2. P. Sulpicius
Rufus, tribune of the plebs, B. C. 88.
He was born in B. C. 124, as he was ten years older than Hortensius. (Cic. Brut. 88.
) He was one of the most distinguished orators of his time. Cicero, who had heard him, frequently speaks of him in terms of the highest admiration.
He says that Sulpicius and Cotta were. beyond comparison, the greatest orators of their age. " Sulpicius," he states, " was, of all the orators I ever heard, the most dignified, and, so to speak, the most tragic. His voice was powerful, and at the same time sweet and clear; the gestures and movements of his body were graceful; but he appeared, nevertheless, to have been trained for the forum and not for the stage; his language was rapid and flowing, and yet not redundant or diffuse." (Brut. 55.
) He commenced public life as a supporter of the aristocratical party, and soon acquired great influence in the state by his splendid talents, while he was still young.
He was an intimate friend of M. Livius Drusus, the celebrated tribune of the plebs, and the aristocracy placed great hopes in him. (Cic. de Orat. 1.7
.) In B. C. 94, he accused of majestas C. Norbanus, the turbulent tribune of the plebs, who was defended by M. Antonius and was acquitted. [NORBANUS, No. 1.] In B. C. 93 he was quaestor, and in B. C. 89 he served as legate of the consul Cn. Pompeius Strabo in the Marsic war.
In the following year, B. C. 88, he was elected to the tribunate through the influence of the aristocratical party.
The consuls of the year were L. Cornelius Sulla and Q. Pompeius Rufus, the latter of whom was a personal friend of Sulpicius. (Cic. Lael. 1.
) At first Sulpicius did not disappoint the expectations of his party.
In conjunction with his colleague, P. Antistius, he resisted the attempt of C. Julius Caesar to become a candidate for the consulship before he had filled the office of praetor, and he also opposed the return from exile of those who had been banished. (Cic. Brut. 63
, de Harusp. Resp. 20 ;
Ascon. in Scaur.
p. 20, ed. Orelli; Cic. ad Herenn.
2.28.) But Sulpicius shortly afterwards joined Marius, and placed himself at the head of the popular party.
The causes of this sudden change are not expressly stated by the ancient writers; but we are told that he was overwhelmed with debt; and there can be little doubt that he was bought by Marius, and that the latter promised him great wealth as soon as he obtained the command of the war against Mithridates.
The history of the rogations which Sulpicius brought forward in favour of Marius and his party, and against Sulla, is fully related in the lives of those persons. [MARIUS, p. 957; SULLA, p. 936.] It is only necessary to state here, that when the law was passed which conferred upon Marius the command of the Mithridatic war, Sulla, who was then at Nola, marched upon Rome at the head of his army. Marius and Sulpicius had no means of resisting him, and were obliged to fly from the city. They were both declared public enemies by the senate, at the command of Sulla, along with ten others of their party.
Marius succeeded in making his escape to Africa, but Sulpicius was discovered in a villa, and put to death.
The slave who betrayed him was rewarded with his freedom, and then hurled down from the Tarpeian rock. (Appian, App. BC 1.58
) ; Plut. Sull. 10 ; Cic. de Orat. 3.3
, Brut. 63 ;
Liv. Epit. 77 ; Vell. 2.18
Although Sulpicius was such a distinguished orator, he left no orations behind him. Cicero says that he had often heard Sulpicius declare that he was not accustomed, and was unable, to write.
It is true there were some speeches extant under his name, but they were written after his death by P. Canutius. (Cic. Brut. 56.
) [CANUTIUS.] Sulpicius is one of the speakers in Cicero's dialogue, De Oratore.
(Ahrens, Die Drei Volkstribunen, Tib. Gracchus, M. Drusus, und P. Sulpicius,
Leipzig, 1836; Meyer, Oratorum Romanorum Fragmenta,
pp. 343-347, 2d ed.; Drumann, Geschichte Roms,
vol. ii. pp. 435, 436.)