The Great Events by Famous Historians/Volume 2/Assassination of Caesar
ASSASSINATION OF CÆSAR
NIEBUHR and PLUTARCH
(Cæsar's assassination forms the groundwork of one of Shakespeare's most notable tragedies. The "itching palm" of Cassius, Brutus' rectitude and honesty of purpose, and Mark Antony's oration will ever live while the English language endures. When the great Cæsar was struck down, the civil war was over and he was master of the world. The month of the year B.C. 100 in which he was born, Quinctilis, was afterward called in his honor, July.
Caius Julius Cæsar was one of the greatest figures in history, and early took a prominent part in the affairs of Rome. He was a rival of Cicero in forensic eloquence and highly esteemed as a writer, his Commentaries being universally admired. Ransomed from pirates who had captured him on his way to study philosophy at Rhodes, he attacked them in turn, took them to Pergamus, and crucified them.
After various successful engagements Cæsar marched against Pharnaces, now established in the kingdom of the Bosphorus, gaining at Zela, in Pontus, the decisive victory which he announced in the famous despatch, Veni, vidi, vici ["I came, I saw, I conquered"].
His unbounded affability, his liveliness and cordiality, his unaffected kindness to his friends had made him popular with the high as well as the low. His ambition began to show itself. During the wrangles over the election of Afranius as consul, Cæsar returned from his brilliant successes in Spain. The troops saluted him as imperator and the senate voted a thanksgiving in his honor. He was now strong enough to take his place as the leader of the popular party. He was elected consul in spite of the hostility of the senate.
A coalition was formed between Cæsar and Pompey. Cæsar's agrarian law added to his popularity with the people, and he gained the influence of the equites by relief of one-third of the farmed taxes of Asia. He now became proconsul of Illyricum and Gaul for five years. This suited his ambition. At this time Pompey was the absolute master of Rome. And now arose his duel for power with Cæsar. For a time he opposed the latter's election as consul, but later yielded.
Cæsar had achieved his brilliant success beyond the Alps. He had won victories in Gaul and Britain; but in the mean time his enemies had been active at Rome. Still believing that the senate would permit his quiet election to the consulship, he refused to strike any blow at their authority. But the senate had determined to humble Cæsar. Both Pompey and Cæsar were removed from leadership, but the Consul Marcellus refused to execute the decree. Cæsar was directed by the senate to disband his army by a fixed day, on pain of being considered a public enemy. Pompey sided with the senate. This meant civil war. Antony and Cassius fled to the camp of Cæsar, who was enthusiastically supported by his soldiers and "crossed the Rubicon."
Having become master of all Italy in three months without a battle, Cæsar reëntered Rome. Pompey had fled, and at the battle of Pharsalia was utterly routed, and took refuge in Egypt, where he was murdered a few days before the arrival of Cæsar.
Upon receipt of the news of Pompey's death Cæsar was named dictator for one year. The government was now placed without disguise in his hands. He was invested with the tribunician power for life. He was also again elected consul and named dictator.
Cæsar had now become a demi-god, and was named dictator for ten years, being awarded a fourfold triumph, and a thanksgiving being decreed for forty days. He was also made censor. This was in B.C. 46. After defeating the remnant of the Pompeians, he returned to Rome in September, B.C. 45, and was named imperator, and appointed consul for ten years and dictator for life, being hailed as Parens Patriæ.
All these triumphs had caused jealousies. It was thought that he aspired to become king, and this led to his fall.)
It is one of the inestimable advantages of a hereditary government commonly called the legitimate, whatever its form may be, that it may be formally inactive in regard to the state and the population—that it may reserve its interference until it is absolutely necessary, and apparently leave things to take their own course. If we look around us and observe the various constitutions, we shall scarcely perceive the interference of the government; the greater part of the time passes away without those who have the reins in their hands being obliged to pay any particular attention to what they are doing, and a very large amount of individual liberty may be enjoyed. But if the government is what we call a usurpation, the ruler has not only to take care to maintain his power, but in all that he undertakes he has to consider by what means and in what ways he can establish his right to govern, and his own personal qualifications for it. Men who are in such a position are urged on to act by a very sad necessity, from which they cannot escape, and such was the position of Cæsar at Rome.
