Книга Imperium. Содержание - Roll II

I came across that passage in one of his speeches not long ago and I can vouch for the truth of it. He walked away from the harbor like a man in a dream, up through Puteoli, and out onto the main highway without once looking back. I struggled along behind him carrying as much luggage as I could manage. To begin with, his steps were slow and thoughtful, but gradually they picked up speed, until at last he was striding so rapidly in the direction of Rome I had difficulty keeping up.

And with this both ends my first roll of paper, and begins the real story of Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Roll II

THE DAY WHICH WAS to prove the turning point began like any other, an hour before dawn, with Cicero, as always, the first in the household to rise. I lay for a little while in the darkness and listened to the thump of the floorboards above my head as he went through the exercises he had learned on Rhodes-a visit now six years in the past-then I rolled off my straw mattress and rinsed my face. It was the first of November; cold.

Cicero had a modest, two-story dwelling on the ridge of the Esquiline Hill, hemmed in by a temple on one side and a block of apartments on the other, although if you could be bothered to scramble up onto the roof you would be rewarded with a decent view across the smoky valley to the great temples on Capitol Hill about half a mile to the west. It was actually his father’s place, but the old gentleman was in poor health and nowadays seldom left the country, so Cicero had it to himself, along with Terentia and their five-year-old daughter, Tullia, and a dozen slaves: me; the two secretaries working under me, Sositheus and Laurea; the steward, Eros; Terentia’s business manager, Philotimus; two maids; a nurse; a cook; a valet; and a doorkeeper. There was also an old, blind philosopher somewhere, Diodotus the Stoic, who occasionally groped his way out of his room to join Cicero for dinner when his master needed an intellectual workout. So: fifteen of us in the household in all. Terentia complained endlessly about the cramped conditions, but Cicero would not move, for at this time he was still very much in his man-of-the-people phase, and the house sat well with the image.

The first thing I did that morning, as I did every morning, was to slip over my left wrist a loop of cord, to which was attached a notebook of my own design. This consisted not of the usual one or two but four double-sided sheets of wax, each in a beechwood frame, very thin and hinged so that I could fold them all up and snap them shut. In this way I could take many more notes in a single session of dictation than the average secretary; but even so, such was Cicero ’s daily torrent of words, I always made sure to put spares in my pockets. Then I pulled back the curtain of my tiny room and walked across the courtyard into the tablinum, lighting the lamps and checking all was ready. The only piece of furniture was a sideboard, on which stood a bowl of chickpeas. (Cicero ’s name derived from cicer, meaning chickpea, and believing that an unusual name was an advantage in politics, he took pains to draw attention to it.) Once I was satisfied, I passed through the atrium into the entrance hall, where the doorman was already waiting with his hand on the big metal lock. I checked the light through the narrow window, and when I judged it pale enough, gave a nod to the doorman, who slid back the bolts.

Outside in the chilly street, the usual crowd of the miserable and the desperate was already waiting, and I made a note of each man as he crossed the threshold. Most I recognized; those I did not, I asked for their names; the familiar no-hopers, I turned away. But the standing instruction was, “If he has a vote, let him in,” so the tablinum was soon well filled with anxious clients, each seeking a piece of the senator’s time. I had reckoned the queue had all filed in and I was just stepping back when a figure with the dusty clothes, straggly hair, and uncut beard of a man in mourning loomed in the doorway. He gave me a fright, I do not mind admitting.

“Tiro!” he said. “Thank the gods!” And he sank against the doorjamb, exhausted, peering out at me with pale, dead eyes. I guess he must have been about fifty. At first I could not place him, but it is one of the jobs of a political secretary to put names to faces, and gradually, despite his condition, a picture began to assemble in my mind: a large house overlooking the sea, an ornamental garden, a collection of bronze statues, a town somewhere in Sicily, in the north-Thermae, that was it.

“Sthenius of Thermae,” I said and held out my hand. “Welcome.”

It was not my place to comment on his appearance, nor to ask what he was doing hundreds of miles from home, and in such obvious distress. I left him in the tablinum and went through to Cicero ’s study. The senator, who was due in court that morning to defend a youth charged with parricide, and who would also be expected to attend the afternoon session of the Senate, was squeezing a small leather ball to strengthen his fingers, while being robed in his toga by his valet. He was listening to one letter being read out by young Sositheus, and at the same time dictating a message to Laurea, to whom I had taught the rudiments of my shorthand system. As I entered, he threw the ball at me-I caught it without thinking-and gestured for the list of callers. He read it greedily, as he always did. What had he caught overnight? Some prominent citizen from a useful tribe? A Sabatini, perhaps? A Pomptini? Or a businessman rich enough to vote among the first centuries in the consular elections? But today it was only the usual small fry, and his face gradually fell until he reached the final name.

“Sthenius?” He interrupted his dictation. “He is that Sicilian, is he not? The rich one with the bronzes? We had better find out what he wants.”

“Sicilians don’t have a vote,” I pointed out.

“Pro bono,” he said, with a straight face. “Besides, he does have bronzes. I shall see him first.”

So I fetched in Sthenius, who was given the usual treatment-the trademark smile, the manly double-grip handshake, the long and sincere stare into the eyes-then shown to a seat and asked what had brought him to Rome. I had started remembering more about Sthenius. We had stayed with him twice in Thermae, when Cicero heard cases in the town. Back then he had been one of the leading citizens of the province, but now all his vigor and confidence had gone. He needed help, he announced. He was facing ruin. His life was in terrible danger. He had been robbed.

“Really?” said Cicero. He was half-glancing at a document on his desk, not paying too much attention, for a busy advocate hears many hard-luck stories. “You have my sympathy. Robbed by whom?”

“By the governor of Sicily, Gaius Verres.”

The senator looked up sharply.

There was no stopping Sthenius after that. As his story poured out, Cicero caught my eye and performed a little mime of note taking-he wanted a record of this-and when Sthenius eventually paused to draw breath he gently interrupted and asked him to go back a little, to the day, almost three months earlier, when he had first received the letter from Verres. “What was your reaction?”

“I worried a little. He already had a…reputation. People call him-his name meaning boar-people call him the Boar with Blood on His Snout. But I could hardly refuse.”

“You still have this letter?”


“And in it did Verres specifically mention your art collection?”

“Oh yes. He said he had often heard about it and wanted to see it.”

“And how soon after that did he come to stay?”

“Very soon. A week at most.”

“Was he alone?”

“No, he had his lictors with him. I had to find room for them as well. Bodyguards are always rough types, but these were the worst set of thugs I ever saw. The chief of them, Sextius, is the official executioner for the whole of Sicily. He demands bribes from his victims by threatening to botch the job-you know, mangle them-if they do not pay up beforehand.” Sthenius swallowed and started breathing hard. We waited.

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