Caesar and cato



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LESSON XII

PART I

CAESAR AND CATO

This lesson begins with the Life of Caius Julius Caesar, written by Plutarch. Caesar was born in 102 B.C.

When Sulla became dictator of Rome, he wanted to make Caesar get rid of his wife because she was the daughter of one of Marius’ friends. Sulla also disliked Caesar because Caesar was related to Marius. Despite this, Caesar was not killed during the proscriptions of Sulla.

When some friends told Sulla that Caesar should be killed, others said that there was no point in killing Caesar because he was only a boy. Sulla said that the man who did not see more than one Marius in that boy was a fool.

When Caesar heard that Sulla had said this, he escaped from Rome and traveled to the East. In his travels, he was captured by pirates. While he was their prisoner, he made all kinds of jokes about them. He called them barbarians and illiterate and he would often threaten to kill them. They laughed at this.

He was set free because his friends paid a ransom to the pirates. When he was free, the first thing that he did was to make sure that the pirates were punished. He had them captured and crucified, which is what he had often threatened them with.

When Sulla’s power began to weaken, Caesar’s friends told him to return to Rome. Instead, he went first to Rhodes and studied with a famous rhetorician, a man who was also one of Cicero’s teachers.

Caesar had a great natural ability but he was satisfied to become a second-best orator. More than this he did not want, for he chose to be first among men in war and power, and he therefore never rose to that excellence of eloquence which his natural abilities could have given him. His attention was always directed to those plots and plans which finally won him absolute power.

When he returned to Rome, he went into politics and his eloquence made him popular, as did his good manners. He kept his house open and gave parties and the generosity of his life gave him much political influence. His enemies thought nothing of him at first, for they thought his money would soon run out. But, in the meantime, his popularity was increasing and it soon appeared that his aim was to change the whole constitution. By this time, his enemies realized that there is no beginning so small that constant effort will not make great.

[Quaestor in Spain, 68 B.C.]

Cicero was the first who had any suspicions of his plots against the government, and just as a good captain is cautious about storms when the sea is calm, he saw the true temper of Caesar behind his kindness and generosity, and he said that he could see Caesar’s ambition for absolute power in everything he said and did.

When I see his hair so carefully combed,” said Cicero, “and see him adjusting it with his fingers, I cannot imagine that it would ever enter into such a man’s thoughts to overthrow the republic.” But more of this later.



Caesar was so generous in his expenses that before he had ever been a magistrate, he was deeply in debt. But in truth, he was buying something of great value. When he was Aedile, he gave a show with so many gladiators that he entertained the people with 320 single combats, and by his great generosity in theatrical shows, in parades, and public feasts, he surpassed everyone who had gone before him, and he gained so much popularity with the people that many were ready to elect him to higher offices.

[Aedile, 65 B.C.]

At this time there were two factions in the city: one of Sulla, which was very powerful, the other of Marius, which had been broken up. Caesar decided to revive the faction of Marius and to control it, and for this purpose, he gained the support of the people by offering great shows.

When he was Aedile, he ordered that statues of Marius should be carried secretly and placed in the Forum. Rumors of this soon spread throughout the city. Some said that it was an open attack to overthrow the government by giving honors back to Marius. On the other hand, the faction of Marius gained courage, and it was incredibly how many of them there suddenly were. For a great crowd of them came into the Forum, and when they saw the statues of Marius they shouted for joy. They praised Caesar and said that he was a man worthy to be related to Marius.

After the conspiracy of Catiline was destroyed, Caesar was elected Praetor. His Praetorship was not important for any public events, but there was an important event occurred in Caesar’s private life.

[Praetor, 62 B.C.]

Publius Clodius was a patrician well-known for his riches and his eloquence. But in recklessness and shameful living, he was the most famous man of his day. He was in love with Caesar’s wife, and she did not hate him. But she was carefully watched, for Caesar’s mother made sure that no one came to see her without her knowledge.

The Romans have a goddess whom they call ‘The Good.’ It is not lawful for men to be around – even in the same house – while the celebration of this goddess is going on. The women celebrate by themselves. Each year a house is picked belonging either to a Consul or a Praetor, and he, and with him every other male, leaves the house during the ceremony. His wife then prepares for the celebration.

It just so happened that Caesar’s wife was hostinf the celebration that year, and Clodius, who had not yet grown a beard, thought that he would be able to enter the house without being discovered. So he put on the clothes of a woman and came to the house. He found the doors open and met a maid who was in on the plot. She went to tell Caesar’s wife that Clodius was in the house. But because she did not come back quickly, Clodius himself went to look for her, and there he met Caesar’s mother. She asked him who he was looking for.

