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Q. Hortensius Hortalus Hortensius.1

QUINTUS HORTENSIUS, one of the most distinguished of the Roman orators, was born B.C. 114 of an equestrian Roman family. He began to plead at a very early age, and had already attained a great reputation in his profession when Cicero made his appearance in the forum. From that time Cicero and Hortensius were considered as professional rivals, but they lived on friendly, and even intimate, terms with each other, as Cicero acknowledges in several of his writings. At the beginning of his book " De Claris Oratoribus," Cicero pays an eloquent and ap. parently sincere tribute of praise to the memory of Hortensius, who was then lately dead. He styles him his friend and adviser, who often assisted him in their common career, "being not, as many imagined, ,8 a rival or detractor of his fame, but a fellow-labourer in a glorious vocation" ; and yet in some of his letters Cicero had bitterly complained of the duplicity and ungenerous conduct of Hortensius towards him when he was obliged to quit Rome in the Clodian business. Hortensius went through the regular career of public offices and honours; he was made in succession quaestor, sedile, praetor, and lastly consul, with Q. Csecilius Metellus Creticus, B. C. 69.

The character of Hortensius was rather fitted to conciliate than to command-to call forth regard rather than esteem. He was not at all scrupulous about the means he took to gain verdicts; but in considering this, we must not forget the low state of Roman manners (not to speak of morals) at this period. Personally he seems to stand above suspicion of corruption. Yet his enormous wealth was not all well-gotten. Though he was honest as quaestor, though he would not accept a province to drain it of its riches, yet no doubt he shared the plunder of provinces, not immediately indeed, but in the shape of large fees and presents from the Dolabellas and other persons like Verres, whom he so often and so successfully defended. He liked to live at Rome and at his villas; he loved an easy life and a fair fame, had little ambition, and therefore avoided all acts that might have made him amenable to prosecution. The same easy temper, joined as it often is with a kind heart and generous disposition, won him many friends; and perhaps we may say that he had no enemies. He lived to a good age, little disturbed by ill health, surrounded by all that wealth can give, alive to all his enjoyments, with as much of active occupation as he desired, without being disturbed by the political turbulence of his times. He died, just at the time when civil war broke out, a complete specimen of an amiable Epicurean.

His eloquence was of the florid or (as it was termed) "Asiatic" style, fitter for hearing than for reading. Yet he did write his speeches -- on occasions at least. His voice was soft and musical; his memory so ready and retentive, that he is said to have been able to come out of a sale-room and repeat the auction list backward.

Of his luxurious habits many stories are told. His house on the Palatine was that afterwards occupied by Augustus; but this was comparatively simple and modest. In his villas no expense was spared. The most splendid of these was that near Laurentum Here he laid up such a stock of wine that he left Io,ooo casks of Chian to his heir. Here he had a park full of all sorts of animals; and it was customary, during his sumptuous dinners, for a slave, dressed like Orpheus, to issue forth from the woods with these creatures following the sound of his cithara. At Bauli he had immense fish ponds, into which the sea came. The fish were so tame that they would feed from his hand; none of them were molested, for he used to buy for his table at Puteoli, and he was so fond of them that he is said to have wept for the death of a favorite murena. He was also very curious in trees, which he is said to have fed with wine. In pictures also he must have spent large sums, at least he gave 144,000 sesterces for a single work from the hand of Cydias. It is a characteristic trait, that he came forward from his retirement to oppose the sumptuary law of Pompey and Crassus, and spoke so eloquently and wittily as to procure its rejection. He was the first person at Rome who brought peacocks to table. He was not happy in his family. By his first wife, the daughter of Catulus, he had one son. It was after the death of Lutatia that the curious transaction took place by which he bought or borrowed Marcia, the wife of Cato. He is acquitted of sensual profligacy by Plutarch, though he wrote love songs not of the most chaste description.

He died B. C. 50, while Cicero was returning from his government of Cilicia, and Cicero considers it a continuation of the good fortune which had attended him through life, that he died just before the breaking out of civil war, and was thus spared the grief of seeing the fall of the republic. The "Orations" of Hortensius, which are mentioned by Cicero and Quintilian, are lost, as well as his "Annals," and some erotic poems which he is said to have written.



Suetonius, Lives (English) (XML Header) [genre: prose] [word count] [Suet.].
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