In our European States, men have wide and extensive spheres in which they can act and move. The much-decried system of centralization has indeed many disadvantages; but it has this advantage for the ruler, that he can exert an activity which shows its influence far and wide. But what could Cæsar do, in the centre of nearly the whole of the known world? He could not hope to effect any material improvements either in Italy or in the provinces. He had been accustomed from his youth, and more especially during the last fifteen years, to an enormous activity, and idleness was intolerable to him. At the close of the civil war he would have had little or nothing to do unless he had turned his attention to some foreign enterprise. He was obliged to venture upon something that would occupy his whole soul, for he could not rest. His thoughts were therefore again directed to war, and that in a quarter where the most brilliant triumphs awaited him, where the bones of the legions of Crassus lay unavenged—to a war against the Parthians. About this time the Getae also had spread in Thrace, and he intended to check their progress likewise. But his main problem was to destroy the Parthian empire and to extend the Roman dominion as far as India, a plan in which he would certainly have been successful; and he himself felt so sure of this that he was already thinking of what he should undertake afterward.
It is by no means incredible that, as we are told, he intended on his return to march through the passes of the Caucasus, and through ancient Scythia into the country of the Getae, and thence through Germany and Gaul into Italy. Besides this expedition, he entertained other plans of no less gigantic dimensions. The port of Ostia was bad, and in reality little better than a mere roadstead, so that great ships could not come up the river. Accordingly it is said that Cæsar intended to dig a canal for sea-ships, from the Tiber, above or below Rome, through the Pomptine marshes as far as Terracina. He further contemplated to cut through the Isthmus of Corinth. It is not easy to see in what manner he would have accomplished this, considering the state of hydraulic architecture in those times. The Roman canals were mere fossæ, and canals with sluices, though not unknown to the Romans, were not constructed by them.
The fact of Cæsar forming such enormous plans is not very surprising; but we can scarcely comprehend how it was possible for him to accomplish so much of what he undertook in the short time of five months preceding his death. Following the unfortunate system of Sulla, Cæsar founded throughout Italy a number of colonies of veterans. The old Sullanian colonists were treated with great severity, and many of them and their children were expelled from their lands, and were thus punished for the cruelty which they or their fathers had committed against the inhabitants of the municipia. In like manner colonies were established in Southern Gaul, Italy, Africa, and other parts; I may mention in particular the colonies founded at Carthage and Corinth. The latter, however, was a colonia libertinorum, and never rose to any importance. We do not know the details of its foundation, but one would imagine that Cæsar would have preferred restoring the place as a purely Greek town. This, however, he did not do. Its population was and remained a mixed one, and Corinth never rose to a state of real prosperity.
Cæsar made various new arrangements in the State, and among others he restored the full franchise, or the jus honorum, to the sons of those who had been proscribed in the time of Sulla. He had obtained for himself the title of imperator and the dictatorship for life and the consulship for ten years. Half of the offices of the republic to which persons had before been elected by the centuries were in his gift, and for the other half he usually recommended candidates; so that the elections were merely nominal.
The tribes seem to have retained their rights of election uncurtailed, and the last tribunes must have been elected by the people. But although Cæsar did not himself confer the consulship, yet the whole republic was reduced to a mere form and appearance. Cæsar made various new laws and regulations; for example, to lighten the burdens of debtors and the like; but the changes he introduced in the form of the constitution were of little importance. He increased the number of prætors, which Sulla had raised to eight, successively to ten, twelve, fourteen, and sixteen, and the number of quaestors was increased to forty. Hence the number of persons from whom the senate was to be filled up became greater than that of the vacancies, and Cæsar accordingly increased the number of senators, though it is uncertain what number he fixed upon, and raised a great many of his friends to the dignity of senators. In this, as in many other cases, he acted very arbitrarily; for he elected into the senate whomsoever he pleased, and conferred the franchise in a manner equally arbitrary. These things did not fail to create much discontent. It is a remarkable fact that, notwithstanding his mode of filling up the senate, not even the majority of senators were attached to his cause after his death.
If we consider the changes and regulations which Cæsar introduced, it must strike us as a singular circumstance that among all his measures there is no trace of any indicating that he thought of modifying the constitution for the purpose of putting an end to the anarchy, for all his changes are in reality not essential or of great importance. Sulla felt the necessity of remodelling the constitution, but he did not attain his end; and the manner, too, in which he set about it was that of a short-sighted man; but he was at least intelligent enough to see that the constitution as it then was could not continue to exist. In the regulations of Cæsar we see no trace of such a conviction; and I think that he despaired of the possibility of effecting any real good by constitutional reforms. Hence, among all his laws there is not one that had any relation to the constitution. The fact of his increasing the number of patrician families had no reference to the constitution; so far in fact were the patricians from having any advantages over the plebeians that the office of the two oediles Cereales, which Cæsar instituted, was confined to the plebeians—a regulation which was opposed to the very nature of the patriciate.
