Letters to Atticus/2.24

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Letters to Atticus by Marcus Tullius Cicero
2.24 (L)
Translated by Evelyn Shuckburgh

To Atticus in Epirus[edit]

Rome, July of August 59 BC[edit]

In the letter which I delivered to Numestius I begged you to come back, in the most urgent and vehement terms it was possible to use. To the speed which I then enjoined even add something if you possibly can. And yet do not be agitated, for I know you well, and am not ignorant of "how love is all compact of thought and fear." But the matter, I hope, is going to be less formidable in the end than it was at its beginning. That fellow Vettius, our old informer, promised Caesar, as far as I can make out, that he would secure young Curio being brought under some suspicion of guilt. Accordingly, he wormed his way into intimacy with the young man, and having, as is proved, often met him, at last went the length of telling him that he had resolved by the help of his slaves to make an attack upon Pompey and assassinate him. Curio reported this to his father, the latter to Pompey. The matter was reported to the senate. Vettius, on being brought in, at first denied that he had ever had any appointment with Curio. However, he did not long stick to that, but immediately claimed the protection of the state as giving information. There was a shout of "no" to this[1] but he went on to state that there had been a confederacy of young men under the leadership of Curio, to which Paullus had at first belonged, and Q. Caepio (I mean Brutus)[2] and Lentulus, son of the flamen, with the privity of his father: that afterwards C. Septimius, secretary to Bibulus, had brought him a dagger from Bibulus. That made the whole thing ridiculous, as though Vettius would have been at a loss for a dagger unless the consul had given him one; and it was all the more scouted because on the 5th of May Bibulus had told Pompey to be on his guard against plots; on which occasion Pompey had thanked him. Young Curio, being brought into the senate, spoke in answer to the allegations of Vettius; and on this particular occasion the strongest thing against Vettius was his having said that the plan of the young men was to attack Pompey in the forum, with the help of Gabinius's gladiators,[3] and that in this the ring-leader was Paullus, who was ascertained to have been in Macedonia at that time. A decree of the senate is passed that" Vettius, having confessed to having 'worn a dagger,'[4] should be cast into prison; that anyone releasing him would be guilty of treason to the state." The opinion generally held is that the whole affair had been arranged. Vettius was to be caught in the forum with a dagger, and his slaves also with weapons, and he was then to offer to lay an information; and this would have been carried out, had not the Curios given Pompey previous information. Presently the decree of the senate was read in public assembly. Next day, however, Caesar—the man who formerly as praetor had bidden Q. Catulus[5] speak on the ground below—now brought Vettius on to the rostra, and placed him on an elevation to which Bibulus, though consul, was prevented from aspiring. Here that fellow said exactly what he chose about public affairs, and, having come there primed and instructed, first struck Caepio's name out of his speech, though he had named him most emphatically in the senate, so that it was easy to see that a night and a nocturnal intercession[6] had intervened: next he named certain men on whom he had not cast even the slightest suspicion in the senate: L. Lucullus, by whom he said that C. Fannius was usually sent to him—the man who on a former occasion had backed a prosecution of Clodius; L. Domitius, whose house had been agreed on as the headquarters of the Conspirators. Me he did not name, but he said that "an eloquent consular, who lived near the consul, had said to him that there was need of some Servilius Ahala or Brutus being found."[7] He added at the very end, on being recalled by Vatinius after the assembly had been dismissed, that he had been told by Curio that my son-in-law Piso was privy to these proceedings, as M. Laterensis also. At present Vettius is on trial for "violence" before Crassus Dives,[8] and when condemned he intends to claim the impunity of an informer; and if he obtains that, there seem likely to be some prosecutions. I don't despise the danger, for I never despise any danger, but neither do I much fear it. People indeed show very great affection for me, but I am quite tired of life: such a scene of misery is it all. It was only the other day that we were fearing a massacre, which the speech of that gallant old man Q. Considius prevented:[9] now this one, which we might have feared any day, has suddenly turned up. In short, nothing can be more unfortunate than I, or more fortunate than Catulus, both in the splendour of his life and in the time of his death. However, in the midst of these miseries I keep my spirit erect and undismayed, and maintain my position in a most dignified manner and with great caution. Pompey bids me have no anxiety about Clodius, and shows the most cordial goodwill to me in everything he says. I desire to have you to suggest my policy, to be the partner in my anxieties, and to share my every thought. Therefore I have commissioned Numestius to urge you, and I now entreat you with the same or, if possible, greater earnestness, to literally fly to us. I shall breathe again when I once see you.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. reclamatum est. The MSS. have haud reclamatum est, "it was not refused."
  2. Marcus Iunius Brutus, the future assassin of Caesar, adopted by his uncle, Q. Servilius Caepio. The father of Lentulus was flamen Martialis (L. Lentulus), in Vat. § 25. Paullus is L. Aemilius Paullus, consul B.C. 50.
  3. Cum gladiatoribus. Others omit cum, in which case the meaning will be "at the gladiatorial shows of Gabinius." As some date is wanted, this is probably right.
  4. Under the lex de sicariis of Sulla carrying a weapon with felonious intent was a capital crime, for which a man was tried inter sicarios. See 2 Phil. §§ 8, 74.
  5. Q. Lutatius Catulus, who died in the previous year, B.C. 60, had been a keen opponent of Caesar, who tried to deprive him of the honour of dedicating the restored Capitoline temple, and beat him in the election of Pontifex Maximus.
  6. Servilia, mother of Brutus, was reported to be Caesar's mistress. As Cicero is insinuating that the whole affair was got up by Caesar to irritate Pompey with the boni, this allusion will be understood.
  7. If Vettius did say this, he at any rate successfully imitated Cicero's manner. These names are always in his mouth. See 2 Phil. §§ 26, 87 ; pro Mil. §§ 8, 82, etc. For a farther discussion of Vettius, see Appendix B.
  8. Probably a praetor, not the triumvir.
  9. Q Considius Gallus, who, according to Plutarch (Plut. Caes. 13), said in the senate that the attendance of senators was small because they feared a massacre. "What made you come, then?" said Caesar. "My age," he replied; " I have little left to lose."

