Page:Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology (1870) - Volume 1.djvu/729

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


and decision of his opponent, who opened the case very briefly upon the fifth of August, proceeded at once to the examination of the witnesses, and the production of the depositions and other papers, which taken together constituted a mass of testimony so decisive, that Verres gave up the contest as hopeless, and retired at once into exile without attempting any defence. The full pleadings, however, which were to have been delivered had the trial been permitted to run its ordinary course were subsequently published by Cicero, and form, perhaps, the proudest monument of his oratorical powers, exhibiting that extraordinary combination of surpassing genius with almost inconceivable industry, of brilliant oratory with minute accuracy of inquiry and detail, which rendered him irresistible in a good cause and often victorious in a bad one.

The most important business of his new office (в. с. 69) were the preparations for the celebration of the Floralia, of the Liberalia, and of the Ludi Romani in honour of the three divinities of the Capitol. It had become a common custom for the aediles to lavish enormous sums on these shows, in the hope of propitiating the favour of the multitude and securing their support. Cicero, whose fortune was very moderate, at once perceiving that, even if he were to ruin himself, it would be impossible for him to vie in splendour with many of those who were likely to be his rivals in his upward course, with very correct judgment resolved, while he did nothing which could give reasonable offence, to found his claims to future distinction solely on those talents which had already won for him his present elevation, and accordingly, although he avoided everything like meanness or parsimony in the games presented under his auspices, was equally careful to shun ostentation and profuse expenditure.

For nearly three years the history of Cicero is again a blank, that is, until the close of в. с. 67, when he was elected first praetor by the suffrages of all the centuries, and this on three several occasions, the comitia having been twice broken off in consequence of the disturbances connected with the passing of the Cornelian law. The duties of this magistracy, on which he entered in January, в. с. 66, were two-fold. He was called upon to preside in the highest civil court, and was also required to act as commissioner (quaestor) in trials for extortion, while in addition to his judicial functions he continued to practise at the bar, and carried through single-handed the defence of Cluentius, in the most singular and interesting cause célèbre bequeathed to us by antiquity. But the most important event of the year was his first appearance as a political speaker from the rostra, when he delivered his celebrated address to the people in favour of the Manilian law, maintaining the cause of Pompey against the hearty opposition of the senate and the optimates. That his conduct on this occasion was the result of mature deliberation we cannot doubt. Nor will it be difficult to discern his real motives, which were perhaps not quite so pure and patriotic as his panegyrists would have us believe. Hitherto his progress, in so far as any external obstacles were concerned, had been smooth and uninterrupted; the ascent had been neither steep nor rough; the quaestorship, the aedileship, the praetorship, had been gained almost without a struggle but the great prize of the consulship, on which every ambitious hope and desire had long been fixed, was yet to be won, and he had every reason to anticipate the most determined resistance on the part of the nobles (we use the word in the technical Roman sense), who guarded the avenues to this the highest honour of the state with watchful jealousy against the approach of any new man, and were likely to strain every nerve to secure the exclusion of the son of an obscure municipal knight. Well aware that any attempt to remove or soften the inveterate prejudices of these men would be met, if not by open hostility and insult, most surely by secret treachery, he resolved to throw himself into the arms of the popular faction, whose principles he detested in his heart, and to rivet their favour by casting into the scale of their idol the weight of his own influence with the middle classes, his proper and peculiar party. The popularity of the orator rose higher than ever; the friendship of Pompey, now certainly the most important individual in the commonwealth, was secured, and the success which attended the operations in the East smothered if it did not extinguish the indignation of the senatorial leaders. Perhaps we ought not here to omit adding one more to the almost innumerable examples of the incredible industry of Cicero. It is recorded, that, during his praetorship, notwithstanding his complicated engagements as judge, pleader, and politician, he found time to attend the rhetorical school of Antonius Gnipho, which was now rising to great eminence. (Suet. de Illustr. Gramm. 7; Macrob. Sat. iii. 12.)

During the eighteen months which followed (65-64), Cicero having declined to accept a province, kept his eye steadily fixed upon one great object, and employed himself unceasingly in watching every event which could in any way bear upon the consular elections. It appears from his letters, which now begin to open their treasures to us, that he had six competitors, of whom the most formidable were C. Antonius, a nephew of the great orator, who perished during the Marian proscription, and the notorious Catiline. The latter was threatened with a criminal prosecution, and it is amusing to observe the lawyer-like coolness with which Cicero speaks of his guilt being as clear as the noon-day sun, at the same time indicating a wish to defend him, should such a course be for his own interest, and expressing great pleasure at the perfidy of the accuser who was ready to betray the cause, and the probable corruption of the judices, a majority of whom it was believed might be bought over. Catiline was, however, acquitted without the aid of his rival, and formed a coalition with Antonius, receiving strenuous assistance from Crassus and Caesar, both of whom now began to regard with an evil eye the partizan of Pompey, whose splendid exploits filled them with increasing jealousy and alarm. That Cicero viewed this union with the most lively apprehensions is evident from the fragments of his address, In Toga candida, in which he appears to have dissected and exposed the vices and crimes of his two opponents with the most merciless severity. But his fears proved groundless. His star was still in the ascendant; he was returned by all the centuries, while his colleague Antonius obtained a small majority only over Catiline. The attention of the new consul immediately after entering upon office (в. с. 63) was occupied with the agrarian law of Rullus,