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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE ASSASSINATION OF CÆSAR

[396] AN important meeting was arranged to be held in the Senate house on the 15th March 44 B.C. The conspirators fixed this, the Ides of March, as the day on which they would assassinate the Dictator. They knew that he would come to the Senate unarmed and without guards, as was his custom.

On the evening of the 14th, as Cæsar sat at supper, the conversation, strangely enough, was about the kind of death that one would wish to die.

The Dictator glanced up from the letters he was reading and said abruptly, "A sudden one," and then went on with his reading.

Rumours of the plot may have got abroad, but whether that was so or not, Cæsar had for some days been told of evil omens, and had been warned to beware of danger.

Among other warnings, a soothsayer had told him that evil would befall him on the Ides of March. Now the Ides of March fell on the 15th of the month.

The night before the 15th, Cæsar's wife, Calpurnia, tossed in her sleep, breaking out at length into sobs as though in great sorrow. She was dreaming that she held in her arms the dead body of her husband.

In the morning she begged him with tears not to go to the Senate-house that day.

At length her tears and the warnings that had reached him, made him first hesitate and then yield to her entreaties.

Meanwhile the senators had assembled, among them the [397] conspirators armed with daggers which were concealed in the cases of their writing stilus.

When Cæsar did not come they grew impatient. What had happened? Had he perchance discovered their treachery? The conspirators were uneasy, and they found it hard to conceal their uneasiness.

At length Decimus Brutus, one of their number, offered to go to see why Cæsar had not come, and if necessary to entice him to the Senate.

Decimus found Cæsar at home, cast down by evil omens and by the fears of Calpurnia.

Then Decimus pretended to laugh at the great Cæsar for being disturbed by such forebodings. He scoffed at the soothsayer and his prediction that evil would befall Cæsar on the Ides of March, he mocked at the story of evil omens. "Will Cæsar let it be told that because of such things he would not come to the Senate-house?" said the false friend.

Perhaps Cæsar was half ready to laugh at his own fears, but in any case the words of Decimus hurt his pride, and in spite of all that Calpurnia could urge, he determined to go back with Decimus to the Senate.

It was now about eleven o'clock. As Cæsar crossed the hall of his house, his bust fell and broke in pieces.

Afterwards it was said that perhaps this was done by some friend or servant to warn him what would befall him should he leave the house. At the time, the broken bust seemed but another of the omens of evil with which of late he had been surrounded.

But he left the house and stepped into the street. As he walked along he passed the soothsayer, and with an attempt at gaiety he called to him, "The Ides of March have come."

"Yes," answered the wise man, "they are come, but they are not past."

As was ever the way, the crowd pressed close to offer petitions to him as he passed along the street.

One man seemed more eager even that the others to [398] hand a paper to the Dictator, and when at length he succeeded, he said hurriedly, "Read it without delay, Cæsar, for it concerns your safety." But the paper was never read, for the Dictator handed it with others to his attendant.

No sooner had Cæsar reached the Senate-house and taken his seat than the conspirators crowded around him, one of them, named Cimber, offering him a petition.

It was one which the Dictator had already refused to grant, and he was annoyed at the persistence shown by Cimber.

Moreover, the other conspirators joined him in his entreaties, pressing ever closer and closer around the Dictator, until only those in the plot were near to him.

Cæsar was now really angry and turned away from Cimber, again refusing his request. As he did so, Cimber pulled Cæsar's toga down from his neck. It was the signal upon which the conspirators had agreed.

Casca, who was to give the first blow, thereupon drew his dagger and struck Cæsar on the shoulder. Either through fear or haste he did little harm by his stroke.

In a moment Cæsar had sprung to his feet, and seizing hold of Casca's weapon, he cried, "Vile Casca, what does this mean?"

But immediately daggers were drawn on every side of him, and blow after blow descended upon his body, while angry faces looked into his.

Unarmed as he was, Cæsar yet struggled desperately with the assassins, until he caught sight of Decimus Brutus, whom he loved, among his murderers, ready to strike.

Then crying, "Et tu, Brute?" "Thou, too, Brutus?" he covered his face with his toga and fell to the ground, his body covered with many wounds.

Cæsar was dead. And it is said that nature herself mourned for the great man stricken to death by those whom he had befriended. For, for a whole year the sun shone dull and faint, while grey clouds were stretched across the sky like a funeral pall. Cæsar was dead.


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