His raising persons to the rank of patricians was neither more nor less than the modern practice of raising a family to the rank of nobility; he picked out an individual and gave him the rank of patrician for himself and his descendants, but did not elevate a whole gens. The distinction itself was merely a nominal one and conferred no privilege upon a person except that of holding certain priestly offices, which could be filled by none but patricians, and for which their number was scarcely sufficient. If Cæsar had died quietly the republic would have been in the same, nay, in a much worse, state of dissolution than if he had not existed at all. I consider it a proof of the wisdom and good sense of Cæsar that he did not, like Sulla, think an improvement in the state of public affairs so near at hand or a matter of so little difficulty. The cure of the disease lay yet at a very great distance, and the first condition on which it could be undertaken was the sovereignty of Cæsar, a condition which would have been quite unbearable even to many of his followers, who as rebels did not scruple to go along with him. But Rome could no longer exist as a republic.
It is curious to see in Cicero's work, de Republica, the consciousness running through it that Rome, as it then stood, required the strong hand of a king. Cicero had surely often owned this to himself; but he saw no one who would have entered into such an idea. The title of king had a great fascination for Cæsar, as it had for Cromwell—a surprising phenomenon in a practical mind like that of Cæsar. Everyone knows the fact that while Cæsar was sitting on the suggestum, during the celebration of the Lupercalia, Antony presented to him the diadem, to try how the people would take it. Cæsar saw the great alarm which the act created and declined the diadem for the sake of appearance; but had the people been silent, Cæsar would unquestionably have accepted it. His refusal was accompanied by loud shouts of acclamation, which for the present rendered all further attempts impossible. Antony then had a statue of Cæsar adorned with the diadem; but two tribunes of the people, L. Caesetius Flavus and Epidius Marullus, took it away: and here Cæsar showed the real state of his feelings, for he treated the conduct of the tribunes as a personal insult toward himself. He had lost his self-possession and his fate carried him irresistibly onward. He wished to have the tribunes imprisoned, but was prevailed upon to be satisfied with their being stripped of their office and sent into exile.
This created a great sensation at Rome. Cæsar had also been guilty of an act of thoughtlessness, or perhaps merely of distraction, as might happen very easily to a man in his circumstances. When the senate had made its last decrees, conferring upon Cæsar unlimited powers, the senators, consuls, and prætors, or the whole senate, in festal attire, presented the decrees to him, and Cæsar at the moment forgot to show his respect for the senators; he did not rise from his sella curulis, but received the decrees in an unceremonious manner. This want of politeness was never forgiven by the persons who had not scrupled to make him their master; for it had been expected that he would at least behave politely and be grateful for such decrees. Cæsar himself had no design in the act, which was merely the consequence of distraction or thoughtlessness; but it made the senate his irreconcilable enemies. The affair with the tribunes, moreover, had made a deep impression upon the people. We must, however, remember that the people under such circumstances are most sensible to anything affecting their honor, as we have seen at the beginning of the French Revolution.
In the year of Cæsar's death, Brutus and Cassius were prætors. Both had been generals under Pompey. Brutus' mother, Servilia, was a half-sister of Cato, for after the death of her first husband Cato's mother had married Servilius Caepio. She was a remarkable woman, but very immoral, and unworthy of her son; not even the honor of her own daughter was sacred to her. The family of Brutus derived its origin from L. Junius Brutus, and from the time of its first appearance among the plebeians it had had few men of importance to boast of. During the period subsequent to the passing of the Licinian laws we meet with some Junii in the Fasti, but not one of them acquired any great reputation. The family had become reduced and almost contemptible. One M. Brutus in particular disgraced his family by sycophancy in the time of Sulla and was afterward killed in Gaul by Pompey. Although no Roman family belonged to a more illustrious gens, yet Brutus was not by any means one of those men who are raised by fortunate circumstances. The education, however, which he received had a great influence upon him. His uncle Cato, whose daughter Porcia he married—whether in Cato's lifetime or afterward is doubtful—had initiated him from his early youth in the Stoic philosophy, and had instilled into his mind a veneration for it, as though it had been a religion.
Brutus had qualities which Cato did not possess. The latter had something of an ascetic nature, and was, if I may say so, a scrupulously pious character; but Brutus had no such scrupulous timidity; his mind was more flexible and lovable. Cato spoke well, but could not be reckoned among the eloquent men of his time. Brutus' great talents had been developed with the utmost care, and if he had lived longer and in peace he would have become a classical writer of the highest order. He had been known to Cicero from his early age, and Cicero felt a fatherly attachment to him; he saw in him a young man who he hoped would exert a beneficial influence upon the next generation.
