The World’s Famous Orations.
Rome (218 B.C.–84 A.D.). 1906.
His Oration Over the Dead Body of Cæsar
I am well aware that it is difficult to hit your precise sentiments. Especially is it no easy task to treat matters of such magnitude—what speech could equal the greatness of deeds?—and you, whose minds are insatiable because of the facts that you know already, will not prove lenient judges of my efforts. If the speech were being made among men ignorant of the subject, it would be very easy to content them, for they would be startled by such great deeds; but as the matter stands, through your familiarity with the events, it is inevitable that everything that shall be said will be thought less than the reality. Outsiders, even if through jealousy they should distrust it, yet for that very reason must deem each statement they hear strong enough; but your gathering, influenced by good will, must inevitably prove impossible to satisfy. You yourselves have profited most by Cæsar’s virtue; and you demand his praises not half-heartedly, as if he were no relation, but out of deep affection as one of your very own. I shall strive therefore to meet your wishes to the fullest extent, and I feel sure that you will not criticize too closely my command of words or conception of the subject, but will, out of your kindness of heart, make up whatever is lacking in that respect.
I shall speak first about his lineage, tho not because it is very brilliant. Yet this, too, has considerable bearing on the nature of excellence, that a man should have become good not through force of circumstances but by inherent power. Those not born of noble parents may disguise themselves as honest men, but may also some day be convicted of their base origin by innate qualities. Those, however, who possess the seed of honesty, descending through a long line of ancestors, can not possibly help having an excellence which is of spontaneous growth and permanent. Still, I do not now praise Cæsar chiefly because he was sprung from many noble men of recent times and kings and gods of ancient days, but because in the first place he was a kinsman of our whole city—we were founded by the men that were his ancestors—and secondly because he not only confirmed the renown of his forefathers who were believed by virtue to have attained divinity, but actually increased it; if any person disputed formerly the possibility of Æneas ever having been born of Venus, he may now believe it.
The gods in past times have been reported as possessing some unworthy children, but no one could deem this man unworthy to have had gods for his ancestors. Æneas himself became king, as likewise some of his descendants. This man proved himself so much superior to them, that whereas they were monarchs of Lavinium and Alba, he refused to become king of Rome; and whereas they laid the foundation of our city, he raised it to such heights that among other services he established colonies greater than the cities over which they ruled.
Such, then, is the state of his family. That he passed through a childhood and education corresponding to the dignity of his noble birth how could one feel better assured than by the certain proofs that his deeds afford? When a man possesses conspicuously a body that is most enduring and a soul that is most steadfast in the face of all contingencies alike of peace and war, is it not inevitable that he must have been reared in the best possible way? And I tell you it is difficult for any man surpassingly beautiful to show himself most enduring, and difficult for one who is strong in body to attain great prudence, but most difficult of all for the same man to shine both in words and in deeds.
Stating only the truth, therefore, I affirm that this Cæsar was at the same time most able in body and most amiable in spirit. He enjoyed a wonderful natural talent and had been scrupulously trained in every kind of education, which always enabled him (not unnaturally) to comprehend everything that was needed with the greatest keenness, to interpret the need most plausibly, and to arrange and administer matters most prudently. No shifting of a favorable situation could come upon him so suddenly as to catch him off his guard, nor did a secret delay, no matter how long the postponement, escape his notice. He decided always with regard to every crisis before he came in contact with it, and was prepared beforehand for every contingency that could happen to him. He understood well how to discern sharply what was concealed, to dissimulate what was evident in such a way as to inspire confidence, to pretend to know what was obscure, to conceal what he knew, to adapt occasions to one another and to give an account of them, and furthermore to accomplish and cover successfully in detail the ground of every enterprise.
