Our Young Folks' Plutarch - Rosalie Kaufman

Caius Gracchus

Caius Gracchus was only twenty-one years old when his brother was so cruelly and unjustly slain. It was many years after that dreadful event before he took part in public affairs; it is true that he had been appointed one of the commissioners for the division of land, but he did not attend to it. Many thought it was because he disapproved of his brother's actions, but probably the true reason is that he feared his enemies, and knew his family to be less powerful than before. Be that as it may, Caius lived in retirement, and devoted much of his time to the study of public speaking, so that when he undertook to defend one of his friends against a certain charge, he did it so well that people pronounced him the very best orator in Rome.

He was elected quæstor, or public treasurer, to accompany Orestes, the consul, to Sardinia, and he was very glad to go, for he did not desire to become a politician, and would not have done so if he had not been forced into it. He was influenced, too, by a dream, for like most people of his time he was superstitious enough to believe in dreams. His was that Tiberius appeared to him, and said, "Why do you tarry, Caius? There is no escape; you are destined, as I was, to spend your life and meet your death in the service of the people."

That winter in Sardinia was a very severe and sickly one, and Caius worked so hard for the comfort of the army, and was so successful in getting what they needed from neighboring places, that the senators in Rome began to feel jealous when they heard of his actions. "He will be even a more popular leader than his brother was," they said, and decided to prevent that if possible. So when some of the private soldiers were ordered home, Caius was requested to remain at his post. But he knew the reason for this, and became very angry. He caused much surprise by making his appearance in Rome when he was least expected, for people thought it strange for a quæstor to desert his general. He was therefore called before the senate to give an account of himself, and did it so satisfactorily that they regarded him as a much injured person.

"I have served in twelve campaigns," he said, "whereas I was not obliged to serve in more than ten; I have been with the general as quæstor three years, though the law required me to stay but one year; besides, I am the only man who went out with a full purse and returned with an empty one."

Afterwards other charges were brought against Caius; but he proved himself entirely innocent, and then asked for the tribuneship. All the noblemen opposed it, but people from all parts of Italy flocked to Rome in such numbers on purpose to vote for Caius that it was impossible to find lodgings for them. The nobility succeeded in having him elected fourth tribune instead of the first, but he soon proved by his wonderful eloquence that, in spite of them, nobody could be first but himself. He spoke with such force, and aroused the people to such a pitch of excitement by constantly referring to his brother and the dreadful fate he had met, that he always carried his audience with him.

His popularity was wonderfully increased, too, by the various laws he made, for all favored the people and increased their power in the government, while they lessened that of the senate. He further showed his respect for the populace by doing what no other public speaker had ever done: instead of turning his face towards the senate-house when making an address, which had always been the custom, he turned towards the people and spoke to them, which of course flattered and pleased them.

One of the laws Caius proposed was that three hundred Roman knights should be added to the senate, making six hundred in all; and as soon as it was passed he was appointed to choose the knights. The people liked this, because it gave them equal power with the senators, and that was what Caius always tried to do. His advice was asked whenever there was any public matter of interest to settle, and in every case he showed such honesty and good judgment that everybody was pleased, and foreigners felt themselves justly dealt with by the Romans. Not only did Caius plan new laws and make speeches, but he worked in other directions. It was he who proposed ways for colonizing cities, making roads, and building granaries, and after they were adopted he superintended the work, and people wondered at the number of things he undertook and accomplished. He was constantly to be seen with soldiers, scholars, builders, and mechanics of all sorts, and he showed himself master of the art of talking with them as well as when making a public address. He laid out beautiful, level roads, and was the first to place milestones to mark distances, and others to enable travellers to mount their horses without the aid of a groom. These things made him more and more of a favorite; for all classes of citizens felt the benefit of his undertakings.

