« EelmineJätka »
CATO AND THE TAX-FARMERS 215 forced into his alliance with the Democrats. There is something in Plutarch's conclusion that, judging by the event, Cato was in the wrong; though much was to be said in favour of discussing the treaties separately, yet the result was that, by forcing Pompey to league himself with Cæsar, he indirectly brought about the ruin of the Republic.
Cato at this time made himself no less odious to Cicero than to Pompey, by breaking up the Concordia Ordinum, -the alliance of Senate and Equites against the anarchic forces in the state,—which had been brought about by the Catilinarian insurrection. The consul of B.C. 63 had enlisted all men of property in defence of the existing constitution by the lurid account which he gave of the conspiracy and its ends. As long as the Equites were kept estranged from their old leader Crassus, by memories of the plot, the Democratic party was shorn of one of its strongest elements. But at last there arose a question on which the interest of the state and that of the Equestrian Order clashed. The great syndicate of capitalists which had contracted to raise the tithes of Asia found that it was making a worse bargain than it had expected, and came to the Senate with the request that the terms of the agreement might be varied in its favour. Cicero admitted in private 1 that such a demand was impudent; they had entered into the contract with their eyes open, and it was by no means proved that they were making an actual loss. But the whole Equestrian Order was directly or indirectly interested in the business, and the orator was so convinced of the necessity of keeping them allied to the Senate, that he was prepared to support them. Not so Cato: he had gone into the figures, and had come to the conclusion that there was no rational necessity for varying the contract, Why should
1 Ep. ad Atticum, ii. 1, $ 3.
in actual directly in
disappointed speculators be compensated for receiving a less percentage of profit than they had calculated upon obtaining? He made out such a clear case against the proposal that it was rejected. Cicero was disgusted. “Cato,” he complained, “speaks as if he was dealing with the ideal commonwealth of Plato, not with our corrupt and decadent Rome.” Morally, he was right; practically, he caused the resentful Equites to quit their alliance with the Optimates, and to turn once more to their old friend Crassus (June B.C. 60].
That by estranging the actual or possible allies of the Senate he was dooming his party to destruction, was no concern to Cato. His principle was that a loyal citizen must not do evil that good may come, that anything is better than opportunism, and that it is far more important to have a clear conscience than to score a temporary political success. If evil days were at hand, he was perfectly prepared to fight, by every device that an honest man might use ; but he would not buy support from any quarter by what he considered corrupt concessions.
The crisis was not very long delayed; when Cæsar came back from Spain in the summer of B.C. 60, and the disheartened Pompey consented to join him and Crassus in forming the “ First Triumvirate," Cato took arms at once. His first achievement was to “talk out” Cæsar's demand for a triumph. In order to sue for the consulship for the next year the returning general was bound to enter Rome by a fixed day. In order to triumph he had to obtain the Senate's approval before he passed the gates. There happened to be only one meeting at which the motion could be taken into consideration. When it came, Cato beat the record of the ancient world by making a speech which lasted the whole day. It was not a good speech, as even his friends allowed, but it served the desired purpose. Cæsar, more set on obtaining the conCATO SILENCED BY CÆSAR 217 sulship than the triumph, was obliged to quit his legions and enter the city in order to begin his canvass. He was disgusted with the obstructionist orator, and never forgave him. Of all the opponents with whom he clashed during his stormy career, Cato was the only one for whom he nourished a real dislike. He showed it by publishing a very bitter and unfair satire, the “Anti-Cato," against his memory, after he had fallen in the civil war, a deed that contrasts strangely with his usual magnanimity to his adversaries.
After the turbulent consulship of Cæsar and Bibulus began, on ist January B.C. 59, Cato had plenty of occupation provided for him. When the Julian Laws, which were to consolidate the triumvirate, began to be brought forward, he came down to the Forum to oppose every one of them. At the first great riot, when Cæsar illegally refused to listen to his colleague's veto, and went on with his legislative proposals in face of every constitutional hindrance, we find Cato at the side of Bibulus, enduring in his company the storm of stones and blows. When at last the Democrats drove them out of the assembly, it was Cato who brought up the rear, refusing to hurry as he went, and turning every now and then to tell the unheeding rabble of pursuers that they were lunatics as well as bad citizens. When Bibulus had retired to the safety of his house, and contented himself with putting up a daily notice that no legal meetings of the Comitia could be held, as he was intending to “observe the heavens," Cato sought no similar shelter. He came down to oppose the law for distributing the Campanian lands, and spoke so bitterly that Cæsar had him dragged from the rostrum and sent to prison, though he soon allowed him to be released by a friendly tribune. When the question of the Asiatic tax-farmers was brought up in the Senate, he tried to “talk out” the proposal, as he had talked out the question of Cæsar's triumph seven months before. But the consul had him stopped in the midst of his harangue, and no one dared to protest. At the most important assembly of the year, that in which the disreputable tribune Vatinius carried the law which made Cæsar governor of Gaul, Cato again came down to protest. He told the citizens that “they were voting a tyrant into the citadel” when they gave the triumvir the all-important Cisalpine province and the legions that lay in it. But it was to no purpose : Cato had liberated his conscience by making his protest, but he had no other consolation. All that he had succeeded in accomplishing was to make Cæsar use illegal violence in a way that in the eyes of strict constitutionalists vitiated all his legislation. But strict constitutionalists were a negligeable quantity at Rome in those unhappy days.
It may have been some consolation to Cato to find that he had at least succeeded in provoking his enemies to the point of expelling him from Rome. In B.C. 58 they let loose upon him the famous demagogue Clodius, then in the first energy of his tribunicial year. The annexation of Cyprus, a very unjust and disreputable piece of work, had just been determined upon. Clodius announced that as there were tempting opportunities for plunder in King Ptolemy's treasury, the most honest man in Rome had better be sent to conduct the business. Cato replied that he had no intention of touching such an iniquitous affair, and should not accept any such post. “It is not your pleasure to go," answered the tribune, “but it is my pleasure that you should be sent.” Thereupon he procured a decres which appointed Cato to take charge of Cyprus and its annexation, and also to reconcile two factions at Byzantium which were engaged in civil war. He was to be kept out of Rome as long as the triumvirs and their agent thought necessary. To show that he was CATO IN CYPRUS
in disgrace, he was given neither a single soldier, a ship, nor a supply of money, and he had assigned to help him only two secretaries, one of whom was a notorious thief, and the other a client of Clodius—which came to much the same thing.
When practical work had to be done, Cato was always at his best, and this unsought-for mission, which took him away from Rome during the time of Cicero's banishment, and of many other troubles, enabled him to do the state good service. He reconciled the Byzantines with no difficulty: the Cypriot matter turned out heart-rending to an honest man, but not otherwise difficult. The unfortunate king committed suicide when he heard that he was to be evicted, though Cato tried to smooth matters for him, by promising him a competent maintenance and the important post of high-priest of the Paphian temple, the chief sanctuary of the island. Ptolemy being removed, there was no hindrance to taking possession of his whole treasure, which amounted to the great sum of 7000 talents. The removal of such a mass of bullion to Rome was no light matter : fearing shipwreck, as we are told, Cato took the curious precaution of sealing up precisely two talents and 500 drachmae in each of several thousand vases. To the lid of each vase he fastened an immensely long cord, with a large cork buoy at the end, his idea being that if the ships miscarried the buoys would float on the surface of the sea, and guide salvage work. What was to be done if the misadventure took place in really deep water, Plutarch does not tell us.
Cato came back to Rome late in the summer of B.C. 56, in time to be involved in all the troubles which were caused by the renewal of the triumvirate at Lucca, and the determination of its members that Pompey and Crassus should be made consuls for 55. At first Cato