CHAPTER II. CAESAR'S EARLY YEARS.
At length the wife of Marius, who was Caesar's aunt, died. She had lived in obscurity since her husband's proscription and death, his party having been put down so effectually that it was dangerous to appear to be her friend. Caesar, however, made preparations for a magnificent funeral for her. There was a place in the Forum, a sort of pulpit, where public orators were accustomed to stand in addressing the assembly on great occasions. This pulpit was adorned with the brazen beaks of ships which had been taken by the Romans in former wars The name of such a beak was rostrum; in the plural, rostra. The pulpit was itself, therefore, called the Rostra, that is, The Beaks; and the people were addressed from it on great public occasions. Caesar pronounced a splendid panegyric upon the wife of Marius, at this her funeral, from the Rostra, in the presence of a vast concourse of spectators, and he had the boldness to bring out and display to the people certain household images of Marius, which had been concealed from view ever since his death. Producing them again on such an occasion was annulling, so far as a public orator could do it, the sentence of condemnation which Sylla and the patrician party had pronounced against him, and bringing him forward again as entitled to public admiration and applause. The patrician partisans who were present attempted to rebuke this bold maneuver with expressions of disapprobation, but these expressions were drowned in the loud and long-continued bursts of applause with which the great mass of the assembled multitude hailed and sanctioned it. The experiment was very bold and very hazardous, but it was triumphantly successful.
[Footnote 2: In modern books this pulpit is sometimes called the Rostrum, using the word in the singular.]
[Caesar's oration on his wife.] [Alarm of the patricians.]
A short time after this Caesar had another opportunity for delivering a funeral oration; it was in the case of his own wife, the daughter of Cinna, who had been the colleague and coadjutor of Marius during the days of his power. It was not usual to pronounce such panegyrics upon Roman ladies unless they had attained to an advanced age. Caesar, however, was disposed to make the case of his own wife an exception to the ordinary rule. He saw in the occasion an opportunity to give a new impulse to the popular cause, and to make further progress in gaining the popular favor. The experiment was successful in this instance too. The people were pleased at the apparent affection which his action evinced; and as Cornelia was the daughter of Cinna, he had opportunity, under pretext of praising the birth and parentage of the deceased, to laud the men whom Sylla's party had outlawed and destroyed. In a word, the patrician party saw with anxiety and dread that Caesar was rapidly consolidating and organizing, and bringing back to its pristine strength and vigor, a party whose restoration to power would of course involve their own political, and perhaps personal ruin.
[Caesar in office.] [Shows and entertainments.]
Caesar began soon to receive appointments to public office, and thus rapidly increased his influence and power. Public officers and candidates for office were accustomed in those days to expend great sums of money in shows and spectacles to amuse the people. Caesar went beyond all limits in these expenditures. He brought gladiators from distant provinces, and trained them at great expense, to fight in the enormous amphitheaters of the city, in the midst of vast assemblies of men. Wild beasts were procured also from the forests of Africa, and brought over in great numbers, under his direction, that the people might be entertained by their combats with captives taken in war, who were reserved for this dreadful fate. Caesar gave, also, splendid entertainments, of the most luxurious and costly character, and he mingled with his guests at these entertainments, and with the people at large on other occasions, in so complaisant and courteous a manner as to gain universal favor.
[Caesar's extravagances.] [His embarrassments.]
He soon, by these means, not only exhausted all his own pecuniary resources, but plunged himself enormously into debt. It was not difficult for such a man in those days to procure an almost unlimited credit for such purposes as these, for every one knew that, if he finally succeeded in placing himself, by means of the popularity thus acquired, in stations of power, he could soon indemnify himself and all others who had aided him. The peaceful merchants, and artisans, and husbandmen of the distant provinces over which he expected to rule, would yield the revenues necessary to fill the treasuries thus exhausted. Still, Caesar's expenditures were so lavish, and the debts he incurred were so enormous, that those who had not the most unbounded confidence in his capacity and his powers believed him irretrievably ruined.
The particulars, however, of these difficulties, and the manner in which Caesar contrived to extricate himself from them, will be more fully detailed in the next chapter.