Rome was now riven and torn by cataclysms of civil strife. The foundations of the Republic were shaken by the explosion of new social forces, the growth of which was naturally attendant upon the spread of conquest, and which could no longer be confined within the narrow limits of the old constitution. Marius, Sylla, Pompey, and Cæsar--these are the names around which gathers the history of the pains and death groans of the expiring Republic. Crimson was the color of each political party; and the blood of opponents was the means used for its exhibition. Rome had become too great for her ancient civic constitution: she was restlessly awaiting the arrival of a man who could thrust himself above all opposition, and in his own person unify the government. Imperialism or anarchy must necessarily follow such a Republic as Rome had become in the closing century of the pre-Christian era.
During those fierce political disturbances and bloody revolutions, how did woman fare? She was by no means secure in that quiet, unmolested round of conjugal duty and domestic life which had so long been hers by right. In the sanguinary civil wars and murderous proscriptions which resulted from the ambitions of the leaders, life for the Roman people was of extremely uncertain tenure. It is easy to surmise what the women of many Italian cities suffered when whole populations were put to the sword under the merciless Sylla. Death, outrage, and slavery became so common that there was developed in the Roman women that indifference to the sight of human suffering which appears to us as nothing less than monstrous. Under Sylla, wives were accustomed to being simultaneously robbed of their husbands and their sustenance; as in the case of that peaceful citizen who, finding his own name in the lists of the proscribed, exclaimed: "My Alban farm has informed against me," and was immediately thereafter slain.
The political changes of the time wrought no marked alteration in the status of the women; that is, no legislation was enacted which, in any special manner, bore upon their condition and privileges. Certain developments did take place in the manner of life of the women of Rome; but these were the natural results of the character of the times. The weakening of moral principle which we have noticed in a preceding chapter continued with accelerated rapidity. The bounds set by traditional honor were overthrown with increasing recklessness, and the habits of many of the upper-class women carried the sex still further beyond the limits of old-fashioned morality.
In this period we also see the women beginning to lay their hands to that particular sort of political work to which they are adapted. In the days of the Gracchi, it had become possible for a bright and intellectual lady to draw around her learned men, grammarians, and philosophers; we shall now see such women, who have other ambitions, gathering politicians, and sometimes conspirators, in their atriums. There was Sempronia, for example, who was of the family of the Gracchi and the wife of Decimus Brutus. In her house Catiline was in the habit of meeting his followers for the purpose of plotting his conspiracy. Of her character and attainments Sallust gives us this interesting description: "A woman who had committed many crimes, with the spirit of a man. In birth and beauty, in her husband and her children, she was extremely fortunate; she was skilled in Greek and Roman literature; she could sing, play, and dance, with greater elegance than became a woman of virtue, and possessed many other accomplishments that tend to excite the passions. But nothing was ever less valued by her than honor or chastity. Whether she was more prodigal of her money or her reputation, it would have been difficult to decide. She had frequently, before this period, forfeited her word, forsworn debts, been privy to murder, and hurried into the utmost excesses by her extravagances and poverty. But her abilities were by no means despicable; she could compose verses, jest, and join in conversation either modest, tender, or licentious. In a word, she was distinguished by much refinement of wit and much grace of expression." She seems to have been the equal of Cornelia in ability, and her reverse in character; which, perhaps, illustrates the degeneracy of the times as much as it does the special turpitude of this particular woman.
The Romans were learning the political uses of a salon. The women began to acquire the knowledge that, for those who have access to the powerful male leaders, much may be accomplished by a fair face if backed by an active brain, even though the ballot be denied. The way was being prepared for a Livia and an Agrippina. The women were forced to take a greater interest in politics, for the simple reason that politics had become a most hazardous business. Their husbands might be riding in triumph one day, and finding their names in the lists of the proscribed the next; hence, it often happened that only by mingling in political intrigues could the wives secure their own safety and that of those to whom they were united by affection. The times had changed. In the old days, the women were accustomed, with patriotic ardor, to encourage their male relatives as they marched out against the public enemy, and they bravely devoted their sons to the welfare of the State; but in the times of which we are now treating, those did the best service who possessed the wit to discover a plot. It was to a courtesan named Fulvia that Cicero was indebted for the detection of the Catiline conspiracy.
