Page images
PDF
EPUB

had been himself accused of vis by a certain Sempronius Atratinus, instigated, it is said, by the notorious Clodia, with whom he had long been maintaining an intrigue, but who now affirmed that he had attempted to poison her. Cicero's speech in his defence (B.C. 56) is extant. The vindication of his character there put forward contains an acknowledgment of his wild and licentious youth. But Cicero believed in his reformation and in his political ability, enjoyed his wit, his reckless daring, and his taste for literature, and looked forward to his support of the Optimates as likely to be of great value. The letters will best shew the character of the man, and how Cicero's expectations were deceived. When Cicero returned to Rome he found that Cælius had already made up his mind to take the side of Cæsar, openly avowing that in a civil war the only principle was to choose the stronger side. He was employed by Cæsar in North Italy and Spain in B.C. 49, from which countries he wrote, urging Cicero to follow his example. He was rewarded by the prætorship of B.C. 48. A single letter after that' (March, B.C. 48) foreshadows the catastrophe. Cælius had become disgusted with the Cæsarian party, in which he found that he was to play only a subordinate part. Gaius Trebonius was his superior as prætor urbanus, and the revolutionary programme, to which he had trusted for the relief of his embarrassments, was not being carried out. He tried to use his authority as prætor to relieve the debtors, who had received only partial relief under Cæsar's law, and when forcibly suspended from his office by the consul, he left Rome in hopes of stirring up the cities of Italy to a fresh revolution. There he acted for a while with Milo, who had ventured into Italy to secure by arms the restitutio in integrum which Cæsar had refused him. Both failed and both perished within a short time of each other. His name never occurs in the correspondence again.

When Cicero reached the walls of Rome on the 4th of January, B.C. 49, on his return from his province, the civil war was all but begun. He came, indeed, well knowing that Cæsar's demand-to hold his province and army till after his election to his second consulship-was threatening the

1 Vol. iii., Letter CCCCVII.

:ero's period hesitation, uary to June,

: 49,

234 sqq.

blic peace. But his absence from Italy for a year and a half had prevented his having a clear grasp of the situation. He seems not to have realized how much Pompey's prestige had fallen, and how much Caesar's position had improved. The Optimates-strong in rank and wealth, and, on the whole, in the charter of their partisans were talking loudly of coercing esar if he resisted in arms: but they were divided, ill furshed with soldiers, and, as it turned out, without a leader pable of forcing them to submit to discipline and the surnder of private interests to those of the party. On the her side, Cæsar had a large army of tried veterans, devoted him, and not (as his enemies fondly believed) disaffected id ready to leave him. He had accumulated vast wealth ▾ the plunder of Gaul, and had used it to purchase the pport of many men of ability at Rome. He had few ruples, and was prepared to take instant advantage of any indle given him by the mistakes of his opponents. Such 1 opportunity was presented to him, only three days after icero's arrival, by the forcible expulsion of the tribunes ho vetoed his recall. He could now plead that he was tering Italy in defence of the constitutional rights of e tribunes; and he did so at once. Cicero at first had o hesitation in taking part with the magistrates against n invader of Italy. He accepted as his share in the efence the district of Capua and the shore of Campania. But in a few days this confidence was rudely shaken. Pompey left Rome, followed by the consuls and other nagistrates: it became clear that Pompey had no plan eady, and no means of collecting an adequate force. Moreover, Cicero's own wish for a pacification between the wo leaders was scouted by the so-called constitutional party, who, crowding Pompey's quarters at Luceria, talked oudly of another proscription and confiscation after the odel of Sulla. Before long, while Cæsar was rapidly eizing the towns in Picenum, and taking over the garrisons commanded by Pompeian officers, Pompey himself had nade his way to Brundisium, and shewed that he meant to abandon Italy, and trust to his influence in the East to collect a vast armament of men and ships, with which he would

!

