Our Young Folks' Plutarch - Rosalie Kaufman


Pompey was an exceedingly handsome man, and his manners were so pleasing and his conversation so agreeable that he early won the affection of his countrymen. He lived at the same time with Lucullus, whose life we have given, but, unlike that Roman, Pompey's tastes and habits were plain and simple.

Once, when he was dangerously ill and could eat scarcely anything, his physician ordered him a thrush, but, as thrushes were out of season, they were not to be found in the markets. Lucullus had them in his bird-houses all the year, and it was proposed to send to him for one. "Does Pompey's life depend upon the luxury of Lucullus?" asked the sick man. Then, without regard to the physician's order, he ate something that was easy to be had. That happened when he was middle-aged.

He was only nineteen years old when he served under his father in the war against Cinna. Lucius Terentius was his comrade, and slept in the same tent with him, but he had been bribed by Cinna to kill him while others set fire to the general's tent. Pompey found it out, and on the night set apart for the horrible deed he stole softly out of the tent after having gone to bed, and went with a guard to protect his father. As soon as Terentius supposed he was asleep, he crawled over to the bed and stabbed it in many places, thinking that Pompey was there. Then there was a mutiny among the soldiers, which it required all the eloquence young Pompey could command to quiet.

Cinna was killed not long after, and Carbo became ruler. This happened after the Romans had experienced so many calamities that any change was welcomed by them; but they soon found Carbo to be a most savage tyrant, and so rejoiced when Sylla returned to Italy.

Pompey was then at Picenum, where he raised an army of about seventeen thousand men. With this force he set out to join Sylla, and succeeded in doing so only after being attacked several times by the opposite party. He was just twenty-three years old when he elevated himself to the office of general, and Sylla was so struck by his appearance and the excellent condition of his army that he saluted him as Imperator when they met. This was an honorable title, and one that had never before been bestowed on a Roman who had not been in the senate; indeed, it was one for which such great generals as Scipio and Marius were fighting. But Sylla felt that Pompey deserved it, and his respect for that young man was so great that he would always rise and uncover his head when he approached. When he had made himself master of Italy and was declared dictator, he rewarded his principal officers handsomely; but to Pompey he gave most, knowing that he owed more to his services than to those of any other man.

Three years later Pompey was sent to Sicily, because the friends of Marius were fortifying themselves there. He retook the island, and was then ordered to Africa, where in forty days he drove out Domitius with his grand army. The Romans were astonished at his wonderful exploits, and on his return prepared to receive him with every mark of honor and kindness. Sylla marched at their head to meet the hero, and, after embracing him affectionately, called him Pompey the Great, bidding all who were present to do the same.

Now, Pompey desired the honor of a triumph, and there can be no question that he deserved one; but Sylla was jealous of his fast-growing power, and said that no Roman who had not first been consul or prætor had ever had a triumph, and that such a proceeding would excite envy among other officers. But Pompey was determined, and said, "Do not forget that more people worship the rising than the setting sun." He meant that his power was increasing, while Sylla's was on the decline. Feeling the truth of this remark, and admiring Pompey's spirit, Sylla cried, "Let him triumph! let him triumph!" and so the young man had his way.

He might then have become a senator if he had chosen, but he preferred to seek extraordinary honors, and his triumph was certainly such. After it was over he took his place among the Roman knights, which pleased the populace immensely. But Sylla was anxious on account of the height of glory to which he had risen, though he dared not hinder him. He said nothing until Lepidus was raised to the consulship by Pompey's influence. Then, when Pompey passed through the Forum with a great train of followers, he cried out, "I see, young man, that you are proud of your victory; and indeed it was a great thing for you to obtain the consulship for Lepidus, the worst man in Rome, in preference to Catulus, the best and most deserving; but beware, for you have made your enemy stronger than yourself."

The truth of Sylla's words appeared shortly after his death, for Lepidus desired to become dictator, and armed himself for that purpose against Catulus, who had to call in the aid of Pompey. Lepidus was then driven out of Italy, and fled to Sardinia, where he died.

