IV

FEBRUARY 24, 44 B.C.

PRESSURING BRUTUS

Just two days after the Caristia, another religious holiday was celebrated at Rome. This time it was the Regifugium Festival. Dedicated to Terminus, Roman god of boundaries, it commemorated the day, centuries before, when the original Brutus had acted to terminate the monarchy.

The latter-day Marcus Brutus had been a troubled man ever since his reconciliation with Cassius, with the matter they had discussed running through his mind night and day and the weight of history weighing heavily on his shoulders. On February 24, as he did every day, Brutus would have risen well before dawn and after a light breakfast, which for many Romans consisted merely of a glass of water or a piece of bread, welcomed the clients who crowded his vestibule. He would receive letters from friends abroad brought by visitors, pass the time of day with his clients, and pass out the cash that he regularly doled out among his poorer clientele, as he considered which, if any, of Rome’s leading men could safely be approached on the subject of Caesar’s removal.

Brutus knew that he must be very careful whom he spoke to and what he said. Fickle noblemen were known to run to Caesar seeking his favor by bringing tidings of plots real and imagined. To begin with, Brutus had to cast into a conversation, like a baited line in a murky pool, a casual question or two. Those questions must be carefully phrased so as not to give away his true intent. And then he must read the responses like an augur reading omens.

The previous day, Brutus found more pamphlets and graffiti on his tribunal when he arrived to conduct the assizes. The slogans continued in the same vein as before: “Brutus, have you been bribed?” “Brutus, are you a corpse?” “Would that you were with us now.” “Your descendants are not worthy of you.” “You are no descendant of his!” Brutus knew exactly what these messages referred to. He could not help but know, as anonymous letters also had begun to turn up at his door, along with letters from friends, all urging him to act in the interests of the Republic. As Appian noted, with each passing day “rumors about the kingship became all the more insistent.”¹

It is not impossible that his brother-in-law Cassius was behind this graffiti and letter campaign. Even if that were the case, the messages were read by many, the rumors heard by most, and their impact not lost on Brutus. During the Regifugium holiday, Brutus visited an old comrade, Gaius Ligarius, who was sick in bed. Ligarius, “one of Brutus’s most intimate friends,” had fought for the republican side against Caesar during the Civil War, and like Brutus and Cassius had been pardoned by Caesar. But Ligarius had recently made it known to Brutus that he was not grateful for Caesar’s pardon when the price of that pardon was Caesar’s oppressive rule.²

At the city house of Ligarius, his steward conducted Brutus into his bedroom. Finding Ligarius in his bed, pale and weak, Brutus exclaimed, “Oh, Ligarius, what a time you have chosen to be sick!”³

At this, Ligarius raised himself up on one elbow and reached out to Brutus, taking him by the hand. “But, oh, Brutus,” he responded, “if you are involved in any scheme worthy of yourself, I am well.” No names had been mentioned in front of the servants, but no names were necessary.

Brutus had come for advice, but would have departed from his friend as much conflicted as when he arrived.

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