Page images

tion came to the conclusion, that though he would be an energetic lieutenant while the war lasted, he would be a very uncomfortable colleague if it came to a successful end, for he would certainly have used the naval force as a counterpoise to the army. Cato's old suspicions of the extriumvir would certainly have revived, and friction would have been inevitable. Yet it would surely have been better to have chanced future troubles, and to have utilised for the present the services of a strenuous and capable officer. To give Bibulus or Octavius the fleet was to risk everything. Indeed, the failure of the whole campaign may be traced back to the fact that the inefficient blockade kept up by the Pompeian admirals allowed Cæsar's reinforcements to get across to Epirus. If they had never been allowed to sail, the Optimates must have crushed their opponents by mere force of numbers.

When Cæsar struck inland, and Pompey was compelled to change the theatre of operations to Thessaly, he left Cato in charge of his base-camp, his treasure, and his naval stores at Dyrrhachium, giving him fifteen cohorts for their guard. This important charge kept him from being present at Pharsalus; if he had been there, it is probable that he would not have survived the defeat, for it is certain that he would not have been the man either to fly or to surrender. As it was, he found himself at the head of the only considerable fraction of the Optimate army which had escaped destruction. He crossed over with his fifteen cohorts to Corcyra, where he joined the fleet. A powerful armament was thus at his disposal, but he would not take up the supreme command, for he had discovered that there was a senior magistrate on the spot. This was Cicero, to whom he insisted on turning over the charge of ships and men. The unfortunate orator was placed in a most uncomfortable position, for he intended to do anything rather than fight, and was already meditating how

CATO RETIRES TO AFRICA 229 best he might make his peace with Cæsar. He refused to take over the command, with every sign of alarm, and so provoked the young Gnaeus Pompeius that he purposed to have him put to death as a traitor. Cato, though much disgusted with him, succeeded in preserving his life, and managed that he should escape by night to Brundisium, where he made his submission to the enemy.

Nothing now remained save to take the relics of the army of Epirus to the spot where they could be most useful. Cato resolved to join Metellus Scipio, and King Juba in Africa, the only province where a considerable force was still in arms for the Republic. Accordingly he crossed the sea, and landed at Cyrene with 10,000 men. He took them by a long march, around the head of the Syrtes, to place them at Scipio's disposition. Refusing either to use a horse or to shield his head by a hat from the African sun, he marched for seven days on foot through the Tripolitan sands at the head of his troops, and finally reached the African border.

The whole Optimate army, and Scipio himself, wished that Cato should take command of the province. But constitutional etiquette, as at Corcyra, was in the way. “We are fighting Cæsar," said he,“ because he has broken the laws; it would not be right that I should break them too, by assuming superior authority over the head of a proconsul, when I am only a propraetor.” So Scipio, though known by all to be rash and incapable, kept the charge of the army, while Cato was placed in command of the base-camp at Utica. He fortified the place with great care, and collected vast magazines in it for the use of the field-army. His advice to the proconsul was to avoid a pitched battle at all costs, and to wear down Cæsar's army by the African sun and the harassing assaults of Juba’s Numidian cavalry.

But, as might have been foreseen, the stupid proconsul soon allowed himself to be lured into a battle, and the disaster of Thapsus followed. Once more Cato found himself at the head of the mere wreck of an army, and encompassed with a campful of dispirited politicians who were thinking of making their submission to Cæsar. At first he resolved to resist to the end, and made every preparation to fight; but he found that the Roman residents of Utica were intriguing to surrender the place to the enemy, while the troops refused to shut themselves up in a city where there was a large population which might turn against them and admit Cæsar. Some of the soldiery informed Cato that they would only stand a siege if they were first allowed to put to death or expel every one whom they suspected of treachery within the walls. But he refused to listen to any proposals for a massacre, whereupon they told him that they should march off into the interior, and leave him to shift for himself.

Abandoned by his troops, and quite conscious that the Utican senate was prepared to admit Cæsar the moment that he appeared, Cato thought that he had reached the limits of his responsibility. It was still open to him to escape by sea, and join the last desperate levies which the two young Pompeys were collecting in Baetica. But it seemed to him that the cause of the Republic was so hopelessly lost that any further struggle was useless. He knew the two reckless and violent young men in Spain too well to believe that if, by some strange turn of luck, they were to beat off Cæsar, they would ever restore the old constitution of the state. Rome would merely get two tyrants instead of one; it was not for him to protract the war for such an end. All that remained was that he should seek the last refuge of the just man in the day of hopeless adversity, a voluntary death. The Stoic creed, of which he had always been such a firm adherent, supplied him with the advice which was necessary in such a crisis. THE DEATH OF CATO


To fight was useless, perhaps even harmful; to surrender was dishonourable; it only remained to die.

There was still a day or more at his disposition before Cæsar could arrive, and this time he devoted to setting his house in order. He procured shipping for all those who chose to fly to Spain, and saw them quit the harbour. There remained with him nono save his young son, his friend Statilius, and two philosophers, Apollonides the Stoic and Demetrius the Peripatetic, who had accompanied him from Cyprus. After bathing he went to dinner; he had invited the magistrates of Utica to join him, though he knew that they intended to surrender to Cæsar next day. Throughout the meal he showed himself cheerful beyond his wont, and led the conversation through many fields of philosophy. In particular, he dwelt long on the old Stoic paradox that “the good man only is free, the bad man, even in success, a slave." It was quite true, he maintained : he himself had done his duty, and was therefore happy. Cæsar had become the enemy of his country, and so was the most miserable of all men. He looked upon himself as the victor, and the dictator as the vanquished. To his son he left one legacy of advice—to keep clear of politics. In the Rome of the immediate future, he said, “you cannot fill any place in a way that would be worthy of your father; to do it otherwise would be unworthy of yourself.”

After the dinner was over, he took a short walk in the dark with his son and his friends, and retired to his chamber. Then he said farewell to all in such words that none could fail to guess his purpose. When left alone, he lay down on his bed and began to read Plato concerning the Immortality of the Soul; but he had not gone far before he missed his sword from its usual peg at the head of his couch. His son had removed it when he guessed his father's intent. With some displeasure he summoned the young man, and asked him whether he desired to surrender him to Cæsar. If this was his wish, why had he not bound him and fettered his hands, for a brave man did not need a sword; if that was missing, there were other, if more painful, ways to die. Then, turning to the two philosophers, he inquired whether they thought it likely that they could convince him that it would be wise or honourable to submit to Cæsar. If not, what course did they intend to propose to him ?

The son and the philosophers withdrew in tears, and seeing that nothing else was left, sent in the sword by the hands of a slave. Cato tried its edge. “Now, at least, I am master of myself,” he said ; and, lying down again, he twice read through the book on which he had been intent. Then he lay down for a short snatch of slumber; but at dawn he woke, and without further lingering stabbed himself as deeply as he could below the right breast. The noise of his fall roused his friends, who had been listening all night for some such noise. With cruel kindness they bandaged his wound, which was not necessarily mortal, and laid him on his couch again. But the moment that he came to himself he pulled away the bandages, tore open the hurt, and died in a few minutes.

Cæsar came up next day. At first he tried to play the magnanimous part: “How could Cato envy me the glory of pardoning him and saving his life ?” he cried. But his real feelings for the one man whom he could not bend were shown when, not long afterwards, he published his satire, the “Anti-Cato." In this discreditable work he heaped together all the stories, true or untrue, which placed his enemy in a ludicrous light: he did not shrink from saying that Cato had passed the ashes of his brother's funeral pyre through a sieve, in search of melted gold, and that he had lent his wife to Hortensius for valuable

« EelmineJätka »