity.

None of Cicero’s letters have come to us from the year of his Consulship.

1 De Lege Agraria, ii., 2: “Meis comitiis non tabellam, vindicem tacitæ libertatis, sed vocem vivam præ vobis, indicem vestrarum erga me voluntatum ac studiorum tulistis. Itaque me * * * una voce universus populus Romanus consulem declaravit.”

2 Sall., Conj. Catilinaria, xxi.: “Petere consulatum C. Antonium, quem sibi collegam fore speraret, hominem et familiarem, et omnibus necessitudinibus circumventum.” Sallust would no doubt have put anything into Catiline’s mouth which would suit his own purpose; but it was necessary for his purpose that he should confine himself to credibilities.

3 Cicero himself tells us that many short-hand writers were sent by him —“Plures librarii,” as he calls them — to take down the words of the Agrarian law which Rullus proposed. De Lege Agra., ii., 5. Pliny, Quintilian, and Martial speak of these men as Notarii. Martial explains the nature of their business:

“Currant verba licet, manus est velocior illis;

Nondum lingua suum, dextra peregit opus.”— xiv., 208.

4Ad Att., ii., 1. “Oratiunculas,” he calls them. It would seem here that he pretends to have preserved these speeches only at the request of some admiring young friends. Demosthenes, of course, was the “fellow-citizen,” so called in badinage, because Atticus, deserting Rome, lived much at Athens.

5 This speech, which has been lost, was addressed to the people with the view of reconciling them to a law in accordance with which the Equites were entitled to special seats in the theatre. It was altogether successful.

6 This, which is extant, was spoken in defence of an old man who was accused of a political homicide thirty-seven years before — of having killed, that is, Saturninus the Tribune. Cicero was unsuccessful, but Rabirius was saved by the common subterfuge of an interposition of omens. There are some very fine passages in this oration.

7 This has been lost. Cicero, though he acknowledged the iniquity of Sulla’s proscriptions, showed that their effects could not now be reversed without further revolutions. He gained his point on this occasion.

8 This has been lost. Cicero, in accordance with the practice of the time, was entitled to the government of a province when ceasing to be Consul. The rich province of Macedonia fell to him by lot, but he made it over to his colleague Antony, thus purchasing, if not Antony’s cooperation, at any rate his quiescence, in regard to Catiline. He also made over the province of Gaul, which then fell to his lot, to Metellus, not wishing to leave the city. All this had to be explained to the people.

9 It will be seen that he also defended Rabirius in his consular year, but had thought fit to include that among his consular speeches. Some doubt has been thrown, especially by Mr. Tyrrell, on the genuineness of Cicero’s letter giving the list of his “oratiunculas consulares,” because the speeches Pro Murena and Pro Pisone are omitted, and as containing some “rather unCiceronian expressions.” My respect for Mr. Tyrrell’s scholarship and judgment is so great that I hardly dare to express an opinion contrary to his; but I should be sorry to exclude a letter so Ciceronian in its feeling. And if we are to have liberty to exclude without evidence, where are we to stop?

10 Corn. Nepo., Epaminondas, I.: “We know that with us” (Romans) “music is foreign to the employments of a great man. To dance would amount to a vice. But these things among the Greeks are not only pleasant but praiseworthy.”

11 Conj. Catilinaria, xxv.

12 Horace, Epis. i., xvii.:

“Si sciret regibus uti

Fastidiret olus qui me notat.”

13 Pro Murena, xxix.

14 Pro Murena, x. This Sulpicius was afterward Consul with M. Marcellus, and in the days of the Philippics was sent as one of a deputation to Antony. He died while on the journey. He is said to have been a man of excellent character, and a thorough-going conservative.

15 Pro Murena, xi.

16 Ibid., xi.

17 Ibid., xii.

18 Ibid., xiii.

19 Ibid., xi.

20 Pro Cluentio, 1.

21 De Lege Agraria, ii., 5.

22 He alludes here to his own colleague Antony, whom through his whole year of office he had to watch lest the second Consul should join the enemies whom he fears — should support Rullus or go over to Catiline. With this view, choosing the lesser of the two evils, he bribes Antony with the government of Macedonia.

23 De Lege Agraria, i., 7 and 8.

24 The “jus imaginis” belonged to those whose ancestors was counted an Ædile, a Prætor, or a Consul. The descendants of such officers were entitled to have these images, whether in bronze, or marble, or wax, carried at the funerals of their friends.

25 Forty years since, Marius who was also “novus homo,” and also, singularly enough, from Arpinum, had been made Consul, but not with the glorious circumstances as now detailed by Cicero.

26 De Lege Agraria, ii., 1, 2, and 3.

27 See Introduction.

28 Pliny the elder, Hist. Nat., lib. vii., ca. xxxi.

29 The word is “proscripsisti,” “you proscribed him.” For the proper understanding of this, the bearing of Cicero toward Antony during the whole period of the Philippics must be considered.

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