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CESAR'S PLACE IN HISTORY 291
to sweep away all the old constitutional landmarks and to introduce autocracy. Mommsen, the most extreme advocate of this school, goes so far as to praise in Caesar the man who felt within his breast "true kingly greatness," and therefore rightly felt that he must make himself a king. The doctrine seems dangerous. Of a thousand able and pushing young men who fancy themselves the chosen instruments of fate, nine hundred and ninety-nine turn out to be of the type of Alcibiades or Clodius or Rienzi, and only the thousandth is a Caesar. It does not seem wise to encourage the man of ability to regard laws and constitutions as trifles, which he may sweep away in the justifiable endeavour to assert his personality and live his life.
Every one must grant that the Roman Republic, with its absurd and antiquated state machinery, had gradually sunk into a hopeless slough, from which it seemed im- , possible that it could ever be dragged out. There was even less hope of salvation from the Democratic party than from the Optimates; both factions, their ideals and their programmes, were hopelessly played out. But in spite of all, we refuse our moral sympathy to the affable, versatile, unscrupulous man of genius who made an end of the old order of things. Caesar had many aspects: as the manager of mobs and the puller of political wires—as the general—as the legislator—as the organiser of provinces, colonies, and municipalities—as the litterateur and the man of fashion, we know him well. But Caesar the altruist is a fiction of the nineteenth century. To read into his many-sided activity the ideals of a benevolent prophet, who wished to restore the Golden Age, is absurd. Rather was he a brilliant opportunist, dealing sanely and practically in turn with each problem that came before him. Enlightened ambition and the love of doing work well, if it has to be done at all, explain his career. Of real unselfishness or idealism there is not a trace; if he
ever denied himself anything that he desired, it was because he saw that the result of indulgence would be dangerous to his political schemes. His self-restraint was strong enough to enable him to refuse even the crown itself, the dearest object of all his wishes, when he saw that the move would be unpopular. But it was policy and not conscience that kept him back on this and on many another occasion.
To represent Caesar, even in his later years, as a kind of saint and benefactor who had lived down his earlier foibles, is wholly untrue to the facts of his life. The man is consistent all through his career; the dictator of B.C. 45 was but the debauched young demagogue of B.C. 70 grown older, riper, and more wary. Those who represent him as a staid and divine figure replete with schemes for the benefit of humanity, need to be reminded that at the age of fifty-four, in the year of the victory of Pharsalus, he was ready to lapse into undignified amours with a clever and worthless little Egyptian princess. It is worse still that two years later, aged fifty-six, he could condescend to write and publish his " Anti-Cato." To pen a satire— and a poor' satire at that—on an honest and worthy enemy, whose ashes were hardly yet cold, was worthy of a second-rate society journalist. The monarch of the world was at bottom the same man as the clever young scamp whose epigrams and adulteries had scandalised Rome thirty years back.
To understand Caesar as a whole, we must look not merely at the wonderful military and administrative achievements of the last fifteen years of his life, but at the record of his chequered and oragious political career from B.c. 70 to B.C. 58, when he was posing as the hereditary chief of the Democratic party, and winning his first start in political importance by his talent for selfadvertisement and the management of mobs.