In the general estimation of the men, however, the chief political use which women might serve was to reinforce, by marriage, the strained relations between rival politicians. Accordingly, the daughter of a powerful leader would be married and divorced, passed from one man to another, with almost as much facility as a detachment of light cavalry might appear first in one part and then in another of a battlefield. These enforced marriages for political purposes had the effect of so training the women that, in the succeeding generations, they could with all the greater levity sever the bonds of matrimony for their own capricious ends. With what nonchalant freedom women made such entrance into the hazardous arena of public life is indicated in the story of Valeria. She was a sprightly young lady, who had been divorced from her husband. One day, in the theatre, as she passed behind Sylla on the way to her seat, she stopped for a moment and plucked a little bit of wool from the dictator's cloak. This caused him to turn and regard her with some wonderment. Whereupon she said: "Surely, sir, you cannot object if in picking a little thread from your garment I also desired to share a small portion of your good fortune." She went on to her seat; but it soon became apparent that Sylla was not displeased. During the performance, the lady was of more interest to him than the gladiatorial spectacle, and it was not long before a marriage was arranged.
This made the fifth time that Sylla had wedded. Just previously to his thus romantically making the acquaintance of Valeria he had lost by death Caecilia Metella, to whom reference has heretofore been made, and who was one of the best women of her time. Kind and compassionate by nature, she often successfully interceded for the lives of men whom her relentless husband had foredoomed. At her death, though there is every indication that he held her in the highest regard, his action was peculiar and extremely characteristic of the man. Because the priest of Venus Victrix, to which goddess he was especially devoted, forbade him to allow his house to be polluted by mourning, while Metella was on her deathbed he sent her a bill of divorce and caused her to be removed to the home of one of her relatives. Yet, after her death he went so far as to transgress his own law against funeral expense, and provided the most elaborate obsequies in her honor..
Sylla was absolutely without conscience in his employment of marriage and divorce for political ends. Metella's daughter by her first husband had been married to Glabrio the Censor. The dictator saw a more useful ally in young Cnæus Pompeius, who was already married to Antistia; therefore, he commanded Glabrio and Pompeius to divorce their wives, and the latter to take Æmilia, his stepdaughter. Piso, also at his suggestion, had divorced his wife Annia. But when Sylla attempted to employ the same tactics with Cæsar, he made the discovery that he had encountered a man of altogether different metal. The latter had married Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna. They had one child, a little daughter named Julia, who afterward became the wife of Pompey. When Cæsar was ordered by the all-powerful dictator to divorce Cornelia, he absolutely refused, preferring death to subjection to such tyranny. There is every warrant for belief that Cornelia was worthy of the devotion of her husband, which she enjoyed to the day of her death.
Cæsar was a turning point in the course of Roman history, a crisis in the history of the world. His labors affected an epoch, and the tragedy of his passing is a memory which can never be relinquished by the human mind. Yet, inasmuch as a man's greatness is always in large measure attributable to the character of the times in which he lives, the same conditions which he seizes to raise himself to the highest position serve also to surround him with other men who approach him in that wisdom strength, and valor which are developed by the common environment. Cæsar was first in a community of heroic souls. Pompey, Mark Antony, Brutus, Cato, and Cassius, all exhibit in their character and their powers a greater or lesser participation in those qualities which made Caesar preëminent. This is none the less true also of the women of the day; the times wrought greatness of soul in them to as liberal a degree as in the men. Hazard, ambition, and high enterprise carried the women of this period far in the development of those qualities which are brought out by such means. Portia, Calpurnia, Fulvia, Julia, and Cornelia were fit companions for their renowned masculine associates.
Hence, independent of how little or how much the feminine participants in this great world-drama may appear upon the stage, we may be certain that when they are seen we have before us some of the most remarkable women in history, if for no other reason than that they are connected with the plot of that drama.
