JULY 20, 44 B.C.


After all the hopes they had placed in events at the Ludi Apollinares festival turning the public mood their way, Brutus and Cassius “were thwarted by Octavian” and decided to leave Italy for the East, where they would aim to build their resources to enable them to take on Antony and Octavian on equal terms.

In anticipation of the need for a speedy getaway should events at Rome go badly during the festival, the pair had transferred their families, themselves, and a number of friends along the coast from Antium, through Lucania, to the small port village of Elea, today’s Velia.¹ Brutus took a villa in the town and made preparations to find vessels that would carry them to Greece. There at Elea they awaited news from Rome, deciding that only the men would sail for Greece if it was necessary to flee the country. The women would be sent back to their houses at the capital, where, Brutus and Cassius knew, their remaining friends, relatives, and sympathizers would ensure their safety.

Brutus’s highly emotional wife, Porcia, had been striving to keep a stiff upper lip all through the last few traumatic months, but the thought of having to soon part from her beloved Brutus, a possibility that was becoming all the more likely with each passing day, made her grief-stricken, although she did her best to conceal it. On a wall in the villa at Elea there was a painting based on an event from Homer’s Odyssey.It showed the Trojan warrior Hector parting from his wife, Andromache, and their infant child as he set off to fight the Greeks (the Romans always strongly identified with the Trojans). Hector had never returned. When Porcia saw this sad painting, the resemblance it bore to her own situation caused her to burst into tears.²

This painting had such a magnetic effect on Porcia that she was drawn to it several times a day; and each time she looked at it, she wept. She was able to keep these weepy sessions to herself until, inevitably, Brutus walked in on her, accompanied by Bibulus, Porcia’s son from her previous marriage, and Brutus’s friend the elderly Acilius. As Brutus comforted his wife, Acilius quoted several lines from Homer in which Andromache had told Hector that he was not just a husband to her but was her father, mother, and brother, too. Brutus replied that he would not respond as Hector had in the Odyssey—Hector had told his wife not to think about him but to tend to her loom and manage her maids.³

Porcia, Brutus told Acilius, was made of tougher stuff than that. “For, though the natural weakness of her body hinders her from doing what only the strength of men can perform, yet she has a mind as valiant and as active for the good of her country as the best of us.”

Within days of the end of the Ludi Apollinares festival, word reached Elea of what had transpired during the festival and immediately after. The Liberators’ worst fears had been realized. Calls for the return of Brutus and Cassius had been smothered. Antony still controlled Rome as if he were a monarch. And Octavian, until recently seen by Cicero as a means of bringing down Antony, was proving to be a formidable opponent to all sides, at the head of a faction of his own.

The latest news included the fact that young Octavian was planning to host the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris festival between July 20 and 30. This festival had been inaugurated by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C. in honor of Venus, his patron deity, and in celebration of his military victories. These ludi had been celebrated in 45 B.C. in Caesar’s absence in Spain, but now that he was dead there was a reluctance among Rome’s officials to stage the games in 44 B.C.

There was strong feeling among many Romans that Caesar’s games, like several of the five Triumphs he had celebrated, were an affront to the Roman people. Traditionally, Triumphs were granted by the Senate for victories by Rome’s generals over foreign enemies. Yet Caesar’s victory in Africa had been primarily against Roman citizens—Caesar claimed that Triumph referred to his victory over King Juba of Numidia, who had sided with the republican forces in that conflict. Caesar’s last Triumph, celebrated for his victory in Spain, also was for primarily killing Roman citizens. His games only reminded Romans of those insults, and there were many at Rome watching those Triumphs and those games who had lost relatives and friends in the battles they celebrated. They had never forgiven Caesar for that.

Most people just wanted to let Caesar’s games pass into history, rather than continue to rub salt into old wounds, and friends of the Liberators made it known that they would take a dim view of anyone who attempted to stage them again. But Caesar’s heir had no intention of letting slip this opportunity to perpetuate his adoptive father’s memory. “Finding that the officials who should have celebrated Caesar’s victory with public games did not dare to carry out their commission,” said Suetonius, “he undertook the taskhimself.”

Octavian, who seemed to have access to an unlimited supply of funds, would pay for the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris from his own purse. Being a mere Equestrian, Octavian had commissioned Caesar’s old friend Gaius Matius to superintend the festival. Matius, who was no friend of Mark Antony’s, would be condemned by the Liberators and their supporters for this act.

After the event, Matius would write to Cicero, who had remained his friend through the thick and thin of the Civil War, “I managed the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris given by the young Caesar. That was a matter of private obligation, which has nothing to do with the Constitution of the Republic. Anyway, it was a duty which I was bound to perform, as a tribute to the memory and eminence of a very dear friend even after his death, and one which I could not refuse when a young man of such brilliant promise and so completely worthy of his namesake claimed it of me.”

Word also reached Elea that Antony intended calling a meeting of the Senate on August 1, following Caesar’s games. So Brutus and Cassius sat down and composed a letter addressed to all the former consuls and former praetors of Rome. This letter, which was to become known as their manifesto, put the case for their murder of Julius Caesar and their wish for the return of constitutional republican government, and “declared that for the sake of enduring harmony in the Republic they were even ready to live in perpetual exile, that they would furnish no grounds for civil war, and that the consciousness of the service they had rendered by their act was ample reward.” Velleius Paterculus was to observe that the pair had initially written their manifesto because they were genuinely “in real fear of armed violence at the hands of Antony,” but also “with the objective of increasing Antony’s unpopularity.”

The letter was copied numerous times by the pair’s secretaries, then carried away to Rome by courier. Brutus and Cassius, hoping that their manifesto would give most of the members of the Senate the courage to pass a resolution endorsing their actions and summoning them back to Rome, then awaited tidings of the outcome of the upcoming sitting.

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