Cæsar too had known and loved him from his childhood; but the stories which are related to account for this attachment must be rejected as foolish inventions of idle persons; for nothing is more natural than that Cæsar should look with great fondness upon a young man of such extraordinary and amiable qualities. The absence of envy was one of the distinguishing features in the character of Cæsar, as it was in that of Cicero. In the battle of Pharsalus, Brutus served in the army of Pompey, and after the battle he wrote a letter to Cæsar, who had inquired after him; and when Cæsar heard of his safety he was delighted, and invited him to his camp. Cæsar afterward gave him the administration of Cisalpine Gaul, where Brutus distinguished himself in a very extraordinary manner by his love of justice.
Cassius was related to Brutus, and had likewise belonged to the Pompeian party, but he was very unlike Brutus; he was much older, and a distinguished military officer. After the death of Crassus he had maintained himself as quaestor in Syria against the Parthians, and he enjoyed a very great reputation in the army, but he was after all no better than an ordinary officer of Cæsar. After the battle of Pharsalus, Cæsar did not at first know whither Pompey was gone. Cassius was at the time stationed with some galleys in the Hellespont, notwithstanding which Cæsar with his usual boldness took a boat to sail across that strait, and on meeting Cassius called upon him to embrace his party. Cassius readily complied, and Cæsar forgave him, as he forgave all his adversaries: even Marcellus, who had mortally offended him, was pardoned at the request of Cicero. Cæsar thus endeavored to efface all recollections of the civil war.
Cæsar had appointed both Brutus and Cassius prætors for that year. With the exception of the office of prætor urbanus, which was honorable and lucrative, the prætorship was a burdensome office and conferred little distinction, since the other prætors were only the presidents of the courts. Formerly they had been elected by lot, but the office was now altogether in the gift of Cæsar. Both Brutus and Cassius had wished for the prætura urbana, and, when Cæsar gave that office to Brutus, Cassius was not only indignant at Cæsar, but began quarrelling with Brutus also. While Cassius was in this state of exasperation, a meeting of the senate was announced for the 15th of March, on which day, as the report went, a proposal was to be made to offer Cæsar the crown. This was a welcome opportunity for Cassius, who resolved to take vengeance, for he had even before entertained a personal hatred of Cæsar, and was now disappointed at not having obtained the city prætorship. He first sounded Brutus and, finding that he was safe, made direct overtures to him. During the night some one wrote on the tribunal and the house of Brutus the words, "Remember that thou art Brutus."
Brutus became reconciled to Cassius, offered his assistance, and gained over several other persons to join the conspiracy. All party differences seemed to have vanished all at once; two of the conspirators were old generals of Cæsar, C. Trebonius and Decimus Brutus, both of whom had fought with him in Gaul, and against Massilia, and had been raised to high honors by their chief. There were among the conspirators persons of all parties. Men who had fought against one another at Pharsalus now went hand-in-hand and intrusted their lives to one another. No proposals were made to Cicero, the reasons usually assigned for which are of the most calumniatory kind. It is generally said that the conspirators had no confidence in Cicero, an opinion which is perfectly contemptible. Cicero would not have betrayed them for any consideration, but what they feared were his objections. Brutus had as noble a soul as anyone, but he was passionate; Cicero, on the other hand, who was at an advanced age, had many sad experiences, and his feelings were so exceedingly delicate that he could not have consented to take away the life of him to whom he himself owed his own, who had always behaved most nobly toward him, and had intentionally drawn him before the world as his friend.
Cæsar's conduct toward those who had fought in the ranks of Pompey and afterward returned to him was extremely noble, and he regarded the reconciliation of those men as a personal favor conferred upon himself. All who knew Cicero must have been convinced that he would not have given his consent to the plan of the conspirators; and if they ever did give the matter a serious thought, they must have owned to themselves that every wise man would have dissuaded them from it; for it was in fact the most complete absurdity to fancy that the republic could be restored by Cæsar's death. Goethe says somewhere that the murder of Cæsar was the most senseless act that the Romans ever committed; and a truer word was never spoken. The result of it could not possibly be any other than that which did follow the deed.
