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Yet curiously enough he was on one occasion brought into violent collision with the consul. He prosecuted Muraena, the Optimate consul-elect for B.C. 62, for bribery at the elections, and when he came into the court found Cicero opposing him as the defendant's advocate. The offence had been a gross one, and the consul had nothing better to do in the way of defence than to follow the good old forensic maxim, “ If you have no case, abuse the plaintiff's attorney." Accordingly he grew offensively personal, jeering at Stoics, and hinting that Cato's love of purity and legality might be in place in some ideal republic, but not in Rome, till he set the jury in a roar. Cato was defeated, but contented himself with remarking that “Rome had a very facetious consul.” He took no offence at the ridicule that had been poured on him, and remained a consistent supporter of Cicero.
The first occasion on which we find Cato exercising a really great influence on politics was at the celebrated debate on the execution of Lentulus and Cethegus and the other Catilinarian conspirators. Speaking as a very junior senator towards the end of the meeting, he completely undid Cæsar's feat of inclining the Senate to change the vote from death to banishment, though Cæsar had been so effective that he had actually induced Silanus (the proposer of the death penalty) to change round and accept the milder alternative. The speech which Cato actually uttered is probably not that preserved by Sallust, who, with his usual carelessness, has constructed an oration out of his inner consciousness. For the words which he puts in Cato's mouth do not at all agree with the notes in Plutarch, and the latter implies that he had seen the actual oration, which was taken down at the time by Cicero's shorthand writers. The chief point in Plutarch's version is that Cato attacked Cæsar by name, charged him with being concerned in Catiline's designs for subverting
THE CATILINARIAN CONSPIRACY
the Republic, and said that he might think himself fortunate for not being on trial along with Cethegus and his crew. The unscrupulous Sallust evades these points, being evidently set on keeping out of sight anything that might redound to the discredit of his patron Cæsar.
Cato’s activity was strenuously displayed all through the year of the conspiracy, but in that which followed he was even more prominently before the eyes of the public. In the autumn, when he thought that he might snatch a moment's leisure, he had set out for his estates in Lucania. But on the way he met Metellus Nepos, who was coming to Rome from the East as Pompey's political agent. Hearing that Nepos was about to stand for the tribunate, in order that he might lay before the people his patron's demands, Cato grew excited. “This is no time for rural delights,” he cried, and turned his face back towards the city. For, like so many other Romans of that day, he was firmly convinced that Pompey was aiming at a tyranny, and that his return to the city would be the signal for a coup d'état. Accordingly he conceived it his duty to endeavour to hold Metellus in check, and stood against him at the tribunicial elections. Both were successful, and the year B.C. 62 was made lively by their interminable quarrels.
Their main dispute was on the occasion when Metellus made his very unnecessary proposal that Pompey should be called home from the East, to quench the embers of the Catilinarian rising, a project which he must have made on his own inspiration and without his patron's knowledge. Since Antonius had crushed the insurgents at Pistoria, there was no serious work for Pompey to do. The proposal seemed to Cato entirely sinister; it confirmed the worst suspicions that he had nourished concerning Nepos and his employer. “The project was absurd,” he said, “but Metellus's stupidity was so great that it sometimes became formidable.” Accordingly, he determined to use his tribunicial veto to the uttermost. " While I live," he was heard to say, “ Pompey shall never enter armed into the city." This determination led him into the first of those riotous scenes in the Assembly of which he was so often to be the centre during the next twelve years.
