previous next

Hortensius

Quintus.


1.

A celebrated orator, who began to distinguish himself by his eloquence in the Roman Forum at the age of nineteen. He was born of a plebeian family, B.C. 114, eight years before Cicero. He served at first as a common soldier, and afterwards as military tribune, in the Social War. In the contest between Marius and Sulla he remained neutral, and was one of the twenty quaestors established by Sulla. He afterwards obtained in succession the offices of aedile, praetor, and consul. As an orator he for a long time shared the reputation of Cicero; but, as his orations are lost, we can only judge of him by the account which his rival gives of his abilities. “Nature had given him,” says Cicero, in his Brutus (Brutush 88), “so splendid a memory that he never had any need of committing to writing any discourse which he had thought over; while, after his opponent had finished speaking, he could recall, word by word, not only what the other had said, but also the authorities which had been cited against himself. His industry was indefatigable. He never let a day pass without speaking in the Forum, or preparing himself to appear on the morrow; oftentimes he did both. He excelled particularly in the art of dividing his subject, and in then reuniting it in a luminous manner, adapting, at the same time, even some of the arguments which had been urged against him. His diction was noble, elegant, and rich; his voice strong and pleasing; his gestures carefully studied.” The eloquence of Hortensius would seem, in fact, to have been of the showy species called Asiatic, which flourished in the Greek colonies of Asia Minor, and was infinitely more florid and ornamental than the oratory of Athens, or even of Rhodes, being full of brilliant thoughts and sparkling expressions. This glowing style of rhetoric, though deficient in

Hortensius. (Villa Albani, Rome.)

solidity and weight, was not unsuitable in a young man; and, being further recommended by a beantiful cadence of periods, met with great applause. But Hortensius, as he advanced in life, did not correct this exuberance; and his somewhat tawdry taste in phraseology, which, even in his earliest years, had occasionally excited ridicule among the senators, being now totally inconsistent with his advanced age and dignity, his reputation in consequence waned. Possibly, too, from his declining health and strength, which greatly failed in his latter years, he may not have been able to give its full effect to that showy rhetoric in which he had indulged. A constant toothache and swelling in the jaws greatly impaired his powers of elocution and utterance, and became at length so severe as to accelerate his end. A few months, however, before his death, which happened in B.C. 50, he pleaded for his nephew Messala, who was accused of illegal canvassing, and acquitted more in consequence of the exertions of his uncle than the justice of his cause. So discreditable, indeed, was the case esteemed that, though the speech of Hortensius had been much admired, he was received, on entering the theatre on the following day, with loud hisses (Ad Fam. viii. 2). The speech, however, revived all the admiration of the public for his oratorical talents, and convinced them that, had he possessed the same perseverance as Cicero, he would not have been inferior to that orator.

It appears from Macrobius that Hortensius was much ridiculed by his contemporaries on account of his affected gestures. In pleading, his hands were constantly in motion, whence he was often attacked by his adversaries in the Forum for resembling an actor; and on one occasion he received from his opponent the appellation of Dionysia, the name of a celebrated dancing-girl (Aul. Gell. i. 5). The actors Aesopus and Roscius frequently attended his pleadings to catch his gestures and imitate them on the stage (Val. Max. viii. 10). Such, indeed, was his exertion in action that it was commonly said that it could not be determined whether people went to hear or to see him. Like Demosthenes, he selected and put on his dress with the most studied care and neatness. He is said not only to have prearranged his gestures, but also to have adjusted the folds of his toga before a mirror when about to go to the Forum. He so arranged his gown that the folds did not fall by chance, but were formed with great care by help of a knot carefully tied and concealed by his robe, which apparently flowed carelessly around him (Macrob. Sat. iii. 13). Macrobius also records a story of his instituting an action of damages against a person who had jostled him while walking in this elaborate dress, and had ruffled his toga when he was about to appear in public with his drapery adjusted according to his favourite arrangement.

Hortensius stood, for thirteen years, at the head of the Roman bar; and being, in consequence, engaged during that long period on one side or other in every case of importance, he soon amassed an enormous fortune. He lived, too, with a magnificence corresponding to his wealth. His house at Rome formed the nucleus of the imperial palace, which was enlarged from the time of Augustus to that of Nero, till it nearly covered the whole Palatine Mount and branched over other hills. (See Palatium.) Besides his mansion in Rome, he possessed villas at Tusculum, Bauli, and Laurentum, where he was accustomed to give the most elegant and elaborate entertainments. His olive plantations he is said to have regularly moistened with wine; and, on one occasion, during the hearing of an important case in which he was engaged with Cicero, he begged the latter to change with him the previously arranged order of pleading, as he was obliged to go to the country to pour wine on a favourite plane-tree, which grew near his Tusculan villa (Macrob. Sat. iii. 13). Notwithstanding this profusion, his heir found no less than 10,000 casks of wine in his cellar after his death (Pliny , Pliny H. N. xiv. 14). Besides his taste for wine and fondness for plantations, he indulged in a passion for pictures and fish-ponds. At his Tusculan villa he built a hall for the reception of a painting of the expedition of the Argonauts, by the painter Cydias , which cost the sum of 144,000 sesterces. At his country-seat near Bauli, on the sea-shore, he vied with Lucullus and Philippus in the extent of his fish-ponds, which were constructed at an immense cost, and so formed that the tide flowed into them (Varr. R. R. iii. 3); yet such was his reluctance to diminish the supply that when he gave entertainments at Bauli he generally sent to the neighbouring town of Puteoli to buy the fish; and Varro declares that a friend could more easily get his chariot-mules out of his stable than a mullet from his ponds. He was more anxious about the welfare of his fish than the health of his slaves, and less solicitous that a sick servant might not take what was unfit for him than that his fish might not drink water which was unwholesome. It is even said (Pliny , Pliny H. N. ix. 55) that he was so passionately fond of a particular lamprey as to shed tears for its untimely death. At his Laurentan villa, Hortensius had a wooded park of fifty acres encompassed with a wall. This enclosure he called a nursery of wild beasts, all of which came for their food at a certain hour on the blowing of a horn. See Forsyth, Hortensius (London, 1879).


2.

Son of the preceding, called also Hortălus, a dissipated person who fought on Caesar's side in the Civil War. In B.C. 44, after Caesar's death, he joined Brutus and put to death C. Antonius, brother of the triumvir. After the battle of Philippi, Hortalus was himself taken and slain.

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