Cæsar was cautioned by Hirtius and Pansa, both wise men of noble character, especially the former, who saw that the republic must become consolidated and not thrown into fresh convulsions. They advised Cæsar to be careful, and to take a bodyguard; but he replied that he would rather not live at all than be in constant fear of losing his life. Cæsar once expressed to some of his friends his conviction that Brutus was capable of harboring a murderous design, but he added that as he, Cæsar, could not live much longer, Brutus would wait, and not be guilty of such a crime. Cæsar's health was at that time weak, and the general opinion was that he intended to surrender his power to Brutus as the most worthy. While the conspirators were making their preparations, Porcia, the wife of Brutus, inferred from the excitement and restlessness of her husband that some fearful secret was pressing on his mind; but as he did not show her any confidence, she seriously wounded herself with a knife and was seized with a violent wound-fever. No one knew the cause of her illness; and it was not till after many entreaties of her husband that at length she revealed it to him, saying that as she had been able to conceal the cause of her illness, so she could also keep any secret that might be intrusted to her. Her entreaties induced Brutus to communicate to her the plan of the conspirators. Cæsar was also cautioned by the haruspices, by a dream of his wife, and by his own forebodings, which we have no reason for doubting. But on the morning of the 15th of March, the day fixed upon for assassinating Cæsar, Decimus Brutus treacherously enticed him to go with him to the Curia, as it was impossible to delay the deed any longer.
The conspirators were at first seized with fear lest their plan should be betrayed; but on Cæsar's entrance into the senate house, C. Tillius (not Tullius) Cimber made his way up to him, and insulted him with his importunities, and Casca gave the first stroke. Cæsar fell covered with twenty-three wounds. He was either in his fifty-sixth year or had completed it; I am not quite certain on this point, though, if we judge by the time of his first consulship, he must have been fifty-six years old. His birthday, which is not generally known, was the 11th of Quinctilis, which month was afterward called Julius, and his death took place on the 15th of March, between eleven and twelve o'clock.
At one time the senate having decreed Cæsar some extravagant honors, the consuls and prætors, attended by the whole body of patricians, went to inform him of what they had done. When they came, he did not rise to receive them, but kept his seat, as if they had been persons in a private station, and his answer to their address was, "that there was more need to retrench his honors than to enlarge them." This haughtiness gave pain not only to the senate, but the people, who thought the contempt of that body reflected dishonor upon the whole Commonwealth; for all who could decently withdraw went off greatly dejected.
Perceiving the false step he had taken, he retired immediately to his own house, and, laying his neck bare, told his friends "he was ready for the first hand that would strike." He then bethought himself of alleging his distemper as an excuse; and asserted that those who are under its influence are apt to find their faculties fail them when they speak standing, a trembling and giddiness coming upon them, which bereave them of their senses. This, however, was not really the case; for it is said he was desirous to rise to the senate; but Cornelius Balbus, one of his friends, or rather flatterers, held him, and had servility enough to say, "Will you not remember that you are Cæsar, and suffer them to pay their court to you as their superior?"
These discontents were greatly increased by the indignity with which he treated the tribunes of the people. In the Lupercalia, which, according to most writers, is an ancient pastoral feast, and which answers in many respects to the Lycaea among the Arcadians, young men of noble families, and indeed many of the magistrates, run about the streets naked, and, by way of diversion, strike all they meet with leathern thongs with the hair upon them. Numbers of women of the first quality put themselves in their way, and present their hands for stripes—as scholars do to a master—being persuaded that the pregnant gain an easy delivery by it, and that the barren are enabled to conceive. Cæsar wore a triumphal robe that day, and seated himself in a golden chair upon the rostra, to see the ceremony.
Antony ran among the rest, in compliance with the rules of the festival, for he was consul. When he came into the Forum, and the crowd had made way for him, he approached Cæsar, and offered him a diadem wreathed with laurel. Upon this some plaudits were heard, but very feeble, because they proceeded only from persons placed there on purpose. Cæsar refused it, and then the plaudits were loud and general. Antony presented it once more, and few applauded his officiousness; but when Cæsar rejected it again, the applause again was general. Cæsar, undeceived by his second trial, rose up and ordered the diadem to be consecrated in the Capitol.
A few days after, his statues were seen adorned with royal diadems; and Flavius and Marullus, two of the tribunes, went and tore them off. They also found out the persons who first saluted Cæsar king, and committed them to prison. The people followed with cheerful acclamations, and called them Brutuses, because Brutus was the man who expelled the kings and put the government in the hands of the senate and people. Cæsar, highly incensed at their behavior, deposed the tribunes, and by way of reprimand to them, as well as insult to the people, called them several times Brutes and Cumceans.
