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Книга Imperium. Содержание - Part Two. Praetorian

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Part Two. Praetorian

68 B.C.-64 B.C.

Nam eloquentiam quae admirationem non habet nullam iudico.

“Eloquence which does not startle I don’t consider eloquence.”


Roll X

I PROPOSE TO RESUME MY ACCOUNT at a point more than two years after the last roll ended-an elision which I fear says much about human nature, for if you were to ask me: “Tiro, why do you choose to skip such a long period in Cicero’s life?” I should be obliged to reply: “Because, my friend, those were happy years, and few subjects make more tedious reading than happiness.”

The senator’s aedileship turned out to be a great success. His chief responsibility was to keep the city supplied with cheap grain, and here his prosecution of Verres reaped him a great reward. To show their gratitude for his advocacy, the farmers and corn merchants of Sicily helped him by keeping their prices low: on one occasion they even gave him an entire shipment for nothing. Cicero was shrewd enough to ensure that others shared the credit. From the aediles’ headquarters in the Temple of Ceres, he passed this bounty on for distribution to the hundred or so precinct bosses who really ran Rome, and many, out of gratitude, became his clients. With their help, over the following months, he built an electoral machine second to none (Quintus used to boast that he could have a crowd of two hundred on the streets within an hour whenever he chose), and henceforth little occurred in the city which the Ciceros did not know about. If a shopkeeper or some builders, for example, needed a particular license, or wished to have their premises put on to the water supply, or were worried about the state of a local temple, sooner or later their problems were likely to come to the notice of the two brothers. It was this laborious attention to humdrum detail, as much as his soaring rhetoric, which made Cicero such a formidable politician. He even staged good games-or, rather, Quintus did, on his behalf-and at the climax of the Festival of Ceres, when, in accordance with tradition, foxes were released into the Circus Maximus with flaming torches tied to their backs, the entire crowd of two hundred thousand rose to acclaim him in the official box.

“That so many people can derive so much pleasure from such a revolting spectacle,” he said to me when he returned home that night, “almost makes one doubt the very premise on which democracy is based.” But he was pleased nevertheless that the masses now thought of him as a good sport, as well as “the Scholar” and “the Greek.”

Matters went equally well with his legal practice. Hortensius, after a typically smooth and untroubled year as consul, spent increasingly lengthy periods on the Bay of Naples, communing with his bejeweled fish and wine-soaked trees, leaving Cicero in complete domination of the Roman bar. Gifts and legacies from grateful clients soon began flowing in such profusion that he was even able to advance his brother the million he needed to enter the Senate-for Quintus had belatedly set his heart on a political career, even though he was a poor speaker, and Cicero privately believed that soldiering was better suited to his temperament. But despite his increasing wealth and prestige, Cicero refused to move out of his father’s house, fearing it would tarnish his image as the People’s Champion to be seen swanking around on the Palatine Hill. Instead, without consulting Terentia, he borrowed heavily against his future earnings to buy a grand country villa, thirteen miles from the prying eyes of the city voters, in the Alban Hills near Tusculum. She pretended to be annoyed when he took her out to see it, and maintained that the elevated climate was bad for her rheumatics. But I could tell that she was secretly delighted to have such a fashionable retreat, only half a day’s journey from Rome. Catulus owned the adjoining property, and Hortensius also had a house not far away, but such was the hostility between Cicero and the aristocrats that, despite the long summer days he spent reading and writing in his villa’s cool and poplared glades, they never once invited him to dine. This did not disturb Cicero; rather, it amused him, for the house had once belonged to the nobles’ greatest hero, Sulla, and he knew how much it must have irritated them to see it in the hands of a new man from Arpinum. The villa had not been redecorated for more than a decade, and when he took possession an entire wall was devoted to a mural showing the dictator receiving a military decoration from his troops. Cicero made sure all his neighbors knew that his first act as owner was to have it whitewashed over.

Happy, then, was Cicero in the autumn of his thirty-ninth year: prosperous, popular, well rested after a summer in the country, and looking forward to the elections the following July, when he would be old enough to stand for a praetorship-the final stepping-stone before the glittering prize of the consulship itself.

And at this critical juncture in his fortunes, just as his luck was about to desert him and his life become interesting again, my narrative resumes.

AT THE END OF SEPTEMBER it was Pompey’s birthday and for the third year in succession Cicero received a summons to attend a dinner in his honor. He groaned when he opened the message, for he had discovered that there are few blessings in life more onerous than the friendship of a great man. At first, he had found it flattering to be invited into Pompey’s inner circle. But after a while he grew weary of listening to the same old military anecdotes-usually illustrated by the maneuvering of plates and decanters around the dinner table-of how the young general had outwitted three Marian armies at Auximum, or killed seventeen thousand Numidians in a single afternoon at the age of twenty-four, or finally defeated the Spanish rebels near Valencia. Pompey had been giving orders since he was seventeen and perhaps for this reason had developed none of Cicero ’s subtlety of intellect. Conversation as the senator enjoyed it-spontaneous wit, shared gossip, sharp observations which might be spun off mutually into some profound or fantastic dissertation on the nature of human affairs-all this was alien to Pompey. The general liked to hold forth against a background of respectful silence, assert some platitude, and then sit back and bask in the flattery of his guests. Cicero used to say he would sooner have all his teeth drawn by a drunken barber in the Forum Boarium than listen to another of these mealtime monologues.

The root of the problem was that Pompey was bored. At the end of his consulship, as promised, he had retired into private life with his wife, young son, and baby daughter. But then what? Lacking any talent for oratory, he had nothing to occupy him in the law courts. Literary composition held no interest for him. He could only watch in a stew of jealousy as Lucullus continued his conquest of Mithradates. Not yet forty, his future, as the saying went, seemed all behind him. He would make occasional forays down from his mansion and into the Senate, not to speak but to listen to the debates-processions for which he insisted on an immense escort of friends and clients. Cicero, who felt obliged to walk at least part of the way with him, observed that it was like watching an elephant trying to make itself at home in an anthill.

But still, he was the greatest man in the world, with a huge following among the voters, and not to be crossed, especially with an election less than a year away. Only that summer he had secured a tribuneship for his crony Gabinius: he still kept a hand in politics. So on the thirtieth day of September, Cicero went off as usual to the birthday party, returning later in the evening to regale Quintus, Lucius, and myself with an account of events. Like a child, Pompey delighted in receiving presents, and Cicero had taken him a manuscript letter in the hand of Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, a letter two centuries old and extremely valuable, which had been acquired for him in Athens by Atticus. He would dearly have loved to have kept it for his own library in Tusculum, but he hoped that by giving it to Pompey he could begin to tempt the general into an interest in philosophy. Instead, Pompey had barely glanced at it before setting it aside in favor of a gift from Gabinius: a silver rhino horn containing some Egyptian aphrodisiac made of baboon excrement. “How I wish I could have retrieved that letter!” groaned Cicero, flopping down onto a couch, the back of his hand resting on his forehead. “Even now it’s probably being used by some kitchen-maid to light the fire.”

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