CHAPTER XIV. THE PERSONAL RULE AND DEATH OF SULLA.
Sulla, though he meant above all to have his own way, had no objection to use constitutional forms where they could be conveniently employed. He made the Senate pass a resolution approving his acts, and, as there were no consuls in 82, after the death of Marius and Carbo, he retired from Rome for a while and told the Senate to elect an Interrex, in conformity with the prescribed usage under such circumstances. Then he wrote to the Interrex and recommended that a Dictator should be appointed, not for a limited time, but till he had restored quiet in the Roman world, and, with a touch of that irony which he could not resist displaying in and out of season, went on to say that he thought himself the best man for the post. [Sulla's power.] Thus, in November 82, he was formally invested with despotic power over the lives and property of his fellow-citizens, could contract or extend the frontiers of the State, could change as he pleased the constitution of the Italian towns and the provinces, could legislate for the future, could nominate proconsuls and propraetors, and could retain his absolute power as long as he liked. He might have dispensed with consuls altogether. But he did not care to do this. The consuls whom he allowed to be elected for 81 were of course possessed of merely nominal power. Twenty-four lictors preceded him in the streets. He told the people to hail him as 'Felix,' declared that his least deliberate were his most successful actions, signed himself 'Epaphroditus' when he wrote to Greeks, named his son and daughter Faustus and Fausta, boasted that the gods held converse with him in dreams, and sent a golden crown and axe to the goddess whom he believed to be his patroness. Like Wallenstein, he mingled indifference to bloodshed with extreme superstition and boundless self-confidence. But, as the historian remarks, 'a man who is superstitious is capable of any crime, for he believes that his gods can be conciliated by prayers and presents. The greatest crimes have not been committed by men who have no religious belief.' No doubt to his mind there was a sort of judicial retribution in all this bloodshed; and, as he tried to make himself out the favourite of the gods, so by formally announcing the close of the proscription lists for June 1, 81 B.C., he spread some veil of legality over his shameless violence. [Peculiarly horrible nature of Sulla's acts.] There is something particularly revolting in the business-like and systematic way in which he went about his murderous work, appointing a fixed time for it to end, a fixed list of the victims; a fixed price to be paid per head, a fixed exemption for the murderers from his own law 'De Sicariis.' Modern idolaters of a policy of blood and iron may profane history by their glorification of human monsters; but no sophistry can blind an independent reader to the real nature of Sulla's character and acts. He organized murder, and filled Italy with idle soldiers instead of honest husbandmen. He did so in the interests of a class - a class whose incapacity for government he had discovered; and yet, knowing that his re-establishment of this class could only be temporary, he fortified it by every means in his power, and then, after a theatrical finale, returned to the gross debaucheries in which he revelled. Anything more selfish or cynical cannot be conceived, and those who call vile acts by their plain names will not feel inclined to become Sulla's apologists.
When he died he left behind him, it is said, what he may have meant as his epitaph, an inscription containing the purport of three lines in the 'Medea' -
Let no man deem me weak or womanly,
Or nerveless, but of quite another mood,
A scourge to foes, beneficent to friends.
Pompeius, the only man who had successfully bearded him, was the only friend not mentioned in his will. If anything could palliate his remorseless selfishness it is the candour with which he confessed it. He had made a vast private fortune out of his countrymen's misery. When he surrendered his dictatorship he offered a tenth of his property to Hercules, and gave a banquet to the people on so profuse a scale that great quantities of food were daily thrown into the Tiber. Some of the wine was forty years old, perhaps wine of that vintage which was gathered in when Caius Gracchus died. [He divorces Metella and marries again.] In the middle of the banquet his wife Metella sickened, and in order that, as Pontifex, he might prevent his home being polluted by death he divorced her, and removed her to another house while still alive. Soon afterwards he married another wife, who at a gladiatorial show came and plucked his sleeve, in order, as she said, to obtain some of his good fortune. [His abdication.] The rest of his life was spent, near Cumae, in hunting, writing his memoirs, amusing himself with actors, and practising all sorts of debauchery. Ten days before he died he settled the affairs of the people of Puteoli at their request, and was busy in collecting funds to restore the Capitol up to the last. [His death.] Some say he died of the disease which destroyed Herod. Some say that there is no such disease. Others say that he broke a blood-vessel when in a rage. He is described as having blue eyes, and a pale face so blotched over that it was likened to a mulberry sprinkled with meal.