The Lives of the Twelve Caesars

(55) LXXXVII. This, however, was generally admitted, that his death was
in many respects such as he would have chosen. For, upon reading the
account delivered by Xenophon, how Cyrus in his last illness gave
instructions respecting his funeral, Caesar deprecated a lingering death,
and wished that his own might be sudden and speedy. And the day before
he died, the conversation at supper, in the house of Marcus Lepidus,
turning upon what was the most eligible way of dying, he gave his opinion
in favour of a death that is sudden and unexpected.

LXXXVIII. He died in the fifty-sixth year of his age, and was ranked
amongst the Gods, not only by a formal decree, but in the belief of the
vulgar. For during the first games which Augustus, his heir, consecrated
to his memory, a comet blazed for seven days together, rising always
about eleven o’clock; and it was supposed to be the soul of Caesar, now
received into heaven: for which reason, likewise, he is represented on
his statue with a star on his brow. The senate-house in which he was
slain, was ordered to be shut up [101], and a decree made that the ides
of March should be called parricidal, and the senate should never more
assemble on that day.

LXXXIX. Scarcely any of those who were accessary to his murder, survived
him more than three years, or died a natural death [102]. They were all
condemned by the senate: some were taken off by one accident, some by
another. Part of them perished at sea, others fell in battle; and some
slew themselves with the same poniard with which they had stabbed Caesar
[103].

(56) [104] The termination of the civil war between Caesar and Pompey
forms a new epoch in the Roman History, at which a Republic, which had
subsisted with unrivalled glory during a period of about four hundred and
sixty years, relapsed into a state of despotism, whence it never more
could emerge. So sudden a transition from prosperity to the ruin of
public freedom, without the intervention of any foreign enemy, excites a
reasonable conjecture, that the constitution in which it could take
place, however vigorous in appearance, must have lost that soundness of
political health which had enabled it to endure through so many ages. A
short view of its preceding state, and of that in which it was at the
time of the revolution now mentioned, will best ascertain the foundation
of such a conjecture.

Though the Romans, upon the expulsion of Tarquin, made an essential
change in the political form of the state, they did not carry their
detestation of regal authority so far as to abolish the religious
institutions of Numa Pompilius, the second of their kings, according to
which, the priesthood, with all the influence annexed to that order, was
placed in the hands of the aristocracy. By this wise policy a restraint
was put upon the fickleness and violence of the people in matters of
government, and a decided superiority given to the Senate both in the
deliberative and executive parts of administration. This advantage was
afterwards indeed diminished by the creation of Tribunes of the people; a
set of men whose ambition often embroiled the Republic in civil
dissensions, and who at last abused their authority to such a degree,
that they became instruments of aggrandizement to any leading men in the
state who could purchase their friendship. In general, however, the
majority of the Tribunes being actuated by views which comprehended the
interests of the multitude, rather than those of individuals, they did
not so much endanger the liberty, as they interrupted the tranquillity,
of the public; and when the occasional commotions subsided, there
remained no permanent ground for the establishment of personal
usurpation.

In every government, an object of the last importance to the peace and
welfare of society is the morals of the people; and in proportion as a
community is enlarged by propagation, or the accession of a multitude of
new members, a more strict attention is requisite to guard against that
dissolution of manners to which a crowded and extensive capital has a
natural tendency. Of this (57) the Romans became sensible in the growing
state of the Republic. In the year of the City 312, two magistrates were
first created for taking an account of the number of the people, and the
value of their estates; and soon after, they were invested with the
authority not only of inspecting the morals of individuals, but of
inflicting public censure for any licentiousness of conduct, or violation
of decency. Thus both the civil and religious institutions concurred to
restrain the people within the bounds of good order and obedience to the
laws; at the same time that the frugal life of the ancient Romans proved
a strong security against those vices which operate most effectually
towards sapping the foundations of a state.

But in the time of Julius Caesar the barriers of public liberty were
become too weak to restrain the audacious efforts of ambitious and
desperate men. The veneration for the constitution, usually a powerful
check to treasonable designs, had been lately violated by the usurpations
of Marius and Sylla. The salutary terrors of religion no longer
predominated over the consciences of men. The shame of public censure
was extinguished in general depravity. An eminent historian, who lived
at that time, informs us, that venality universally prevailed amongst the
Romans; and a writer who flourished soon after, observes, that luxury and
dissipation had encumbered almost all so much with debt, that they beheld
with a degree of complacency the prospect of civil war and confusion.

