previous next

Some mistakes of Caesar's

Caesar too no doubt made certain mistakes. He has been often called a consummate judge of men. If it was so, it is only another proof of the truth of Cicero's words that a conqueror in a civil war is much at the mercy of those who helped to win his victory: for his choice of agents was not happy. Neither Cassius nor Trebonius, whom he sent to Spain, was successful there. Of those he selected as his second in command or masters of the horse—Antony no doubt was a man of energy and courage, but shewed neither wisdom nor ability as a statesman, while Lepidus lived to prove the contemptible weakness of his character. Perhaps his own commanding personality choked off men of ability. But the fact remains that a large number of men of energy who had served him turned against him, while those who remained faithful to him were men of second-rate abilities. He was probably unwise to undertake the Getic and Parthian wars. His presence was needed to maintain order in Italy. He had been engaged for fifteen years in almost incessant military labours. No man could hope to be at his best at the end of such fatigues; and we gather from expressions in Cicero's speech pro Marcello1 that he was weary in body and mind; and, like Napoleon at Waterloo, he might have found that he no longer had the vigour that had won him so many victories. An absolute ruler may have almost any vice except that of weakness. If weakness had begun to shew itself in Caesar, it would not only encourage open enemies, it would make everyone prone to regard as a hardship what they tolerated before as inevitable. The very multitude and greatness of his beneficent schemes, while they prove his wisdom and statesmanship, must have brought him into collision with a hundred vested interests and as many deep-seated prejudices. He was ruling men who had known what it was, not only to be free, but to belong to a body small enough to allow every member to feel himself an integral part of the government in a world-wide empire. His great-nephew—more adroit, though without a tithe of his great-uncle's military ability and largeness of view—was more successful, partly because he had to deal with a generation that had largely forgotten what it was to be free. Cicero at any rate was never for a moment reconciled in heart to Caesar's régime; never for a moment forgot and perhaps exaggerated the dignity of the position from which he had fallen.

His final view of Caesar is perhaps best expressed in the second Philippic (§ 116): “He had genius, a power of reasoning, memory, knowledge of literature, accuracy, depth of thought, energy. His achievements in war, however disastrous to the Republic, were at any rate great. After planning for many years his way to royal power, with great labour, with many dangers he had effected his design. By public exhibitions, by monumental buildings, by largesses, by fiats he had conciliated the unreflecting multitude. He had bound to himself his own friends by favours, his opponents by a show of clemency. In short, he at last brought upon a free state—partly by the fear which he inspired, partly by the toleration extended to him—the habit of servitude.”

In these circumstances Cicero found his consolation in literature. He had the power which distinguished Mr. Gladstone—nor is this the only point of resemblance—of throwing himself with extraordinary vehemence and apparently exclusive interest into whatever he took in hand. His first impulse was to return to his old field of distinction—eloquence;

Cicero takes refuge in literature.
and to discuss the science and history of the art to which he owed his splendid reputation. Accordingly, we owe to the first years of his return to Rome and his villas three rhetorical treatises, the Partitiones Oratoriae, the Orator ad M. Brutum, and the Brutus or de claris Oratoribus. The last-named is made especially interesting by numerous references to his own intellectual history. For a time he found some interest, as well as renewed health and cheerfulness, in teaching a number of young men the art of which he was master.2 But his thoughts were turning in another direction. He soon resolved to abandon as much as possible the active business of the forum, and to bury himself "in the obscurity of literature."3 From oratory therefore he passed to philosophy. He begins with a brief tract on the Paradoxes of the Stoics; but when, early in B.C. 45, the death of his beloved daughter Tullia added a new motive and a new excuse for retirement, he strove to dispel his sorrow and drown bitter recollections by flinging himself with ardour into the task of making Greek philosophy intelligible to his countrymen. The de Finibus and the Academics were the first-fruits of this toil. They were produced with extraordinary speed; and whatever may be said about their value as original treatises, they were and still remain the most popular and generally intelligible exposition of post-Platonic philosophy existing. The charm of his inimitable style will always attract readers who might be repelled by works which contain clearer reasoning or more exact statement. At any rate their composition had the effect of lightening his sorrow, and distracting his mind from dwelling so exclusively on the mortifications caused by the political situation. Finally, in the last few months preceding the murder of Caesar, he composed what is perhaps the most pleasing of all his quasi-philosophical works, the Tusculan Disputations. The first book "On the Fear of Death"— both from the universal interest of its subject and the wisdom which it contains—whether his own or of the authorities from whom he quotes—has an abiding place among the choicest books of the world. Thus posterity has had as much reason to be glad as he had himself that he "effected a reconciliation with his old friends—his books."4

1 See pro Marcello, §§ 25, 32; vol. iv., p.56.

2 See pp. 93, 95. He jestingly compares himself to the tyrant Dionysius keeping a school at Corinth. He also observes that the exercise of declamation was at one time at any rate necessary for his health (p.95).

3 See p.97.

4 See p.31.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: