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CATO DENOUNCES CÆSAR
Forum. But in a few minutes Cato was back and climbing up the rostra again, whereupon Trebonius, thoroughly roused, had him haled to prison. He had wasted the day, but on the succeeding one the triumvirs' men blockaded the tribune Aquilius (who was going to veto the law) in the Senate-house by force of arms, cleared the partisans of the Optimates out of the Forum, and badly mauled Cato, who gravely kept asserting that he heard thunder on the left, and that the Comitia ought therefore to be broken
up. It was in the next year that Cato made his celebrated declaration that he intended to prosecute Cæsar, the moment that his proconsulate had run out, and he had become once more a private person. The cause was his treacherous dealing with the Usipetes and Tencteri. After concluding a peace with them, and seeing them start homewards to cross the Rhine, he had fallen upon them, alleging a breach of the convention on their part, and had slain more than 430,000 men, women, and children, according to his own version [B.C. 55]. Even as told in the De Bello Gallico the story has a very sinister look; there seems no doubt that Cæsar went very near the edge of treachery, if he did not cross it. Cato was so indignant at the transaction, that he gave notice that he would move that Cæsar should be put in chains at the expiration of his command, and surrendered to the surviving Usipetes, as Mancinus had been surrendered to the Numantines, or Poplilius to the Samnites after the Caudine Forks. Cæsar used this threat of Cato’s to great effect as a reason why he must continue to hold perpetual office. To avoid such a danger he wished to be allowed to sue for the consulship of B.C. 48 in his absence, before his existing commission in Gaul should run out. Of course he was insincere in
pretending that he would be in personal danger if he returned to Rome. There was not much chance that he would be condemned either by the Assembly or by a Special Commission. The former he commanded, the latter he would have bribed. Cato was alone, and it would have required a whole Senate like himself to have made such an attack upon Rome's greatest general.
In the following year, when Crassus had gone off to Syria, and Pompey was beginning to show some signs of slackening in his friendship for Cæsar, Cato stood for the praetorship again, and we learn to our surprise that he was successful. The lustre of an exemplary tenure of office was somewhat dimmed in the eyes of the public, we are told, by the fact that Cato showed his imitation of his great-grandfather rather too grotesquely, by often going to sit on the praetorial bench without his robe or his shoes, when he had to pass sentence on persons of high importance. We know little of his doings except that, as a testimony to his integrity, at the next praetorial elections all the candidates agreed to avoid bribery and to deposit 500 sertertia each with Cato, he undertaking to declare forfeit the deposit of any one of them whom he should consider to have acted unfairly in the canvass. was detected while distributing bribes : Cato therefore declared his deposit forfeited, and offered a share of it to each of the other candidates. But fellow-feeling, or the consciousness that their own private doings would not bear inspection, seems to have swayed them all, for each sent back what he had received to the convicted man. This curious transaction only took place after a very stormy scene in the Comitia : the mob disliked any attempt to put down corruption, and when they understood Cato's line of action pelted him with stones, so that all who were about him fled, and he was left alone on the rostra. “Yet, standing there unmoved, with a firm and steady aspect, he finally hushed the clamour of the mob,
One man THE GIFTS OF FAVONIUS
and demonstrated the righteousness of his proceedings” [B.C. 54).
Another curious incident from the year in which Cato enjoyed the praetorship has been preserved.
He came down to support his friend Favonius, who was standing for the aedileship of the next year.
When the votes were counted, it seemed that Favonius had been beaten; but Cato got permission to examine the tablets, and found 80 many obviously written by the same hand and foisted into the boxes by fraud, that he got the election quashed by the tribunes. At a second ballot his friend was returned; as a mark of his esteem he entrusted the management of the theatrical shows which he exhibited to the people to Catoma strange choice considering his views and habits. Cato did not decline the task, but managed the details of the entertainment according to his own ideas of the becoming. He gave the actors crowns of wild olive instead of gold (one trusts that he remembered the difference when settling their salaries), and instead of showy and expensive presents distributed small and useful donatives. We are told that they included bundles of leeks, radishes, lettuce, and parsley, little bottles of wine, joints of pork, cucumbers, and faggots of wood. The theatre after the distribution must have looked like the shop of a general dealer; but we are told that the people were highly amused, and deserted a great show which Curio was giving on the same day, in order to see Cato acting as master of the ceremonies.
