At this time, too, Metellus, the pontifex maximus
, or high priest
and though Isauricus and Catulus were candidates for the priesthood, which was an object of great ambition, and though they were most illustrious men and of the greatest influence in the senate, Caesar would not give way to them, but presented himself to the people as a rival candidate.
The favour of the electors appeared to be about equally divided, and therefore Catulus, who, as the worthier of Caesar's competitors, dreaded more the uncertainty of the issue, sent and tried to induce Caesar to desist from his ambitious project, offering him large sums of money. But Caesar declared that he would carry the contest through even though he had to borrow still larger sums.
The day for the election came, and as Caesar's mother accompanied him to the door in tears, he kissed her and said:
‘Mother, today thou shalt see thy son either pontifex maximus
or an exile’
The contest was sharp, but when the vote was taken Caesar prevailed, and thereby made the senate and nobles afraid that he would lead the people on to every extreme of recklessness. Therefore Piso and Catulus blamed Cicero for having spared Caesar when, in the affair of Catiline, he gave his enemies a hold upon him.
Catiline, namely, had purposed not only to subvert the constitution, but to destroy the whole government and throw everything into confusion. He himself, however, was expelled from the city,2
having been overwhelmed by proofs by lesser iniquities before his most far reaching plans were discovered; but he left Lentulus and Cethegus behind him in the city to promote the conspiracy in his place. Now, whether or not Caesar secretly gave these men any countenance and help, is uncertain; but after they had been overwhelmingly convicted in the senate, and Cicero the consul asked each senator to give his opinion on the manner of their punishment,
the rest, down to Caesar, urged that they be put to death, but Caesar rose in his place and delivered a long and studied speech against this. He pleaded that to put to death without legal trial men of high rank and brilliant lineage was not, in his opinion, traditional or just, except under extremest necessity; but that if they should be bound and kept in custody, in such cities of Italy as Cicero himself might elect, until the war against Catiline had been brought to a successful end, the senate could afterwards, in a time of peace and at their leisure, vote upon the case of each one of them.