A proof of this is that in his private affairs he showed himself at once an excellent manager and very liberal, being careful to keep permanently what he inherited, but lavish in spending with an unsparing hand what he gained; and for all his relatives, except the most impious, he possessed a strong affection. He did not neglect any of them in misfortune, nor did he envy them in good fortune, but he helped the latter to increase their previous property and made up the deficiencies for the former, giving some money, some lands, some offices, some priesthoods. Again, he was wonderfully attached to his friends and other associates. He never scorned or insulted any of them, but while courteous to all alike he rewarded many times over those who assisted him in any project, and won the devotion of the rest by benefits, not bowing to any one of brilliant position, nor humiliating any one who was bettering himself; but as if he himself were being exalted through all their successes and acquiring strength and adornment, he took delight in making the largest number equal with himself. While he behaved thus toward his friends and acquaintances, he did not show himself cruel or inexorable even to his enemies, but many of those who had come into collision with him personally he let off scotfree, and many who had actually made war against him he released, giving some of them honors and offices. To this degree was he in every way inclined to right conduct, and not only had no baseness in his own making, but would not believe that it was found in anybody else.
Since I have reached these statements, I will begin to speak about his public services. If he had lived a quiet existence, perhaps his excellence would never have come to light; but as it was, by being raised to the highest position and becoming the greatest not only of his contemporaries but of all the rest who had ever wielded any influence, he displayed it more conspicuously. For nearly all his predecessors this supreme authority had served only to reveal their defects, but him it made luminous: through the greatness of his excellence he undertook correspondingly great deeds, and was found to be a match for them; he alone of men after obtaining for himself so great good fortune as a result of true worth, neither disgraced it nor treated it wantonly. The brilliant successes which he regularly achieved on his campaigns and the highmindedness he showed in every-day duties I shall pass over, altho they are so great that for any other man they would constitute sufficient praise: but in view of the distinction of his subsequent deeds, I shall seem to be dealing with small matters, if I rehearse them all with exactness. I shall only mention his achievements while ruling over you. Even all of these, however, I shall not relate with minute scrupulousness. I could not possibly give them adequate treatment, and I should cause you excessive weariness, particularly since you already know them.
First of all, this man was pretor in Spain, and finding it secretly hostile did not allow the inhabitants under the protection of the name of peace to develop into foes, nor chose to spend the period of his governorship in quiet rather than to effect what was for the advantage of the nation; hence, since they would not agree to alter their sentiments, he brought them to their senses without their consent, and in doing so so far surpassed the men who had previously won glory against them, as keeping a thing is more difficult than acquiring it, and reducing men to a condition where they can never again become rebellious is more profitable than rendering them subject in the first place, while their power is still undiminished. That is the reason you voted him a triumph for this, and gave him at once the office of consul. As a result of your decree it became most plainly evident that he had waged war not for his own desires or glory, but was preparing for the future. The celebration of the triumph he waived on account of pressing business, and after thanking you for the honor, he was satisfied with merely that to secure his glory, and entered upon the consulship.
Now all his administrative acts in this city during the discharge of that office would be verily countless to name. And as soon as he had left it and been sent to conduct war against the Gauls, notice how many and how great were his achievements there. So far from causing grievances to the allies he even went to their assistance, because he was not suspicious at all of them and further saw that they were wronged. But his foes, both those dwelling near the friendly tribes, and all the rest that inhabited Gaul, he subjugated, acquiring at one time vast stretches of territory and at another unnumbered cities, of which we knew not even the names before. All this, moreover, he accomplished so quickly, tho he had received neither a competent force nor sufficient money from you, that before any of you knew that he was at war he had conquered; and he settled affairs on such a firm basis that as a result Celtica and Britain felt his footstep.
And now is that Gaul enslaved which sent against us the Ambrones and the Cimbri, and is entirely cultivated like Italy itself. Ships traverse not only the Rhone or the Arar, but the Mosa, the Liger, the very Rhine, and the very ocean. Places of which we had not even heard the titles to lead us to think that they existed, were likewise subdued for us: the formerly unknown he made accessible, the formerly unexplored navigable by his greatness of purpose and greatness of accomplishment. And had not certain persons out of envy formed a faction against him—or rather us—and forced him to return here before the proper time, he would certainly have subdued Britain entire, together with the remaining islands surrounding it, and all of Celtica to the Arctic Ocean, so that we should have had as borders not land or people for the future, but air and the outer sea. For these reasons you also, seeing the greatness of his mind and his deeds and good fortune, assigned him the right to hold office a very long time—a privilege which, from the hour that we became a democracy has belonged to no other man: I mean holding the leadership during eight whole years in succession. This shows that you thought him to be really winning all those conquests for you and never entertained the suspicion that he would strengthen himself to your hurt.
