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Книга Imperium. Содержание - Roll XIII

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Shortly before midnight, a messenger arrived to say that Pompey was approaching the city along the Via Latina. A score of his veterans had been stationed at the Capena Gate to escort him home by torchlight, in case his enemies resorted to desperate tactics, but Quintus-who had spent much of the night touring the city with the precinct bosses-reported to his brother that the streets were quiet. Eventually, cheering outside announced the great man’s arrival, and suddenly there he was among us, bigger than ever, grinning, shaking hands, clapping backs; even I received a friendly punch on the shoulder. The senators clamored for Pompey to make a speech, at which Cicero remarked, a touch too loudly, “He cannot speak yet: I have not written what he should say.” Just for a moment I saw a shadow flash across Pompey’s face, but yet again Caesar came to Cicero’s rescue, howling with laughter, and when Pompey suddenly grinned and wagged his finger in mock-reproach, the atmosphere relaxed into the joshing humor of an officers’ mess, where the triumphant commander expects to be ribbed.

Whenever I picture the word imperium it is always Pompey who comes into my mind-Pompey that night, hovering over his map of the Mediterranean, distributing dominion over land and sea as casually as he dispensed his wine (“Marcellinus, you can have the Libyan sea, while you, Torquatus, shall have eastern Spain…”), and Pompey the following morning, when he went down into the Forum to claim his prize. The annalists later reckoned that twenty thousand crammed into the center of Rome to see him anointed world commander. It was such a throng that even Catulus and Hortensius dared not commit some last act of resistance, although I am sure they would have liked to, but were instead obliged to stand with the other senators, putting the best face on it they could; Crassus, typically, could not even manage that and stayed away altogether. Pompey did not say much, a few protestations of humble gratitude, crafted by Cicero, and an appeal for national unity. But then he did not have to say anything: his presence alone had caused the price of grain in the markets to halve, such was the confidence he inspired. And he finished with the most wonderful theatrical flourish, which can only have come from Cicero: “I shall now put on again that uniform once so dear and so familiar to me, the sacred red cloak of a Roman commander in the field, and I shall not take it off again until victory in this war is won-or I shall not survive the outcome!” He raised his hand in salute and left the platform-was wafted from the platform, would be a better way of putting it, on a wind of acclamation. The applause was still going on when suddenly, beyond the rostra, he came into view again-steadily climbing the steps of the Capitol, now wearing the paludamentum, that bright scarlet cloak which is the mark of every Roman proconsul on active service. As the people went wild with enthusiasm, I glanced across to where Cicero was standing next to Caesar. Cicero’s expression was one of amused distaste, but Caesar’s was enraptured, as if he were already glimpsing his own future. Pompey carried on into the precincts of the Capitoline Triad, where he sacrificed a bull to Jupiter, and left the city immediately afterwards, without saying good-bye to Cicero or to anyone else. It was to be six years before he returned.


IN THE ANNUAL ELECTIONS for praetor that summer, Cicero topped the poll. It was an ugly, scrappy campaign, fought in the aftermath of the struggle over the lex Gabinia, when trust between the political factions had broken down. I have before me the letter which Cicero wrote to Atticus that summer, expressing his disgust at all things in public life: “It is unbelievable in how short a time how much worse you will find them than when you left.” Twice the balloting had to be abandoned halfway through when fighting broke out on the Field of Mars. Cicero suspected Crassus of hiring thugs to disrupt the voting, but could not prove it. Whatever the truth, it was not until September that the eight praetors-elect were finally able to assemble in the Senate House to determine which court each would preside over in the coming year. The selection, as usual, was to be settled by drawing lots.

The most coveted office was that of urban praetor, who in those days ran the justice system and was ranked third in the state, behind the two consuls; he also had responsibility for staging the Games of Apollo. If that was the plum, then the post to be avoided at all costs was the embezzlement court, a job of stunning tedium. “Of course, I should like the urban praetorship,” Cicero confided to me as we walked down to the Senate that morning. “And frankly, I should rather hang myself than sort out embezzlement for a year. But I shall willingly settle for anything in between.” He was in a buoyant mood. The elections were concluded at last and he had won the most votes. Pompey was gone not only from Rome but also from Italy, so Cicero had no great man looming over him. And he was getting very close to the consulship now-so close he could almost feel that ivory chair beneath him.

There was always a full chamber for these lot-drawing ceremonies, combining as they did high politics with a game of chance, and by the time we arrived the majority of the senators had already gone in. Cicero entered to a noisy reception, with cheers from his old supporters among the pedarii and abusive shouts from the aristocrats. Crassus, stretched out in his usual position on the consular front bench, regarded him through half-closed eyes, like a big cat pretending to be asleep while a little bird hops by. The election had turned out much as Cicero had expected, and if I give you here the names of the other praetors-elect, I believe you will have a good sense of how politics stood at that time.

Apart from Cicero, there were only two other men of obvious ability waiting calmly to draw their lots. By far the most talented was Aquilius Gallus, who some say was a better lawyer even than Cicero, and who was already a respected judge; in fact, he was something of a paragon-brilliant, modest, just, kindly, a man of supreme taste, with a magnificent mansion on the Viminal Hill; Cicero had it in mind to approach the older man to be his running mate for consul. Next to Gallus, at least in gravitas, was Sulpicius Galba, of a distinguished aristocratic family, who had so many consular masks in his atrium, it was inconceivable he would not be one of Cicero’s rivals for the consulship; but although he was honest and able, he was also harsh and arrogant-that would count against him in a tight election. Fourth in talent, I suppose, although Cicero sometimes burst out laughing at his absurdities, was Quintus Cornificius, a rich religious fundamentalist, who talked endlessly about the need to revive Rome’s declining morals-“the candidate of the gods,” Cicero called him. After that, I am afraid, there was a great shelving-away in ability: remarkably, all the other four praetors-elect were men who had previously been expelled from the Senate, for deficiencies in either funds or morals. The oldest of these was Varinius Glaber, one of those clever, bitter men who expect to succeed in life and cannot believe it when they realize they have failed-already a praetor seven years earlier, he had been given an army by the Senate to put down the revolt of Spartacus; but his legions were weak and he had been beaten repeatedly by the rebel slaves, eventually retiring from public life in humiliation. Then there was Caius Orchivius-“all push and no talent,” as Cicero characterized him-who had the support of a big voting syndicate. In seventh place when it came to brains Cicero placed Cassius Longinus-“that barrel of lard”-who was sometimes called the fattest man in Rome. Which left, in eighth, none other than Antonius Hybrida, the drinker who kept a slave girl for a wife, whom Cicero had agreed to help in the elections on the grounds that here, at least, would be one praetor whose ambitions he would not have to worry about. “Do you know why they call him ‘Hybrida’?” Cicero asked me one day. “Because he’s half man, half imbecile. I wouldn’t award him the half, personally.”

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