In the Roman calendar, much of April was occupied with the celebration of public holidays. With the Senate adjourned for the Ludi Megalenses holiday, and with the eight-day Ludi Ceriales holiday due to run soon through the middle of the month, Marcus Cicero had decided to leave Rome and spend much of the month in the country.
In the Senate, Cicero had taken the lead in attempts to rein in bids for power from Antony, Lepidus, and Dolabella, and by and large he had been successful. Influenced by Cicero, the Senate had not voted to deprive Albinus of his governorship of Cisalpine Gaul, contrary to Antony’s plan. But by way of compensation it had granted Antony, as consul, permission to raise a military force to maintain law and order at the capital. There was after all strong precedent—in times past, the praetors and then the consuls had maintained such a force at Rome. Cicero feared Antony most, because of his authority as consul and the direction he was taking. All this time, ever since Caesar’s funeral, Brutus, Cassius, and the other leading Liberators had lain low in the country and played no part in political affairs at the capital, relying on Cicero and other public-spirited senators to look after their interests and the interests of democracy.
Leaving Rome on the morning of April 7, Cicero made a stop at the country villa, not far south of the capital, of Gaius Oppius. An Equestrian, Oppius had faithfully served on Caesar’s staff right through the conquest of Gaul and the Civil War, maintaining his friendship with Cicero throughout that time. Not only was Cicero in quest of refreshment and a respite from his journey, he also was intent on gauging Oppius’s view of the state of public affairs, Oppius being a confirmed Caesarian.
Oppius was depressed. “Our problems are insoluble,” he frankly informed Cicero. “For, if a man of Caesar’s genius could find no way out, who will find one now?” When Cicero replied that he tended to agree with his friend, Oppius, with relish, declared, “Rome is finished! The Gauls will be up within three weeks.”¹
Oppius had been at Caesar’s side throughout the subjugation of Gaul. He had seen the Gauls rise in revolt under Vercingetorix in 52 B.C., and bore witness to the fact that it had only been with difficulty and great loss of life that Caesar had quelled that uprising. With Caesar gone, and with Rome divided against itself, Oppius rightly saw this as the ideal time for the Gauls to again attempt to throw out their Roman overlords. It is in fact remarkable that Gaul remained peaceful throughout the ructions that Rome went through following Caesar’s death.
Cicero asked Oppius to whom he had spoken since the Ides of March, and Oppius replied that he had only seen Marcus Lepidus in the past twenty-three days. After speaking with Lepidus, Oppius had come to a pessimistic conclusion. “It cannot all just pass quietly off,” he told Cicero.²
“Wise Oppius!” Cicero glumly wrote to his friend Atticus that night. “He regrets Caesar no less, but says nothing which any honest man could take wrongly.”³
The next day, Cicero would resume his journey to his seaside villa at Puteoli.