Marcus Caelius Rufus

Marcus Caelius Rufus

Marcus Caelius Rufus (82 BCE - 48 BCE) was a Roman orator and politician. He was born to an eques family in Interamnia (Teramo) or Puteoli. In his twenties he became associated with Crassus and Cicero, although he was also briefly connected to Lucius Sergius Catilina and his Catilinarian conspiracy. Caelius first achieved fame through his successful prosecution in 59 BC of Gaius Antonius Hybrida for corruption. Antonius had been co-consul with Cicero in 63 BC, and his prosecution was a sign of the negative political atmosphere towards Cicero at the time.

A year later, in 58 BCE, Cicero was exiled, partly through the efforts of his political enemy Publius Clodius Pulcher. Several years earlier, Clodius had infiltrated a ceremony at the house of Julius Caesar in honor of the Bona Dea dressed as a woman, because men were not allowed in. It is believed that he did this in order to carry on an affair with Pompeia, Caesar's wife. Although Clodius was acquitted, he never forgave Cicero for his testimony against him (some online sources list Cicero as one of the prosecuting lawyers, but Cicero's own letters [Ad Atticum 1.16] support that he was only one of the called witnesses). Clodius’ sister, Clodia, is believed to be the pseudonymous “Lesbia” that the poet Catullus wrote about.

Cicero was recalled from exile in 57 BCE with the help of his ally Titus Annius Milo, who was tribune at the time. Sometime around 57 BC, Marcus Caelius Rufus and Clodia are believed to have had an affair which ended acrimoniously. In 56, Caelius was prosecuted for vis (violence), specifically for murdering an ambassador. He was successfully defended by Crassus and, more famously, Cicero, whose speech Pro Caelio argued that the prosecutor, Atratinus, was being manipulated by Clodia Metelli to get revenge on Caelius for an affair gone wrong.

Catullus’ Poem 77 is about a “friend” named Rufus who betrays Catullus in an unspecified way. This could refer either to Rufus’ affair with Clodia/Lesbia, his unproven attempt to poison her, or his subsequent attacks on her through Cicero. The end of Poem 77 reads “Eripuisti, heu heu nostrae crudele venenum vitae, heu heu nostrae pestis amicitiae,” which translates to “You ripped it away, alas, alas cruel poison of our life alas, alas destroyer of our friendship.”

Rufus was elected to the office of tribune in 52 BC and the office of aedile in 50 BC. During this period he wrote a series of witty and informative letters to Cicero, who was serving as proconsul at the time. Soon he sided with Julius Caesar against Pompey in the Roman Civil War and was rewarded with the office of praetor peregrinus (“judge of suits involving foreigners”). However, when his proposed program of debt relief was opposed by the Senate and he was suspended from office, he joined Milo in a rebellion against Caesar which was quickly crushed. Both Rufus and Milo were executed.

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