Once he closed an oration by announcing that he had a request to make which he hoped would not be refused. He did not tell what it was, but it was the general belief that he was going to ask for the consulship. However, when election-day came around he brought forward a friend named Fannius for that office. Fannius would not have been elected had it not been for the influence of Caius; but he asked it as a favor, and the people of Rome could refuse him nothing. He made no demand for himself, but with one voice he was chosen tribune the second time.

This displeased the senate, who were jealous of Caius's popularity, and in constant dread lest it might give him even more power than they had. So they resorted to a most undignified proceeding: first they took Livius Drusus, a fellow-tribune with Caius Gracchus, into their confidence, and with his aid resolved to outdo Caius in benefits to the public, even though they were dishonorable in so doing. If he proposed to form two colonies anywhere, they pretended to consider it a disadvantage to the citizens, but established a dozen in other places, and selected a large number of the most needy people for that purpose. If he proposed a law, they refused to pass it, but immediately made others that would appear to favor the poor citizens, whether they really did or not. In short, they showed plainly that their aim was to ruin Caius if possible, or, if not, at least to injure his reputation. Livius always took pains to make it known that whatever he did was by the advice and approval of the senate, whose chief desire it was to please the populace. Thus a better feeling arose towards the senate, who had formerly been looked upon by the plebeians as their enemy.

This would have been all right if their object had been good, but it was only to bring about the downfall of Caius that they sought. As this was not accomplished soon enough to satisfy the senate, they decided to send the obnoxious tribune out of the country, and an opportunity soon offered itself, when a proposition was made to repeople Carthage, which had been destroyed by Scipio; Caius was forthwith despatched to Africa to see to it. While he was gone, Livius Drusus lost no opportunity of seeking to make himself a favorite with the lower classes, flattering and gratifying them in a way that often seemed ridiculous even to them. He also brought charges of dishonesty in the division of the lands against Fulvius, who was a particular friend to Caius.

Caius completed his work at Carthage in seventy days, and then hurried back to Rome, where he had heard his presence was needed. He found that the people, after having been flattered by the senate and the tribunes, thought less of him than formerly, so he at once gave up his fine house on the Palatine Mount and went to live near the market-place, among the poorest and humblest of the citizens. Then he brought forward such popular laws that the neighbors flocked from all quarters to vote for them. But the senate persuaded Fannius, the consul, to command all who were not born Romans to leave the city at once. This was a most unusual proceeding, but Caius could not prevent it. However, he was very angry, and gave vent to his temper a short time after, which led to a quarrel between him and the other officers. There was to be a show of gladiators in the market-place, and the magistrates erected scaffolds, which they intended to let. Caius commanded them to remove the scaffolds so that the poor people might see the exhibition without being obliged to pay for it. Nobody obeyed his orders: so, the very night before the contest was to take place, he collected together a body of laborers, and worked with them to remove all the scaffolds. The common people were delighted when they saw the market-place cleared; but the officers were so angry that they resolved to be revenged.

Therefore, although at the next election Caius had votes enough to make him tribune the third time, his colleagues caused false returns to be brought in, and he was put out of office. This was a serious disappointment to him, which he took no pains to conceal. His adversaries were delighted at his defeat, and Opimius, who was chosen consul, immediately set to work to cancel several of his laws. This was annoying; but when the consul went a step further and began to question Caius's proceedings in Carthage, he put himself at the head of a party to oppose Opimius. It is said that Cornelia, his mother, helped him in this by sending several strangers disguised as harvesters into Rome to increase his party; but this is not certain.

A day was appointed when the laws of Caius were to be annulled, and for that purpose his party and the other met early in the morning at the Capitol. But, before business began, a private citizen, who was engaged with the consul in offering sacrifices, was murdered by the friends of Fulvius and Gracchus, who had taken offence at something he had said. Great excitement ensued, and the assembly broke up in alarm. Gracchus himself was terrified at the outrage, and tried to explain that he had no hand in it, but nobody would listen to him, and, finding that he could do nothing, he shut himself up in his own house, and so kept out of sight.