No, you desired that he should spend in those regions as long a time as possible. He was prevented, however, by those who regarded the government as no longer a public but their own private possession, from subjugating the remaining countries, and you were kept from becoming lords of them all; these men, making an ill use of the opportunity given them by his being occupied, ventured upon many impious projects, so that you came to require his aid. Therefore abandoning the victories within his grasp he quickly brought you assistance, freed all Italy from the dangers in which it had become involved, and furthermore won back Spain which had been estranged.
Then he saw Pompey, who had abandoned his fatherland and was setting up a kingdom of his own in Macedonia, transferring thither all your possessions, equipping your subjects against you, and using against you money of your own. So at first he wished to persuade Pompey somehow to stop and change his course and receive the greatest pledges that he should again attain a fair and equal position with him; and he found himself unable in any way to effect this, for Pompey burst all restraints, even the relationship that existed between himself and Cæsar, and chose to fight against you; then at last he was compelled to begin a civil war. And what need is there of telling how daringly he sailed against him in spite of the winter, or how boldly he assailed him, tho Pompey held all the strong positions there, or how bravely he vanquished him, tho much inferior in number of soldiers? If a man wished to examine each feature in detail, he might show the renowned Pompey to have been a child, so completely was he outgeneraled at every point.
But this I will omit, for Cæsar himself likewise never took any pride in it, but he accepted it as a dispensation of destiny, repugnant to him personally. When Heaven had most justly decided the issue of the battle, what man of those then captured for the first time did he put to death? Whom, rather, did he not honor, not alone senators or knights or citizens in general, but also allies and subjects? No one of them either died a violent death, or was made defendant in court—no individual, no king, no tribe, no city. On the contrary, some arrayed themselves on his side, and others at least obtained immunity with honor, so that then all lamented the men that had been lost. Such exceeding humanity did he show, that he praised those who had cooperated with Pompey, and allowed them to keep everything the latter had given them, but hated Pharnaces and Orodes because, the friends of the vanquished, they had not assisted him. It was chiefly for this reason that he not long after waged war on Pharnaces, and was preparing to conduct a campaign against Orodes. He certainly [would have spared] even [Pompey himself if] he had captured him alive. A proof of this is that he did not pursue him at once, but allowed him to flee at his leisure. Also he was grieved to hear of Pompey’s death and did not praise his murderers, but put them to death for it soon after, and even destroyed besides Ptolemy himself, tho a child, because he had allowed his benefactor to perish.
How after this he brought Egypt to terms and how much money he conveyed to you from there it would be superfluous to relate. And when he made his campaign against Pharnaces, who already held considerable of Pontus and Armenia, he was on the same day reported to the rebel as approaching him, was seen confronting him, engaged in conflict with him, and conquered him. This better than anything else established the truth of the assertion that he had not become weaker in Alexandria and had not delayed there out of voluptuousness. For how could he have won that victory so easily without employing a great store of insight and great force? When now Pharnaces had fled he was preparing to conduct a campaign at once against the Parthian, but as certain quarrels were taking place there he withdrew rather unwillingly, but settled this dispute, too, so that no one would believe there had been a disturbance. Not a soul was killed or exiled or even dishonored in any way as a result of that trouble, not because many might not justly have been punished, but because he thought it right while destroying enemies unsparingly, to preserve citizens, even if they were poor stuff.
