S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.
Caius Julius Cæsar
[Born in Rome, July 12, 100 B.C.; studied oratory at Rhodes; filled several offices before the first triumvirate, when he obtained the province of Gaul, the subjugation of which occupied nine years; being ordered by the Senate to disband his army, he crossed the Rubicon and entered Rome, 50 B.C.; pursued Pompey to Greece, and defeated him at Pharsalia, 48; made dictator, conquered Egypt, and crashed the Pompeian faction in Africa; returning to Rome, reformed the calendar, declined the title of king, and contemplated great improvements in public administration; but was assassinated by a combination of personal and political enemies, 44 B.C.]
This day you will behold your son either supreme pontiff or an exile.
To his mother, on the morning of his election as Pontifex Maximus, 63 B.C. His competitors were Isauricus and Catullus, two of the most distinguished men of Rome. The Senate was greatly alarmed at the success of the popular leader, and called to mind the warning given them by the sagacious Sulla, who said, when pardoning Cæsar for a refusal to divorce his wife Cornelia, Cinna’s daughter, “This man will be the ruin of the party of the nobles, for in this one Cæsar you will find many a Marius;” and although Cæsar was careful to wear the latus clavus, or broad purple stripe indicative of his rank, the careless arrangement of his toga caused Sulla also to say of him, “Beware of the ill-girt boy” (male præcinctum puerum).—SUETONIUS: Life.Similar situations have called out similar expressions to Cæsar’s boast to his mother. Fiesco, whose plot to seize upon Genoa, Jan. 2, 1547, gave Schiller the subject of a tragedy, said to his wife on the eve of his attempt, “You shall either never see me more, or you shall behold to-morrow every thing in Genoa subject to your power.” Falling into the water while passing the next day from one ship to another, he was drowned by the weight of his armor.Mirabeau, after being the idol of the populace, foresaw the change in public sentiment which would be caused by his support of the proposition to give the king, rather than the Assembly, the initiative of war, and, determined to carry his point or perish, he exclaimed, “I will either leave the house in triumph, or be torn to fragments.” Hearing next day “the great treason of the Count de Mirabeau” cried in the streets, he declared that he needed not that lesson to know how short was the distance from the Capitol to the Tarpeian Rock (je n’avais pas besoin de cette leçon pour savoir qu’il n’y a qu’un pas du Capitole à la roche tarpeienne).When one of the Directory, hesitating at the appointment of Bonaparte to the command of the army at the age of twenty-six, said to him, “You are too young;” “In a year,” he answered, “I shall be old or dead.”—LOCKHART: Life, IV. Just as Scipio, conscious of his own powers, replied to those who objected to his election as ædile at the age of twenty-four, “If all the quirites wish me to be ædile, I am old enough.”Nicholas of Russia found, on his accession to the imperial throne by the death of Alexander I. and the renunciation of his rights by his brother, the Archduke Constantine, that an extensive conspiracy against himself must be subdued by force. He said on the morning when the troops were to take the oath of allegiance, “I shall soon be an emperor or a corpse.” His energy saved his life and his crown.After Cavour’s secret visit to Napoleon III., in 1858, to interest him in the cause of Italian independence, Victor Emmanuel exclaimed, “Next year I shall be king of Italy or plain M. de Savoie.” Next year’s battles of Magenta and Solferino made him king of Italy.
Cæsar’s wife ought to be free even from suspicion.
When summoned as a witness against Publicus Clodius, his wife Pompeia’s gallant, who was prosecuted for the profanation of religious ceremonies (the mysteries of the Bona Dea, to which women alone were admitted), Cæsar declared he knew nothing of the affair. Being asked why, then, he had divorced his wife, he replied, “Because my family should be free not only from guilt, but even from the suspicion of it” (Quoniam meos tam suspicione quam crimine judico carere oportere).—SUETONIUS: Life. Plutarch gives it, “Because I would have the chastity of my wife clear even of suspicion.”—Life.
Better be first in a village than second in Rome.
Having received the government of Farther Spain after his prætorship, he came to a little town in passing the Alps; and his friends, by way of mirth, took occasion to say, “Can there here be any disputes for offices, any contentions for precedency, or such envy and ambition as we see among the great?” To which Cæsar answered, with great seriousness, “I assure you I had rather be the first man here than the second man in Rome.”—PLUTARCH: Life. “It is the true cry of nature,” says Lacordaire: “wherever we are, we wish to be first.”—Conferences.When he was in Spain, he was so much affected by reading the history of Alexander the Great, that he burst into tears. When asked the reason, he replied, “Do you think I have not sufficient cause for concern, when Alexander at my age reigned over so many conquered countries, and I have not one glorious achievement to boast?”—PLUTARCH: Life. This is sometimes shortened into the exclamation, “Twenty-two years old, and nothing done for immortality!” (V. Schiller: Don Carlos, II. 1.)He rebuked his friends for expressing their dislike of asparagus upon which sweet ointment instead of oil had been poured, at the house of Valerius Leo, at Milan, by saying, “He who finds fault with any rusticity is himself a rustic.”—Ibid.
