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M. Iunius Brutus (Caepio), b. B.C. 83, ob. B.C. 42.

The most notable figure in this last section of the correspondence is MARCUS BRUTUS. He has long enjoyed a unique reputation, founded partly on his name and imaginary descent from the expeller of kings, partly on the supposed loftiness of his motives and his stoical purity. He was the preux chevalier of the conspiracy, a Bayard or a Sidney, who acted only as a gentleman, a patriot, and a Stoic was bound to act. Even Antony acknowledged that he alone of the assassins was without selfish aims; and Shakespeare faithfully caught the spirit of his authorities when he made him the hero of his Julius Caesar. There have not, of course, been wanting critics to take a different view of the character and career of Brutus. He is, for instance, an object of positive aversion to the editors of the great Dublin edition of the letters, who not only refer to his stiff and ungracious manners, of which Cicero himself seems to complain, and to his shallow pedantry, but accuse him of gross oppression and usury in Asia and Cyprus, of betraying to Caesar Pompey's intention of going to Egypt after Pharsalia, of mean motives and gross ingratitude in the assassination of Caesar, and, while trying to make terms with the Antonians, of failing his party at their direst need by not coming over from Macedonia with his army. There is thus nothing left of the heroic about him, or even of what is decently honourable. If whitewashing the villains of history is an unsatisfactory employment, a still less satisfactory one is that of dispelling our illusions as to its heroes. His contemporaries admired Brutus, even his opponents admitted his high qualities, an almost constant tradition agreed in exalting his character. If Dante placed him in his lowest hell, it was from the stern condemnation of murder, whatever might be pleaded for the murderer. There was no more pardon for him than for Francesca's adultery, in spite of infinite pity. It is, of course, impossible to acquit Brutus of sinking to the level of his age and belying his philosophy in the usurious proceedings in Cyprus,1 and of at least ]indifference as to the harshness with which his agents exacted the money. It was, however, too common a custom among the Roman nobility to shock his contemporaries, or to surprise moderns who know how often practice does not square with theory. In the government of Gallia Cisalpina (B.C. 56) he seems to have been blameless in regard to money, and to have shewn considerable ability. The alleged betrayal of Pompey's intention of going to Egypt is not really substantiated by Plutarch, and seems to be rendered nearly impossible from the fact that Pompey had not made up his mind himself when he escaped from Pharsalia; and Brutus, who left the camp after him, could scarcely have known it, if he had. In the matter of Caesar's murder he was as guilty as the rest—neither more nor less. He probably felt no special gratitude to Caesar, who could hardly have done other than spare him after Pharsalia, in view of his own relations with his mother Servilia. The rumour that Brutus was in reality Caesar's son is in the highest degree improbable, though perhaps not absolutely impossible. He had no reason to love Pompey, who had treacherously killed his father, but he did love his uncle Cato, whose death was at Caesar's door. His coming over to Italy in B.C. 43, as Cicero urged him to do, even if it had been possible with such transport as he had, would hardly have been wise. His opponents were then in great strength; there is no reason to believe that Italy was—as Cicero alleged—ready to rise in his support, and an unsuccessful battle with Antony, Lepidus and Octavian, who would assuredly have united to oppose him, would have not only entailed the final loss of the cause, but have given the excuse for a massacre worse than the proscriptions. The charge of dallying with the Antonians rests on his leniency in the matter of Gaius Antonius, whom he had taken prisoner. On the 13th of April, just before the result of the battles of Mutina was known, a despatch arrived from Brutus, accompanied by one from Gaius Antonius himself, which began Gaius Antonius Proconsul.2 They were brought by Pilius Celer, the father-in-law of Atticus, and handed to a tribune. The tribune passed them to Cornutus, the praetor urbanus who was presiding in the senate in the absence of the consuls. The despatch of Brutus referred to Antonius in indulgent terms, and the fact of having allowed him to style himself Proconsul was regarded by the Ciceronians as a practical abandonment of their contention, that Brutus was alone lawful proconsul of Macedonia. Cicero felt so much embarrassed that he said nothing. But at the next day's meeting he spoke severely of this assumption of the title of Proconsul, and some of the party tried to insinuate that the despatch of Brutus was a forgery. There is no evidence, however, that Brutus ever attempted to disown the despatch, and even after the battles of Mutina he continued to treat Gaius Antonius with consideration, who, according to the most probable account, was not put to death till towards the end of the year, and then not directly by the order of Brutus. Some of the Ciceronian party were alarmed at the possible position of their relations if they had borne arms against a "proconsul," and were therefore eager to mark the rejection of the claim implied by the use of the title. But there could not be any doubt of the right of Gaius Antonius to this designation, as he had doubtless been invested with imperium in the usual way. The question was really whether he had any lawful claim to be exercising that imperium in Macedonia. In that point of view he stood—as Cicero remarked—in the same position as his brother Marcus in Gaul. But Marcus had been proclaimed by the senate a hostis, which it does not seem that Gaius had been. There may, therefore, have been room for negotiation, and in the midst of so much bloodshed it is hardly a matter for reproach to Brutus that he hesitated to execute a prisoner captured in open fight, and was willing to allow him to obtain terms from the senate. In Cicero's view, however, everything but war à l'outrance with the Antonies was treason, and he constantly presses upon Brutus the necessity of getting rid of him.


1 See vol. ii., pp. xii, xiii, 136-137.

2 P. 215.

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