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20. Q. CAECILIUS Q. F. Q.N. METELLUS CELER, consul B. C. 60, was son of Nepos, consul B. C. 98. [No. 16.] The latter was most probably his father, but his descent has given rise to much dispute. Cicero and Asconiuis both call Metellus Celer the frater of the younger Metellus Nepos [No. 21], and Asconius states that the latter was the son of the elder Nepos [No. 16], the grandson of Balearicus [No. 7], and the great-grandson of Macedonicus [No. 5]. (Cic. Fam. 5.1, 2; Ascon. in Cornel. p. 63.) From the way in which Celer speaks of Nepos, as well as from other circumstances, we are led to conclude that they were brothers and not first-cousins. The only difficulty in this supposition is, that they both bear the praenomen Quintus; but the ingenious hypothesis of Manutius (ad Cic. l. c ) removes this difficulty. He supposes that the elder Nepos [No. 16] may have had two sons, one called Quintus and the other perhaps Lucius: that the latter, the subject of this notice, was adopted by the Q. Metellus Celer, who is mentioned by Cicero as one of the orators in B. C. 90, and that he received in consequence the praenomen Quintus and the cognomen Celer. Manutius further supposes that after the death of the elder son Quintus, the wife of Nepos bore him a third son, to whom he again gave the names of Quintus and Nepos. This supposition accounts not only for the two brothers bearing the same praenomen, but also for the younger, and not the elder, having the cognomen of his father.

In B. C. 66, Metellus Celer served as legate in the army of Pompey in Asia, and distinguished himself by repulsing an attack which Oroeses, king of the Albanians, made upon his winter-quarters. He returned to Rome before Pompey, and was praetor in B. C. 63, the year in which Cicero was consul. Like the other members of his family he distinguished himself during his year of office by a warn support of the aristocratical party. He prevented the condemnation of C. Rabirius by removing the military flag from the Janiculum, as has been already narrated in the life of Caesar [Vol. I. p. 541]. He co-operated with Cicero in opposing the schemes of Catiline; and, when the latter left the city to make war upon the republic, Metellus had the charge of the Picentine and Senonian districts. By blocking up the passes he prevented Catiline from crossing the Apennines and penetrating into Gaul, and thus compelled him to turn round and face Antonius, who was marching against him from Etruria. In the following year, B. C. 62, Metellus went with the title of proconsul into the province of Cisalpine Gaul, which Cicero had relinquished because he was unwilling to leave the city. Although Metellus and Cicero had been thus closely connected, yet he was exceedingly angry when the orator attacked his brother Nepos, who had given him, however, abundant provocation. [See below, No. 21.] The letter which Celer wrote to Cicero on this occasion is still preserved, and is very characteristic of the haughty aristocratical spirit of the family. Cicero's reply is very clever. (Cic. Fam. 5.1, 2.)

In B. C. 61, Metellus was consul elect, and by his personal influence prevented the celebration of the Compitalia, which a tribune of the plebs was preparing to celebrate in opposition to a senatus-consultum. Towards the end of the year he took an active part in conjunction with M. Cato, and others of the aristocracy, in resisting the demands of the publicani, who petitioned the senate to allow them to pay a smaller sum for the farming of the taxes in Asia than they had agreed to give. Their request was accordingly refused, but was subsequently granted, in B. C. 59, by Caesar, who brought forward a bill in the comitia for the purpose. In B. C. 60, Metellus was consul with L. Afranius, who was a creature of Pompey, and had been raised to this dignity by Pompey's influence. Pompey was anxious to obtain the ratification of his acts in Asia, and an assignment of lands for his soldiers; but Afranius was not a man of sufficient ability and energy to be of much service to him, and Metellus thwarted all his plans, since Pompey, and not Caesar, was generally regarded at that time as the most formidable enemy of the aristocracy. It was this opposition which drove Pompey into the arms of Caesar, and thus prepared the downfall of the republic. So resolute was the opposition of Metellus to the agrarian law of the tribune L. Flavius, which he brought forward in order to provide for Pompey's veterans, that the tribune had him dragged to prison; but even this did not frighten Metellus, and the law was in consequence abandoned. He acted with such energy and decision in favour of the aristocracy that Cicero calls him " egregius consul"; and although he did not at first oppose the adoption of Clodius into a plebeian family, apparently not attaching much importance to the matter, yet as soon as lie perceived that Clodius was resolved to favour the views of the democratical party, Metellus opposed his plans to the utmost of his power. Clodius was the first-cousin of Metellus, being the son of his father's sister, and likewise the brother of his own wife; but he did not allow this family connection to produce any change in his political conduct. As a war threatened to break out in Gaul, the senate determined that the consuls should draw lots for the provinces of the Gauls; but Metellus did not leave Rome this year, nor apparently the next. In B. C. 59, the year of Caesar's consulship, he took a leading part in the opposition to the agrarian law of Caesar, but in vain. He died in the course of the same year, so unexpectedly, that it was suspected that he had been poisoned by his wile Clodia, with whom he lived on the most unhappy terms, and who was a woman of the utmost profligacy. The character of Metellus has been sufficiently indicated in the preceding sketch of his life: he was one of the great leaders of the aristocracy, but did not possess either sufficient influence or sufficient genius to cope with such men as Caesar and Pompey. His oratory is spoken of favourably by Cicero, and was more adapted to the popular assemblies than to the courts. (D. C. 36.37, and libb. xxxvii. xxxviii; Sal. Cat. 57; the passages of Cicero in Orelli's Onom. Tall. vol. ii. p. 107.)

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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 5.1
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 5.2
    • Sallust, Catilinae Coniuratio, 57
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