I DON’ T TRUST HIM A YARD
With the Senate adjourned through the first half of May until after the Ludi Martiales and the Lemuria, holy days when the ghosts of the dead were said to roam, the dispirited Cicero had not returned to Rome, but continued to reside at his Puteoli villa. There he received a constant stream of letters and visitors apprising him of the changing political situation at Rome and their opinions of that situation. Many of these men were leading players in the drama, from both sides, among them Dolabella; he was Cicero’s former son-in-law, having married Cicero’s daughter Tullia, who had died in childbirth. Another of Cicero’s informants was Hirtius, the consul-designate. And of course Brutus and Cassius were in almost daily contact.
Cicero had that morning received a letter from Cassius, who, together with Brutus, was still at nearby Antium. Cicero had just sent Cassius’s courier away carrying mail when a visitor arrived. This was Lucius Cornelius Balbus. A native of Gades, modern Cadiz, in Spain, Balbus had for many years been Caesar’s financial agent and close personal adviser.
Balbus’s loyalty to Caesar had never wavered. Determined to salvage Caesar’s reputation in the wake of his murder, and to counter the picture of a tyrant painted by the Liberators, Balbus had recently asked consul-elect Hirtius to put together Caesar’s memoirs covering the Civil War, for prompt publication. Caesar’s account had ended at the defeat of Pompey at the Pharsalus battle; Hirtius, who had served on Caesar’s staff throughout the Civil War, would attach accounts by other hands to Caesar’s own chapters to complete the memoirs. Hirtius himself is likely to have written the chapters covering Caesar’s war in Egypt, during which time Caesar began his liaison with Cleopatra.
Cicero considered Balbus particularly cagey, but the visitor was nonetheless willing to open up and tell him all he knew about Mark Antony’s movements and plans. At this point Antony was still absent from Rome; after close to two weeks in Campania settling legion veterans, he had moved on to the Samnium district. Balbus told Cicero,
“He is going the rounds of the veterans to get them to stand by Caesar’s measures and take an oath to that effect, instructing them all to keep their arms ready and have them inspected monthly by the ilviri[colonial magistrates].” Balbus also complained to Cicero of being personally unpopular in some circles, as a former friend of Caesar. “The whole tenor of his talk argued friendship for Antony,” Cicero wrote to his friend Atticus. “In short, I don’t trust him a yard.”¹
After Balbus left, Cicero wrote his daily letter to Atticus. In it he again blamed Brutus and Cassius for not killing Antony on the Ides of March while they had the chance. “That affair was handled with the courage of men and the policy of children. Anyone could see that an heir to the throne was left behind”—Antony being that heir. In Cicero’s view, armed conflict between Antony and his political opponents was only a matter of time. “There is no doubt in my mind that we are moving toward war,” he told Atticus.²
That war, if it came, would be waged among the several different factions that had emerged in Roman politics in the short time since Caesar’s death. There was the group that had murdered Caesar, the Liberators; they had in the main retired to the country for safety’s sake and were playing no active part in affairs at Rome. There were the Caesarians, Caesar loyalists led by Antony, Lepidus, Dolabella, Hirtius, and Pansa. Between these two groupings stood what may be called the centrists, a grouping Cicero was calling the optimates, or “the best men,” in mimicry of the conservative faction that had dominated the Senate once Sulla had come to power forty years earlier. And on the fringe, with a handful of supporters, there was young Octavian, who was attached to no party but at odds with Antony and on friendly terms with Cicero. Too young to hold any political office, all Octavian had in his favor was Caesar’s name and inheritance; few apart from Octavian himself considered him a serious political player.
Despite his pessimism, or perhaps because of it, Cicero planned to try to win Hirtius the consul-elect from Antony’s party and over to the side of the centrists, for Hirtius had friends among both the Liberators and the centrists. Hirtius also was vacationing on the Bay of Naples while the Senate was in adjournment, and Cicero was planning to dine with him the following evening. Everything that Cicero was hearing told him that the Caesarians were intent on retaining power by force. “That lot are afraid of peace, every man of them!” Cicero wrote to Atticus.³ The Caesarians were significantly outnumbered by the Liberators and centrists, and in a peaceful state they would be voted out of power. War was looking increasingly like the Caesarians’ only recourse.
Even though outnumbered, the Caesarians had the upper hand for the moment, with Antony and Dolabella in power as consuls until year’s end. Hirtius and Pansa would take over the consular powers on January 1. But if Hirtius could be drawn away from Antony’s party, the war party, then a peaceful new year might be guaranteed. “Anything is better than soldiering,” said Cicero.⁴