After a short season of peace and quiet, the senate ordered Pompey to Spain to support Metellus against the powerful Sertorius, whose activity and skill made him a most formidable opponent. When Sertorius heard of this addition to the Roman army, he said, "I shall want no other weapons than a rod and ferule to chastise the boy, but I fear the old woman." By the boy he meant Pompey, who was just thirty years old; Metellus was "the old woman." Though he spoke thus, he was really afraid of Pompey, and so made his plans with extreme caution. Metellus was less an object of dread, because he had given himself up to a life of luxury and pleasure quite unfit for a soldier.

The defeat of Lauron, narrated in the life of Sertorius, was a dreadful blow to Pompey, but he gained the next battle, which encouraged him so much that he hastened to attack Sertorius near the river Sucro. In that engagement he was wounded in the hand, and he would certainly have been captured had he not jumped from his horse and turned it loose towards the enemy. They were so dazzled by the rich trappings that they began to quarrel over them, as Pompey had expected, and so he made his escape. The war continued, with little success on either side, until Sertorius was murdered by his own officers, when it was brought to a close. Perpenna, who succeeded Sertorius, had taken charge of his private papers, and when Pompey took Perpenna prisoner he burnt them without reading them, because he feared they might cast disgrace on some of the most powerful men of Rome, and so be the cause of new wars. This was wise and prudent.

Pompey returned to Rome when the civil war was at its height, and Crassus was in command of the army. A great battle had just been fought, and five thousand slaves had fled; but Pompey met them and put them all to death, and then sent this message to the senate: "Crassus has beaten the gladiators in a pitched battle, but I have cut up the war by the roots."

The Romans were delighted to honor a man whom they had learned to love and admire, so they gave him a second triumph, and at the same time he was created consul, with Crassus for his colleague. One of the scenes that pleased them most was when Pompey appeared in the Forum with other Roman knights, each to give an account to the two censors of his actions in the war, and to demand his discharge. This custom was always observed, and each knight received, according to his behavior, marks of honor or of disgrace.

Pompey advanced, preceded by his lictors and leading his horse, amidst profound silence, everybody staring at him in admiration. The older censor spoke: "Pompey the Great, I demand of you whether you have served all the campaigns required by law?" He answered in a loud voice, "I have served them all; and all under myself as general." Loud cheers and applause greeted this reply, and the censors conducted the new consul to his home, followed by the multitude.

Though Pompey and Crassus were consuls together, they never could agree on any point, but kept up a continual quarrelling. When their term of office ended, a knight, who had never taken part in public affairs, mounted the rostrum one day before a large crowd of people, and said, "Jupiter has appeared to me in a dream, and commanded me to tell the consuls that they must not give up their office until they are friends." Pompey stood still and said nothing, but Crassus went to him, took his hand, and spoke as follows: "I do not think, fellow-citizens, that I do anything mean or dishonorable in making the first advance to Pompey, on whom you were pleased to bestow the title of Great when he was but a beardless youth, and for whom you voted two triumphs before he was a senator." Thus were they reconciled before they went out of office.

About this time the pirates had become so powerful in the Mediterranean that they attacked islands and seaport towns as well as ships, and persons of wealth, high birth, and intellect joined their band just as though their employment were an honorable one. They had watch-towers and arsenals, strongly fortified, and their fleets were gayly ornamented, as if they took a pride in their villany. They owned a thousand ships and four hundred cities, and were so powerful that they could insult Roman citizens without fear of punishment. Once they carried off two prætors in their purple robes, with all their servants and lictors, and at another time seized the daughter of Antony, a distinguished citizen, and would not release her until they had received a large ransom. When a captive declared himself to be a Roman, and told his name, the pirates would pretend surprise and fear, fall at his feet, and humbly beseech him to forgive them. Then they would dress him in a Roman gown, and place Roman shoes on his feet, so that they might know him another time, they said, and, putting out a ship's ladder when they were far out at sea, tell him he was free to go, and wish him a pleasant journey. If he hesitated, he was thrown overboard.