The extreme degree of profligacy at which the Romans were now arrived is
in nothing more evident, than that this age gave birth to the most
horrible conspiracy which occurs in the annals of humankind, viz. that of
Catiline. This was not the project of a few desperate and abandoned
individuals, but of a number of men of the most illustrious rank in the
state; and it appears beyond doubt, that Julius Caesar was accessary to
the design, which was no less than to extirpate the Senate, divide
amongst themselves both the public and private treasures, and set Rome on
fire. The causes which prompted to this tremendous project, it is
generally admitted, were luxury, prodigality, irreligion, a total
corruption of manners, and above all, as the immediate cause, the
pressing necessity in which the conspirators were involved by their
extreme dissipation.

The enormous debt in which Caesar himself was early involved,
countenances an opinion that his anxiety to procure the province of Gaul
proceeded chiefly from this cause. But during nine years in which he
held that province, he acquired such riches as must have rendered him,
without competition, the most opulent person in the state. If nothing
more, therefore, than a (58) splendid establishment had been the object
of his pursuit, he had attained to the summit of his wishes. But when we
find him persevering in a plan of aggrandizement beyond this period of
his fortunes, we can ascribe his conduct to no other motive than that of
outrageous ambition. He projected the building of a new Forum at Rome,
for the ground only of which he was to pay 800,000 pounds; he raised
legions in Gaul at his own charges: he promised such entertainments to
the people as had never been known at Rome from the foundation of the
city. All these circumstances evince some latent design of procuring
such a popularity as might give him an uncontrolled influence in the
management of public affairs. Pompey, we are told, was wont to say, that
Caesar not being able, with all his riches, to fulfil the promises which
he had made, wished to throw everything into confusion. There may have
been some foundation for this remark: but the opinion of Cicero is more
probable, that Caesar’s mind was seduced with the temptations of
chimerical glory. It is observable that neither Cicero nor Pompey
intimates any suspicion that Caesar was apprehensive of being impeached
for his conduct, had he returned to Rome in a private station. Yet, that
there was reason for such an apprehension, the positive declaration of L.
Domitius leaves little room to doubt: especially when we consider the
number of enemies that Caesar had in the Senate, and the coolness of his
former friend Pompey ever after the death of Julia. The proposed
impeachment was founded upon a notorious charge of prosecuting measures
destructive of the interests of the commonwealth, and tending ultimately
to an object incompatible with public freedom. Indeed, considering the
extreme corruption which prevailed amongst the Romans at this time, it is
more than probable that Caesar would have been acquitted of the charge,
but at such an expense as must have stripped him of all his riches, and
placed him again in a situation ready to attempt a disturbance of the
public tranquillity. For it is said, that he purchased the friendship of
Curio, at the commencement of the civil war, with a bribe little short of
half a million sterling.

Whatever Caesar’s private motive may have been for taking arms against
his country, he embarked in an enterprise of a nature the most dangerous:
and had Pompey conducted himself in any degree suitable to the reputation
which he had formerly acquired, the contest would in all probability have
terminated in favour of public freedom. But by dilatory measures in the
beginning, by imprudently withdrawing his army from Italy into a distant
province, and by not pursuing the advantage he had gained by the vigorous
repulse of Caesar’s troops in their attack upon his camp, this commander
lost every opportunity of extinguishing a war which was to determine the
fate, and even the existence, of the Republic. It was accordingly
determined on the plains of Pharsalia, where Caesar obtained a victory
which was not more decisive than unexpected. He was now no longer
amenable either to the tribunal of the Senate or the power of the laws,
but triumphed at once over his enemies and the constitution of his
country.

It is to the honour of Caesar, that when he had obtained the supreme
power, he exercised it with a degree of moderation beyond what was
generally expected by those who had fought on the side of the Republic.
Of his private life either before or after this period, little is
transmitted in history. Henceforth, however, he seems to have lived
chiefly at Rome, near which he had a small villa, upon an eminence,
commanding a beautiful prospect. His time was almost entirely occupied
with public affairs, in the management of which, though he employed many
agents, he appears to have had none in the character of actual minister.
He was in general easy of access: but Cicero, in a letter to a friend,
complains of having been treated with the indignity of waiting a
considerable time amongst a crowd in an anti-chamber, before he could
have an audience. The elevation of Caesar placed him not above
discharging reciprocally the social duties in the intercourse of life.
He returned the visits of those who waited upon him, and would sup at
their houses. At table, and in the use of wine, he was habitually
temperate. Upon the whole, he added nothing to his own happiness by all
the dangers, the fatigues, and the perpetual anxiety which he had
incurred in the pursuit of unlimited power. His health was greatly
impaired: his former cheerfulness of temper, though not his magnanimity,
appears to have forsaken him; and we behold in his fate a memorable
example of illustrious talents rendered, by inordinate ambition,
destructive to himself, and irretrievably pernicious to his country.

