Scipio Aemilianus Chosen To Lead Expedition:
The next weeks were spent in such a hustle and bustle that Gaius hardly remembered either his old name or his new. He and Lavinia were married almost right away with the full Senate in attendance. But instead of bringing her home to his real father’s and mother’s house, they stayed in the house where she had grown up as Cato’s ward, Cato’s house. Scipio Aemilianus was picked to lead the expedition to Carthage. He was the adopted heir of Scipio Africanus, the hero of the Second Punic War. Gaius was given the rank of a tribune under Scipio.
Soldiers were taking on supplies. The Roman navy was repairing its vessels and buffing them up to make the journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Gaius Antonius and his fellow officers were taking the new and raw recruits out of town into the surrounding countryside to practice basic military maneuvers and exercises every day.
That morning before he left Cato’s house in town (they had not gone out to the latifundia lately because of all the military activity and meetings of the Senate) Cato summoned him into his office. He said, “The Roman army should plan to set sail for Carthage in about a week’s time. We don’t want to allow them too much time to take on supplies and build up their navy.”
“I am sure that sounds like the wisest course of action,” Gaius said to his new father.
They had held a big dinner for all the senators and their families only a few days ago right before the wedding. At the dinner Cato had declared that Gaius Antonius would be his new son and would carry his name and inherit his fortune and his lands. He would also take his place in the Senate when the time came, though everyone knew that no one could really do that. Certain papers and documents had been signed and witnessed. They had been handed over to the Vestal Virgins to keep in the House of the Vestal Virgins.
He promised Cato that he would do his best to stick on schedule. He was never more surprised than when in the middle of his military exercises his new wife, Lavinia, appeared on horseback. He excused himself and rushed over to her.
She hurried up to him with an expression of consternation on her face. “Gaius, Cato has been murdered!” she shouted.
He could hardly credit what she was saying. “What on earth are you talking about?” he asked his wife. “I just got done talking to him about leaving for Carthage within a week’s time!”
She gripped his military vest. “I went into his office to talk to him after luncheon. He was lying slumped on his writing desk. At first I thought he was asleep. But then I saw the arrow in his shoulder.”
Gaius could not take it all in. But he knew he had to act right away. He returned to his unit briefly to make his excuses that family matters had to be attended to. He was not going to repeat what his wife had said until he saw what was going on with his own two eyes. He saddled his own horse and followed her back into town to Cato’s house.
He hurried into his new father’s study. Things were just as she had told him. Only a frightened slave had hurriedly been appointed to watch things and make sure nothing was disturbed until they got back. He hurried up to Lavinia and practically hung on her for reassurance while Gaius dashed right up to Cato.
He took Cato by the shoulders and shook him, calling upon his name, “Cato, Cato, speak to me!” In life that was the most important thing he always did —- speak. His eyes were staring as lifeless as Lavinia had told him. But unlike Lavinia his eyes caught sight of a notepad next to Cato’s hand which was still holding his pen, very fitting to the last. On a piece of papyrus he had managed to scrawl, “The Carthaginians have killed me —- shot me through the window. Carthago delenda est.”
Indeed when Gaius turned the window in question was still open. He went to look and horrifyingly enough he could still detect the presence of human feet in the dust. They had left their incriminating shoe prints behind. Not that he would ever doubt what his father said, but this was all too accurate to be borne.
Gaius could not ask Cato what to do now. Cato was no more. He was now Cato. People would look to him to act as his father would have.
Keeping his wits about him he summoned Scipio Aemilianus to his house right away. Scipio rushed away from the military field and came right away. When he saw what tragedy had occurred he immediately decided, “We must sail even sooner than one week against Carthage.”
Gaius nodded. “I would whole heartedly agree. That is what Cato would have said.”
The next day they arranged for Cato’s funeral in the Forum in front of all Rome because this was a decisive event in the history of the Roman Republic. Many would always remember this day and tell their children and children’s children about it.
Gaius made a speech as the funeral pyre was lighted and Cato joined his noble ancestors. “On this day Rome resolves to do whatever it takes to defeat our mortal enemy, Carthage.”
“We should not have allowed them to pay reparations for the past fifty years. Then this horrible tragedy would not have occurred,” he said.
Again the mob cheered.
“Now we must complete what we started in the time of our grandfathers. And in the words of my father, the great man that all Rome depended upon to see the right course for it to follow, the very last words that the dying man wrote on this piece of papyrus for us all to see after he had been struck by an arrow —- Carthago delenda est. Carthage must be destroyed.”
Gaius waved Cato’s last paper in the air over his head. The mob errupted into vengeful cheers that seemed to raise the roofs of the surrounding buildings. They did not stop shouting until Cato’s funeral was over and he was buried in a family mausoleum along the Appian Way.
The entire city state was mobilized as never before. They were all resolved to avenge Cato’s death by destroying Carthage. They had determined to leave Rome in five days’ time.
But the very next night his wife, Lavinia, awoke him. They had retired for one night to the latifundia to enlist the slaves who would go with them to war and not be left behind along with the small tenant farmers surrounding Cato’s estate. She complained that she was having a strange dream that made her restless and would not let her sleep. She kept on thinking that something or somebody was outside the window.
That was only natural considering what had just happened to her Uncle Cato. She urged her husband to look. Then she pointed leaning out the window herself. “Look down there at the sea! Look at that ship!”
Gaius followed Lavinia’s pointed finger. She indeed had a keen eye. He recognized the ship immediately under a bright moon. It was the very ship that he had drawn on the map for Cato, the one with the big sails. And he did not think he was imagining it when he thought he recognized the woman’s figure on the prow of the ship as it passed underneath the headland at the edge of the latifundia. Why, that was Tanit! She had returned to Rome to murder Cato.