On the day on which Metellus proposed to introduce his bill, he packed the Forum with gladiators and hired bravos, and enlisted the support of Cæsar, whose talents for mob-management were considered to be unrivalled, till Clodius arose and carried the art one stage farther. It appears strange to find Cæsar aiding a partisan of Pompey at this date. Apparently he did so from sheer mischief, one of his reasons being that he was disgusted with Cato for foiling him at the trial of Lentulus and Cethegus; the other, that he wished to embroil Pompey with the Optimates. As a leader of the Democratic party, he did not really wish to see the army of the East and its general transferred to Italy. But it would profit the populares if the Pompeians could be induced to ask for over-great and unconstitutional powers for their chief; and it would be no less desirable to set Pompeians and Optimates at daggers drawn, by inducing the Senate to commit themselves to open antagonism to the measures proposed by Nepos. Accordingly Cæsar lent himself as a supporter to the unwise demands which the latter was making
On the day of assembly the mob which Metellus and Cæsar had brought with them looked so threatening, that Cato's friends besought him not to risk himself among them. But the element of personal safety never entered into his calculations. He ploughed his way through the tumultuous crowd, and found Cæsar and Nepos seated side by side on the rostra. At once he plumped himself down between them; it looked rude, but it had the effectual result of preventing them from communicating easily
CATO OPPOSES METELLUS NEPOS
with each other. When Nepos began to read his bill, Cato rose and interposed his veto. Encouraged by the shouts of his partisans, Pompey's friend ignored the interruption and continued to recite his preamble. Thereupon his colleague suddenly snatched the document from his hand and tore it up. Nothing daunted, Metellus went on with his clauses, speaking from memory. This was too much for Cato, who, assisted by another Optimate tribune, one Minucius Thermus, seized the orator, pulled him back to his seat, and laid his hands on his mouth. Nepos, as might have been expected, shouted to his friends that violence was being used against his sacrosanct person. The mob stormed the platform, and Cato was assailed with sticks and stones. His life was only saved by the consul Muraena, who covered him with his gown, and hurried him into a neighbouring temple. Seeing the coast clear and his adversary driven off, Nepos began once more to recite his bill; but he had not got far when Cato, much battered though he was, emerged from his place of shelter with a few friends at his heels, and charged the rostra from the rear. The whole meeting broke up into a riot, order could not be restored, and the bill was never carried. Probably Cæsar was as pleased at the fiasco as was Cato himself, for he can never have intended that Pompey should really be recalled. He had merely wished to provoke bad blood between Pompeians and Optimates, and in this he had certainly succeeded.
Metellus went back to the East to report his failure to his patron, after having denounced Cato as an enemy of his country and a conspirator against its most worthy son-accusations which not even the most fanatical democrat or Pompeian could take seriously.
When at last Pompey came home in person, Cato was still in the same mind concerning him ; he was fully convinced that he was aiming at despotic power, and never attempted to separate the foolish projects of Nepos from the very reasonable requests which Pompey himself laid before the Senate and people. Considering the extreme moderation of the general's demands, there was no reason why he and the Senate should not have come to an agreement, and have united to keep down the Democrats. The two chief hindrances in the way were the foolish vanity of Cicero, whose conduct we have already had occasion to relate, and Cato's unconquerable suspicion of all that Pompey said and did. The general endeavoured to conciliate him by every means in his power, went out of his way to explain his harmless intentions, and even requested the hand of Cato's niece, Servilia, for his son Gnaeus, as a token of reconciliation. Cato was utterly unconvinced, imagined that an attempt was being made to bribe him with a great alliance, and sent away the friend who brought Pompey's message with the reply that "he was not to be caught with a female snare.'
So far, indeed, was he from being conciliated, that it was undoubtedly he, more than any other single person, who made peace between Pompey and the Senate impossible, and ultimately drove the much - provoked general into the arms of Crassus and Cæsar. It was Cato who induced the Senate to refuse to ratify Pompey's treaties and grants in Asia : the plea which he used was that Lucullus had also made arrangements with the Asiatic states, some of which conflicted with those of his successor. In justice to Lucullus and those with whom he had negotiated, Cato declared that it was necessary not to ratify Pompey's doings en bloc, but to go through each document separately, after comparing it with the previous obligations contracted by his predecessor. This
rational enough in itself, but the result was unfortunate. Convinced at last that he would never get decent treatment from the Senate, the outraged general was