Early the next morning Opimius assembled the senate, and with the hope of still further exciting public feeling against the deed committed by the Gracchus party, had the body of the dead man exposed to view. But it did not have the desired effect, for the populace remembered how the senate themselves had murdered Tiberius and then thrown his body into the river, and they did not see why so much honor should be paid to a common citizen; besides, they still looked upon Caius as their defender and safeguard.

Opimius made a speech to the senate and explained the state of affairs, whereupon he was invested with power to protect the commonwealth and suppress all tyrants. He then ordered the senators and knights to arm themselves and to assemble the next day, each attended by two well-armed servants.

Fulvius and Caius made preparations on their side, collected the populace about them, and took possession of the Aventine Hill. But Caius had the good of his country so much at heart that he shed tears when he thought of the criminal action into which he had been drawn. He could not be persuaded to arm himself, but left his house in his usual dress, carrying only a short dagger at his side.

When the people were all gathered together on the Aventine Hill, Caius advised Fulvius to send his son to propose a settlement with the consul and the senate. He was a handsome youth, and made his modest speech with tears in his eyes. The senate were inclined to favor his proposition, but the consul said, "It does not become Fulvius and Gracchus to offer terms to the senate: they should, like loyal citizens, surrender at discretion to the laws and sue for pardon." The youth was sent a second time, but Opimius, who was determined to fight, had him locked up, and then with a company of soldiers started off to make the attack.

Before many minutes the fight was over, for the people could not hold out against experienced soldiers. Fulvius fled to a bathing-house near by, but he was discovered, dragged out, and put to death. Caius sought refuge in Diana's temple, where he would have killed himself had it not been for two faithful friends, who snatched away his sword and urged him to escape. He did so, and as he ran along, people shouted words of encouragement as they do to racers, but no one offered him assistance, nor would they furnish him with a horse, though he asked for one several times. He was accompanied by one servant named Philocrates, who loved him too much to desert him. Finding at last that his enemies were gaining upon him, Caius gave up the race and went into a little grove consecrated to the Furies. There, in obedience to his command, he was slain by his servant, who afterwards killed himself and fell upon his master's body.

A price of its weight in gold had been set upon Caius's head, so it was cut off and presented to Opimius on the end of a spear. It was found to weigh seventeen pounds, but this was owing to a cheat, for the person who secured it had filled it with lead. The bodies of Caius, Fulvius, and three thousand other rebels were thrown into the river, their goods were seized by the state, and their widows were forbidden to put on mourning. The son of Fulvius, who, it will be remembered, had gone to the senate with the articles of agreement, was brutally slain, although he had taken no part in the battle.

Caius and Tiberius Gracchus met with the same fate, yet there was less excuse for the conduct of the former than of the latter, for he was more of a popular leader and less of a patriot than Tiberius. His was the punishment of a rebel, while the death of Tiberius was a cruel, unjust murder. Tiberius headed his party out of principle, Caius because he wanted power.

So deeply did the commons regret the Gracchi that they erected statues to them in the most public parts of the city, consecrated the places where they were killed, and offered sacrifices to them at different seasons.

Cornelia bore her misfortunes with noble fortitude. Of the places which were consecrated to her dead sons she said, "They are monuments worthy of them." She went to live at Misenum, where she had many friends, to whom her house was always open for hospitality. Men of letters visited her constantly, and the various kings who were friendly to Rome showed their regard by sending her presents. She often spoke of her sons, and fondly recounted their actions and sufferings as though she were giving a narrative of some ancient heroes. She had always been proud of them, as this anecdote goes to prove: Once when they were little boys a noble lady called on Cornelia and showed her some costly jewels, asking to see hers in return. She left the room, and presently came back with Tiberius and Caius on either side of her, saying, "These are my ornaments."

After her death the Romans erected a statue to her, on which was this inscription—

"Cornelia, the Mother of the Gracchi."