Of course trade and navigation came to a stand-still when every ship was in danger from pirates, and there was reason to fear a famine in Rome: so, at last, Pompey was sent to clear the seas. This wonderful achievement was performed in four months: twenty thousand pirates were taken prisoners, and the rest were compelled to retire to Cilicia, which was too far from Rome for them to do further damage. The prisoners were not put to death; Pompey, was too humane for that; he gave them small tracts of land in various scantily-populated regions, thus offering them a chance to become honest citizens.

When the news was brought to Rome that the war with the pirates was finished, Pompey was considered such an able general that he was appointed over Lucullus to carry on the war against Mithridates and Tigranes, with more power than had ever been intrusted to any Roman general before. On his arrival in Asia he altered everything that Lucullus had done, merely to show that the latter no longer had authority, which was of course very galling to that general. For he had so disabled Mithridates and Tigranes that they could offer little opposition to Pompey, who got credit for the conquest that really belonged to Lucullus. Nevertheless, Pompey made some hard fights in different parts of Asia, and won some brilliant victories before the war ended; then, crowned with glory, he turned homeward, stopping in Greece by the way.

At Mitylene he witnessed the exercises of the poets, all of whom selected the actions of Pompey for their theme this year. He was so much pleased with their theatre that he took a plan of it, intending to build one similar, but larger, in Rome. Then he visited several other Greek cities, and lastly Athens, to which he presented fifty talents for improvements.

Rumors had reached Rome that Pompey was coming back with a powerful army for the purpose of establishing himself as sole ruler. But as soon as he landed in Italy he mustered his soldiers, bade each farewell, and sent him home, only requesting that none would fail to take part in his triumph. Then he went to Rome as a private citizen, and the whole city turned out to meet him with loud shouts of greeting.

His triumph lasted two days, and Rome had never witnessed one more splendid. Pompey's greatest glory was not in the fact that he had triumphed three times, for other Romans had done likewise, but that he seemed to have led the whole world captive; for his first triumph had been over Africa, his second over Europe, and his third over Asia.

At this time Cæsar was laying the foundation for future greatness. He had just returned from Spain, and wanted to be consul, and in order to accomplish this it was necessary that Crassus and Pompey should be friends, so that both would uphold him. He therefore set to work to reconcile them, which would have been all very well if the intention had been good, but it was only to serve himself that he wanted, and the union he formed, which is known in history as the First Triumvirate, proved a fatal blow to the constitution of Rome.

Then Pompey and Cæsar became fast friends and carried everything before them. Cicero and Cato were not on their side, so the former was banished and the latter was sent to Cyprus, it being necessary to get both out of the way. In effecting all this Pompey had taken into his service Clodius, one of the vilest wretches that ever lived, but in course of time he quarrelled with him, and Cicero was recalled.

For a while Pompey's popularity with the populace had not been so great as formerly, but he regained their good will when he was intrusted with the care of supplying the city with corn in a time of scarcity. It was Cicero, the great orator, who induced the senate to appoint Pompey to that position, which was a most important one, because it gave him control over the merchant as well as the farmer. He sent agents to various places, and went himself to Sicily, Sardinia, and Africa, working with such success that he filled the markets with grain and covered the sea with his ships. So not only was there plenty in Rome, but she was even in condition to supply the wants of her neighbors.

Now Pompey married Julia, Cæsar's sister, and Cæsar married Calpurnia, the daughter of Piso, who was consul. These two men continued to be fast friends, but Cæsar was sent to Gaul with an army, and Pompey gave great offence by devoting himself to his wife and travelling about with her, instead of giving his whole attention to his country. But he gained public favor by opening his theatre and treating the people to all sorts of games, shows, gymnastics, and music, besides a battle of lions, and one of elephants, which was witnessed with wonder and delight.

