“Non enim Caesarem ... sum secutus, sed amicum.”
Gaius Matius, the subject of this sketch, was neither a great warrior, nor statesman, nor writer. If his claim to remembrance rested on what he did in the one or the other of these roles, he would long ago have been forgotten. It is his genius for friendship which has kept his memory green, and that is what he himself would have wished. Of his early life we know little, but it does not matter much, because the interest which he has for us centres about his relations to Caesar in early manhood. Being of good birth, and a man of studious tastes, he probably attended the University at Athens, and heard lectures there as young Cicero and Messala did at a later period. He must have been a man of fine tastes and cultivation, for Cicero, in writing to a friend, bestows on Matius the title “doctissimus,” the highest literary compliment which one Roman could pay another, and Apollodorus of Pergamum dedicated to him his treatise on rhetoric. Since he was born about 84 B.C., he returned from his years of study at Athens about the time when Caesar was setting out on his brilliant campaign in Gaul. Matius joined him, attracted perhaps by the personal charms of the young proconsul, perhaps by the love of adventure, perhaps, like his friend Trebatius, by the hope of making a reputation.
At all events he was already with Caesar somewhere in Gaul in 53 B.C., and it is hard to think of an experience better suited to lay bare the good and the bad qualities in Caesar’s character than the years of camp life which Matius spent with him in the wilds of Gaul and Britain. As aide-de-camp, or orderly, for such a position he probably held, his place was by Caesar’s side. They forded the rivers together, walked or rode through woodland or open side by side, shared the same meagre rations, and lay in the same tent at the end of the day’s march, ready to spring from the ground at a moment’s warning to defend each other against attack from the savage foe. Caesar’s narrative of his campaigns in Gaul is a soldier’s story of military movements, and perhaps from our school-boy remembrance of it we may have as little a liking for it as Horace had for the poem of Livius Andronicus, which he studied under “Orbilius of the rods,” but even the obscurities of the Latin subjunctive and ablative