The die is cast.
A motion having been made in the senate that some person should be appointed to succeed Cæsar in Gaul, before the term of his command had expired, and that his claim to be a candidate at the next election of consuls should not be admitted, Cæsar advanced into Cisalpine Gaul, making a halt at Ravenna, and sending his troops to the banks of the Rubicon, now the Pisatello, near Rimini. A very ancient law of the republic forbade any general, returning from the wars, to cross this river with his troops under arms. Cæsar, therefore, having joined them, halted them upon the bank, and revolved in his mind the importance of the step he was about to take; saying to those around him, “We may still retreat; but, if we pass this little bridge, nothing is left for us but to fight it out in arms.” “While he was thus hesitating,” says Suetonius (“Life”), “a person remarkable for his noble mien and graceful aspect appeared close at hand, sitting and playing upon a pipe. When not only the shepherds, but a number of soldiers also, flocked from their posts to listen to him, and some trumpeters among them, he snatched a trumpet from one of them, ran to the river with it, and, sounding the advance with a piercing blast, crossed to the other side. Upon this Cæsar exclaimed, ‘Let us go whither the omens of the gods and the iniquity of our enemies call us. The die is now cast’” (Jacta alea est; or in Greek, as Plutarch states.) He thus, in the opinion of some, embraced that occasion of usurping the supreme power which he had coveted from youth; two verses of Euripides being frequently in his mouth, translated into Latin by Cicero (De Officiis, III.)
“Nam si violandum est jus, regnandi gratiaViolandum est: aliis rebus pietatem colas.”“Be just, unless a kingdom tempts to break the laws,For sovereign power alone can justify the cause.”
What dost thou fear? Thou art carrying Cæsar. (Quid times? Cæsarem vehis.)
While his soldiers were having a tedious passage from Brundisium to Dyrrachium, in the campaign against Pompey, Cæsar went secretly on board a small vessel, and discovered himself to the pilot when the boat was in danger of being overturned, exclaiming, as Plutarch gives it in his “Apothegms of Kings and Great Commanders,” “Trust fortune, and know that you carry Cæsar.” Plutarch, in his “Life of Cæsar,” states that he disguised himself as a slave, and in the morning astonished the pilot, who wished to put back owing to a head wind, by saying, “Go forward, my friend, and fear nothing: thou carriest Cæsar and his fortune.” Fournier doubts the story, because Cæsar did not mention it in his “History of the Civil War.”On one occasion when Gen. Jackson was sailing down Chesapeake Bay in an old steamboat, the waves were running high, and an elderly gentleman present expressed some concern. “You are uneasy,” said the general to him: “you never sailed with me before, I see.”—PARTON: Life.The order given by Cæsar to his veterans at Pharsalia, Aug. 9, 48 B.C., was, “Soldiers, strike in the face.” He made but a brief comment on the result: “They would have it so.” It was proposed, after this decisive action, to erect at Rome in his honor a golden statue to Mars the Avenger, and an altar to Vengeance; but he refused, with words used by Charles Sumner, after the war of the Rebellion: “Monuments are made for victories over strangers: domestic troubles should be covered with the veil of sadness.”
Veni, vidi, vici.
Cæsar’s laconic announcement to his friend Amintius, of his victory over Pharnaces, the son of Mithridates, at Zela, in Asia Minor, 47 B.C., who thereby lost his kingdom and his entire army.—PLUTARCH: Life. Suetonius says that among the pageantry of the Pontic triumph, a tablet with this inscription was carried before him, “I came, I saw, I conquered;” not signifying, as other mottoes on the like occasion, what was done, so much as the despatch with which it was done; for Dion Cassius states that Cæsar was proud of this victory as of no other, as on the same day and in the same hour in which he met the enemy, he attacked and defeated him.