The attention is naturally first drawn to those women who were most intimately connected with Julius Cæsar. To Aurelia, the daughter of M. Aurelius Cotta, was destined the honor of bringing into the world the man who was to bear one of the three most renowned names in its military history. She lost her husband, Caius Julius, while their son was yet a boy; but, from what is known of her character, it is evident that she was not unequal to the task of superintending alone the completion of young Cæsar's education. It was undoubtedly to her influence that he owed the development of those traits which are most pleasing in his greatness. Tacitus is sufficient authority for this, likening as he does Aurelia to the mother of the Gracchi. She was one of the few surviving representatives of that matronal dignity and virtue which beautified the austerity of the earlier days of the Republic. Her house, small and frugally managed, was situated under the Esquiline and Viminal hills, in that low part of Rome called the Subura. It was not a fashionable quarter; in fact, it was a street of shops and taverns. It resounded with the clamor of traffic and the noise of such broils and revelry as are usual in the vicinity of pothouses. At the top of the street, there was a depressed, open space, called the Lacus Orphei because of a statue of Orpheus which stood there. To this spot, which must have made an admirable playground, Aurelia was in the habit of sending a slave to look for the young Csesar when the shades of night fell on the unlighted streets. It is also likely that she as frequently, and with much more satisfaction, caused him to be looked for in the Vicus Sandaliarius, a street running parallel with her own, where were the booksellers' shops.
In her unpretentious residence, with its plebeian surroundings, Aurelia kept house for her son. When he brought home Cornelia, the daughter of Cinna the Consul, as his bride, his mother decked the threshold and prepared the modest atrium for the nuptial ceremonies. Here was born the little Julia, the only child that ever blessed the home of Cæsar.
When the order came from Sylla that, if he would preserve his life and serve his best interests, Cæsar must put away his wife so as to be free to form a matrimonial union with the dictator's party, there is no doubt that Aurelia's virtuous counsel supported her son's courage in refusing to comply with so tyrannical a command. The result was that Cæsar was obliged to leave the city, hardly escaping the assassin's hand; and the two women were left for two years to comfort each other as best they could in the absence of a husband and a son. That they were impoverished by the rapacious Sylla--who, when he could not touch the person of an enemy, contented himself with seizing his property--we know. Fortunate were they if their lives were not still more embittered by the knowledge of those vile slanders which came from Bithynia, for the disproof of which there is no evidence needed beside the character of him whose name was so maliciously besmirched.
After two years of loneliness, these devoted women were made happy by receiving the exile home. From that time on, Aurelia's maternal pride was satisfied by beholding the star of her son's fortunes, though at times beclouded by rivalry, always ascending and brightening. He rose from one office to another, until the day came when she saw him elected chief pontiff over the heads of two candidates who were his superiors in age, rank, and wealth. On this election he had staked everything. If he failed, his debts would overwhelm him. In the morning, as he left the little house in the Subura, kissing his mother good-bye, he had said: "Mother, I will return home pontiff, or not at all." How anxiously she must have awaited the result! All through the day, she heard his name shouted with approbation by the people on the street; and in the evening, he returned to inform her that she must move with him to the palace of the pontificate on the Via Sacra.
Cornelia was no longer there to share in Aurelia's pride and Cæsar's good fortune. During the year B.C. 68, Caesar had pronounced two funeral panegyrics. One was for his aunt, Julia, the wife of that unpolished but indomitable soldier, Marius. Little is known of this lady; but at Les Baux, in Provence, there is a monument on which are represented Marius and Julia, and between them--suggestive it may be of private trials endured by the latter--Martha, the Syrian prophetess, who accompanied and advised Marius in all his adventurous undertakings. The second funeral oration delivered by Cæsar was for his faithful wife Cornelia. Matrons so young as she were not often honored with a panegyric at their obsequies; and it testifies no less to the worth of her character than to her husband's devotion that he, in this instance, transgressed the custom with the approval of the people.
It was not long, however, before Aurelia was called upon to welcome a new bride of her son, this time to the magnificence of the pontifical abode. Marriage was looked upon by the best Romans as a citizen's duty; and for a man to abbreviate his widowed regrets was not regarded as censurable conduct; though, on the other hand, the constancy of widowed matrons was held in the highest honor. The Romans, notwithstanding their aptitude for law, cared little for consistency in their distribution of privileges between men and women.
