Page:Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) - Volume 1.djvu/731

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page needs to be proofread.

CICERO. 713

of a province, an employment for which he felt no vocation, Cicero returned to the senate as a private individual (в. с. 62), and engaged in several angry contests with the obnoxious tribune. But after the excitement occasioned by these disputes, and by the destruction of Catiline with his army which followed soon after, had subsided, the eyes of men were turned away for a while in another direction, all looking forward eagerly to the arrival of Pompey, who at length reached Rome in the autumn, loaded with the trophies of his Asiatic campaigns. But, although every one was engrossed with the hero and his conquests, to the exclusion of almost every other object, we must not pass over an event which occurred towards the end of the year, and which, although at first sight of small importance, not only gave rise to the greatest scandal in the city, but was indirectly the source of misfortune and bitter suffering to Cicero. While the wife of Caesar was celebrating in the house of her husband, then praetor and pontifex maximus, the rites of the Bona Dea, from which male creatures were excluded with the most scrupulous superstition, it was discovered that P. Clodius Pulcher, son of Appius (consul в. с. 79), had found his way into the mansion disguised in woman's apparel, and, having been detected, had made his escape by the help of a female slave. Instantly all Rome was in an uproar. The matter was laid before the senate, and by them referred to the members of the pontifical college, who passed a resolution that sacrilege had been committed. Caesar forthwith divorced his wife. Clodius, although the most powerful interest was exerted by his numerous relations and connexions to hush up the affair, and attempts were even made to stop the proceedings by violence, was impeached and brought to trial. In defence he pleaded an alibi, offering to prove that he was at Interamna at the very time when the crime was said to have been committed; but Cicero came forward as a witness, and swore that he had met and spoken to Clodius in Rome on the day in question. In spite of this decisive testimony, and the evident guilt of the accused, the judices, with that corruption which formed one of the most fatal symptoms of the rottenness of the whole social fabric, pronounced him innocent by a majority of voices. (в. с. 61.) Clodius, whose popular talents and utter recklessness rendered him no insignificant enemy, now vowed deadly vengeance against Cicero, whose destruction from thenceforward was the chief aim of his life. To accomplish this purpose more readily, he determined to become a candidate for the tribuneship; but to effect this it was necessary in the first place that he should be adopted into a plebeian family by means of a special law. This, after protracted opposition, was at length accomplished (в. с. 60), although irregularly, through the interference of Caesar and Pompey, and he was elected tribune in the course of в. с. 59.

While this underplot was working, the path of Cicero had been far more thorny than heretofore. Intoxicated by his rapid elevation, and dazzled by the brilliant termination of his consulship, his selfconceit had become overweening, his vanity uncontrollable and insatiable. He imagined that the authority which he had acquired during the late perilous conjuncture would be permanently maintained after the danger was past, and that he would be invited to grasp the helm and steer single-handed the vessel of the state. But he slowly and painfully discovered that, although addressed with courtesy, and listened to with respect, he was in reality powerless when seeking to resist the encroachments of such men as Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar; and hence he viewed with the utmost alarm the disposition now manifested by these three chiefs to bury their former jealousies, and to make common cause against the aristocratic leaders, who, suspicious of their ulterior projects, were using every art to baffle and outmanoeuvre them. Hence Cicero also, at this epoch perceiving how fatal such a coalition must prove to the cause of freedom, earnestly laboured to detach Pompey, with whom he kept up a close but somewhat cold intimacy, from Caesar; but having failed, with that unsteadiness and want of sound principle by which his political life was from this time forward disgraced, began to testify a strong inclination to join the triumvirs, and in a letter to Atticus (ii. 5), в. с. 59, actually names the price at which they could purchase his adherence — the seat in the college of augurs just vacant by the death of Metellus Celer. Finding himself unable to conclude any satisfactory arrangement, like a spoiled child, he expresses his disgust with public life, and longs for an opportunity to retire from the world, and devote himself to study and philosophic contemplation. But while in the letters written during the stormy consulship of Caesar (в. с. 59) he takes a most desponding view of the state of the commonwealth, and seems to consider slavery as inevitable, he does not appear to have foreseen the storm impending over himself individually; and when at length, after the election of Clodius to the tribuneship, he began to entertain serious alarm, he was quieted by positive assurances of friendship and support from Pompey conveyed in the strongest terms. One of the first acts of his enemy, after entering upon office, notwithstanding the solemn pledge he was said to have given to Pompey that he would not use his power to the injury of Cicero, was to propose a bill interdicting from fire and water any one who should be found to have put a Roman citizen to death untried. Here Cicero committed a fatal mistake. Instead of assuming the bold front of conscious innocence, he at once took guilt to himself, and, without awaiting the progress of events, changed his attire, and assuming the garb of one accused, went round the forum, soliciting the compassion of all whom he met. For a brief period public sympathy was awakened. A large number of the senate and the equites appeared also in mourning, and the better portion of the citizens seemed resolved to espouse his cause. But all demonstrations of such feelings were promptly repressed by the new consuls, Piso and Gabinius, who from the first displayed steady hostility, having been bought by the promises of Clodius, who undertook to procure for them what provinces they pleased. The rabble were infuriated by the incessant harangues of their tribune; nothing was to be hoped from Crassus; the good offices of Caesar had been already rejected; and Pompey, the last and only safeguard, contrary to all expectations, and in violation of the most solemn engagements, kept aloof, and from real or pretended fear of some outbreak refused to interpose. Upon this, Cicero, giving way to despair, resolved to yield to the storm, and quitting Rome at the beginning of April, (в. с. 58), reached Brundisium about the middle of the month. From thence he crossed over to