A change had taken place in public affairs at Rome, and those who stood for offices now fought for them or got them by means of bribes. Some of the more honest citizens were so indignant that it was proposed to appoint a dictator, and Pompey was the man selected. But, fearing that as dictator he might become a tyrant, it was decided, after a great deal of debate, to appoint him sole consul. Before this happened his wife had died, so one bond between him and Cæsar was broken, and not many months after he became sole consul he married Cornelia, the daughter of Scipio, a young, beautiful, and highly-accomplished lady.

Meanwhile, Cæsar had made himself famous in Gaul, and his friends declared that his services to his country were so great that he deserved at least a second consulship. Pompey opposed this, saying that as there was no doubt that Cæsar wished to be released from command, he ought to return home to stand for office. The fact was that Pompey had no desire to share his government with any one; so, in order to weaken Cæsar, he demanded back the two legions he had lent him, under pretence that he was about to engage in a war with Parthia. Cæsar was not deceived, but returned the soldiers loaded with costly presents.

Not long after, Pompey was attacked by a dangerous illness. This was at Naples. He recovered, and the citizens offered sacrifices to celebrate the happy event. Others imitated the Neapolitans, until there was not a town or village in all Italy that did not rejoice publicly on account of Pompey's recovery. As he journeyed towards Rome he was greeted by crowds of people, who assembled from different quarters with garlands on their heads and lighted torches in their hands to see the hero, whose path they strewed with flowers. Such a display of affection was no doubt gratifying to Pompey, but it is said to have been one of the chief causes of the civil war, for it turned Pompey's head, and so increased his confidence in himself that he felt contempt for Cæsar's power, and believed that it would be very easy to subdue him.

When any one expressed anxiety about a war, and wondered where forces were to come from should Cæsar choose to advance on Rome, he said, "If in Italy I do but stamp upon the ground; an army will appear."

Cæsar was not idle. He slowly advanced towards Italy, and not only sent his soldiers to vote in the elections, but bribed such men as Paulus, Curio, and Mark Antony to take his side.

The time for which Cæsar had been appointed to command was drawing to a close, and, when the question of his removal arose, Curio made the demand that either Pompey's army should have a new commander or that Cæsar's should retain theirs. Marcellus then rose and pronounced Cæsar a robber, who should be looked upon as an enemy to Rome unless he would disband his army. Curio, with the assistance of Antony and Piso, demanded that it be put to the vote; the result favored Pompey, and the people clapped their hands for joy.

Pompey was not present, because it was not lawful for generals in command of an army to enter the city, so Marcellus, accompanied by the senate, went solemnly to meet him, and addressed him thus: "Pompey, I charge you to assist your country, for which purpose you shall make use of what troops you have, and levy what new ones you please."

Other senators spoke to the same purpose, but Antony, who was in favor of peace, read a letter of Cæsar's, in which he proposed that both he and Pompey should dismiss their armies and let the people judge which of them should rule. This proposition met with so much favor that Pompey found it more difficult to levy an army than he had supposed. Cicero then tried to bring about a reconciliation, and proposed that Cæsar should give up Gaul, disband all his army except two legions, and wait for another consulship. But Pompey and his friends would not agree to any such thing.

Just then news was brought that Cæsar was marching on Rome. That general was indeed on the road, but when he reached the banks of the Rubicon he hesitated whether to advance or recede. At last he exclaimed, "The die is cast!" and led his army over.

Such consternation had never filled Rome before, and the senate and magistrates ran to Pompey to find out what he meant to do. Tullus asked what forces he could command. After a moment's pause Pompey said, "I have the two legions that Cæsar sent back, and believe that I shall shortly be able to make up a body of thirty thousand men."

"O Pompey, you have deceived us!" cried Tullus; "let a messenger be at once sent to make terms with Cæsar."

"Now stamp upon the ground and call forth the forces you promised us," bade Favonius. Pompey made no answer to this raillery, and Cato said, "Let us choose Pompey for general with absolute authority, for the men who do great evils know best how to cure them." He echoed the opinion of all Rome in calling the war which Pompey had brought about an evil, but there was no help for it now, so he went in command of forces to Sicily, while the rest of the senators departed, each to his separate post.