Cæsar's second wife was Pompeia, the granddaughter of Sylla, whose family Aurelia had but little cause to love. What the mother's attitude toward the new bride was we do not know. Two things are certain from the narrative of the sequel to this marriage: Aurelia continued to maintain the position of domina in the house of her son, for it was she who had charge of the ceremonies of the Bona Dea which Clodius interrupted by his intrusion; and the inferences are all against the innocence of Pompeia, for, had she been faithful, Clodius would not have ventured into the house at such a time. She was divorced by Cæsar; but he took no active part in the proceedings against Clodius. When called upon to testify, he contented himself with the declaration that he knew nothing about the affair; which was true in a sense, inasmuch as he was not present. The matter might have been hushed, had it not been for the matrons, who could not brook that their sacred mysteries should be thus invaded. Terentia, the wife of Cicero, was especially persistent. She was a woman who interfered in political matters to such a degree that, when her husband was consul, she was spoken of sarcastically as being his colleague. Having a private grudge against Clodius, she so incited Cicero that the powerful advocate completely refuted the defendant's strong plea of an alibi.
Cæsar's testimony that he was uninformed as to what had happened at his house was not satisfactory to the prosecutor, who shrewdly inquired: "Why, then, did you divorce Pompeia?" The reply was: "Cæsar's wife must be above suspicion!"--a reply haughty enough to be characteristic of the man, and deemed a sufficient check to all further cross-examination. But, viewing the whole situation from our standpoint, it is impossible to refrain from the comment that, if Cæsar had been equipped with anything corresponding to a modern conscience, he could scarcely have had the effrontery to utter such a saying. Just and generous as he was, he was incapable of entertaining the idea that there should be but one code of morals for the woman and the man. If Cæsar's wife had said: "The husband of Pompeia must be above suspicion," it would have appeared as ridiculous to her contemporaries as it was impossible of realization.
We may well give as little heed as did Cæsar himself to the calumnious stigma upon his name which disgraces the pages of the historians and the verse of Catullus. Yet, setting this aside as unworthy of credence, evidence seems to prove abundantly his propensity for those gallantries which were considered among the least reprehensible immoralities by the men of his time. The names of many women were connected with that of the great soldier in a manner which is detrimental to the reputation of all concerned. Unless higher criticism of a most radical and partial kind is adopted in the study of the ancient historians, we must take their word that ladies of the highest quality surrendered to Cæsar's attractions. It is said that Pompey was wont to refer to the chief pontiff as Ægisthus; and that when he spoke of him it was with a sigh which was elicited not so much on account of Cæsar's greater success in affairs of State as by his rivalry in the affections of Mucia, who, like Clytemnestra, was won by the pontiff while her husband was absent in war. Posthumia, wife of Servius Sulpicius, Lollia, wife of Aulus Gabinius, and Tertulla, wife of Marcus Crassus, come under the same indictment. The husbands named were close friends of the man who shared with them in their conjugal rights, as well as climbed over their shoulders in political ascendency; and they served him well in the furtherance of his latter-mentioned projects. It has been argued that if Cæsar's conduct had really been as blameworthy as is alleged, he could not have retained the amity of these men; but the argument proves nothing. What if he were a sufficient adept in policy--a thing not unknown in the history of human experience--to be able to command the hands and the heads of the husbands through the hearts of their wives?
There was one woman who had for Cæsar a passionate attachment which was returned by him with an ardent and lasting affection in which political ambition played no part. This was Servilia, the half-sister of Cato and the mother of Marcus Brutus. Unfortunately, this lady's regard for her powerful lover did not carry with it the confidence and the friendship of her brother and her son. Modern writers, notably Froude and Baring Gould, strive to eliminate everything of an unworthy nature from the mutual affection which is known to have existed between Servilia and Cæsar; but their argument is devoid of historical proof. Much as we may be inclined to eradicate from the character of the great Roman everything that is unpleasant, it will not do to ignore or explain away every tittle of evidence that has been handed down by the ancient authorities on this subject. It may have been but the unfounded surmise of the gossips that it was a billet-doux from his sister which caused Cato to demand of Cæsar, during an acrimonious Senatorial debate, that he make known the contents of a note the latter had just received; nevertheless, we have it on the authority of Plutarch that Cæsar believed Brutus to be his own son. In this the great Imperator may very easily have been mistaken; but as to the fact that he had reason to believe in the possibility of such a thing, surely the conclusions of modern writers should have less weight than the plain statements of the ancient historians, which are the sole and only source of any knowledge whatsoever that we may have on the subject. It is true that slanderers were even coarser-minded and less restrained among the Romans of those days than they are in our own time; and among them Cicero was as preëminently conscienceless as he was clever. Hence, it is not necessary for us to take seriously his pun on the name of Servilia's daughter, when, remarking on the low price at which Servilia obtained some lands from Cæsar, he says: "Between ourselves, Tertia [or, a third] was deducted," intimating that the mother profited by her daughter's dishonor.
