Life of Marius, 45

Plutarch  translated by Bernadotte Perrin

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45Meanwhile, as if a change of wind were coming on, messengers arrived from all quarters with reports that Sulla had finished the war with Mithridates, had recovered the provinces, and was sailing for home with a large force. This gave a brief stay and a slight cessation to the city’s unspeakable evils, since men supposed that the war was all but upon them. Accordingly, Marius was elected consul for the seventh time, and assuming office on the very Calends of January,[40] which is the first day of the year, he had a certain Sextus Lucinus thrown down the Tarpeian rock. This was thought to be a most significant portent of the evils that were once more to fall upon the partisans of Marius and upon the city.

2But Marius himself, now worn out with toils, deluged, as it were, with anxieties, and wearied, could not sustain his spirits, which shook within him as he again faced the overpowering thought of a new war, of fresh struggles, of terrors known by experience to be dreadful, and of utter weariness. He reflected, too, that it was not Octavius or Merula in command of a promiscuous throng and a seditious rabble against whom he was now to run the hazard of war, but that the famous Sulla was coming against him, the man who had once ejected him from the country, and had now shut Mithridates up to the shores of the Euxine Sea. 3Tortured by such reflections, and bringing into review his long wandering, his flights, and his perils, as he was driven over land and sea, he fell into a state of dreadful despair, and was a prey to nightly terrors and harassing dreams, wherein he would ever seem to hear a voice saying:—

“Dreadful, indeed, is the lions’ lair, even though it be empty.”[41]

And since above all things he dreaded the sleepless nights, he gave himself up to drinking-bouts and drunkenness at unseasonable hours and in a manner unsuited to his years, trying thus to induce sleep as a way of escape from his anxious thoughts. 4And finally, when one came with tidings from the sea, fresh terrors fell upon him, partly because he feared the future, and partly because he was wearied to satiety by the present, so that it needed only a slight impulse to throw him into a pleurisy, as Poseidonius the philosopher relates, who says that he went in personally and conversed with Marius on the subjects of his embassy after Marius had fallen ill. 5But a certain Caius Piso, an historian, relates that Marius, while walking about with his friends after supper, fell to talking about the events of his life, beginning with his earliest days, and after recounting his frequent reversals of fortune, from good to bad and from bad to good, said that it was not the part of a man of sense to trust himself to Fortune any longer; and after this utterance bade his friends farewell, kept his bed for seven days consecutively, and so died. 6Some, however, say that his ambitious nature was completely revealed during his illness by his being swept into a strange delusion. He thought that he had the command in the Mithridatic war, and then, just as he used to do in his actual struggles, he would indulge in all sorts of attitudes and gestures, accompanying them with shrill cries and frequent calls to battle. 7So fierce and inexorable was the passion for directing that war which had been instilled into him by his envy and lust of power. And therefore, though he had lived to be seventy years old, and was the first man to be elected consul for the seventh time, and was possessed of a house and wealth which would have sufficed for many kingdoms at once, he lamented his fortune, in that he was dying before he had satisfied and completed his desires.

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  • [40] 86 B.C.

  • [41] A hexameter verse of unknown authorship.

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