Upon this, many applied to Marcus Brutus, who, by the father's side, was supposed to be a descendant of that ancient Brutus, and whose mother was of the illustrious house of the Servilli. He was also nephew and son-in-law to Cato. No man was more inclined than he to lift his hand against monarchy, but he was withheld by the honors and favors he had received from Cæsar, who had not only given him his life after the defeat of Pompey at Pharsalia, and pardoned many of his friends at his request, but continued to honor him with his confidence. That very year he had procured him the most honorable prætorship, and he had named him for the consulship four years after, in preference to Cassius, who was his competitor; on which occasion Cæsar is reported to have said, "Cassius assigns the strongest reasons, but I cannot refuse Brutus."
Some impeached Brutus after the conspiracy was formed; but, instead of listening to them, he laid his hand on his body and said, "Brutus will wait for this skin"; intimating that though the virtue of Brutus rendered him worthy of empire, he would not be guilty of any ingratitude or baseness to obtain it. Those, however, who were desirous of a change kept their eyes upon him only, or principally at least; and as they durst not speak out plain, they put billets night after night in the tribunal and seat which he used as prætor, mostly in these terms: "Thou sleepest, Brutus," or, "Thou art not Brutus."
Cassius, perceiving his friend's ambition a little stimulated by these papers, began to ply him closer than before, and spur him on to the great enterprise; for he had a particular enmity against Cæsar. Cæsar, too, had some suspicion of him, and he even said one day to his friends: "What think you of Cassius? I do not like his pale looks." Another time, when Antony and Dolabella were accused of some designs against his person and government, he said: "I have no apprehensions from those fat and sleek men; I rather fear the pale and lean ones," meaning Cassius and Brutus.
It seems, from this instance, that fate is not so secret as it is inevitable; for we are told there were strong signs and presages of the death of Cæsar. As to the lights in the heavens, the strange noises heard in various quarters by night, and the appearance of solitary birds in the Forum, perhaps they deserve not our notice in so great an event as this. But some attention should be given to Strabo the philosopher. According to him there were seen in the air men of fire encountering each other; such a flame appeared to issue from the hand of a soldier's servant that all the spectators thought it must be burned, yet, when it was over, he found no harm; and one of the victims which Cæsar offered was found without a heart. The latter was certainly a most alarming prodigy; for, according to the rules of nature, no creature can exist without a heart. What is still more extraordinary, many report that a certain soothsayer forewarned him of a great danger which threatened him on the ides of March, and that when the day was come, as he was going to the senate house, he called to the soothsayer, and said, laughing, "The ides of March are come"; to which he answered softly, "Yes; but they are not gone."
The evening before, he supped with Marcus Lepidus, and signed, according to custom, a number of letters, as he sat at table. While he was so employed, there arose a question, "What kind of death was the best?" and Cæsar, answering before them all, cried out, "A sudden one." The same night, as he was in bed with his wife, the doors and windows of the room flew open at once. Disturbed both with the noise and the light, he observed, by moonshine, Calpurnia in a deep sleep, uttering broken words and inarticulate groans. She dreamed that she was weeping over him, as she held him, murdered, in her arms. Others say she dreamed that the pinnacle was fallen, which, as Livy tells us, the senate had ordered to be erected upon Cæsar's house by way of ornament and distinction; and that it was the fall of it which she lamented and wept for. Be that as it may, the next morning she conjured Cæsar not to go out that day if he could possibly avoid it, but to adjourn the senate; and, if he had no regard to her dreams, to have recourse to some other species of divination, or to sacrifices, for information as to his fate. This gave him some suspicion and alarm; for he had never known before, in Calpurnia, anything of the weakness or superstition of her sex, though she was now so much affected.
He therefore offered a number of sacrifices, and, as the diviners found no auspicious tokens in any of them, he sent Antony to dismiss the senate. In the mean time Decius Brutus, surnamed Albinus, came in. He was a person in whom Cæsar placed such confidence that he had appointed him his second heir, yet he was engaged in the conspiracy with the other Brutus and Cassius. This man, fearing that if Cæsar adjourned the senate to another day the affair might be discovered, laughed at the diviners, and told Cæsar he would be highly to blame if by such a slight he gave the senate an occasion of complaint against him. "For they were met," he said, "at his summons, and came prepared with one voice to honor him with the title of king in the provinces, and to grant that he should wear the diadem both by sea and land everywhere out of Italy. But if anyone go and tell them, now they have taken their places, they must go home again, and return when Calpurnia happens to have better dreams, what room will your enemies have to launch out against you? Or who will hear your friends when they attempt to show that this is not an open servitude on the one hand and tyranny on the other? If you are absolutely persuaded that this is an unlucky day, it is certainly better to go yourself and tell them you have strong reasons for putting off business till another time." So saying he took Cæsar by the hand and led him out.