Calpurnia, the daughter of L. Calpurnius Piso, was the third wife of Cæsar. For fourteen years she occupied the Regia, the pontifical residence, as its domina. Thus she was the highest lady in Rome and in the Empire. That she became the consort of Cæsar for reasons of expediency is very probable; but that she was possessed of a deep and lasting affection for her husband, which was reciprocated by him with tender regard, is shown by their conduct on the eve of his death. During the years of Calpurnia's union with Cæsar, though he crowded them with events of tremendous import in the history of Rome, nothing whatever is recorded of his wife. Her name has come down to us untarnished with any scandal; which, considering the fact that the historians of that time incorporated such stories in their records on the least possible warrant, is a very strong testimony to the purity of her life, which was devoted to furthering the interests of Cæsar among his friends, caring for his home during his many and lengthened absences, and ministering to his comfort in the short respites which his innumerable cares afforded him. All that we really know of her character is revealed in his time of danger, in which everything is to her credit.
In the plot of Julius Cæsar, Shakespeare, with historical accuracy, introduces only two feminine characters: Calpurnia and Portia, the latter the worthy wife of the noblest of the conspirators. Were they friends, these two ladies, as their husbands were supposed to be? Did they visit each other and engage in the discussion of those topics which were then current in the atriums and gardens of Rome? Did Calpurnia sometimes spend an afternoon with Portia in her house on the Aventine; and though somewhat chilled by the austere and philosophical demeanor of the descendant of the Censor, yet cordially invite her to the more magnificent palace of Cæsar? This we do not know. Possibly the terrible event which was in store cast a shadow upon any intercourse which the women may have had; especially since Cato, the brother of Portia, had found in Calpurnia's marriage occasion for denunciation, for the reason that her father was immediately thereupon made consul.
Of the two women, Portia is much the better known; and, though she may not really have been superior to the wife of Cæsar, she may justly be taken as the best representative of the noblest type of Roman matron of that period. In her we see the effect of stoical training on the character of a normal woman. There have been many women of greater firmness of mind, more self-control, more power to witness and take part in fearsome deeds without a tremor of the lips, or a blanching of the countenance. These are abnormal women, in whose character nature had mingled an undue amount of the masculine element. But in Portia we have no Lady Macbeth; she did not and could not have instigated her husband to bloody deeds. Her character was of itself gentle and most womanly; her conduct was the result of education. She herself admitted that, if she were stronger than her sex, it was the result of being "so fathered and so husbanded." Her philosophy taught her to strive for stoical firmness, but she ever found in herself nothing but a woman's strength. This is seen in the historian's account, and is wonderfully brought out by Shakespeare in the scene in which he portrays her almost dying for news from the Capitol.
"Portia.--I prithee, boy, run to the senate-house; Stay not to answer me, but get thee gone: Why dost thou stay?
Lucius.--To know my errand, madam.
Portia.--I would have had thee there, and here again, Ere I can tell thee what thou shouldst do there.-- O constancy, be strong upon my side! Set a huge mountain 'tween my heart and tongue! I have a man's mind, but a woman's might. How hard it is for women to keep counsel!-- Art thou here yet?
Lucius.--Madam, what should I do?
Run to the Capitol, and nothing else? And so return to you, and nothing else?
Portia.--Yes, bring me word, boy, if thy lord look well, For he went sickly forth: and take good note What Cæsar doth, what suitors press to him. Hark, boy! what noise is that?
