Gaius Matius

Gaius Matius, a Friend of Cæsar

"Non enim Cæsarem ... sum secutus, sed amicum."

Gaius Matius, the subject of this sketch, was neither a great warrior, nor statesman, nor writer. If his claim to remembrance rested on what he did in the one or the other of these rôles, he would long ago have been forgotten. It is his genius for friendship which has kept his memory green, and that is what he himself would have wished. Of his early life we know little, but it does not matter much, because the interest which he has for us centres about his relations to Cæsar in early manhood. Being of good birth, and a man of studious tastes, he probably attended the University at Athens, and heard lectures there as young Cicero and Messala did at a later period. He must have been a man of fine tastes and cultivation, for Cicero, in writing to a friend, bestows on Matius the title "doctissimus," the highest literary compliment which one Roman could pay another, and Apollodorus of Per gamum dedicated to him his treatise on rhetoric. Since he was born about 84 B.C., he returned from his years of study at Athens about the time when Cæsar was setting out on his brilliant campaign in Gaul. Matius joined him, attracted perhaps by the personal charms of the young proconsul, perhaps by the love of adventure, perhaps, like his friend Trebatius, by the hope of making a reputation.

At all events he was already with Cæsar somewhere in Gaul in 53 B.C., and it is hard to think of an experience better suited to lay bare the good and the bad qualities in Cæsar's character than the years of camp life which Matius spent with him in the wilds of Gaul and Britain. As aide-de-camp, or orderly, for such a position he probably held, his place was by Cæsar's side. They forded the rivers together, walked or rode through woodland or open side by side, shared the same meagre rations, and lay in the same tent at the end of the day's march, ready to spring from the ground at a moment's warning to defend each other against attack from the savage foe. Cæsar's narrative of his campaigns in Gaul is a soldier's story of military movements, and perhaps from our school-boy remembrance of it we may have as little a liking for it as Horace had for the poem of Livius Andronicus, which he studied under "Orbilius of the rods," but even the obscurities of the Latin subjunctive and ablative cannot have blinded us entirely to the romance of the desperate siege of Alesia and the final struggle which the Gauls made to drive back the invader. Matius shared with Cæsar all the hardships and perils of that campaign, and with Cæsar he witnessed the final scene of the tragedy when Vercingetorix, the heroic Gallic chieftain, gave up his sword, and the conquest of Gaul was finished. It is little wonder that Matius and the other young men who followed Cæsar were filled with admiration of the man who had brought all this to pass.

It was a notable group, including Trebatius, Hirtius, Pansa, Oppius, and Matius in its number. All of them were of the new Rome. Perhaps they were dimly conscious that the mantle of Tiberius Gracchus had fallen upon their leader, that the great political struggle which had been going on for nearly a century was nearing its end, and that they were on the eve of a greater victory than that at Alesia. It would seem that only two of them, Matius and Trebatius, lived to see the dawning of the new day. But it was not simply nor mainly the brilliancy of Cæsar as a leader in war or in politics which attracted Matius to him. As he himself puts it in his letter to Cicero: "I did not follow a Cæsar, but a friend." Lucullus and Pompey had made as distinguished a record in the East as Cæsar had in the West, but we hear of no such group of able young men following their fortunes as attached themselves to Cæsar. We must find a reason for the difference in the personal qualities of Cæsar, and there is nothing that more clearly proves the charm of his character than the devotion to him of this group of men. In the group Matius is the best representative of the man and the friend. When Cæsar came into his own, Matius neither asked for nor accepted the political offices which Cæsar would gladly have given him. One needs only to recall the names of Antony, Labienus, or Decimus Brutus to realize the fact that Cæsar remembered and rewarded the faithful services of his followers. But Matius was Cæsar's friend and nothing more, not his master of the horse, as Antony was, nor his political and financial heir, as Octavius was. In his loyalty to Cæsar he sought for no other reward than Cæsar's friendship, and his services to him brought with them their own return. Indeed, through his friend he suffered loss, for one of Cæsar's laws robbed him of a part of his estate, as he tells us, but this experience did not lessen his affection. How different his attitude was from that of others who professed a friendship for Cæsar! Some of them turned upon their leader and plotted against his life, when disappointed in the favors which they had received at his hands, and others, when he was murdered, used his name and his friendship for them to advance their own ambitious designs. Antony and Octavius struggle with each other to catch the reins of power which have fallen from his hands; Dolabella, who seems to regard himself as an understudy of Cæsar, plays a serio-comic part in Rome in his efforts to fill the place of the dead dictator; while Decimus Brutus hurries to the North to make sure of the province which Cæsar had given him.

