previous next


Death of Cicero.

"While the conference between the triumvirs was going on Cicero was in his villa at Tusculum with his brother. When they heard of the proscription they resolved to remove to his seaside villa at Astura, and thence to take ship and join Brutus in Macedonia: for there were great reports of his success there. They travelled in litters overpowered by distress; and whenever there was a halt in the journey, the two litters were placed side by side and the brothers mingled their lamentations. Quintus was the more cast down of the two and was haunted with the idea of their want of money, for he had brought nothing, he said, with him, and Cicero himself was poorly provided for a journey. It would be better, therefore, he thought, for Cicero to precede him in his flight, while he went home, collected what was necessary, and hurried after him. This course was resolved up on, and the brothers parted with embraces and tears. Not many days after this Quintus was betrayed by his slaves and was put to death with his son. But Cicero reached Astura, found a vessel, embarked, and sailed with a favourable wind as far as Circeii. The pilots wished to put out to sea from that place at once: but whether it was that he feared the sea or had not yet given up all trust in the promise of Octavian, he disembarked and travelled a hundred furlongs upon the road to Rome. But once more, almost beside himself with distress and indecision, he returned to the sea-coast at Astura and there spent the night in terrified and hopeless reflexions. One of his ideas was to go to Octavian's house in disguise and kill himself at the hearth-altar and thus bring a curse upon it. But from undertaking this journey also he was deterred by a dread of being put to torture; and with his mind still dazed with confused and contradictory designs, he put himself in the hands of his servants to be conveyed by sea to Caieta, as he had property there and an agreeable summer retreat, when the Etesian winds are at their pleasantest. In this spot there stands a temple of Apollo just above the sea: from it a flock of ravens rose and flew towards Cicero's ship as it was being rowed to land, and settling down upon the yard-arm on both sides of the mast, some of them began uttering loud cries and others pecking at the ends of the ropes. Everybody thought this a bad omen. Cicero, however, disembarked and went to the lodge and lay down to get some rest. But most of the ravens lighted down about the window uttering cries of distress, and one of them settling on the bed, where Cicero was lying with his head covered, gradually drew off the covering from his face with its beak. The servants, seeing this, thought that they would be base indeed if they endured to be spectators of their master's murder, and did nothing to protect him, while even animals were helping him and sympathizing in his undeserved misfortune, and so, partly by entreaties and partly by compulsion, they got him again into his litter and began carrying him down to the sea.

"Meanwhile the executioners arrived, Herennius the centurion and Popillus the military tribune (whom he once defended on a charge of parricide) with their attendants. Finding the doors locked, they broke into the house; but when Cicero was not to be seen, and those indoors denied knowing anything about him, it is said that a young man named Philologus—a freedman of Quintus, whom Cicero had educated in polite learning and philosophy—told the tribune about the litter which was being carried through woodland and over-shadowed paths towards the sea. So the tribune, taking a small party with him, ran round to the entrance to the grounds, while Herennius ran down the pathway. Cicero perceived him coming and ordered his servants to set down the litter. Cicero himself, with his left hand as usual on his chin, sat gazing steadfastly on the executioners, unwashed, with streaming locks, his brow contracted with his anxieties. It was more than those present could endure, and they covered their faces while Herennius was killing him, as he thrust out his head from the litter and received the stroke. He was in his sixty-fourth year. By the command of Antony the man cut off his head and the hands with which he had written the Philippics!"1


1 Plutarch, Cicero, xlvii.-xlviii. There is also a somewhat similar account by Livy preserved by Seneca, Suasoriae, i. 7.

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: