This is a chapter of Julius Caesar’s Adventure with the Pirates Who Kidnapped Him, by Henry Gilbert.
One day Caesar went to a party of the pirates, as they sat after their evening meal, and told them he would recite an oration which he had composed. It was a revised version of the final portion of the speech which he had given in the Forum when he had impeached Antonius Hybrida for corrupt government in Macedonia. With all solemnity, while the men gaped at him in wonder, he told them that this speech had always dissatisfied him, and, more than any of his other orations, had convinced him that a few sessions with the great orator Molo at Rhodes —whither he had been proceeding when their rascalities had seized his person— were necessary to perfect him in the art of rhetoric.
Then for some time he exerted all his gifts of eloquence upon the group of wretches before him. With every addition of fine phrasing, noble gesture, and telling intonation, he strove to make them realize the force of the arguments by which he sought to prove how utterly evil and injurious to the State had been the actions of the governor in taking bribes from suitors and from merchants and in robbing travelers of their goods. But all his efforts were in vain: the pirates were not impressed in the least and even laughed at him, and halfway through his oration many turned aside and began to play dice or a game with small bones called mora.
When he ended, Caesar looked sourly at them as they lolled in their places. Some joked about the gestures he had made; Spartakos said it seemed a lot to say about a man who had taken a few goods and trifling sums of gold; while another ruffian, supposed to be a very comic fellow, began to create roars of laughter in one corner by imitating Caesar’s motions and looks while he talked.
“Dolts and barbarians!” cried Caesar. “It is like throwing pearls to swine or giving gold to asses to lay before you the riches of oratory such as I possess!”
“You learned men seem to do little else but talk,” growled Syrus. “As for us seamen, we may be rough men, but we do much more than we talk about. Give me a man who does things, not one who mouths about what other men have done!”
“Dunce!” said Caesar, with a scornful smile. “I suppose you will never learn that words can sway men much more than your brutal deeds with knife and javelin. Oh, I shall take the greatest pleasure in hanging you all when I am free again!”
Saying which, he walked away with great dignity, flinging his toga about him with a lordly gesture.
The pirates laughed as he left them.
“What a fool the man is!” said Spartakos scoffingly. “He is all words. Never hath he told us of anything he himself hath done.”
“I told him as much,” said Syrus. “I doubt not he would turn sick to see a man killed. To talk of crucifying us!”
On other occasions, Caesar delivered orations to the pirates and even recited some of his poems to them. He saw, indeed, that they had no appreciation for anything so strange to their way of life as oratory and poetry, but his masterful and imperious character, which knew no fear of their brutal natures, caused him to impress himself upon them in this way. And so great a mixture of pleasantry and mastery was in his bearing to these men that some began to feel the charm which in later years he exercised so powerfully over his rough soldiers in Spain and Gaul. Mikios in particular felt a kind of devotion for this fearless and wonderful stranger and often went aside to speak to Caesar, who treated him with the haughty familiarity which a great man might show for a freedman or favorite slave.
Once, Mikios put to him the question which had been exercising his mind ever since the day on which the pirate leaders had talked about the sacking of temples.
“Do you think, Caesar,” he said, “that the old gods still have power to avenge themselves upon those who insult or injure them? As for me,” Mikios went on truculently, I fear them not. Mithras the bull god is strong enough for me.”
“Why do you ask, then, my friend?” asked Caesar, with a little smile.
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“Oh,” was the answer, “some have said that men who have sacked temples have been slain by the gods whose fanes they had destroyed.”
“Have you sacked a temple?”
“I have,” replied Mikios, assuming a look of ferocity designed to impress his listener with a sense of his utter fearlessness of things both human and divine.
Caesar glanced at the man as he sat in his soiled and ragged tunic, with bare legs and feet thrust into rough leather boots. Mikios had a heavy gold chain about his red, hairy neck and bosom, and thick rings in his ears. A kerchief was tied around his unkempt locks, and his face, tanned a deep red by wind and sun, wore the look of mingled craft and brutality which was common to all the pirates.
“Whose temple have you polluted, barbarian?” asked the patrician.
“We sacked the temple of Venus at Samos,” was the reply, “slit the throats of the priests and priestesses, and emptied the treasury. Then we sent up the temple in fire and smoke — all that would burn!”
“You destroyed the temple of Venus at Samos!” repeated Caesar, and his tone had something of the mercilessness of a judge giving sentence, so that Mikios was stirred in spite of his air of bravado. “Of a surety, the goddess will avenge herself — rest assured that you shall not escape!”
Caesar rose from his seat and withdrew without another word. For a little while, Mikios sat silent, his superstitious mind chilled by the pronouncement of doom as from the lips of an oracle. He recovered himself in a little while and laughed awkwardly.