« PreviousContinue »
49.-DEATH OF CÆSAR.
PLUTARCH. [PLUTARCHUS, “the only writer of antiquity who has established a lasting reputation in the department of biography," was a native of Cheronæa, in Baotia, and was a youth in the time of the Roman emperor Nero. His Lives are equally the delight of boys and men, of the cursory reader and the philosopher. He had a distinct object in vier
to exhibit character, and thence deduce or suggest moral lessons. The old English translation, by Sir Thomas North, from the French of Amyot, is the best complete version of this most interesting writer. That of Langhorne is feeble and unidiomatic. Mr. Long, late Latin Professor at University College, and now Reader of Roman Law at the Middle Temple, is proceeding with a translation from the Greek of those Lives which illustrate the Civil Wars of Rome; and his accomplished scholarship and profound historical knowledge leave us nothing to desire in a version of Plutarch. May he be able, amongst the various occupations of his useful life, to give us an entire translation of this great work. The following narrative of the death of Cæsar is from Mr. Long's version.]
The most manifest and deadly hatred towards him was produced by · his desire of kingly power, which to the many was the first, and to
those who had long nourished a secret hatred of him the most specious cause. And indeed those who were contriving this honour for Cæsar spread about a certain report among the people, that according to the Sibylline writings it appeared that Parthia could be conquered by the Romans if they advanced against it with a king, but otherwise could not be assailed. And as Cæsar was going down from Alba to the city, they ventured to salute him as king, but, as the people showed their dissatisfaction, Cæsar was disturbed, and said that he was not called king, but Cæsar; and, as hereupon there was a general silence, he passed along with no great cheerfulness nor good humour on his countenance. When some extravagant honours had been decreed to him in the Senate, it happened that he was sitting above the Rostra, and when the consuls and prætors approached with all the senate behind them, without rising from his seat, but just as if he were transacting business with private persons, he answered that the honours required rather to be contracted than enlarged. This annoyed, not the senate only, but the people also, who considered that the state was insulted in the persons of the Senate ; and those who were not obliged to stay went away forth with with countenance greatly downcast, so that Cæsar perceiving it forthwith went home, and as he threw his cloak from his shoulders he called out to his friends, that he was ready to offer his throat to any one who wished to kill him; but afterwards he alleged his disease as an excuse for his behaviour, saying that persons who are so affected cannot usually keep their senses steady when they address a multitude standing, but that the senses being speedily convulsed and whirling about bring on giddiness and are overpowered. However, the fact was not so, for it is said that he was very desirous to rise up when the senate came, but was checked by one of his friends or rather one of his flatterers, Cornelius Balbus, who said, “Will you not remember that you are Cæsar, and will you not allow yourself to be honoured as a superior ?”
There was added to these causes of offence the insult offered to the tribunes. It was the festival of the Lupercalia, about which many writers say that it was originally a festival of the shepherds, and had also some relationship to the Arcadian Lycæa. On this occasion many of the young nobles and magistrates run through the city without their toga, and for sport and to make laughter strike those whom they meet with strips of hide that have the hair on; many women of rank also purposely put themselves in the way, and present their hands to be struck like children at school, being persuaded that this is favourable to easy parturition for those who are pregnant, and to conception for those who are barren. Cæsar was a spectator, being seated at the Rostra on a golden chair in a triumphal robe; and Antonius was one of those who ran in the sacred race, for he was consul. Accordingly, when he entered the Forum, and the crowd made way for him, he presented to Cæsar a diadem which he carried surrounded with a crown of bay; and there was a clapping of hands, not loud, but slight, which had been already concerted. When Cæsar put away the diadem from him, all the people clapped their hands, and when Antonius presented it again only a few clapped ; but when Cæsar declined to receive it again all the people applauded. The experiment having thus failed, Cæsar rose and ordered the crown to be carried to the Capitol. But as Cæsar's statues were seen crowned with royal diadems, two of the tribunes, Flavius and Marullus, went up to them and pulled off the diadems, and, having discovered those who had been the first to salute Cæsar as king, they led them off to prison. The people followed, clapping their hands and calling the tribunes Bruti, because it was Brutus who put down the kingly power and placed the sovereignty in the Senate and people instead of its being in the hands of one man. Cæsar, being irritated at this, deprived Flavius and Marullus of their office, and while rating them he also insulted the people by frequently calling the tribunes Bruti and Cumæi.