Clodius told her that he was waiting for the maid. But when he said this, his voice gave him away. When she realized that there was a man in the house, Caesar’s mother ran to tell the rest of the women. The women were terrified.

Caesar’s mother covered up the sacred things and stopped the ceremony and had all the doors shut and began to look for Clodius, who was hiding in the maid’s room. The women recognized him, forced him out of the house, and went home that night and told their husbands the story.

In the morning the story was all over Rome. Everyone was saying what an irreligious thing Clodius had done and how he ought to be punished. One of the Tribunes accused him of breaking religious law, and several of the Senators also accused him. It was said that he was also guilty of incest with his own sister. But the People stood up against the Nobility and defended Clodius. This helped him with the jury which was afraid of the People.

Caesar divorced his wife, but when he was called as a witness against Clodius, he said that he had nothing of which to accuse Clodius. This seemed strange, and the accuser asked him why he had divorced his wife. Caesar said that Caesar’s wife cannot even be suspected of doing wrong.

Some said that Caesar spoke this as his real thought. Others said that he did it to please the People who wanted to save Clodius. At any rate, Clodius escaped, for the jury refused to condemn him.

After his Praetorship, Caesar was sent out to be the governor of Spain, but he owed so much money that when he was leaving his creditors threatened not to let him go. Because of this, he went to Crassus, the richest man in Rome. Crassus hoped to use Caesar’s youth and strength against Pompey and thus paid his debts. Caesar left for Spain.

[Pro-Praetor in Spain, 61 B.C.]

While he was crossing the Alps, Caesar came to a small village of barbarians which was very poor. While they were there, some of Caesar’s friends joked about whether people could compete for honors in such a small and puny place. Caesar said, and he meant it seriously, ‘I would rather be the first citizen here than the second man in Rome.’

It is said that another time, when he was free from business in Spain, that he was reading the history of Alexander the Great, and that he put the book down, thought, and the suddenly burst out into tears. His friends were amazed and asked him why. ‘Don’t you think,’ he said, ‘that I should weep when I consider that Alexander, at my age, had conquered so many nations, and that I have done nothing yet that is memorable.’

When he came to Spain, he was very active and led his legions against some of the people who resisted the Romans. He beat them in several battles and his solders gave him the name Imperator.

[Returns to Rome in 60 B.C.]

There is a law in Rome that whoever asks for a Triumph must stay outside of the city and wait for the answer of the Senate. There is another law that says whoever wants to be Consul must come into the city and run for the office personally.

Caesar came home at the same time that the Consuls were being chosen, and he couldn’t decide what to do because of these two different laws. Therefore he sent word to the Senate to ask if he could wait outside Rome so that he could get his Triumph and to send some friends into the city to apply for the Consulship. Cato, backed up by the law, opposed this request. Because of this, Caesar gave up the Triumph and ran for the Consulship.

When he came to Rome, Caesar put into practice a plan that fooled everybody except Cato. The plan was to make Crassus and Pompey – the two most powerful men in Rome – friends again. There had always been a quarrel between them, but Caesar succeeded in patching it up, and by this means he made himself stronger because both Crassus and Pompey now supported him.

By this action that seemed like kindness and good nature, he caused a revolution in the Republic. For it was not the quarrel between Pompey and Caesar – as most people think – but their union and their conspiring together to overthrow the Senate that caused the civil wars. Only later did they quarrel between themselves.

Cato alone predicted what would happen by this alliance, but at first no one would listen to him. As a consequence, Caesar, supported by both Crassus and Pompey, was elected to the Consulship. His colleague was an Optimate named Bibulus.

As for the other Senators, only a few of them came to the Senate house and the rest stayed away. For this reason, a very old Senator told Caesar one day that the Senate did not meet because they were afraid of Caesar’s soldiers. Caesar said ‘If this is true, why don’t you stay at home also?’ to which the old Senator said that age was his guard against fear, and that the short time remaining in his life was not worth guarding.

[Clodius as Tribune in 58 B.C.]

But the most disgraceful thing that was done in Caesar’s Consulship was that he helped Clodius become Tribune; the same Clodius who had snuck into his wife’s house during the festival. Clodius was elected Tribune so that he could destroy Cicero. Caesar did not leave the city to join his army in Gaul until he and Clodius had beaten Cicero and forced him to leave Italy.

This has been The Life of Caesar by Plutarch.

The next part of this lesson is The Life of Cato, also by Plutarch. Cato was born in 95 B.C.

The family of Cato was famous because of his great-grandfather Cato, the Senator whose virtue had won the respect of the Romans as I have written in his life.