Lucius.--I hear none, madam.
Portia.--Prithee, listen well;
I heard a bustling rumour, like a fray, And the wind brings it from the Capitol.
Then, after the conversation with the soothsayer:
"I must go in.--Ay me, how weak a thing
The heart of woman is! O Brutus,
The heavens speed thee in thine enterprise!-- Sure, the boy heard me.--Brutus hath a suit, That Cæsar will not grant--O, I grow faint:-- Run, Lucius, and commend me to my lord; Say, I am merry: come to me again, And bring me word what he doth say to thee."
All this feeling and acute anxiety she doubtless underwent; not however, from sympathy with the motive and purpose of Brutus, though she believed in these as fully as he did, but for sheer and simple love of her husband. By nature she was no stoic--as no true woman has ever been or can be; but she had trained herself in the estimation of self-control and dignified endurance as moral excellences of the highest value. There were other women in Rome who, like Portia, had studied and adopted as their rule of life the principles of Zeno. We can see them walking amidst the frivolity of their times with the hauteur of too conscious superiority. It was a part which, if taken up by women at all, they must necessarily overdo. The principles of their philosophy might carry them far, even to death "after the high Roman fashion"; but whether the stoicism was only a mask of pride or a real grandeur of character, there was always some point at which the woman's heart showed itself. A man, whether bent on sentimental or serious purposes, needed not to stand greatly in awe of those stoical Roman ladies.
School herself in dignified impassiveness as she might, every thought of Portia's mind, as well as every impulse of her heart, betrayed her philosophy. Her affectionate solicitude allowed no sigh escaping the breast of her lord, no absent-mindedness clouding his brow and boding care, to escape her observation. It was plain to her that Brutus had some great trouble weighing upon his mind. She longed to share its knowledge, not for the gratification of curiosity, but because she could not endure to be deemed by her husband anything less than his loyal comrade. But was she worthy to be the custodian of her husband's secrets? Doubtless she was assured that they related to State affairs. It was not the custom among the Romans to put freeborn women to the torture; yet Portia, before she would ask to know her husband's mind, would test her power of enduring pain. Let Plutarch present the picture in his own fashion:
"Now Brutus, feeling that the noblest spirits of Rome, for virtue, birth, or courage, were depending upon him, and surveying with himself all the circumstances of the dangers they were to encounter, strove indeed as much as possible, when abroad, to keep his uneasiness of mind to himself, and to compose his thoughts; but at home, and especially at night, he was not the same man, but sometimes against his will his working care would make him start out of his steep, and other times he was taken up with further reflection and consideration of his difficulties, so that his wife that lay with him could not choose but take notice that he was full of unusual trouble, and had in agitation some dangerous and perplexing question. Portia, as was said before, was the daughter of Cato, and Brutus, her cousin-german, had married her very young, though not a maid, but after the death of a former husband. This Portia, being interested in philosophy, a great lover of her husband, and full of an understanding courage, resolved not to inquire into Brutus's secrets before she had made trial of herself. She turned all her attendants out of her chamber; and taking a little knife, such as they use to cut nails with, she gave herself a deep gash in the thigh; upon which followed a great flow of blood, and, soon after, violent pains and a shivering fever, occasioned by the wound. Now when Brutus was exceedingly anxious and afflicted for her, she, in the height of her pain, spoke thus to him: 'I, Brutus, being the daughter of Cato, was given to you in marriage, not like a concubine, to partake only in the common intercourse of bed and board, but to bear a part in all your good and all your evil fortunes; and for your part, as regards your care for me, I find no reason to complain; but from me, what evidence of my love, what satisfaction can you receive, if I may not share with you in bearing your hidden griefs, or be admitted to any of your counsels that require secrecy and trust? I know very well that women seem to be of too weak a nature to be trusted with secrets; but surely, Brutus, a virtuous birth and education, and the company of the good and honorable, are of some force in the forming of manners; and I can boast that I am the daughter of Cato and the wife of Brutus, in which two titles though before I put less confidence, yet now I have tried myself, and find I can bid defiance to pain.' Having spoken these words, she showed him her wound, and related to him the trial she had made of her constancy; at which, being astonished, he lifted up his hands to heaven, and begged the assistance of the gods in his enterprise, that he might show himself a husband worthy of such a wife as Portia."