Therefore by his bravery he overcame foreigners in war, but out of his humanity kept unharmed the seditious citizens, altho many of them by their acts had often shown themselves unworthy of this favor. The same policy he followed again both in Africa and Spain, releasing all who had not before been captured and been made recipients of his mercy. To grant their lives invariably to such as frequently plotted against him he deemed folly, not humanity. On the other hand, he thought it quite the duty of a manly man to pardon opponents on the occasion of their first errors and not to keep an inexorable anger; yes. and to assign honors to them, but if they clung to their original course, to get rid of them. Yet why did I say this? Many of them also he preserved by allowing all his associates and those who had helped him conquer to save, one each, the life of a captive.
Moreover, that he did all this from inherent excellence and not from pretense or to gather any advantage, as others in large numbers have displayed humaneness, the greatest evidence is that everywhere and under all circumstances he showed himself the same: anger did not brutalize him nor good fortune corrupt him; power did not alter, nor authority change him. Yet it is very difficult when tested in so many enterprises of such a scope, and following one another in quick succession at a time when one has been successful in some, is still engaged in conducting others, and only suspects the existence of others, to prove equally efficient on all occasions; and to refrain from wishing to do anything harsh or frightful, if not out of vengeance for the past, at least as a measure of safeguard for the future. This, then, is enough to prove his excellence. He was so truly a scion of gods that he understood but one thing: to save those that could be saved.
But if you want more evidence, it lies in this, that he took care to have those who warred against him chastised by no other hands than his own, and that he won back those who in former times had slipped away. He had amnesty granted to all who had been followers of Lepidus and Sertorius, and next arranged that safety should be afforded all the survivors among those proscribed by Sulla; somewhat later he brought them home from exile and bestowed honors and offices upon the children of all who had been slain by that tyrant. Greatest of all, he burned absolutely every one of the letters containing secret information that was found in the tent of either Pompey or Scipio, not reading or noticing any portion of them, in order that no one else might derive from them the power to play the rogue. That this was not only what he said, but what he did, his acts show clearly. No one as a result of those letters was even frightened, let alone suffering any great calamity. And no one knows those who escaped this danger except the men themselves. This is most astonishing and has nothing to surpass it, that they were spared before being accused, and saved before encountering danger, and that not even he who saved their lives learned who it was he pitied.
For these and all his other acts of lawmaking and reconstruction, great in themselves, but likely to be deemed small in comparison with those others into which one cannot enter minutely, you loved him as a father and cherished him as a benefactor; you gloried him with such honors as you bestowed on no one else and desired him to be continual head of the city and of the whole domain. You did not dispute at all about titles, but applied them all to him as being still less than his merits, with the purpose that whatever was lacking in each one of them of what was considered a proper expression of the most complete honor and authority might be made up by what the rest contributed. Therefore, as regards the gods he was appointed high priest, as regards us consul, as regards the soldiers imperator, and as regards the enemy dictator. But why do I enumerate these details, when in one phrase you called him father of his country—not to mention the rest of his titles?
Yet this father, this high priest, this inviolable being, hero, god, is dead; alas! dead not by the violence of some disease, nor exhausted by old age, nor wounded abroad somewhere in some war, nor snatched away irresistibly by some supernatural force: but plotted against here within the walls—the man that safely led an army into Britain; ambushed in this city—the man who had increased its circuit; struck down in the senate-house—the man that had reared another such edifice at his own charge; unarmed, the brave warrior; defenseless, the promoter of peace: the judge beside the court of justice; the governor bedside the seat of government; at the hands of the citizens—he whom none of the enemy had been able to kill even when he fell into the sea; at the hands of his comrades—he who had often taken pity on them.
Where, Cæsar, was your humaneness, where your inviolability, where the laws? You enacted many laws to prevent any one’s being killed by personal foes, yet see how mercilessly your friends killed you; and now slain you lie before us in that forum through which you, often crowned, led triumphal marches: wounded unto death you have been cast down upon that rostra from which you often addressed the people. Woe for the blood-bespattered locks of gray; alas for the rent robe, which you assumed, it seems, only to the end that you might be slain in it!