Appendix B: L. Vettius[edit]

L. Vettius, a kind of Titus Oates, was like the witness in "Great Expectations," prepared to swear "mostly anything." The interest attaching to such a sordid person is confined to the question whether he was really acting with the connivance of, or under an agreement with, any of the leading politicians of the day. If the principle of cui bono is applied, it is evident that the gainers were the party of the trumvirs, whose popularity would be increased by a belief being created that their opponents the Optimates were prepared to adopt extreme measures to get rid of them. It would give them just the advantage which the Rye House plot gave Charles II. This is Cicero's view, it seems, of the matter, as insinuated in this letter and in his speech against Vatinius (24-26 Cp. pro Sest. 132). In the letter, however, his insinuations seem directed against Caesar: in the speech Vatinius is the scape-goat. But Vettius was not only a liar, but a bad liar. He made blunders; and when he brought in the name of Bibulus, he was not aware that Bibulus had got scent of something going on, and had secured himself by giving Pompey warning. He also did not tell consistent stories, mentioning names (such as that of Brutus) at one time, and withdrawing them at another. He was accordingly wholly discredited, and could therefore expect no protection from Caesar, who had been careful not to commit himself; and he had nothing for it but suicide, like Pigott at the time of the Parnell Commission.

Cicero, then, would have us believe that Vettius had been instigated by Vatinius (acting for Caesar) to name Bibulus, L. Lucullus, Curio (father and son), L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, L. Lentulus, L. Paullus, Cicero himself, his son-in-law Piso, and M. Laterensis, as having been all more or less privy to the plot to murder Pompey and Caesar. That there was absolutely no such plot, and that Vettius broke down hopelessly when questioned. That the object was, (1) to irritate Pompey with the Optimates and so confirm him in his alliance with Caesar, (2) to discredit the Optimates generally.

It may be well to state briefly the views put forward by our other authorities for this period.

(1.) Suetonius (Caes. 20) appears to attribute the instigation of Vettius to Caesar, as also the murder of Vettius in prison, after he broke down so flagrantly. The text of this passage, however, is somewhat doubtful.

(2.) Appian (B.C. 2.12) describes the scene as happening at the time that Caesar's agrarian law was being passed, and Bibulus was hustled in the forum. Vettius, with a drawn dagger, rushed into the crowd crying out that he had been sent by Bibulus, Cicero, and Cato to assassinate Caesar and Pompey, and that an attendant of Bibulus had given him the dagger. Vettius was arrested, put into prison to be questioned the next day, and was murdered during the night. Caesar meanwhile addressed the people and excited their anger; but after the death of Vettius the matter was hushed up.

(3.) Plutarch (Lucull. 42]) says that the "Pompeians," annoyed at finding the union with Caesar opposed by the leading Optimates, induced Vettius to accuse Lucullus and others of a plot to assassinate Pompey; and that the corpse of Vettius shewed evident signs of violence.

(4.) Dio Cassius (38.9) says bluntly that Vettius was employed by Lucullus and Cicero to assassinate Pompey, and was got rid of in prison. He adds that Vettius was discredited by bringing in the name of Bibulus, who (as Cicero also says) had secured himself by giving Pompey warning. The conclusions seem to be (though in such a tangled skein of lies it is impossible to be sure), (1) that there was no plot, properly so called, though many of the Optimates, and Cicero among them, had used incautious language; (2) that Vettius was suborned by some person or party of persons to make the people believe that there was one ; (3) that Caesar--though there is not sufficient evidence to shew that he had been the instigator--was willing to take advantage of the prejudice created by the suspicions thus aroused ; (4) that though Vettius had served Cicero in his capacity of spy in the days of the Catilinarian conspiracy, and was able to report words of his sufficiently characteristic, yet this letter to Atticus exonerates Cicero from suspicion, even if there were a plot, and even if we Could believe that he could have brought himself to plot the death of Pompey.