1

return as a conqueror to Italy, to destroy the party of enemy. He sailed from Brundisium on the 17th of Mard

In these circumstances Cicero, who had soon resigne all active participation in the controversy, and ceased eve nominally to command in Campania, went through month of painful hesitation and distress. Hardly any part of th correspondence is more painful to read. He was swayer by various motives-personal affection for Pompey, con viction that his was the patriotic side, sensitiveness as t what would be said of himself by the Optimates generally, an `dread of his humiliating position if the Pompeians eventuall triumphed all these considerations were drawing him t Pompey, first at Brundisium, and afterwards in Epirus. O the other hand, he had strong motives for staying where b was. Among them—we must reluctantly confess was down right fear of being on the losing side. If Cæsar would on fail, as he seemed for a moment to be doing in Rome and then in Spain, Cicero's duty would then be so clear! [ Pompey had but shewn more resolution, and some intention and ability to stop Cæsar's victorious progress! There no doubt that Cicero would have been glad enough to hav taken the Pompeian side at once, if he had dared. At th same time he genuinely hated civil war, and clung to th hope that he might do something towards a pacification, he did not commit himself too deeply. He was also honesty alarmed and disgusted by the "Lucerian talk" of the Pom peians-their threats of confiscation and proscription, which he was constantly informed, and which contrasted badly with Cæsar's magnanimity to the members of the opposite party who fell into his hands. With constitutiona right, joined to incompetence and cruelty, on the one side and constitutional wrong, joined to ability, vigour, and actual clemency, on the other, which was he to choose? The violence of the constitutionalists might prove not to be mere bluster and talk: the leniency of Cæsar might be assumed for a time and might give place with success to violence and blood shed. In either case what was there but ruin and disaster to expect? Torn by these conflicting considerations Cicero spent nearly six unhappy months at his seaside villas. One thing he did resolve upon and stick to-he would not give the sanction of his presence in the senate, in spite of Cæsar's

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

persuasions, urged personally in an interview on the 28th of March (see p. 353). Still through April and May he continued to be torn by the same doubts, the same balancing of duty and fear. Sardinia and Sicily were already in the hands of the Cæsarians; Cæsar's hold on the West now depended on his success in Spain and in the siege of Marseilles. Accordingly, Cicero waits eagerly for news from Spain to decide him whether he can safely join Pompey in Epirus. Another alternative, that of retiring to Malta or some place remote from the war, was not, I think, ever seriously entertained by him, though often mentioned. It is not till June that he finally decides on going to Pompey. The last letter which we have on this subject is dated the 19th of May, in which he is still undecided. On the 7th of June he starts. What had decided him in that interval? We cannot be sure: but it seems to coincide with Cæsar's difficulties on the Segre near Ilerda, which we know were made much of at Rome, and were followed by the crossing of many waverers to Pompey's camp. Three years afterwards, when writing an account of this to a friend (CCCCLXXXVI, ad Fam. vi. 6), he says that he "went with his eyes open to a ruin which he clearly foresaw, overpowered by the feeling of duty, or, if you will, by regard for the remarks of the boni, or pure shame." He says nothing of Cæsar's danger. But we have to reflect that the motives which he mentions had been equally in existence during all the previous months, and something is required to account for the somewhat sudden resolution at the end. Of course, in a time of such disruption, hesitation was natural. As M. Boissier says: 'Questions do not present themselves to the eyes of contemporaries with the same clearness as to those of posterity." We cannot wonder at Cicero having hesitated: but the process of throwing dust in the eyes of both parties till he has made up his mind does not make pleasant reading. The third volume of these letters will find Cicero, after taking the plunge, by no means satisfied with the result. All his worst fears as to the state of things in Pompey's

[ocr errors]

1 Cæsar, B. C. i. 53. The fall of Curio in Africa, and the consequent hold of the Pompeians on that province, did not occur till two months later.

camp were confirmed, and all his hopes of Cæsar's failure in Spain falsified; and after Pharsalia we have to follow him again through another year of doubt and distress. Truly the paths of the double-minded are hard.

« PreviousContinue »