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He had determined to win by a desperate cavalry assault upon the enemy's flank. It failed, simply because the horsemen—mainly Asiatic auxiliaries—did not press the charge home, and allowed themselves to be beaten back by the band of indomitable veterans whom Caasar had told off as his flank-guard The cavalry rode off the field, and the flank of the Pompeian legions, who had so far held their ground with commendable steadiness, was left exposed to the enemy. Caesar used his reserve to strike in upon the undefended point, and suddenly the hitherto unbroken line of the Republican infantry crumpled up, and the whole force rolled back in confusion into their camp, and then, after a short attempt to defend the vallum, retreated in utter disorder into the hills. The day was lost, the army scattered to the winds, and Pompey, broken-hearted at the sudden and disastrous end of his hitherto successful campaign, rode off the field, not following the main mass of the fugitives, but seeking the sea. "When he saw that he was not pursued, he went softly on, wrapped up in such thoughts as we may suppose a man to have who had been used for thirty-four years to conquer and to carry all before him, and now, on the verge of old age, first came to know what it was to be a vanquished fugitive. In one short hour he had lost the glory and power which had grown up among so many wars and conflicts; and he, who was lately guarded with so many armies and fleets, rode on with such a scanty train that the enemies who were in search of him passed over the little party without noticing them."1
At the mouth of the Peneius Pompey was taken up by a casual trading vessel; putting into Mytilene, he picked up his wife and some other Roman refugees. He collected a few ships in the Asiatic waters, and when his depression had passed away, began to think once more of reorganising 1 Plutarch.
POMPEY MURDERED IN EGYPT 287
resistance in the East. For that purpose he sailed for the Nile, where he wished to prevail on the Egyptian government to lend him the considerable mercenary army— largely composed of Italians—of which it could dispose. The boy-king, the son of Ptolemy Auletes, was only ten years old, and the control of the state was in the hands of a camarilla of obscure courtiers, the eunuch Pothinus, the rhetorician Theodotus of Chios, and the condottiere Achillas. The miserable Levantines were scared at the news of Pompey's approach; they did not for a moment think of lending him assistance, but at first they had no further purpose than that of getting rid as quickly as possible of their unwelcome guest. But a thought struck the rhetorician. "If we receive Pompey," he said, "we make Caesar our enemy. If we reject Pompey, we earn his undying hatred: and it is quite possible that he and his cause may yet triumph in the end. But if we lure him ashore and kill him, we do Caesar a favour, and have nothing to fear from Pompey. For," he added, with a smile, "dead men do not bite."
The argument seemed unanswerable to the Egyptian privy council, and the plan was carried out with complete, success. The great general was invited to land, and promised an audience with the young king. Achillas rowed out to his galley, taking with him Septimius and Salvius two centurions who had once served under Pompey in the East, but were now holding high rank in the Egyptian army. Reassured by the sight of these Roman faces, and by the smooth words of Achillas, Pompey descended into their barge and was rowed ashore. Just as he stepped on to the beach, the three traitors drew their swords and stabbed him from behind. He fell dead almost before he realised that he had been betrayed, and without uttering a single word.
So ended an honest man and an able general, the victim
partly of his owu unwise persistence in trying to pose as a great statesman, partly of the incurable rottenness of decadent Rome. He should have been born two hundred years before, when the ancient Roman virtues still met their reward, and when it was possible to be the first soldier of the Republic without being also required to become an autocrat or a " saviour of society." Military greatness he had won with his sword; political importance was thrust upon him by the inevitable tendency of the times. He yielded, unhappily for himself, to the temptation of playing a part in politics, of overturning constitutions and dictating laws. Tyrant of Rome he never wished to be, yet he was led into doing many things tyrannical. All his life shows that he aspired to nothing more than the place of first citizen in the Republic. Yet he helped to make the Republic impossible, by setting precedents and examples of fatal encroachment on the free constitution. The Gabinian and Manilian Laws, and the sole consulship of B.C. 52, were landmarks in the history of the growth of the imperial idea. Pompey neither reigned nor wished to reign himself, but he did much to make monarchy possible for his rival and successor.
Many and diverse have been the views taken of Caesar and his career during the nineteen hundred and fortysix years that have elapsed since his death. He did much to shape the future destinies of the world, more perhaps than any other single man that has ever lived, and even in the darkest times of the Middle Ages his story was not forgotten. It may be said that when we have ascertained the way in which Caesar was regarded in any particular century, we know at once the general character of that century's outlook on history. From the days of Charlemagne down to the Renaissance the Holy Roman Empire was the great political ideal of Christendom. Caesar, as the founder of that empire, was regarded as a semi-divine figure; he lacked but Christianity to make him the patron saint of Europe. Certainly the nimbus would have sat upon his head with as good a grace as on that of Constantine, whose tardy baptism hid a multitude of sins and crimes from the eyes of the Middle Ages. But, pagan though he was, Caesar commanded the unquestioning respect of thirty generations of Christians. The best proof, perhaps, of the aspect that he presented to the men of mediaeval Europe is that Dante, in his vision of the midmost hell, where the worst of all sinners suffer the direst of all punishments, saw three figures only in the mouth of the arch-fiend—Judas Iscariot, Brutus, and Cassius. The
traitors who murdered their master in the Senate-house
found only one fit companion, the traitor who betrayed his Master in the Garden of Gethsemane. Astounding as such a view appears to us, we must recognise that it was entertained by the best minds of the Middle Ages. Dante was no ignorant chronicler, but a much-read man, a great political thinker, who looked out on a broad field of historical knowledge before he drew his conclusions.
Ere three centuries more had gone by, Brutus and Caesar had changed places in popular estimation. The scholars of the Renaissance, with their Plato and their Plutarch before them, had reconstructed the old republican ideas of the elder world. To them Brutus was the "last of the Romans," the martyr of freedom, and Caesar's murder was " tyrannicide," the righteous slaughter of the enemy of the state. Instead of being the revered founder of the sacred empire, the dictator had become the splendid criminal who made an end of laws and liberty. His greatness could not be impeached, but he served as the type of reckless ambition which strides through battle and ruin to a bloody grave. This was the Caesar that Shakespeare knew; it needs but a glance through his tragedy to see that Brutus is the hero. Caesar, in spite of all his genius and his magnanimity, is at bottom the man in love with power, who cannot be happy till he has added the sceptre and the crown to the imperator's purple robe. There is no hint that he desired to rule for others' benefit, to reform the world, to reconstitute an empire that was falling into hopeless rottenness.
Yet another four hundred years have gone by, and now a third reading of Caesar's career is presented to us. We are told to recognise in him the great "saviour of society"; the man who saw that the Republic had gone too far on the way to decay to be capable of restoration, and who resolved to save the citizens in spite of themselves, even if it were necessary in the process