It is said that Cato – even in his childhood – was stern and inflexible and that this was seen in his words, his expression and even the games he played when a child. He was firm in everything and showed no passion. He stuck to what he began and accomplished everything he tried. He was tough and rude to those who flattered him and he did not give in to those that bullied him. It was hard to make him laugh, in fact, he rarely smiled. It was not easy to make him angry, but once he was angry it was difficult to calm him down.

When he began to learn, he proved to be a poor student and slow to learn. But those things that he did learn he kept in his memory forever. And this, indeed, is something that is often true. Some men find it easy to remember things. But those who learn with difficulty remember best. Every new thing they learn, you might say, is burned and branded into their minds.

Cato’s stubbornness and slowness may also have made it hard for him to be taught. For to learn is to allow someone to persuade you of things, and it is easiest to persuade those who do not resist. For this reason, young people are persuaded more easily than old people; sick people are persuaded more easily than healthy ones.

Despite this, Cato was very obedient to his teachers and would do whatever he was told. But he would always ask the reason and the cause of things. Indeed, he had a very good teacher who was kind and more willing to teach than to beat his students.

Sulla was a good friend of Cato’s family and sometimes invited Cato to come and see him, even when he was a small boy. Cato’s teacher would often bring Cato to see Sulla at his house. Sulla did much of his public business in his house and there were always people coming and going, many of them very said because they had been proscribed. When Cato, who was fourteen, saw the heads of some famous Romans brought into Sulla’s house for him to see, he asked his teacher, “Why doesn’t somebody kill this man?” “Because,” the teacher said, “they fear him more than they hate him.” “Why, then,” said Cato, “don’t you give me a sword so that I can kill him and free my country from slavery?” When his teacher heard this, he made sure not to bring Cato back to see Sulla.

When Cato was older, he met a Stoic philosopher and he studied this philosophy with great eagerness – especially ethics and politics. Although his natural ability fitted him for all kinds of virtue, his greatest virtue was his inflexible justice which could not be corrupted. He also learned the art of speaking and debating, because he thought that political philosophy – like a great city – should have walls to protect it. But never would he recite speeches in public. When somebody said to him, “I blame you Cato for your silence,” he said, “But I hope not for my life.” He also said, “I will speak when I have something to say that must be said.”

He practiced making his body strong and he exercised much. He got used to going out without a hat on the hottest and the coldest weather and to walk in bare feet at all times. When he went out on a trip with any of his friends who were on horseback, he would always walk but even so he would always keep up with them. When he was sick, the patience that he showed was admirable. When he had a cold, he would stay by himself and would allow nobody to see him until he began to get better.

Cato thought that the customs and manners of men during his time were so corrupt that a great change was necessary. He did everything against the fashions of his time.

When he fought in the army, the general gave him command of a Legion and he took it as his first job to make his soldiers as much like himself as possible. He persuaded and instructed each soldier individually and gave each the reward or punishment he deserved. Soon his men were so well trained that it was hard to say whether they were more peaceful or more warlike, more brave or more just. For they were dangerous to their enemies but kind to their friends. They were afraid to commit crimes and eager to achieve great things. In this way, Cato got the things that he had never sought, glory and fame. He was respected by all men and loved by his soldiers. Whatever he commanded his soldiers to do, he did himself. In what he ate and the way in which he traveled, he was more like a common soldier than an officer.

But in character, morals and wisdom Cato excelled all of the other soldiers and made himself, without his knowing it, loved by all. For the true love of virtue is in all men produced by the love of respect they have for the person who teaches it, and those who praise good men but do not love them may respect their reputations, but do not really admire and will never imitate their virtue.

[Quaestor, 64 B.C.]

When Cato returned to Rome, he spent his time at home, or in conversation with philosophers, or at the Forum helping his friends. Though it was now time that he should be elected Quaestor he would not run for office until he had studied all the laws about it and until he knew what duties and power the Quaestor had. But with this knowledge, as soon as he came to be Quaestor he made a great reformation among all the bureaucrats of the Treasury. These people knew the laws and they were used to having magistrates come and go year by year. Most of these magistrates were so ignorant that it was the bureaucrats who really did the job. In short, these bureaucrats ran the Treasury by themselves, but Cato changed this. He worked from dawn till dark as Quaestor and showed not only that he had the title Quaestor, but the knowledge and understanding and full authority of this office.

Cato’s carefulness and hard work made him popular with the people. He always came to the treasury first and left last. He never missed any Assembly of the People and he was always on the watch for Senators who voted just to gain popularity or because they had been bribed. In this way, the Treasury worked well with no corruption.

After he gave up the office he was always first to the Senate and last to leave. Often, while the others were getting settled and moving to their seats slowly, he would sit and read by himself. He was never out of town when the Senate met. Afterwards, when Pompey and his faction found that they could not force or persuade Cato to help them, they tried to keep him out of the Senate by asking him to do jobs for his friends in other places. He discovered this trick and told all of his friends that he would never do any private business when the Senate was assembled.