From that time, she shared the secret of Brutus in his direful purpose; moreover, her heart and mind were oppressed with the added burden of anxiety for him.
Another woman in Rome had once waited with great impatience while her husband thrust the ruler from his throne; and though the plot meant the death of her own father, Tullia could ride to the Senate chamber to ascertain with her own eyes if everything were in satisfactory progress. But there is no comparison to be drawn between Tullia and Portia. There is nothing to indicate that the latter was in the least stirred by ambition. She simply believed in her husband to the extent that if it were he who purposed assassination, she must deem it justified. Yet she could not ask: "Is Cæsar yet gone to the Capitol?" without danger of swooning.
At the Imperator's palace, there was another woman whose mind was troubled with dire misgivings, and who feared that which Portia impatiently awaited to hear was done. Calpurnia's womanly instinct was quicker than the suspicion of Cæsar and his friends. She was not given to superstitious fears; but now even the very air seemed portentous of coming disaster. She dreamed, and cried out in her sleep: "They murder Caesar."
Thus has the great dramatist, in a manner which it would be folly to imitate or replace, depicted the scene:
"Calpurnia.--What mean you, Cæsar? Think you to walk forth? You shall not stir out of your house to-day.
Caesar.--Cæsar shall forth. The things that threaten'd me Ne'er look'd but on my back; when they shall see The face of Cæsar, they are vanish'd.
Calpurnia.---Cæsar, I never stood on ceremonies, Yet now they fright me. There is one within, Besides the things that we have heard and seen, Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch. O Cæsar! these things are beyond all use, And I do fear them.
Caesar.-- What can be avoided,
Whose end is purpos'd by the mighty gods?
Yet Cæsar shall go forth; for these predictions
Are to the world in general as to Cæsar.
Calpurnia.---When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
The wife is supported in her plea by the warnings of the augurs; and Cæsar has decided to allow Mark Antony to say he is not well. But Decius, the false coward, comes, and for his private satisfaction, because Cæsar loves him, he is told that:
"Calpurnia here, my wife stays me at home: She dream'd to-night she saw my statua, Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts, Did run pure blood; and many lusty Romans Came smiling, and did bathe their hands in it. And these does she apply for warnings and portents. And evils imminent; and on her knee Hath begged that I will stay at home to-day."
Decius easily puts a better interpretation upon the vision; and he changes Cæsar's mind by cunningly suggesting how the Senate may sneer at being adjourned until "another time,
When Cæsar's wife shall meet with better dreams."
So he leaves her sadly to reflect that his "death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come."
Of Calpurnia we learn nothing more save that her wisdom made her quick to place her husband's papers in the hands of Mark Antony, who so successfully took upon himself the task of avenging the death of his friend.
Portia fled from Italy with her husband, and it was well for her that she did so; for under the Triumvirate there was inaugurated a reign of terror which caused the people of Rome to recall the bloody proscriptions of Sylla, and in which the wife of Cæsar's murderer would hardly have been secure. Hatred, greed, and all evil passions were let loose. It became easy for heirs to hasten to the possession of legacies by having the owners' names placed on the lists of the proscribed. The toga was given to children, in order that their property, they being then considered of age, might come into their own possession; then they were condemned to death.
During this reign of terror, the citizens of Rome were cowed by the soldiery into abject silence and inactivity; but, to their honor, it is recorded that the women did not suffer so resignedly the despoiling of their goods. A heavy contribution was levied upon fourteen hundred of the richest matrons. Led by Hortensia, the daughter of the orator, these ladies went to the Forum and appeared in the presence of the Triumvirate. Hortensia spoke. "Before presenting ourselves before you" she said, "we have solicited the intervention of Fulvia; her refusal has obliged us to come hither. You have taken away our fathers, our children, our brothers, our husbands; to deprive us of our fortune also is to reduce us to a condition which befits neither our birth, nor our habits, nor our sex; it is to extend your proscriptions to us. But have we raised soldiers against you, or sought after your offices? Do we dispute the power for which you are fighting? From the time of Hannibal, Roman women have willingly given to the treasury their jewels and ornaments; let the Gauls or the Parthians come, and there will be found in us no less patriotism. But do not ask us to contribute to this fratricidal war which is rending the Republic; neither Marius, nor Cinna, nor even Sylla during his tyranny, dared to do so." The triumvirs were inclined to drive the matrons from the Forum; but the people began to be stirred, so they yielded and set forth another edict, reducing to four hundred the number of women who were to be taxed.