THE FAMILY OF THE JULII 293
The Julii were among the most ancient—by their own showing they were far the most ancient—of all the old patrician houses. There had been consuls of their name in the first century of the Republic, and when it grew fashionable to construct an elaborate family-tree going back to the days before Romulus, the Julii connected themselves with ^Eneas, asserting that lulus was an alias of Ascanius, the eldest son of the Trojan hero. They worshipped as their family patroness Venus Genetrix—a circumstance which may either have been the cause or the result of their claim to descend from iEneas and his divine mother. Remembering that Virgil's ^Eneid was one of the remote consequences of the construction of this ambitious pedigree, we must be grateful to the domestic mythographer of the Julii. The name Caesar crops up for the first time in the third century before Christ: from B.C. 208 onward there had been a long and not undistinguished succession of consuls and praetors in the house. None of them won a reputation of the first class, but many had been well-known figures in their day: we may especially note Caius Caesar the orator, a contemporary of Sulla, and Lucius Caesar, who gave his name to the famous law which enfranchised the Italians in B.C. go. The greatest of the house did not descend from either of these men, but came from a younger branch. His father was by no means a notable personage, though he attained the praetorship: of his grandfather nothing is known but his name. The Julii had for the most part adhered to the Optimate faction, as befitted a family of such ancient descent; three of them had perished in the massacres of Cinna, but Caius, the father of the dictator, would seem not to have shared the family views: we find him living quietly under the Democratic rigime of B.C. 87-84, and his sister Julia had been married to no less a person than Marius himself, a fact which may have gone far to determine her brother's politics.
The connection had, at any rate, a lasting influence on the career of Ctesar himself. His fierce old uncle-bymarriage took an interest in the lad, and caused him to be made flamen dialis in the year of the great massacre, although (having been born in B.C. 102) he was at that time only fifteen years of age. The flamen's cap came to him from the brows of the virtuous Cornelius Morula,1 one of the countless victims of Marius's reign of terror. It should surely have brought ill-luck to the boy; but Caesar, till he came to the fatal Ides of March, was the child of fortune. He escaped in the evil day when Sulla came back from Greece in B.C. 83 to avenge the murdered Optimates. His youth saved him: he was but nineteen, and though he was the nephew of Marius and had married the daughter of Cinna, Sulla let him live. This was all the more astounding because the lad had refused to divorce his wife, a course which had been dictated to him as necessary to propitiate the conqueror. Indeed, Caesar had to go into hiding for some time, till influential relatives begged him off. But we may probably dismiss as a fiction the tale that Sulla, while he spared him, muttered to his friends that "in this ungirt boy there were the makings of many Maril" The story bears on its face every mark of having been forged long after, when Caesar had already grown to greatness. If Sulla had really supposed that the lad was dangerous, he was far too conscientious a party man to have spared him. All that Caesar suffered at the hands of the Reaction was the loss of his priesthood, and that of his wife's large fortune;
1 Merula was long remembered for his punctilious discharge of his duties of flamen. When forced to commit suicide, he carefully laid aside his official head-dress (apex) and wrote out a certificate that he had not defiled it with his blood
CAESAR'S POLITICAL DEBUT 295
for the property of Cinna, like that of the other Democratic leaders, was forfeited to the treasury.
We know little of Caesar's life for the next few years. He was still very young, and politics in the earlier days of the Sullan regime were dangerous. Indeed, he would seem to have left Rome in order to keep out of the dictator's notice. We find him serving in B.C. 80-79 under Minucius Thermus at the siege of Mytilene, where he gained distinction by saving the life of one of his comrades, and was rewarded by a civic crown. If Suetonius, ever greedy after scandals, is to be believed, he also won attention in Asia, in another and a less creditable way, by his licentious private life. When Sulla died, Caesar returned to Rome; but it is noteworthy that he is not said to have taken any part in the agitation set on foot after the dictator's death by the heady and incapable Lepidus. The rising was fatal to all of the surviving Democrats who were rash enough to entrust their fate to such an imbecile leader; but Caesar was not found among them.
We hear of him as taking his first steps in political life in the year after the fall of Lepidus, when he prosecuted the pro-consul Gnaeus Dolabella—one of the old Sullan gang—for maladministration in Macedonia. But the senatorial judges acquitted him, as they also did 0. Antonius Hybrida, another and a more disreputable member of the same ring, when Caesar impeached him in the following year. This notorious ruffian was destined to survive, and to take a prominent part thirteen years later, first as the associate and then as the betrayer of Catiline. It was a good advertisement for a young man of decidedly Democratic antecedents to be able to accuse such persons, even if he could not get them convicted. In B.c. 77-76 the Optimates were still so much in the ascendant that it was something even to dare to attack them.