In the next year, when Pompey was obviously becoming estranged from Cæsar, and inclining towards the Optimates, Cato ventured to stand for the consulship. But his rivals, Sulpicius and Marcellus, bribed heavily, while he offered nothing, and did not even go out of his way to canvass: He expected to be beaten, and was not disappointed; on the day of the poll he was playing ball when the return
was made. The messenger with the unfavourable news reached him in the middle of a game, which he quietly finished, and then took a walk round the Forum without shoes or toga to show his equanimity (B.C. 52).
In B.C. 52–51 we find Cato for the first time in friendly relations with Pompey. He had at last convinced himself that nothing was to be feared from that quarter, and that Cæsar was the real danger to the Republic. Accordingly he turned to exhorting Pompey to beware of his fatherin-law. “You took him upon your shoulders eight years ago," he said, "and now you begin to find him heavy. You can neither support his weight nor cast him off; probably you will both fall together, and in your fall crush the Republic.” In B.C. 50 Cato was the soul of the party which had made up its mind that war with Cæsar was inevitable, and that it was necessary to take the offensive against him. It was ho who urged that the great proconsul should be given a successor in each of his provinces as soon as possible, and that all his many proposals for a compromise should be rejected. Pompey's vacillation drove him wild, and wben at last the news came that Cæsar had crossed the Rubicon before any preparation to resist him had been made, he could not restrain himself. At the next meeting of the Senate he spoke in the character of a despised and neglected prophet, whose predictions had at last come true. If the Fathers had listened to him during the last ten years, he said, they would neither be living in deadly fear of the power of one man-Cæsar-nor putting their sole hope of defence in the strength of another man-Pompey. Nevertheless he supported the decree which placed the conduct of the war in the hands of the latter, using the scornful argument that “the authors of great evils should best know how they were to be cured.”
When various senators were given charge of the different
CATO AT DYRRHACHIUM
regions of the empire, for the purpose of raising troops against Cæsar, Sicily was assigned to Cato. He went to Syracuse in deep despondency, but determined to do his duty. From the day when the war broke out he never cut his hair, nor shaved his beard, nor wore a garland; however the conflict might turn out, it was a grief to him that he had to contend with Roman citizens. In Sicily he had not long to stay, for Cæsar's general Pollio crossed into the island before he could assemble a respectable force, and he was forced to fly to Pompey in Epirus.
In the faction-ridden camp of the Optimates he was a useful if not a cheerful figure. It is true that he offended the more violent men by insisting that Roman citizens must not be put to death except in battle, and that there must be no proscription if they returned to Italy victorious. Nor did he conciliate Pompey when he bade him always to remember that he obeyed him as his military commander, not as his party chief. But he was so vigorous and untiring in his work of organising the new legions, and proved so capabie of inspiring others with his own fire, that he was perhaps the most valuable officer in the army. His harangue to his own division before the battle of Dyrrhachium was long remembered. Abandoning his usual reserve, as Plutarch tells us, he spoke to them of liberty and virtue, of death and glory, with such impassioned eloquence, that they swore to follow wherever he would lead, and kept their promise. In the ensuing battle they did their best, drove back Cæsar's veterans, and broke the lines of investment. If Pompey had known how to utilise a success as well as he knew how to win it, the day might have been fatal to the enemy.
It is said that for a moment there had been a chance that Cato might have been given the command of the whole Optimate fleet, which Bibulus, who was made admiral in his stead, so grievously mismanaged. But Pompey on reflec