Thus was the whole of Italy up in arms, though no one could say what it was best to do. People from the suburbs flocked to Rome, while those within the city were quitting it as fast as possible, and such was the confusion that everybody interfered with Pompey's plans, each giving advice according as he was affected by doubt, fear, or grief. Then, again, all sorts of rumors about the enemy filled the air, and those who reported them to Pompey were angry if he did not believe and immediately act upon them. At length, almost beside himself with the uproar, Pompey determined to leave the city, and, commanding the senate to follow, he did so as soon as it was dark. The consuls did not even wait to offer the customary sacrifices to the gods before going to war, so anxious were they to be with the general whom they loved even when they found fault with his management.

A few days later Cæsar entered Rome, but he behaved with so much kindness and consideration towards the inhabitants that their fears were soon at rest. He took all the money he wanted from the public treasury, and then went after Pompey, resolved to drive him out of Italy before he could be joined by his forces from Spain.

Pompey hastened to Brundusium, where he had a number of ships, and, having fortified the town, waited there until his whole army had embarked, then, after sending his father-in-law, Scipio, and his son Cnæus to Syria to provide war-vessels, he went on shipboard himself and sailed away.

Cæsar was surprised at the end of sixty days to find himself master of Italy, and without having caused the least bloodshed; but he could not follow Pompey, because he had no ships, so he marched to Spain, hoping to win over the forces there. In this he succeeded, and then passed the Alps again and proceeded through Italy to Brundusium. Thence he crossed the sea and landed at Oricum. One of his prisoners, who was a friend to Pompey, was then sent to propose that both armies should be disbanded within three days and all return to Italy.

But Pompey, who had got together a grand army of the very flower of Italy, suspected a snare, and so hastened to the sea and secured all the forts and shipping stations. Then Cæsar was forced to give battle or run the risk of starvation, because Pompey's men were so placed that he could get no supplies. So he daily attacked Pompey's entrenchments, and usually had the advantage, but one day he was in danger of losing his army, for Pompey put his entire detachment to flight and killed two thousand men.

Provisions began to be scarce with Cæsar, so he marched on to Thessaly, and Pompey's men were so rejoiced at this, as well as at their recent victory, that they urged him to follow. But some of the officers advised him instead to return to Italy, take possession, and proclaim himself victor. That he could not do, because Scipio and others of high dignity would then be left to the mercy of Cæsar, so he decided that the next best thing for Rome was to keep the war as far away from her as possible. He therefore followed Cæsar, with the intention of avoiding a general battle, but of wearing him out with sieges. However, after a time he yielded to the demand of his officers and began an engagement, though against his better judgment.

When Cæsar saw Pompey's army drawn up for battle, he exclaimed, "The long-wished-for day is come on which we shall fight with men, and not with want and famine." He then ordered the red mantle, the signal of battle among the Romans, to be hoisted before his tent, and his soldiers no sooner saw it than they ran to arms with loud shouts of joy.

It is unnecessary to give all the details of this memorable battle. Pompey had twice the number of men that Cæsar had, and the fight was a desperate one on both sides. There were the same arms, troops marshalled in the same manner, the same standards, the strength and flower of one and the same nation turned upon itself. The tenth legion, which Cæsar commanded, signalized itself, as it always did, and towards the close of the battle put the enemy to flight. Utterly disheartened and bowed down by grief, Pompey quitted the ranks and retired to his tent, where he sat down without speaking a word until some of Cæsar's men entered. "What! into my camp too!" he exclaimed. Then, rising, he mounted his horse and rode away. He had very few people with him, and, finding that he was not pursued, he left his horse and walked slowly on. It must have been a sad moment for a man who for thirty-four years had been used to conquer when he found himself in his old age defeated and forced to fly from the battlefield. He passed on to Tempe, where, in a state of exhaustion, and burning with thirst, he threw himself upon his face and drank a deep draught from the river. He then went on to the sea-coast, and passed the night in the cabin of a poor fisherman. Next morning he went on board a boat, taking with him the freemen who had accompanied him, and bidding the slaves go to Cæsar and fear nothing.