From these men, animated by selfishness, by jealousy, by greed for gain, by sentimentalism, or by hypocritical patriotism, Matius stands aloof, and stands perhaps alone. For him the death of Cæsar means the loss of a friend, of a man in whom he believed. He can find no common point of sympathy either with those who rejoice in the death of the tyrant, as Cicero does, for he had not thought Cæsar a tyrant, nor with those who use the name of Cæsar to conjure with. We have said that he accepted no political office. He did accept an office, that of procurator, or superintendent, of the public games which Cæsar had vowed on the field of Pharsalus, but which death had stepped in to prevent him from giving, and it was in the pious fulfilment of this duty which he took upon himself that he brought upon his head the anger of the "auctores libertatis," as he ironically calls them. He had grieved, too, at the death of Cæsar, although "a man ought to rate the fatherland above a friend," as the liberators said. Matius took little heed of this talk. He had known of it from the outset, but it had not troubled him. Yet when it came to his ears that his friend Cicero, to whom he had been attached from boyhood, to whom he had proved his fidelity at critical moments, was among his accusers, he could not but complain bitterly of the injustice. Through a common friend, Trebatius, whose acquaintance he had made in Gaul, he expresses to Cicero the sorrow which he feels at his unkindness. What Cicero has to say in explanation of his position and in defence of himself, we can do no better than to give in his own words:

"Cicero to Matins, greeting:145

"I am not yet quite clear in my own mind whether our friend Trebatius, who is as loyal as he is devoted to both of us, has brought me more sorrow or pleasure: for I reached my Tusculan villa in the evening, and the next day, early in the morning, he came to see me, though he had not yet recovered his strength. When I reproved him for giving too little heed to his health, he said that nothing was nearer his heart than seeing me. 'There's nothing new,' say I? He told me of your grievance against me, yet before I make any reply in regard to it, let me state a few facts.

"As far back as I can recall the past I have no friend of longer standing than you are; but long duration is a thing characteristic of many friendships, while love is not. I loved you on the day I met you, and I believed myself loved by you. Your subsequent departure, and that too for a long time, my electoral canvass, and our different modes of life did not allow our inclination toward one another to be strengthened by intimacy; still I saw your feeling toward me many years before the Civil War, while Cæsar was in Gaul; for the result which you thought would be of great advantage to me and not of disadvantage to Cæsar himself you accomplished: I mean in bringing him to love me, to honor me, to regard me as one of his friends. Of the many confidential communications which passed between us in those days, by word of mouth, by letter, by message, I say nothing, for sterner times followed. At the breaking out of the Civil War, when you were on your way toward Brundisium to join Cæsar, you came to me to my Formian villa. In the first place, how much did that very fact mean, especially at those times! Furthermore, do you think I have forgotten your counsel, your words, the kindness you showed? I remember that Trebatius was there. Nor indeed have I forgotten the letter which you sent to me after meeting Cæsar, in the district near Trebula, as I remember it. Next came that ill-fated moment when either my regard for public opinion, or my sense of duty, or chance, call it what you will, compelled me to go to Pompey. What act of kindness or thoughtfulness either toward me in my absence or toward my dear ones in Rome did you neglect? In fact, whom have all my friends thought more devoted to me and to themselves than you are? I came to Brundisium. Do you think I have forgotten in what haste, as soon as you heard of it, you came hurrying to me from Tarentum? How much your presence meant to me, your words of cheer to a courage broken by the fear of universal disaster! Finally, our life at Rome began. What element did our friendship lack? In most important matters I followed your advice with reference to my relations toward Cæsar; in other matters I followed my own sense of duty. With whom but myself, if Cæsar be excepted, have you gone so far as to visit his house again and again, and to spend there many hours, oftentimes in the most delightful discourse? It was then too, if you remember, that you persuaded me to write those philosophical essays of mine. After his return, what purpose was more in your thoughts than to have me as good a friend of Cæsar as possible? This you accomplished at once.

