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The Death of Cicero

"Just before the arrival of the triumvirs Marcus Cicero left the city, considering it certain that he had no more chance of being saved from the vengeance of Antony than Brutus and Cassius had of escaping that of Octavius, -- which was the fact. He fled first to his Tusculan villa and thence proceeded by cross-roads to that of Formiæ in order to take ship at Caieta. There, after advancing several times seaward, he was driven back by adverse winds, and again he found himself unable to endure the tossing of the ship on the gloomy rolling waves, and he began at length to grow weary both of flight and of life. So he returned to his upper villa, which was a little more than a mile from the shore, saying, 'I will die in my fatherland that I have so often saved.' It is well established that his slaves were ready to fight for him bravely and faithfully, but that he ordered them to put down the litter and endure with patience whatever an adverse fate should compel. As he leaned out of the litter and offered his neck unmoved, his head was cut off. Nor did this satisfy the senseless cruelty of the soldiers. They cut off his hands, also, for the offence of having written something against Antony. Thus the head was brought to Antony and placed by his order between the two hands on the rostra, where, often as consul, often as a consular, and, that very year against Antony, he had been heard with admiration of his eloquence, the like of which no other human voice ever uttered. The people, raising their eyes bedimmed with tears, could scarcely bear the sight of his dismembered parts. He lived sixty-three years, so that in the absence of violence his death could not have been considered premature. His genius served him well both in his works and in the rewards thereof. He enjoyed the favors of fortune for a long time, yet in the intervals of his protracted career of prosperity he suffered some severe blows, exile, the ruin of the party he had espoused, the death of his daughter, and his end so sad and bitter, none of which calamities did he bear as became a man except his death, which to one who weighs the matter impartially must seem the less undeserved, since he suffered nothing more cruel at the hands of his victorious enemy than he would himself have inflicted if fortune had put the same power in his hands.1 Yet if we weigh his virtues and his faults he must be pronounced a great, energetic, and ever memorable man, to fitly sound whose praises another Cicero would be needed." (Livy, cxx.) This judgment of the gravest of Roman historians is the one which the better part of mankind have ratified in all succeeding ages.

The glowing words of Velleius also deserve a place here; and these likewise have found their echo in all later generations, viz.: "You have gained nothing, Mark Antony (for the indignation bursting from my mind and breast compels me to exceed the intended character of this work); you have gained nothing, I say, by paying the price for closing that celestial voice and cutting off that most noble head, and instigating, by a cruel reward, the death of a man who had once been so great a consul and the saviour of the republic. You deprived Marcus Cicero of a life of anxiety and a feeble old age, of an existence worse under your chieftainship than death under your triumvirate. But the fame and glory of his deeds and words you have not taken from him in the least, but rather augumented. He lives and will live in the memory of all ages. So long as this body of the natural universe, whether created by chance or by providence, or however constituted, which he almost alone of the Romans penetrated with his intellect, embraced with his genius, and illuminated with his eloquence, shall endure, it will bear the praise of Cicero as coeval with it. All posterity will admire what he wrote against you and execrate what you did against him, and sooner shall the human race perish from the earth than his fame decay." (Velleius, ii. 66.)

Valerius Maximus, under the heading of "Ingratitude among the Romans," says: "Cicero, at the instance of M. Cælius, with no less zeal than eloquence, defended C. Popilius Læna, a man of Picenum, and, though he had a doubtful case, returned him in safety to his home. This Popilius, of his own accord, although he had never afterward been harmed by Cicero by word or deed, asked Antony to send him to pursue and kill that illustrious proscript. When he had obtained this detestable commission he hastened with joy and gladness to Caieta and ordered that man who, not to mention his very great dignity, had certainly been Læna's preserver, and was entitled to veneration for the zealous and distinguished service rendered in his private capacity, to lay bare his throat. Then, with absolute coolness, he cut off the head of Roman eloquence and the most renowned right hand of peace. Loaded with these, as with the honorable spoils of war, he returned gayly to the city. As he bore the infamous burden it never occurred to him that he was carrying the very head that once had pleaded eloquently for his own. Words are powerless to stigmatize this monster, since no other Cicero exists to deplore in fitting terms the misfortune that befell that one." (Val. Max., v. 3. 4.)