“He saw me and yielded;That I may truly say with the hook-nosed fellow of Rome,I came, saw, and overcame.”Equally brief announcements have been made in modern times. John Sobieski sent the Mussulman standards captured before Vienna to the Pope, with the message, “I came, I saw, God conquered.” Turenne announced the victory of Dünen, or the Dunes, by which Dunkirk was retaken from the Spaniards, June 14, 1658, with the words, “The enemy came, was beaten, I am tired, good-night.” When Suwarrow informed Catherine II. of the capture of Prague in 1794, by writing, “Hurrah! Prague! Suwarrow!” the empress promoted him in equally concise terms: “Bravo! Field-marshal! Catherine.” More famous, and even briefer, was Sir Charles Napier’s pun, announcing the victory of Hyderabad in 1843, “Peccavi” (I have Scinde). (Before the battle of Meanee in the same war, he said, “If I survive, I shall soon be with those I love: if I fall, I shall be with those I have loved.”) During the Spanish war of independence in 1808, Gen. Palafox was summoned by the French besieging commander, says Lockhart (“Life of Napoleon,” 1808), to surrender Saragossa, in these brief terms: “Headquarters, Santa Eugrazia—capitulation.” The reply was equally to the point: “Headquarters, Saragossa—war to the knife.” At the end of sixty days the French retired. “War, war, is still the cry,—war even to the knife.”
Childe Harold, I. 86.
I hold thee fast, Africa! (Te teneo, Africa!)
Cæsar was never deterred from any expedition, nor retarded in the prosecution of it, by superstition. Happening to fall, when stepping out of the ship at Adrimetum, in his campaign against the Pompeian faction, he gave a lucky turn to the omen, by exclaiming, “Africa, I hold thee fast!”—SUETONIUS: Life. As William the Conqueror landed at Pevensey in England, Sept. 28, 1066, his foot slipped, and he fell with both hands upon the ground. A loud cry of grief was raised at the evil omen. But the ready wit of William failed him not. “By the splendor of God,” he cried, “I have taken seizin of my kingdom: the earth of England is in my two hands.”—FREEMAN: Norman Conquest, III. chap. 15.When informed that Cato the younger had put an end to his life after the defeat of the Pompeians at Thapsus, 46 B.C., Cæsar said, “Cato, I envy thee thy death, since thou hast deprived me of the honor of saving thy life.” He used his victims with clemency, and declared, “No music is so charming to my ears as the requests of my friends, and the supplications of those in want of assistance.”
I am not king, but Cæsar (Non rex sum, sed Cæsar).
When given the royal title by the multitude. He made the name of Cæsar greater than that of king.To a coward, who boasted how many wounds he had received in the face, he said, “You had better take heed, the next time you run away, how you look back.”Happening to see some strangers in Rome carrying young dogs and monkeys in their arms, and caressing them, he asked indignantly, “Do the women in their country never bear children?”—PLUTARCH: Life of Pericles.When advised to be on his guard against some approaching danger, he replied, “I had rather die than be the subject of fear.” When Antony and Dolabella were accused of having some designs against his person and government, he said, “I have no apprehensions from those fat and sleek men: I rather fear the pale and lean ones;” meaning Cassius and Brutus.—PLUTARCH: Life.
“Let me have men about me that are fat;Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o’ nights:Yond’ Cassius has a lean and hungry look;He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”Henry IV. of France was of the same opinion. “Great eaters and great sleepers,” he said, “are incapable of any thing else that is great” (Les grands mangeurs et les grands dormeurs sont incapables de rien faire de grand).
Et tu, Brute!
A certain soothsayer is said to have forewarned him of a great danger that threatened him on the Ides of March; and Cæsar, as he was going to the senate-house on that day, called to him, and said, laughing, “The Ides of March are come;” to which the soothsayer answered softly, “Yes, but they are not gone.” The night before, he supped with Lepidus; and the question arising, what kind of death was the best, Cæsar answered, “A sudden one;” or, “one that is least expected.”When he had taken his seat in the senate-house, which stood in the Campus Martius and was attached to Pompey’s theatre, the conspirators came around him to pay their compliments, and Metellus Cimber advanced nearer than the rest, as if to make a request; Cæsar making a sign that he should defer his petition, Metellus seized him by the toga on both shoulders, and, the signal being thus given, the dictator was stabbed with three and twenty wounds, uttering a groan only, says Suetonius, but no cry, at the first wound; although some authors relate, that, when Marcus Brutus fell upon him, he exclaimed, “Thou, my son!” ([Greek]), or even a longer exclamation, “What! art thou, too, one of them? Thou, my son!” Some commentators suppose that the words “my son” refer to the relationship existing between Cæsar and Brutus; but the expression, reported as it is in Greek from unknown authors,—there being no authority for the familiar Et tu Brute,—may be regarded as doubtful.While the conspiracy against Cæsar was being formed, Brutus called upon Ligarius, and, finding him indisposed, said, “O Ligarius, what a time is this to be sick!” To which Ligarius, raising himself upon his elbow, replied, “If Brutus has any design worthy of himself, Ligarius is well.”—PLUTARCH: Life of Brutus. After the death of Cæsar, Brutus declared that he once dreamed that virtue was a thing: “I find her only a name, and the mere slave of fortune.”