"What is the point, then, of this discourse, which is longer than I had intended it should be? This is the point, that I have been surprised that you, who ought to see these things, have believed that I have taken any step which is out of harmony with our friendly relations, for beside these facts which I have mentioned, which are undisputed and self-evident facts, there are many more intimate ties of friendship which I can scarcely put in words. Everything about you charms me, but most of all, on the one hand, your perfect loyalty in matters of friendship, your wisdom, dignity, steadfastness; on the other hand, your wit, refinement, and literary tastes.

"Wherefore—now I come back to the grievance—in the first place, I did not think that you had voted for that law; in the second place, if I had thought so, I should never have thought that you had done it without some sufficient reason. Your position makes whatever you do noticeable; furthermore, envy puts some of your acts in a worse light than the facts warrant. If you do not hear these rumors I do not know what to say. So far as I am concerned, if I ever hear them I defend you as I know that I  am always defended by you  against my  detractors. And my defence follows two lines: there are some things which I always deny in toto, as, for instance, the statement in regard to that very vote; there are other acts of yours which I maintain were dictated by considerations of affection and kindness, as, for instance, your action with reference to the management of the games. But it does not escape you, with all your wisdom, that, if Cæsar was a king—which seems to me at any rate to have been the case—with respect of your duty two positions may be maintained, either the one which I am in the habit of taking, that your loyalty and friendship to Cæsar are to be praised, or the one which some people take, that the freedom of one's fatherland is to be esteemed more than the life of one's friend. I wish that my discussions springing out of these conversations had been repeated to you.

"Indeed, who mentions either more gladly or more frequently than I the two following facts, which are especially to your honor? The fact that you were the most influential opponent of the Civil War, and that you were the most earnest advocate of temperance in the moment of victory, and in this matter I have found no one to disagree with me. Wherefore I am grateful to our friend Trebatius for giving me an opportunity to write this letter, and if you are not convinced by it, you will think me destitute of all sense of duty and kindness; and nothing more serious to me than that or more foreign to your own nature can happen."

In all the correspondence of Cicero there is not a letter written with more force and delicacy of feeling, none better suited to accomplish its purpose than this letter to Matius. It is a work of art; but in that fact lies its defect, and in that respect it is in contrast to the answer which it called forth from Matius, The reply of Matius stands on a level with another better-known non-Ciceronian epistle, the famous letter of condolence which Servius wrote to Cicero after the death of Cicero's daughter, Tullia; but it is finer, for, while Servius is stilted and full of philosophical platitudes, Matius, like Shakespeare's Antony, "only speaks right on," in telling Cicero of his grief at Cæsar's death, of his indignation at the intolerant attitude of the assassins, and his determination to treasure the memory of Cæsar at any cost. This is his letter:

"Matius to Cicero, greeting 146

"I derived great pleasure from your letter, because I saw that you held such an opinion about me as I had hoped you would hold, and wished you to hold; and although, in regard to that opinion, I had no misgivings, still, inasmuch as I considered it a matter of the greatest importance, I was anxious that it should continue unchanged. And then I was conscious of having done nothing to offend any good citizen; therefore I was the less inclined to believe that you, endowed as you are with so many excellent qualities, could be influenced by any idle rumors, especially as my friendship toward you had been and was sincere and unbroken. Since I know that matters stand in this respect as I have wished them to stand, I will reply to the charges, which you have often refuted in my behalf in such a way as one would expect from that kindness of heart characteristic of you and from our friendship. It is true that what men said against me after the death of Cæsar was known to me. They call it a sin of mine that I sorrow over the death of a man dear to me, and because I grieve that he whom I loved is no more, for they say that 'fatherland should be above friendship,' just as if they had proved already that his death has been of service to the state. But I will make no subtle plea. I confess that I have not attained to your high philosophic planes; for, on the one hand, in the Civil War I did not follow a Cæsar, but a friend, and although I was grieved at the state of things, still I did not desert him; nor, on the other hand, did I at any time approve of the Civil War, nor even of the reason for strife, which I most earnestly sought to extinguish when it was kindling. Therefore, in the moment of victory for one bound to me by the closest ties, I was not captivated by the charm either of public office or of gold, while his other friends, although they had less influence with him than I, misused these rewards in no small degree. Nay, even my own property was impaired by a law of Cæsar's, thanks to which very law many who rejoice at the death of Cæsar have remained at Rome. I have worked as for my own welfare that conquered citizens might be spared.