The following is Plutarch's account of Cicero's death. "While these events were in progress Cicero was at his country place near Tusculum, and his brother was with him. When they heard of the proscription they decided to go down to Astura, Cicero's place on the sea-coast, and sail thence to Macedonia to join Brutus, for it was already rumored that he had mastered those parts. They were conveyed, sorrow-stricken, in litters, and often stopped on the road, bringing their litters near together, and condoled with each other. Quintus was particularly disturbed as he remembered his needy condition. So he said that, as he had brought nothing from home, and as Cicero's provision was also very scanty, it would be best for the latter to continue his flight, while Quintus should return home and provide himself with necessaries. After this was decided upon they embraced each other, wept, and went different ways. Quintus, not many days later, was betrayed by his servants to the pursuers, and was killed, together with his son. Cicero was conveyed to Astura, where he found a ship ready, in which he embarked and sailed as far as Circæum with a favorable wind. The pilots wished to proceed from that place immediately, but Cicero, either fearing the sea, or not having lost all faith in Octavius, went ashore and travelled 100 stades by land toward Rome. Again he became anxious, changed his mind, and went back to the sea-shore at Astura. There he passed the night in great trouble and perplexity. He even contemplated going secretly to the house of Octavius and killing himself on his hearthstone, in order to bring divine vengeance upon him, but the fear of torture changed his purpose. Then, falling a prey to other perplexed and varying counsels, he allowed his servants to convey him by sea to Caieta, where he had a country place, an agreeable retreat in the summer season when the north winds blow fresh. There was a small temple on the sea-shore at this place, out of which crows flew in large numbers and with loud noise, to Cicero's ship as it neared the land, and, alighting on either side of the yard-arm, some of them croaked and others pecked at the ends of the ropes. This seemed to all to be an ill omen. Nevertheless, Cicero disembarked and proceeded to his villa, where he went to bed to take a little rest. The crows alighted at the window, where they clamored tumultuously, and one of them flew down upon the bed where Cicero was covered up, and, little by little, drew the covering from his face with its beak. When the servants saw this they reproached themselves for remaining idle spectators of their master's fate, and not rescuing him in his undeserved distress, while the brute creation was lending him aid. So, partly by entreaty, partly by force, they put him in the litter and carried him toward the sea-shore.

"In the meantime the murderers were coming, under the command of the centurion Herennius and the military tribune Popilius, whom Cicero had once defended when he was prosecuted for killing his own father. Finding the doors closed, they broke them open, but they did not find Cicero, and those who were within said that they did not know where he was. It is said that a young man named Philologus, who had been educated by Cicero in the liberal arts and sciences, a freedman of his brother Quintus, told the tribune that they were carrying the litter through the bushy shaded walks toward the sea. The tribune took a few men and ran around to the exit of these paths. Herennius kept his course along the path, and when Cicero saw him he ordered the servants to put down the litter. Then, leaning his chin on his left hand as was his custom, he looked straight at the murderers. His haggard appearance and his unshaven face, wasted with anxiety, caused most of them to hide their own heads while Herennius murdered him. He was killed while holding his neck out of the litter, being then in the sixty-fourth year of his age. By Antony's command his head was cut off and also the hands with which he wrote the Philippics, for he styled his orations against Antony the Philippics, and they are so called to this day." (Life of Cicero, 47-48). It thus appears from Plutarch's account, as well as from Livy's, that, if Cicero had really desired to escape, he had abundant opportunity. It was perhaps the intention of Octavius and Lepidus that he should do so.

Dion Cassius gives a very brief account of Cicero's death, but adds some particulars about the indignities offered to his remains, viz.: "When the head of Cicero was brought to the triumvirs (for he was captured and killed while fleeing), Antony heaped many bitter reproaches on it, and then ordered that it be put in a more conspicuous place than the others on the rostra, so that in the place where Cicero had been heard speaking against himself it might be seen, together with the right hand, as that also had been cut off. Before it was removed Fulvia took the head in her hands, and, after abusing it with bitter words and spitting on it, placed it on her knees, opened the mouth, drew out the tongue, and pierced it with pins that she used in dressing her hair, all the time heaping disgusting epithets upon it." (Dion, xlvii. 8.)

1 Both in letters and in public speeches Cicero declared that if he had had a part in the assassination of Cæsar he would have put Antony to death also. Thus in the letter to Cassius (Ad Fan. xii. 3) he says: "The fury of your friend [Antony] increases from day to day. For a first example, there is the statue which he has placed in the forum inscribed 'To the most worthy Father of his Country,' whereby you are stigmatized not only as assassins, but even as parricides. You stigmatized, do I say? Rather myself, for this madman says that I was the leader in your most noble deed. Would that I had been! In that case he would not be troubling us now." In the second Philippic (7) he says that if Rome had the same kind of a leader now that she had in the time of the conspiracy of Catiline, Antony would share the fate of those conspirators. When Cicero wrote the second Philippic he knew that he took his life in his hand. Addressing, himself to Antony, he said: "I defended the republic when I was young, I will not abandon it now that I am old. I despised the sword of Catiline, I will not quail before yours. I will offer my body freely if my death can bring back liberty to the state. . . . Death is even desirable to me, Conscript Fathers, after the honors I have gained and the deeds I have done. I ask for only these two things: first, that dying, I may leave the Roman people free; the immortal gods can grant me nothing that I desire more. The other is that the rewards of each man may be in proportion to what he has deserved of the republic." (Phil. ii. 46.)

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