He was not gone far from the door when a slave, who belonged to some other person, attempted to get up to speak to him, but finding it impossible, by reason of the crowd that was about him, he made his way into the house, and putting himself into the hands of Calpurnia desired her to keep him safe till Cæsar's return, because he had matters of great importance to communicate.
Artemidorus the Cnidian, who, by teaching the Greek eloquence, became acquainted with some of Brutus' friends, and had got intelligence of most of the transactions, approached Cæsar with a paper explaining what he had to discover. Observing that he gave the papers, as fast as he received them, to his officers, he got up as close as possible and said: "Cæsar, read this to yourself, and quickly, for it contains matters of great consequence and of the last concern to you." He took it and attempted several times to read it, but was always prevented by one application or other. He therefore kept that paper, and that only, in his hand, when he entered the house. Some say it was delivered to him by another man, Artemidorus being kept from approaching him all the way by the crowd.
These things might, indeed, fall out by chance; but as in the place where the senate was that day assembled, and which proved the scene of that tragedy, there was a statue of Pompey, and it was an edifice which Pompey had consecrated for an ornament to his theatre, nothing can be clearer than that some deity conducted the whole business and directed the execution of it to that very spot. Even Cassius himself, though inclined to the doctrines of Epicurus, turned his eye to the statue of Pompey, and secretly invoked his aid, before the great attempt. The arduous occasion, it seems, overruled his former sentiments, and laid them open to all the influence of enthusiasm. Antony, who was a faithful friend to Cæsar, and a man of great strength, was held in discourse without, by Brutus Albinus, who had contrived a long story to detain him.
When Cæsar entered the house, the senate rose to do him honor. Some of Brutus' accomplices came up behind his chair, and others before it, pretending to intercede, along with Metillius Cimber, for the recall of his brother from exile. They continued their instances till he came to his seat. When he was seated he gave them a positive denial; and as they continued their importunities with an air of compulsion, he grew angry. Cimber, then, with both hands, pulled his gown off his neck, which was the signal for the attack. Casca gave him the first blow. It was a stroke upon the neck with his sword, but the wound was not dangerous; for in the beginning of so tremendous an enterprise he was probably in some disorder. Cæsar therefore turned upon him and laid hold of his sword. At the same time they both cried out, the one in Latin, "Villain! Casca! what dost thou mean?" and the other in Greek, to his brother, "Brother, help!"
After such a beginning, those who knew nothing of the conspiracy were seized with consternation and horror, insomuch that they durst neither fly nor assist, nor even utter a word. All the conspirators now drew their swords, and surrounded him in such a manner that, whatever way he turned, he saw nothing but steel gleaming in his face, and met nothing but wounds. Like some savage beast attacked by the hunters, he found every hand lifted against him, for they all agreed to have a share in the sacrifice and a taste of his blood. Therefore Brutus himself gave him a stroke in the groin. Some say he opposed the rest, and continued struggling and crying out till he perceived the sword of Brutus; then he drew his robe over his face and yielded to his fate. Either by accident or pushed thither by the conspirators, he expired on the pedestal of Pompey's statue, and dyed it with his blood; so that Pompey seemed to preside over the work of vengeance, to tread his enemy under his feet, and to enjoy his agonies. Those agonies were great, for he received no less than three-and-twenty wounds. And many of the conspirators wounded each other as they were aiming their blows at him.
Cæsar thus despatched, Brutus advanced to speak to the senate and to assign his reasons for what he had done, but they could not bear to hear him; they fled out of the house and filled the people with inexpressible horror and dismay. Some shut up their houses; others left their shops and counters. All were in motion; one was running to see the spectacle; another running back. Antony and Lepidus, Cæsar's principal friends, withdrew, and hid themselves in other people's houses. Meantime Brutus and his confederates, yet warm from the slaughter, marched in a body with their bloody swords in their hands, from the senate house to the Capitol, not like men that fled, but with an air of gayety and confidence, calling the people to liberty, and stopping to talk with every man of consequence whom they met. There were some who even joined them and mingled with their train, desirous of appearing to have had a share in the action and hoping for one in the glory. Of this number were Caius Octavius and Lentulus Spinther, who afterward paid dear for their vanity, being put to death by Antony and young Cæsar; so that they gained not even the honor for which they lost their lives, for nobody believed that they had any part in the enterprise; and they were punished, not for the deed, but for the will.