It was not because he wanted to be famous or rich that he took part in politics. He took part in politics because he thought that serving the Republic was the best job for an honest man and therefore he thought it was his duty to do this job. For this reason, he had friends everywhere to send him reports of all the judgments and laws that were made in all of the provinces.

At one time Clodius began to insult some priestesses of whom Cicero’s sister was one. Cato stopped Clodius and made him look so bad that Clodius was forced to leave Rome. When this was over, Cicero came to Cato to thank him for what he had done. “You must thank the Republic,” said Cato, because he always had said that everything he did was for the republic.

In this way, Cato gained a great reputation, so that a lawyer in a case when there was only one witness against him, would say to the Jury that they should not rely on a particular witness even if it was Cato himself. It was a sort of proverb with many people that if they heard of any unlikely or incredible thing to say that they would not believe it even if Cato himself would say that he had seen it.

One day a reckless and lustful man was talking in the Senate about hard work and virtue. At this a Senator stood up and said, “Who can stand this – to have you eat like Crassus and talk like Cato?”

[63 B.C.]

Before Cato became Tribune, he helped Cicero – who was Consul at that time – in many ways, but especially during the conspiracy of Catiline. After the conspirators had been put to death, Caesar, when he found that he was suspected of favoring the conspiracy, went to the people and stirred them up to form a faction to support him. Cato was frightened of what might happen and he persuaded the Senate to win over the poor by giving them free food. This act of humanity washed away the danger. But Cato also saw that more dangers were coming and it was for this reason that he became Tribune so that he might block any threats to the Republic.

[Tribune in 62 B.C.]

Soon some Tribunes proposed to the people a law that would allow Pompey the Great to enter Italy with all his Legions in order to preserve the city from the danger of Catiline’s conspiracy. This was the excuse they used, but their true purpose was to give Pompey absolute power. Cato was able to stop this and he said that while he was alive, Pompey would never come armed into the city. When Pompey finally returned with glory from the war, he was confident of his popularity with the People who had welcomed him when he returned. He thought that the People would give him everything he wanted and therefore he sent word to the Senate to put off the election of Consuls until he could come to the Forum personally to help his friend, Piso, who was running for that office.

[61 B.C.]

Most of the Senators wanted to grant Pompey’s request, but Cato blocked him. He did not trust Pompey and wanted to show him that the Senate was in control. This upset Pompey, who soon found that he could gain nothing with Cato against him. He sent a friend of his to talk to Cato.

Cato had two nieces who were at the age of marriage. Pompey offered to marry the oldest niece himself and take the youngest for his son. Some say they were not Cato’s nieces but his daughters. When Cato heard this, he said to Pompey’s friend, “Go back and tell Pompey that Cato cannot be bought by offering women. I am grateful for his kindness, and as long as his actions are just, I will be his friend, but I will not give any relatives of mine as hostages against the safety of the Republic to serve Pompey’s glory.” The answer upset the women in Cato’s house and all his friends thought that he was too harsh and proud. But afterwards, Pompey tried to get one of his friends elected Consul through bribery for he did this openly, distributing the money in his own garden. Cato then said to the women that they would have been contaminated by these crimes if they had married into that family. They admitted that he was right to refuse.

However, to judge by the outcome, Cato made a mistake in rejecting this alliance, because, as a result, Pompey turned to Caesar. Pompey married Caesar’s daughter, and when that marriage was made, it united Caesar’s and Pompey’s power and this almost ruined the Roman Empire, and it destroyed the Republic.



None of this might have happened if Cato had not held all of Pompey’s faults against him. He did not see that by rejecting him because of small crimes he made it possible for another man to commit the greatest of crimes; but these things happened later.

In the meantime, Pompey wanted the Senate to agree to all of the decisions that he had made in Asia, but Cato blocked this. When Pompey saw how weak he was in the Senate, he went to the People to try to get votes there. He wanted a law to divide lands among his soldiers, but Cato opposed him here too, and the law was rejected.

Because of this, Pompey joined with Clodius, who was at this time the most dangerous of all the demagogues, and he also became Caesar’s friend. It was Cato who caused this friendship also. For Caesar, when he came back from Spain, asked to be chosen Consul but he did not want to lose his Triumph. When he sent a request to the Senate that he be allowed to run for the Consulship and stay outside of Rome, Cato blocked it. For this reason, Caesar let the Triumph go, came into the town, made a friendship with Pompey and ran for the Consulship. As soon as he was declared Consul, he married his daughter to Pompey.

In this way, Pompey and Caesar combined themselves against the Republic.


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