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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

MARK ANTONY SPEAKS TO THE CITIZENS

[402] THE people were still shouting "Live Brutus!" when Mark Antony entered the Forum with the dead body of Cæsar.

Brutus at once prepared to go, bidding the citizens listen to what Mark Antony had to say.

The body of Cæsar, covered with a purple cloth, had now been placed where all might see.

Close to Antony lay the toga which his friend had worn as he went to the Senate-house on the Ides of March. It was torn and stained, where the daggers had done their deadly work. It too could be seen by the crowds.

A wax figure of Cæsar, with each wound which he had received, plainly marked, was placed near the dead body.

Antony, clad in robes of mourning, then began to read Cæsar's will aloud. The people listened spellbound. Was it true that Cæsar had cared for them so much?

What did Antony say? That to each Roman citizen Cæsar had left a sum of three pounds!

His garden too, his beautiful garden! It also was left to them and to their children, to walk in when it pleased them, to be there at all times a retreat from the heat and the dust of the streets.

To some of those who had slain him too, Cæsar had willed large sums of money. Already the people were muttering in a way to fulfil the forebodings of Cassius. It had certainly been unwise to leave the people alone with Mark Antony.

They had forgotten that they had applauded Brutus but [403] a few moments before. Now they were declaring that the conspirators had killed, not a tyrant, but a friend of the people, one who had ever served his country well. The conspirators deserved to be punished for their cruel deed, and they would see to it that——

But hush! Antony was speaking, was trying to make himself heard. They must certainly listen to what he had to say. And here are his words, as Shakespeare tells them to us:—

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

I come to bury Cæsar, not to praise him.

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interrèd with their bones;

So let it be with Cæsar. The noble Brutus

Hath told you Cæsar was ambitious:

If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

And grievously hath Cæsar answer'd it.

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—

For Brutus is an honourable man;

So are they all, all honourable men—

Come I to speak in Cæsar's funeral.

He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

But Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

He hath brought many captives home to Rome.

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:

Did this in Cæsar seem ambitious?

When that the poor have cried, Cæsar hath wept:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

You all did see that on the Lupercal

I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

You all did love him once, not without cause:

What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,

[404]

And men have lost their reason! Bear with me,

My heart is in the coffin there with Cæsar,

And I must pause till it come back to me."

As Antony finished speaking, he turned to pull away the cloth that covered Cæsar's body, so that the people could see his wounds.

Already as they listened to Antony's words and looked at the wax figure of Cæsar, with its painted wounds, the fierce anger of the people had been roused. But now, when they saw the real wounds in Cæsar's own body, their passion knew no bounds.

They shouted that they would be revenged on the murderers of Cæsar, that not one of the conspirators should live, that they would burn the houses of Brutus and Cassius.

But first they would themselves make Cæsar's funeral pyre. So they rushed into the houses and shops in the Forum, and pulled out chairs, tables, benches, anything on which they could lay their hands.

Then they placed these together in a great heap, and when all was ready, they laid the body of Cæsar reverently on the top. A moment more and they had set fire to the funeral pyre with torches.

As the fire blazed, the citizens armed themselves with faggots which they lighted at the flames. Then they hurried away to the houses of Brutus and Cassius, shouting and waving their fiery brands in a frenzy of rage.

But the houses they found guarded, the conspirators fled.


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