This is a chapter of Julius Caesar’s Adventure with the Pirates Who Kidnapped Him, by Henry Gilbert.
Caesar remained with the pirates, accompanied only by Cinna, his friend and physician, and two body servants, Milo, his barber, and Cotta, his cook. A hut was reserved for himself and Cinna, and every morning he bathed in a pool on the seashore, and on his return Milo shaved him and trimmed his nails, and then crimped and curled his hair with tongs. Then he partook of his spare breakfast of pulse and bread, which had been prepared by Cotta, after which he would walk with Cinna, discussing some point of law, or the subject for a speech or poem. At the time of his capture, Caesar had been traveling to Rhodes to study oratory under Molo, a famous orator who lived there. Caesar was at this time only twenty-three years of age and had the ambition of becoming a senator. He had no inkling yet of the genius which he possessed for military leadership.
About midday he would take another spare meal —for Caesar, even as a young man, had the habit, so rare in his days, of eating and drinking little— after which, in the hottest time of the day, he would take his siesta, sleeping in his hut. At two o’clock he would take exercise by running, leaping, and throwing big stones, and at three he would bathe again, after which he rested and Cinna would read to him. His last meal would be taken at four o’clock, after which he would sit conversing or reading with Cinna, or declaiming a speech which he had thought out and noted down during the day. Soon after dark he would retire to his couch.
The pirates, observing his manner of life, used to laugh and jest among themselves about him, calling him “the dandy,” “the man-woman,” or “the lady.” They kept strict watch upon him, but this was because of his value, not that they feared he might try to escape. As the days went on, they began to have a feeling of contempt for one whose amusements, interests, and manner of life were wholly different from theirs. They found pleasure in rough and brutal sports, or games of chance, at which they quarreled and fought, sometimes to the death, while this stranger passed his day in bathing, talking, reading, and exercising his limbs. So fearful was he of his precious health, indeed, that he kept a physician continually about him. Such a creature as this Gaius Julius Caesar, this aristocrat, was only half a man!
When, therefore, one night, into their midst, as they sat roaring out songs over their cups, the physician entered, and, going boldly up to Spartakos, said that Caesar had sent him to tell them to keep silent, as he was about to sleep, looks of stupefied wonder gave way quickly to great guffaws of laughter at the insolence of the man-woman.
“And why should we keep quiet?” growled Spartakos.
“That little white man of yours would do well with a little hardship, and a night’s sleeplessness will do him good. Tell him I shall make all the noise I wish.”
“You are foolish, my friend,” replied Cinna. “You wish to get the ransom for my friend and master, I suppose?” The pirate assented. “My friend is a man of delicate health; sleep and a quiet life are necessary to him. If he were to die here, you would get no ransom, for the money is to be lodged with the Roman governor at Miletus and will only be given to you when Caesar goes there in person.”
Spartakos scowled; the logic of this stranger was unanswerable. “Tell your man-woman that I will keep my boys quiet,” he said.
Afterward, whenever the pirates forgot their promise and were noisy at night, Caesar sent and ordered them to keep silent, and they instantly subsided, though with muttered curses. After the first few days, Caesar spoke to several of them, getting them to talk of their exploits and leading them to reveal their true natures, in which craftiness, greed, and savagery mingled. Spartakos and Mikios he particularly chose to talk to, and, while he showed his contempt for their trade and their manners, and never let them forget the social gulf which lay between them, he entered into many of their games and diversions, got them to run and jump and throw balls with him, and to walk with him about the island.
The pirates could not understand him. He was frank in his manner, he laughed and jested with them, and, when he chose to be so, was excellent company. But they felt vaguely that he was not so soft a person as they had deemed him to be. He gave them orders as if he were their prince and they were merely his bodyguard. They resented this manner, but he was so fearless and his bearing was so lordly that they had to obey, willy-nilly. They felt that under his suavity and condescension of manner there was a determination that nothing could break.
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Once, Spartakos and Mikios and others with them were speaking of the cities they had taken, of the slaves they held in their strongholds in Cilicia, and of the many tributes they received from maritime cities and rich merchants as blackmail, so that they should not attack those cities or capture the vessels of the merchants.
“If there was any wit in your muddy minds,” said Caesar, “one or other of you would use your powers to still greater ends.”
“As how?” asked Spartakos.
“You would make yourself master of all the pirate bands within the waters of the Middle Sea, you would confederate many maritime States under your power, and —who knows?— if you had brains enough to bend the quarrels of Rome and Italy to your own ends, you could take the place of Rome herself, who hates the sea, and be master over all the lands and oceans of the world.”
He was half laughing as he spoke, in spite of the strange glow in his eyes, and they knew not whether he was speaking in jest or in earnest.
“But I fear you are men of too barbarous a taste to aim so high,” he went on. “Tell me, is it true, as men say, that you reverence not even the temples of the gods?”
“We care a straw for nothing,” said Spartakos savagely, incensed at the open contempt which this lord expressed for his captors, who usually experienced deference and fear in their prisoners. “And I think I would as soon slit your throat as have your money, my fine gentleman.”
Caesar laughed easily and ignored the other’s anger.
“If you did that, doubt not that you would rue it in a little while. What would my poor corpse benefit you? Think how you would curse yourself for a fool when you were told that fifty talents —three hundred thousand denarii— were waiting for you at Miletus, and all that you could offer for them was my poor clay! I thought you were men of business!”
“Aye, aye!” said some of the others, laughing at his mockery of their chief. “Spartakos will spare you for your money’s sake, but your tongue is too free.”
“Free, my friends!” said Caesar, his eyes flashing and scorn curling his lips. “I am used to speaking my mind freely even in the Forum at Rome, before men whose shoe latchets you are not fit to touch. Think you I should bridle my tongue for any one of your dirty knives?”
Most of the men laughed awkwardly; to take a man’s life was nothing to these rough sea robbers, but against their wills they were cowed by the utter fearlessness and pride of this Roman lord. Some found a zest in his insolence, and at any rate none of them would permit his life to be taken, unless, of course, his rich ransom never came to their hands.
Caesar rose from the log on which he sat and, folding his toga about him, prepared to go to his own hut.
“What insolence!” he said jestingly. “Barbarians as you are, not to appreciate a gentleman’s jests! Do you not know that a lord’s slaves laugh or cry with him to save their backs from the whip? Not only do you threaten me with death, but you resent my jokes. For such insolence, not one of you deserves less than the death of a common rogue, and, mark me, when I am free, I will see to it that you all get your deserts on the cross!”
This sally excited the men to much laughter. The daring of the thought tickled their sense of the humorous. To think that this man, so much in their power, should threaten to crucify them like any other poor robber whom Roman justice thrust upon a cross along a roadside! After all, the lord could make a good jest!
Caesar’s fearlessness among these cutthroats was a matter of wonder even to Cinna, his physician, who tried to dissuade him from trusting himself among them.
“My friend,” Caesar replied, “have no fear for me. These men value me too much to injure me. They are sorry rogues, indeed, but at least they enjoy the edge of my tongue.”