A merchant-ship chanced to be lying off, just ready to set sail, and Pompey hailed it. The commander was a Roman citizen, named Peticius, who knew Pompey well, and no sooner did he recognize the fallen hero than he took him on board, and treated him with the utmost kindness and consideration. They sailed by Mitylene, where Cornelia awaited her husband. She was overwhelmed with grief when she beheld him with but one ship, and that not his own, but he consoled her as best he could, and assured her that he was ready to try his fortune again. For that purpose he sailed about and collected a navy, with which he determined to claim the hospitality of young King Ptolemy in Egypt. On arriving in Africa, he found that the king was posted with his army at the city of Pelusium. He sent a messenger to announce his arrival.

Ptolemy was very young, so, calling a council of his prime minister and ablest officers, he asked their advice. Some were for giving Pompey an honorable reception, while others advised the king to order him to depart, saying, "If you receive him, you will have Cæsar for your enemy and Pompey for your master. If you order him off, he may one day seek revenge, and Cæsar may resent your not having put him in his hands. The best method, therefore, is to send for him and put him to death. Thus you will do Cæsar a favor and have nothing to fear from Pompey. Dead men do not bite."

It was therefore decided that Pompey should be put to death, and Achillas was appointed to do the deed. He went in a small boat with Septimius, who had once been an officer under Pompey, and several others. They rowed up to the side of Pompey's ship, and Septimius greeted him in Latin, calling him Imperator, the highest title a Roman could have. Achillas saluted him in Greek, and invited him to step into his boat, saying that the water was too shallow near the shore for his vessel to go in. Pompey had his misgivings, but as by this time the coast was covered with troops, and several of Ptolemy's ships were ready to sail, there was nothing for him to do but obey. He therefore embraced Cornelia, who wept bitterly, and ordered one of his liberated slaves named Philip, and a servant named Scenes, to get into the boat before him. As he stepped in himself, he turned to his wife and repeated this verse of Sophocles:

"He that once enters at a tyrant's door

becomes a slave, though he were free before."

These were the last words he ever spoke to his friends.

As the boat was rowed to shore, Pompey noticed that not a man in it either spoke to him or showed him the slightest civility. That alarmed him, but he looked at Septimius and said, "Methinks I remember you to have been my fellow-soldier." Septimius answered only with a nod, and Pompey did not venture another remark. When he was about to step ashore, he took hold of Philip's hand to steady himself, and, as he did so, Septimius ran him through the body.

Pompey seized his robe and covered his face, not allowing a single groan to escape his lips, while Achillas and others despatched him with many blows.

Cornelia, who had been watching her husband from the galley, gave a shriek that was heard on shore when she witnessed the murder. Her friends weighed anchor immediately, and a brisk gale carried them out to sea so fast that the Egyptians did not think it worth while to pursue them.

Having cut off Pompey's head, the murderers threw the body out of the boat naked, but Philip washed it and wrapped it in one of his own garments; then, after hunting about for a long time, he found some rotten planks, with which he set to work to build a funeral pile. While he was thus engaged, an old Roman citizen, who in his youth had served in the wars under Pompey, came up to him and asked, "Who are you that are preparing the funeral of Pompey the Great?" "I am his freedman," answered Philip. "Nay, then, you shall not have this honor alone," returned the other; "let me, too, I pray you, have my share in this pious office, so that I may not repent of having passed so many years in a foreign land. Let me have the honor of touching and wrapping up the body of Pompey, the greatest general Rome ever had."

Not long after, Cæsar arrived in Egypt, and when Pompey's head was presented to him he turned aside and shuddered; when Pompey's seal was laid before him he burst into tears. Achillas he put to death, and King Ptolemy, being defeated in a battle on the banks of the Nile, ran away, and was never heard of afterwards.

The ashes of Pompey were carried to his wife, Cornelia, who buried them at his country-seat near Alba.