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Книга Imperium. Содержание - Roll IV

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Roll IV

ANOTHER OF CICERO’S maxims was that if you must do something unpopular, you might as well do it wholeheartedly, for in politics there is no credit to be won by timidity. Thus, although he had never previously expressed an opinion about Pompey or the tribunes, neither cause now had a more devoted adherent. And the Pompeians were delighted to welcome such a brilliant recruit to their ranks.

That winter was long and cold in the city, and for no one, I suspect, more than Terentia. Her personal code of honor required her to support her husband against the enemies who had invaded her home. But having sat among the smelly poor, and listened to Cicero haranguing her own class, she now found her drawing room and dining room invaded at all hours by his new political cronies: men from the uncouth north, who spoke with ugly accents and who liked to put their feet up on her furniture and plot late into the night. Palicanus was the chief of these, and on his second visit to the house in January he brought with him one of the new praetors, Lucius Afranius, a fellow senator from Pompey’s homeland of Picenum. Cicero went out of his way to be charming, and in earlier years, Terentia, too, would have felt it an honor to have a praetor in her house. But Afranius had no decent family or breeding of any sort. He actually had the nerve to ask her if she liked dancing, and, when she drew back in horror, declared that personally he loved nothing more. He pulled up his toga and showed her his legs and demanded to know if she had ever seen a finer pair of calves.

These men were Pompey’s representatives in Rome and they carried with them something of the smell and manners of the army camp. They were blunt to the point of brutality-but then, perhaps they had to be, given what they were planning. Palicanus’s daughter, Lollia-a blowsy young piece, very much not to Terentia’s taste-occasionally joined the menfolk, for she was married to Aulus Gabinius, another of Pompey’s Picenean lieutenants, currently serving with the general in Spain. Gabinius was a link with the legionary commanders, who in turn provided intelligence on the loyalty of the centuries-an important consideration, for, as Afranius put it, there was no point in bringing the army to Rome to restore the powers of the tribunes, only to find that the legions would happily go over to the aristocrats if they were offered a big enough bribe.

At the end of January, Gabinius sent word that the final rebel strongholds of Uxama and Calagurris had been taken, and that Pompey was ready to march his legions home. Cicero had been active among the pedarii for weeks, drawing senators aside as they waited for debaes, convincing them that the rebel slaves in the Italian north posed a gathering threat to their businesses and trade. He had lobbied well. When the issue came up for discussion in the Senate, despite the intense opposition of the aristocrats and the supporters of Crassus, the house voted narrowly to let Pompey keep his Spanish army intact and bring it back to the mother country to crush Spartacus’s northern recruits. From that point on, the consulship was as good as his, and on the day the motion passed, Cicero came home smiling. True, he had been snubbed by the aristocrats, who now loathed him more than any other man in Rome, and the presiding consul, the super-snobbish Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura, had refused to recognize him when he tried to speak. But what did that matter? He was in the inner circle of Pompey the Great, and, as every fool knows, the quickest way to get ahead in politics is to get yourself close to the man at the top.

Throughout these busy months, I am ashamed to say, we neglected Sthenius of Thermae. He would often turn up in the mornings and hang around the senator for the entire day in the hope of securing an interview. He was still living in Terentia’s squalid tenement block. He had little money. He was unable to venture beyond the walls of the city, as his immunity ended at the boundaries of Rome. He had not shaved his beard nor cut his hair, nor, by the smell of him, changed his clothes since October. He reeked, not of madness exactly, but of obsession, forever producing small scraps of paper, which he would fumble with and drop in the street.

Cicero kept making excuses not to see him. Doubtless he felt he had discharged his obligation. But that was not the sole explanation. The truth is that politics is a country idiot, and capable of concentrating on only one thing at a time, and poor Sthenius had become simply yesterday’s topic. All anyone could talk about now was the coming confrontation between Crassus and Pompey; the plight of the Sicilian was a bore.

In the late spring, Crassus had finally defeated the main force of Spartacus’s rebels in the heel of Italy, killing Spartacus and taking six thousand prisoners. He had started marching toward Rome. Very soon afterwards, Pompey crossed the Alps and wiped out the slave rebellion in the north. He sent a letter to the consuls which was read out in the Senate, giving only the faintest credit to Crassus for his achievement, instead proclaiming that it was really he who had finished off the slave war “utterly and entirely.” The signal to his supporters could not have been clearer: only one general would be triumphing that year, and it would not be Marcus Crassus. Finally, lest there be any remaining doubt, at the end of his dispatch Pompey announced that he, too, was moving on Rome. Little wonder that amid these stirring historical events, Sthenius was forgotten.

Sometime in May, it must have been, or possibly early June-I cannot find the exact date-a messenger arrived at Cicero ’s house bearing a letter. With some reluctance the man let me take it, but refused to leave the premises until he had received a reply: those, he said, were his orders. Although he was wearing civilian clothes, I could tell he was in the army. I carried the message into the study and watched Cicero ’s expression darken as he read it. He handed it to me, and when I saw the opening-“From Marcus Licinius Crassus, Imperator, to Marcus Tullius Cicero: Greetings”-I understood the reason for his frown. Not that there was anything threatening in the letter. It was simply an invitation to meet the victorious general the next morning on the road to Rome, close to the town of Lanuvium, at the eighteenth milestone.

“Can I refuse?” asked Cicero, but then he answered his own question. “No, I can’t. That would be interpreted as a mortal insult.”

“Presumably he is going to ask for your support.”

“Really?” said Cicero sarcastically. “What makes you think that?”

“Could you not offer him some limited encouragement, as long as it does not clash with your undertakings to Pompey?”

“No. That is the trouble. Pompey has made that very clear. He expects absolute loyalty. So Crassus will pose the question: Are you for me or against me? and then I shall face the politician’s nightmare: the requirement to give a straight answer.” He sighed. “But we shall have to go of course.”

We left soon after dawn the following morning, in a two-wheeled open carriage, with Cicero ’s valet doubling as coachman for the occasion. It was the most perfect time of day at the most perfect time of year, already hot enough for people to be bathing in the public pool beside the Capena Gate, but cool enough for the air to be refreshing. There was none of the usual dust thrown up from the road. The leaves of the olive trees were a glossy, fresh green. Even the tombs that line the Appian Way so thickly along that particular stretch just beyond the wall gleamed bright and cheerful in the first hour of the sun. Normally Cicero liked to draw my attention to some particular monument and give me a lecture on it-the statue of Scipio Africanus, perhaps, or the tomb of Horatia, murdered by her brother for displaying excessive grief at the death of her lover. But on this morning his usual good spirits had deserted him. He was too preoccupied with Crassus.

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