In this state of affairs the many turned to Marcus Brutus, who on his father's side was considered to be a descendant of the ancient Brutus, and on his mother's side belonged to the Servilii, another distinguished house, and he was the son-in-law and nephew of Cato. The honours and favours which Brutus had received from Cæsar dulled him towards attempting of his own proper motion the overthrow of the monarchical power; for not only was his life saved at the battle of Pharsalus after the rout of Pompeius, and many of his friends also at his entreaty, but besides this he had great credit with Cæsar. He had also received among those who then held the prætorship the chief office, and he was to be consul in the fourth year from that time, having been preferred to Cassius, who was a rival candidate. For it is said that Cæsar observed that Cassius urged better grounds of preference, but that he could not pass over Brutus. And on one occasion, when some persons were calumniating Brutus to him, at a time when the conspiracy was really forming, he would not listen to them, but touching his body with his hand he said to the accusers, “Brutus waits for this dry skin,” by which he intended to signify that Brutus was worthy of the power for his merits, but for the sake of the power would not be ungrateful and a villain. Now those who were eager for the change, and who looked up to him alone, or him as the chief person, did not venture to speak with him on the subject, but by night they used to fill the tribunal and the seat on which he sat when discharging his functions as prætor, with writings, most of which were to this purport: “You are asleep, Brutus,” and “ You are not Brutus." By which Cassius, perceiving that his ambition was somewhat stirred, urged him more than he had done before and pricked him on; and Cassius himself had also a private grudge against Cæsar for the reasons which I have mentioned in the Life of Brutus. Indeed Cæsar suspected Cassius, and he once said to his friends, “ What
think ye is Cassius aiming at? for my part, I like him not over-much for he is over-pale.” On the other hand, it is said that when a rumour reached him, that Antonius and Dolabella were plotting, he said, “I am not much afraid of these well-fed long-haired fellows, but I rather fear those others, the pale and thin,” meaning Cassius and Brutus.
But it appears that destiny is not so much a thing that gives no warning as a thing that cannot be avoided, for they say that wondrous signs and appearances presented themselves. Now as to lights in the skies and sounds by night moving in various directions, and solitary birds descending into the Forum, it is perhaps not worth while recording these with reference to so important an event: but Strabo the Philosopher relates that many men all of fire were seen contending against one another, and that a soldier's slave emitted a great flame from his hand and appeared to the spectators to be burning, but when the flame went out the man had sustained no harm; and while Cæsar himself was sacrificing the heart of the victim could not be found, and this was considered a bad omen, for naturally an animal without a heart cannot exist. The following stories also are told by many: that a certain seer warned him to be on his guard against great danger on that day of the month of March which the Romans call the Ides; and when the day had arrived, as Cæsar was going to the Senatehouse, he saluted the seer and jeered him, saying, “ Well, the Ides of March are come;" but the seer mildly replied, “Yes, they are come, but they are not yet over.” The day before, when Marcus Lepidus was entertaining him, he chanced to be signing some letters, according to his babit, while he was reclining at table; and the conversation having turned on what kind of death was the best, before any one could give an opinion he called out, that which is unexpected. After this, while he was sleeping, as he was accustomed to do, by the side of his wife, all the doors and windows in the house flew open at once, and, being startled by the noise and the brightness of the moon which was shining down upon him, he observed that Calpurnia was in a deep slumber, but was uttering indistinct words and inarticulate groans in the midst of her sleep; and indeed she was dreaming that she held her murdered husband in her arms and was weeping over him. Others say this was not the vision that Calpurnia had, but the following: there was attached to Cæsar's house by way of ornament and distinction, pursuant to a vote of the Senate, an acroterium, as Livius says, and Calpurnia, in her dream seeing this tumbling down, lamented and wept. When day came accordingly she entreated Cæsar if it was possible, not to go out, and to put off the meeting of the Senate; but, if he paid no regard to her dreams, she urged him to inquire by other modes of divination and by sacrifices about the future. Cæsar also, as it seems, had some suspicion and fear; for he had never before detected in Calpurnia any womanish superstition, and now he saw that she was much disturbed, and when the seers also, after sacrificing many victims, reported to him that the omens were unfavourable he determined to send Antonius to dismiss the Senate.
In the meantime Decimus Brutus, surnamed Albinus, who was in such favour with Cæsar that he was made in his will his second heir, but was engaged in the conspiracy with the other Brutus and Cassius, being afraid that, if Cæsar escaped that day, the affair might become known, ridiculed the seers, and chided Cæsar for giving cause for blame and censure to the Senate, who would consider themselves insulted : he said, “ that the Senate had met at his bidding, and that they were all ready to pass a decree that he should be proclaimed king of the provinces out of Italy, and should wear a diadem whenever he visited the rest of the earth and sea; but if any one shall tell them, when they are taking their seats, to be gone now and to come again when Calpurnia shall have had better dreams, what may we not expect to be said by those who envy you? or who will listen to your friends when they say that this is not slavery and tyranny. But if, he continued, “you are fully resolved to consider the day inauspicious, it is better for you to go yourself and address the Senate and then to adjourn the business.” As he said this, Brutus took Cæsar by the hand and began to lead him forth : and he had gone but a little way from the door, when a slave belonging to another person, who was eager to get at Cæsar, but was prevented by the press and numbers about him, rushing into the house, delivered himself up to Calpurnia and told her to keep him till Cæsar returned, for he had important things to communicate to him.
Artemidorus, a Cnidian by birth, and a professor of Greek philosophy, which had brought him into the familarity of some of those who belonged to the party of Brutus, so that he knew the greater part of what was going on, came and brought in a small roll the information which he intended to communicate; but, observing that Cæsar gave