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Publius Clodius Pulcher.

P. CLODIUS PULCHER was an extreme instance of a character not uncommon among the nobility in the last age of the Republic. Of high birth, and possessed of no small amount of ability and energy, he belonged by origin and connexion to the Optimates; but he regarded politics as a game to be played for his personal aggrandizement, and public office as a means of replenishing a purse drained by boundless extravagance and self-indulgence. His record had been bad. He had accompanied his brother-in-law Lucullus, or had joined his staff, in the war with Mithridates, and had helped to excite a mutiny in his army in revenge for some fancied slight. He had then gone to Cilicia, where another brother-in-law, Q. Marcus Rex, was propraetor, and while commanding a fleet under him had fallen into the hands of pirates, and when freed from them had gone—apparently in a private capacity—to Antioch, where he again excited a mutiny of Syrian troops engaged in a war against the Arabians (B.C. 70—65). On his return to Rome he attempted to make himself conspicuous by prosecuting Catiline, but accepted a bribe to withdraw. In B.C. 64, on the staff of the governor of Gallia Narbonensis, he is accused of having enriched himself with plunder. For a time after that he was still acting as a member of the party of the Optimates; seems to have supported Cicero during the Catiline conspiracy; and in B.C. 62 stood for the quaestorship and was elected. His violation of the mysteries was alleged to have been committed in December of that year, and before he could go to the province allotted to him as quaestor in Sicily he had to stand a trial for sacrilege. Such an offence—penetrating in disguise into the house of the Pontifex Maximus, when his wife was engaged in the secret rites of the Bona Dea—would place him under a curse, and not only prevent his entering upon his quaestorship, but would disfranchise and politically ruin him. Clodius would seem not to have been a person of sufficient character or importance to make this trial a political event. But not only had he powerful backers, but his opponents also, by proposing an innovation in the manner of selecting the jurors for trying him, had managed to give a spurious political importance to the case. One of the most brilliant of the early letters (XV, p.37) gives us a graphic picture of the trial. Clodius was acquitted and went to his province, but returned in B.C. 60, apparently prepared for a change of parties. Cicero and he had quarreled over the trial. He had said sarcastic things about the sacred consulship, and Cicero had retaliated by bitter speeches in the senate, and by giving evidence at the trial of having seen Clodius in Rome three hours before he professed to have been at Interamna, on the day of the alleged sacrilege. It is perhaps possible that his alibi may have been true in substance, for he may have been well out of Rome on his way to Interamna after seeing Cicero. But, however that may be, he nourished a grudge against Cicero, which he presently had an opportunity of satisfying. The year of his return to Rome from Sicily (B.C. 60) was the same as that of Caesar's return from Spain. Pompey—who had returned the year before—was at enmity with the senate on account of the difficulties raised to the confirmation of his acta and the allotments for his veterans. Caesar had a grievance because of the difficulties put in the way of his triumph. The two coalesced, taking in the millionaire Crassus, to form a triumvirate or coalition of three, with a view to getting measures they desired passed, and offices for themselves or their partisans. This was a great blow to Cicero, who clung feverously to Pompey as a political leader, but could not follow him in a coalition with Caesar: for he knew that the object of it was a series of measures of which he heartily disapproved. His hope of seeing Pompey coming to act as acknowledged leader of the Optimates was dashed to the ground. He could not make up his mind wholly to abandon him, or, on the other hand, to cut himself adrift from the party of Optimates, to whose policy he had so deeply committed himself. Clodius was troubled by no such scruples. Perhaps Caesar had given him substantial reasons for his change of policy. At any rate, from this time forward he acts as an extreme popularis—much too extreme, as it turned out, for Pompey's taste. As a patrician his next step in the official ladder would naturally have been the aedileship. But that peaceful office did not suit his present purpose. The tribuneship would give him the right to bring forward measures in the comitia tributa, such as he desired to pass, and would in particular give him the opportunity of attacking Cicero. The difficulty was that to become tribune he must cease to be a patrician. He could only do that by being adopted into a plebeian gens. He had a plebeian ready to do it in B.C. 59. But for a man who was sui iuris to be adopted required a formal meeting of the old comitia curiata, and such a meeting required the presence of an augur, as well as some kind of sanction of the pontifices. Caesar was Pontifex Maximus, and Pompey was a member of the college of augurs. Their influence would be sufficient to secure or prevent this being done. Their consent was, it appears, for a time withheld. But Caesar was going to Gaul at the end of his consulship, and desired to have as few powerful enemies at Rome during his absence as possible. Still he had a personal feeling for Cicero, and when it was known that one of Clodius's objects in seeking to become a plebeian and a tribune was to attack him, Caesar offered him two chances of honourable retreat—first as one of the commissioners to administer his land law, and again as one of his legati in Gaul. But Cicero would not accept the first, because he was vehemently opposed to the law itself: nor the second, because he had no taste for provincial business, even supposing the proconsul to be to his liking; and because he could not believe that P. Clodius would venture to attack him, or would succeed if he did. Caesar's consulship of B.C. 59 roused his worst fears for the Republic; and, though he thought little of the statesmanship or good sense of Caesar's hostile colleague Bibulus, he was thoroughly disgusted with the policy of the triumvirs, with the contemptuous treatment of the senate, with the highhanded disregard of the auspices—by means of which Bibulus tried to invalidate the laws and other acta of Caesar—and with the armed forces which Pompey brought into the campus, nominally to keep order, but really to overawe the comitia, and secure the passing of Caesar's laws. Nor was it in his nature to conceal his feelings. Speaking early in the year in defence of his former colleague, C. Antonius, accused of maiestas for his conduct in Macedonia, he expressed in no doubtful terms his view of the political situation. Within a few hours the words were reported to the triumvirs, and all formalities were promptly gone through for the adoption of Clodius. Caesar himself presided at the comitia curiata, Pompey attended as augur, and the thing was done in a few minutes. Even then Cicero does not appear to have been alarmed, or to have been fully aware of what the object of Publius was. While on his usual spring visit to his seaside villas in April (B.C. 59), he expressed surprise at hearing from the young Curio that Clodius was a candidate for the tribuneship (vol. i., p.99). His surprise no doubt was more or less assumed: he must have understood that Clodius's object in the adoption was the tribunate, and must have had many uneasy reflexions as to the use which he would make of the office when he got it. Indeed there was not very much doubt about it, for Publius openly avowed his intentions. We have accordingly numerous references, in the letters to Atticus, to Cicero's doubts about the course he ought to adopt. Should he accept Caesar's offer of a legation in Gaul, or a free and votive legation? Should he stay in Rome and fight it out? The latter course was the one on which he was still resolved in July, when Clodius had been, or was on the point of being, elected tribune (p. 110). He afterwards wavered (p.113), but was encouraged by the belief that all the "orders" were favourable to him, and were becoming alienated from the triumvirs (pp. 117, 119), especially after the affair of Vettius (pp.122-124), and by the friendly disposition of many of the colleagues of Clodius in the tribuneship. With such feelings of confidence and courage the letters of B.C. 59 come to an end.


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