"Then may not I, who have desired the welfare of all, be indignant that he, from whom this favor came, is dead? especially since the very men who were forgiven have brought him both unpopularity and death. You shall be punished, then, they say, 'since you dare to disapprove of our deed.' Unheard of arrogance, that some men glory in their crime, that others may not even sorrow over it without punishment! But it has always been the unquestioned right, even of slaves, to fear, to rejoice, to grieve according to the dictates of their own feelings rather than at the bidding of another man; of these rights, as things stand now, to judge from what these champions of freedom keep saying, they are trying to deprive us by intimidation; but their efforts are useless. I shall never be driven by the terrors of any danger from the path of duty or from the claims of friendship, for I have never thought that a man should shrink from an honorable death; nay, I have often thought that he should seek it. But why are they angry at me, if I wish them to repent of their deed? for I desire to have Cæsar's death a bitter thing to all men.

"'But I ought as a citizen to desire the wel fare of the state.' Unless my life in the past and my hope for the future, without words from me, prove that I desire that very end, I do not seek to establish the fact by words. Wherefore I beg you the more earnestly to consider deeds more than words, and to believe, if you feel that it is well for the right to prevail, that I can have no intercourse with dishonorable men. For am I now, in my declining years, to change that course of action which I maintained in my youth, when I might even have gone astray with hope of indulgence, and am I to undo my life's work? I will not do so. Yet I shall take no step which may be displeasing to any man, except to grieve at the cruel fate of one most closely bound to me, of one who was a most illustrious man. But if I were otherwise minded, I would never deny what I was doing lest I should be regarded as shameless in doing wrong, a coward and a hypocrite in concealing it.

"'Yet the games which the young Cæsar gave in memory of Cæsar's victory I superintended.' But that has to do with my private obligation and not with the condition of the state; a duty, however, which I owed to the memory and the distinguished position of a dear friend even though he was dead, a duty which I could not decline when asked by a young man of most excellent promise and most worthy of Cæsar. 'I even went frequently to the house of the consul Antony to pay my respects!' to whom you will find that those who think that I am lacking in devotion to my country kept coming in throngs to ask some favor forsooth or secure some reward. But what arrogance this is that, while Cæsar never interfered with my cultivating the friendship of men whom I pleased, even when he himself did not like them, these men who have taken my friend from me should try to prevent me by their slander from loving those whom I will.

"But I am not afraid lest the moderation of my life may prove too weak to withstand false reports, or that even those who do not love me because of my loyalty to Cæsar may not prefer to have friends like me rather than like themselves. So far as I myself am concerned, if what I prefer shall be my lot, the life which is left me I shall spend in retirement at Rhodes; but if some untoward circumstance shall prevent it, I shall live at Rome in such a wise as to desire always that right be done. Our friend Trebatius I thank heartily in that he has disclosed your sincere and friendly feeling toward me, and has shown me that him whom I have always loved of my own free will I ought with the more reason to esteem and honor. Bene vale et me dilige."

With these words our knowledge of Matius comes almost to an end. His life was prolonged into the imperial period, and, strangely enough, in one of the few references to him which we find at a later date, he is characterized as "the friend of Augustus" (divi Augusti amicus). It would seem that the affection which he felt for Cæsar he transferred to Cæsar's heir and successor. He still holds no office or title. In this connection it is interesting to recall the fact that we owe the best of Cicero's philosophical work to him, the "Academics," the "De Finibus," and the "Tusculan Questions," for Cicero tells us in his letter that he was induced to write his treatises on philosophy by Matius. It is a pleasant thing to think that to him we may also be indebted for Cicero's charming essay "On Friendship." The later life of Matius, then, we may think was spent in retirement, in the study of philosophy, and in the pursuit of literature. His literary pursuits give a homely and not unpleasant touch to his character. They were concerned with gastronomy, for Columella, in the first century of our era, tells us 147  that Matius composed three books, bearing the titles of "The Cook," "The Butler," and "The Picklemaker," and his name was transmitted to a later generation in a dish known as "mincemeat à la Matius" (minutal Matianum ).148  He passes out of the pages of history in the writings of Pliny the Elder as the man who "invented the practice of clipping shrubbery."149  To him, then, we perhaps owe the geometrical figures, and the forms of birds and beasts which shrubs take in the modern English garden. His memory is thus ever kept green, whether in a way that redounds to his credit or not is left for the reader to decide.

145. Cicero, Epistulæ ad famiares, 11.27.

146. Cicero, Epist. ad fam., 11.28.

147. 12.46.1.

148. Apicius, 4.174.

149. Naturalis Historia, 12.13.