Much of this cruelty was instigated by a woman whom Hortensia mentions. Antony, whose amatory experiences were as varied as they were numerous, was at one time engaged in an intrigue with Fulvia, then the wife of Clodius. She afterward became Antony's wife. Here was a woman the exact opposite of Portia; a resentful, stubborn, masculine woman, "in whom," says Velleius Paterculus, "there was nothing feminine but her body." It is told of her that when Cicero was murdered, his head was brought to her, and she drove her bodkin through the tongue which had so bitterly rated her and her husband. On another occasion, the head of one of the proscribed was brought to Antony. "I do not know it," he said; "let it be taken to my wife." It was the head of a citizen of whom nothing worse is known than that he had refused to sell a farm which Fulvia desired to obtain. Plutarch relates that Antony was obliged to resort to all sorts of boyish tricks in order to keep Fulvia in good humor. Among other like stories which he says were current, he gives the following, relating to the triumvir's sudden return to Rome: "Disguising himself, he came to her by night, muffled up as a servant that brought letters from Antony. She, with great impatience, before she receives the letter, asks if Antony were well, and instead of an answer he gives her the letter; and, as she was opening it, he takes her about the neck and kisses her." The historian gives this characterization of Fulvia: "a woman not born for spinning or housewifery, nor one that could be content with ruling a private husband, but prepared to govern a first magistrate, or give orders to a commander-in-chief. So that Cleopatra was under great obligations to her for having taught Antony to be so good a servant, he coming to her hands tame and broken into entire obedience to the commands of a mistress." Evidently, we must regard Mark Antony as being the great historical type of the "henpecked" husband; there is, however, no occasion for sympathy; his punishment was no greater than he deserved. The chief misfortune lay in the fact that Fulvia died, and thus made room for the noble and much-abused Octavia, whom he afterward married.
Let us return to Portia. There is a beautiful incident related of her final parting from Brutus in the island of Nisida. She was overcome with grief, but refrained from showing it for fear that it might shake her husband's fortitude. But in passing through a hall, a picture which she there saw accidentally betrayed her. It was a representation of Hector parting from Andromache when he went to engage the Greeks. He was in the act of giving his little son Astyanax into her arms, while she fixes her tearful eyes for the last time upon her husband. Portia could not look upon this piece, so suggestive of her own circumstances, without weeping; and every day, as long as she remained in the place, she went to gaze upon it. It was on one of those occasions that Acilius, a friend of Brutus, repeated from Homer the lines where Andromache speaks to Hector:
"'But, Hector, you
To me are father and are mother too,
My brother, and my loving husband true.'"
Brutus, sadly smiling, replied, "But I must not answer Portia, as Hector did Andromache:
"'Mind you your loom, and to your maids give law.'
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."
As to the time and manner of Portia's death, the ancient writers are not fully agreed? But the best authenticated account is that which is thus represented by Shakespeare:
"Brutus.--O Cassius! I am sick of many griefs.
Cassius.--Of your philosophy you make no use, If you give place to accidental evils.
Brutus.--No man bears sorrow better; Portia is dead.
Brutus.--She is dead.
Cassius.--How 'scap'd I killing, when I cross'd you so? O insupportable and touching loss!--Upon what sickness?
Brutus.--Impatient of my absence,
And grief that young Octavius with Mark Antony Had made themselves so strong;--for with her death These tidings came.--With this she fell distract, And, her attendants absent, swallow'd fire."
In Portia and Brutus we see that close and mutual sympathy, than which marriage in any period of the world's history has nothing better to show. The ancient historians took great delight in eulogizing her character and praising her qualities. They are a unit in the belief that, in all points, she was worthy to be the consort of him whom Antony justly honored as "The noblest Roman of them all."