Page images

Maximus in succession to Cæsar, he went to his province. Whether he had any understanding with Antony or not, he seems at first to have been engaged in negotiations with Sext. Pompeius ostensibly in the interests of the senatorial party. From the proceedings of Antony in B.C. 44, and his ultimate determination to oust Decimus Brutus from Gallia, he stood aloof. When the siege of Mutina began he seems to have sent officers nominally to communicate with Brutus, but with secret orders not to take part in the struggle; and when Antony entered Narbonensis, after his retreat from Mutina, his officers at the frontier made no resistance, and though he feigned to be displeased and to punish them, they evidently were acting with his connivance. He was-says Decimus Brutus—"the shiftiest of men” (homo ventosissimus "), and his letters to Cicero and the senate professing loyalty, when on the eve of joining forces with Antony, are curious for their laboured treason. Like turncoats generally, he was little valued by the side which he thus joined. Antony and Octavian found it convenient to admit him to the triumvirate, but he was always treated with contempt by his two colleagues, and after his futile attempt in B.C. 36 to undermine Octavian's authority in Sicily, he was compelled to live in ignominious retirement till his death in B.C. 13. Cicero did his best by flattery and exhortation to keep him loyal, but never thought highly of him.' Of all those who joined in the murder of Cæsar, DECIMUS

BRUTUS seems to have had the least perDecimus Iunius

sonal motive and the least excuse. Cæsar Brutus Albinus. evidently thought highly of him, and regarded

him with personal affection. He had served with some distinction in Gaul. He commanded the fleet against the Veneti in B.C. 56, was left in charge of troops in Auvergne, and fought at Alesia in B.c. 52. Cæsar always calls him adulescens on these occasions : he probably therefore was under thirty, and had not held the quæstorship. When the Civil War broke out he was placed in command of the fleet built by Cæsar's orders to blockade Marseilles (B.C. 49), and seems to have shewn himself efficient. We

1 P. 121; Cicero speaks of him as levissimus ("most unstable"), vol. iv., p. 322. 2 Pp. 265, 291.

3 Vol. ii., p. 330.

have no information as to the years in which he held office, but he was in Rome in B.C. 50, and may have been quæstor. He does not seem to have been in any of the other battles of the Civil War. Soon after B.C.49 he was named governor of Farther Gaul, and fought successfully with the Bellovaci. There he seems to have remained for about three years, and on his return to Rome, about the same time that Cæsar came back from Spain (B.C. 45), was received by Cæsar with great honour and affection, being admitted to ride in a carriage with Octavius and Antony, behind that of the Dictator, when he entered Rome. He was also named for the province of Cisalpine Gaul for B.C. 44-43, and to the consulship for B.C. 42 with Plancus. Finally, as it transpired after Cæsar's death, he was named " second heir" in the Dictator's will. There seems no explanation of his having joined in the conspiracy except possibly his marriage with Paulla Valeria, the sister of a strong Pompeian. His known influence with Cæsar enabled him to play a particularly treacherous part. When the usual honorary procession of senators called at Cæsar's house on the fatal Ides of March they found him disinclined to go to the Curia, owing to various warnings, dreams, and omens. To Dec. Brutus was therefore assigned the task of persuading him to alter his resolution. The letter written by Decimus immediately afterwards shews no sign of remorse or regret.He was therefore fully persuaded in his own mind that he was doing a public duty. He gained nothing by it, and could hardly have hoped to do so. At first it seemed likely that he would be prevented from taking over his province. But Antony appears to have found it impossible to prevent his going there; and as the regular complement of men were already awaiting him, as soon as he entered the province he was able to act in all respects as a lawfully appointed governor. But he was also resolved to hold the province through B.C. 43, to the eve of his consulship, and refused to acknowledge the lex obtained by Antony authorizing him to succeed Brutus in January of that year. This was the origin of the war of Mutina, which fills so large a part in the letters

1 Vol. ii., p. 116.
2 Plut. Ant. xi.

3 Pp. 1-3.
4 See his expedition against Alpine tribes, p. 144.

of this volume. Cicero's letters to him in B.C. 44 will illustrate his position before Antony's open war against him, and his own despatches after his relief at Mutina (April, B.C. 43) take us step by step along the road in that vain pursuit of Antony, which finally brought Decimus himself to destruction. The most notable figure in this last section of the corre

spondence is MARCUS BRUTUS. He has M. Iunius Brutus long enjoyed a unique reputation, founded (Cæpio), b. B.C. 83, ob. B.C. 42.