From beholding the ruin of the Roman Republic, after intestine divisions,
and the distractions of civil war, it will afford some relief to take a
view of the progress of literature, which flourished even during those
calamities.

The commencement of literature in Rome is to be dated from the reduction
of the Grecian States, when the conquerors imported into their own
country the valuable productions of the Greek language, and the first
essay of Roman genius was in dramatic composition. Livius Andronicus,
who flourished about 240 years before the Christian aera, formed the
Fescennine verses into a kind of regular drama, upon the model of the
Greeks. He was followed some time after by Ennius, who, besides dramatic
and other compositions, (60) wrote the annals of the Roman Republic in
heroic verse. His style, like that of Andronicus, was rough and
unpolished, in conformity to the language of those times; but for
grandeur of sentiment and energy of expression, he was admired by the
greatest poets in the subsequent ages. Other writers of distinguished
reputation in the dramatic department were Naevius, Pacuvius, Plautus,
Afranius, Caecilius, Terence, Accius, etc. Accius and Pacuvius are
mentioned by Quintilian as writers of extraordinary merit. Of twenty-
five comedies written by Plautus, the number transmitted to posterity is
nineteen; and of a hundred and eight which Terence is said to have
translated from Menander, there now remain only six. Excepting a few
inconsiderable fragments, the writings of all the other authors have
perished. The early period of Roman literature was distinguished for the
introduction of satire by Lucilius, an author celebrated for writing with
remarkable ease, but whose compositions, in the opinion of Horace, though
Quintilian thinks otherwise, were debased with a mixture of feculency.
Whatever may have been their merit, they also have perished, with the
works of a number of orators, who adorned the advancing state of letters
in the Roman Republic. It is observable, that during this whole period,
of near two centuries and a half, there appeared not one historian of
eminence sufficient to preserve his name from oblivion.

Julius Caesar himself is one of the most eminent writers of the age in
which he lived. His commentaries on the Gallic and Civil Wars are
written with a purity, precision, and perspicuity, which command
approbation. They are elegant without affectation, and beautiful without
ornament. Of the two books which he composed on Analogy, and those under
the title of Anti-Cato, scarcely any fragment is preserved; but we may be
assured of the justness of the observations on language, which were made
by an author so much distinguished by the excellence of his own
compositions. His poem entitled The Journey, which was probably an
entertaining narrative, is likewise totally lost.

The most illustrious prose writer of this or any other age is M. Tullius
Cicero; and as his life is copiously related in biographical works, it
will be sufficient to mention his writings. From his earliest years, he
applied himself with unremitting assiduity to the cultivation of
literature, and, whilst he was yet a boy, wrote a poem, called Glaucus
Pontius, which was extant in Plutarch’s time. Amongst his juvenile
productions was a translation into Latin verse, of Aratus on the
Phaenomena of the Heavens; of which many fragments are still extant. He
also published a poem of the heroic kind, in honour of his countryman C.
Marius, who was born at Arpinum, the birth-place of Cicero. (61) This
production was greatly admired by Atticus; and old Scaevola was so much
pleased with it, that in an epigram written on the subject, he declares
that it would live as long as the Roman name and learning subsisted.
From a little specimen which remains of it, describing a memorable omen
given to Marina from an oak at Arpinum, there is reason to believe that
his poetical genius was scarcely inferior to his oratorical, had it been
cultivated with equal industry. He published another poem called Limon,
of which Donatus has preserved four lines in the life of Terence, in
praise of the elegance and purity of that poet’s style. He composed in
the Greek language, and in the style and manner of Isocrates, a
Commentary or Memoirs of the Transactions of his Consulship. This he
sent to Atticus, with a desire, if he approved it, to publish it in
Athens and the cities of Greece. He sent a copy of it likewise to
Posidonius of Rhodes, and requested of him to undertake the same subject
in a more elegant and masterly manner. But the latter returned for
answer, that, instead of being encouraged to write by the perusal of his
tract, he was quite deterred from attempting it.

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.