Next day Brutus and the rest of the conspirators came down from the Capitol and addressed the people, who attended to their discourse without expressing either dislike or approbation of what was done. But by their silence it appeared that they pitied Cæsar, at the same time that they revered Brutus. The senate passed a general amnesty; and, to reconcile all parties, they decreed Cæsar divine honors and confirmed all the acts of his dictatorship; while on Brutus and his friends they bestowed governments and such honors as were suitable; so that it was generally imagined the Commonwealth was firmly established again, and all brought into the best order.
But when, upon the opening of Cæsar's will, it was found that he had left every Roman citizen a considerable legacy, and they beheld the body, as it was carried through the Forum, all mangled with wounds, the multitude could no longer be kept within bounds. They stopped the procession, and, tearing up the benches, with the doors and tables, heaped them into a pile, and burned the corpse there. Then snatching flaming brands from the pile, some ran to burn the houses of the assassins, while others ranged the city to find the conspirators themselves and tear them in pieces; but they had taken such care to secure themselves that they could not meet with one of them.
One Cinna, a friend of Cæsar's, had a strange dream the preceding night. He dreamed—as they tell us—that Cæsar invited him to supper, and, upon his refusal to go, caught him by the hand and drew him after him, in spite of all the resistance he could make. Hearing, however, that the body of Cæsar was to be burned in the Forum, he went to assist in doing him the last honors, though he had a fever upon him, the consequence of his uneasiness about his dream. On his coming up, one of the populace asked who that was? and having learned his name, told it to his next neighbor. A report immediately spread through the whole company that it was one of Cæsar's murderers; and, indeed, one of the conspirators was named Cinna. The multitude, taking this for the man, fell upon him, and tore him to pieces upon the spot. Brutus and Cassius were so terrified at this rage of the populace that a few days after they left the city. An account of their subsequent actions, sufferings, and death may be found in the life of Brutus.
Cæsar died at the age of fifty-six, and did not survive Pompey above four years. His object was sovereign power and authority, which he pursued through innumerable dangers, and by prodigious efforts he gained it at last. But he reaped no other fruit from it than an empty and invidious title. It is true the divine Power, which conducted him through life, attended him after his death as his avenger, pursued and hunted out the assassins over sea and land, and rested not till there was not a man left, either of those who dipped their hands in his blood or of those who gave their sanction to the deed.
The most remarkable of natural events relative to this affair was that Cassius, after he had lost the battle of Philippi, killed himself with the same dagger which he had made use of against Cæsar; and the most signal phenomenon in the heavens was that of a great comet, which shone very bright for seven nights after Cæsar's death, and then disappeared; to which we may add the fading of the sun's lustre; for his orb looked pale all that year; he rose not with a sparkling radiance, nor had the heat he afforded its usual strength. The air, of course, was dark and heavy, for want of that vigorous heat which clears and rarefies it; and the fruits were so crude and unconcocted that they pined away and decayed, through the chilliness of the atmosphere.
We have a proof still more striking that the assassination of Cæsar was displeasing to the gods, in the phantom that appeared to Brutus. The story of it is this: Brutus was on the point of transporting his army from Abydos to the opposite continent; and the night before, he lay in his tent awake, according to custom, and in deep thought about what might be the event of the war; for it was natural for him to watch a great part of the night, and no general ever required so little sleep. With all his senses about him, he heard a noise at the door of his tent, and looking toward the light, which was now burned very low, he saw a terrible appearance in the human form, but of prodigious stature and the most hideous aspect. At first he was struck with astonishment; but when he saw it neither did nor spoke anything to him, but stood in silence by his bed, he asked it who it was? The spectre answered: "I am thy evil genius, Brutus; thou shalt see me at Philippi." Brutus answered boldly, "I'll meet thee there"; and the spectre immediately vanished. Hii my name is jim and my friend is bob
Some time after, he engaged Antony and Octavius Cæsar at Philippi, and the first day was victorious, carrying all before him, where he fought in person, and even pillaging Cæsar's camp. The night before he was to fight the second battle the same spectre appeared to him again, but spoke not a word. Brutus, however, understood that his last hour was near, and courted danger with all the violence of despair. Yet he did not fall in the action; but seeing all was lost, he retired to the top of a rock, where he presented his naked sword to his breast, and a friend, as they tell us, assisting the thrust, he died upon the spot.
- The first canals with sluices were executed by the Dutch in the fifteenth century.
- I have known an instance of a man of rank and influence who could never forgive another man, who was by far his superior in every respect, for having forgotten to take off his hat during a visit.