partly on his name and imaginary descent

from the expeller of kings, partly on the supposed loftiness of his motives and his stoical purity. He was the preux chevalier of the conspiracy, a Bayard or a Sidney, who acted only as a gentleman, a patriot, and a Stoic was bound to act. Even Antony acknowledged that he alone of the assassins was without selfish aims; and Shakespeare faithfully caught the spirit of his authorities when he made him the hero of his Julius Cæsar. There have not, of course, been wanting critics to take a different view of the character and career of Brutus. He is, for instance, an object of positive aversion to the editors of the great Dublin edition of the letters, who not only refer to his stiff and ungracious manners, of which Cicero himself seems to complain, and to his shallow pedantry, but accuse him of gross oppression and usury in Asia and Cyprus, of betraying to Cæsar Pompey's intention of going to Egypt after Pharsalia, of mean motives and gross ingratitude in the assassination of Cæsar, and, while trying to make terms with the Antonians, of failing his party at their direst need by not coming over from Macedonia with his army. There is thus nothing left of the heroic about him, or even of what is decently honourable. If whitewashing the villains of history is an unsatisfactory employment, a still less satisfactory one is that of dispelling our illusions as to its heroes. His contemporaries admired Brutus, even his opponents admitted his high qualities, an almost constant tradition agreed in exalting his character. If Dante placed him in his lowest hell, it was from the stern condemnation of murder, whatever might be pleaded for the murderer. There was no more pardon for him than for Francesca's adultery, in spite of infinite pity. It is, of course, impossible to acquit Brutus of sinking to the level of his age and belying his philosophy in the usurious proceedings in Cyprus,' and of at least indifference as to the harshness with which his agents exacted the money. It was, however, too common a custom among the Roman nobility to shock his contemporaries, or to surprise moderns who know how often practice does not square with theory. In the government of Gallia Cisalpina (B.C. 56) he seems to have been blameless in regard to money, and to have shewn considerable ability. The alleged betrayal of Pompey's intention of going to Egypt is not really substantiated by Plutarch, and seems to be rendered nearly impossible from the fact that Pompey had not made up his mind himself when he escaped from Pharsalia ; and Brutus, who left the camp after him, could scarcely have known it, if he had. In the matter of Cæsar's murder he was as guilty as the rest-neither more nor less. He probably felt no special gratitude to Cæsar, who could hardly have done other than spare him after Pharsalia, in view of his own relations with his mother Servilia. The rumour that Brutus was in reality Cæsar's son is in the highest degree improbable, though perhaps not absolutely impossible. He had no reason to love Pompey, who had treacherously killed his father, but he did love his uncle Cato, whose death was at Cæsar's door. His coming over to Italy in B.C. 43, as Cicero urged him to do, even if it had been possible with such transport as he had, would hardly have been wise. His opponents were then in great strength; there is no reason to believe that Italy was-as Cicero alleged-ready to rise in his support, and an unsuccessful battle with Antony, Lepidus and Octavian, who would assuredly have united to oppose him, would have not only entailed the final loss of the cause, but have given the excuse for a massacre worse than the proscriptions. The charge of dallying with the Antonians rests on his leniency in the matter of Gaius Antonius, whom he had taken prisoner. On the 13th of April, just before the result of the battles of Mutina was known, a despatch arrived from Brutus, accompanied by one from Gaius Antonius himself, which began Gaius Antonius Proconsul.They were brought by Pilius Celer, the father-in-law of

See vol. ii., pp. xii, xiii, 136-137.

2 P. 215.

Atticus, and handed to a tribune. The tribune passed them to Cornutus, the prætor urbanus who was presiding in the senate in the absence of the consuls. The despatch of Brutus referred to Antonius in indulgent terms, and the fact of having allowed him to style himself Proconsul was regarded by the Ciceronians as a practical abandonment of their contention, that Brutus was alone lawful proconsul of Macedonia. Cicero felt so much embarrassed that he said nothing. But at the next day's meeting he spoke severely of this assumption of the title of Proconsul, and some of the party tried to insinuate that the despatch of Brutus was a forgery. There is no evidence, however, that Brutus ever attempted to disown the despatch, and even after the battles of Mutina he continued to treat Gaius Antonius with consideration, who, according to the most probable account, was not put to death till towards the end of the year, and then not directly by the order of Brutus. Some of the Ciceronian party were alarmed at the possible position of their relations if they had borne arms against a "proconsul,” and were therefore eager to mark the rejection of the claim implied by the use of the title. But there could not be any doubt of the right of Gaius Antonius to this designation, as he had doubtless been invested with imperium in the usual way. The question was really whether he had any lawful claim to be exercising that imperium in Macedonia. In that point of view he stood—as Cicero remarked-in the same position as his brother Marcus in Gaul. But Marcus had been proclaimed by the senate a hostis, which it does not seem that Gaius had been. There may, therefore, have been room for negotiation, and in the midst of so much bloodshed it is hardly a matter for reproach to Brutus that he hesitated to execute a prisoner captured in open fight, and was willing to allow him to obtain terms from the senate. In Cicero's view, however, everything but war à l'outrance with the Antonies was treason, and he constantly presses upon Brutus the necessity of getting rid of him.

As controversy has thus raged round the character of Brutus, so has it done also on the genuineness of the two books of letters between Brutus and Cicero. The question has been fully stated and the latest arguments reviewed by the Dublin editors, and need not be discussed over again

« PreviousContinue »