It is no great wonder if in long process of time, while fortune takes her course hither and thither, numerous coincidences should spontaneously occur. If the number and variety of subjects to be wrought upon be infinite,
it is all the more easy for fortune, with such an abundance of material, to effect this similarity of results. Or if, on the other hand, events are limited to the combinations of some finite number, then of necessity the same must
often recur, and in the same sequence. There are people who take a pleasure in making collections of all such fortuitous occurrences that they have heard or read of, as look like works of a rational power and design; they
observe, for example, that two eminent persons whose names were Attis, the one a Syrian, the other of Arcadia, were both slain by a wild boar; that of two whose names were Actaeon, the one was torn in pieces by his dogs,
the other by his lovers; that of two famous Scipios, the one overthrew the Carthaginians in war, the other totally ruined and destroyed them; the city of Troy was the first time taken by Hercules for the horses pronuised him by
Laomedon, the second time by Agamemnon, by means of the celebrated great wooden horse, and the third time by Charidemus, by occasion of a horse falling down at the gate, which hindered the Trojans, so that they could not shut them soon enough; and of two cities which take their names from the most agreeable odoriferous plants, los and Smyrna, the one from a violet, the other from myrrh, the poet Homer is reported to have been born in the one and to have died in the other. And so to these instances let us further add, that the most warlike commanders, and most remarkable for exploits of skilful stratagem, have had but one eye; as Philip, Antigonus, Hannibal, and Sertorius, whose life and actions we describe at present; of whom, indeed, we might truly say, that he was more continent than Philip, more faithful to his friends than Antigonus, and more merciful to his enemies than Hannibal; and that for prudence and judgment he gave place to none of them, but in fortune was inferior to them all. Yet though he had
continually in her a far more difficult adversary to contend against than his open enemies, he nevertheless maintained his ground, with the military skill of Metellus, the boldness of Pompey, the success of Sylla, and the power of the Roman people, all to be encountered by one who was a banished man and a stranger at the head of a body of barbarians. Among Greek commanders, Eumenes of Cardia may be best compared with him; they were both of them men born for command, for warfare, and for stratagem; both banished from their countries, and holding command over strangers; both had fortune for their adversary, in their last days so harshly so, that they were both betrayed and murdered by those who served them, and with whom they had formerly overcome their enemies.
Quintus Sertorius was of a noble family, born in the city of Nursia, in the country of the Sabines; his father died when he was young, and he was carefully and decently educated by his mother, whose name was Rhea, and whom he appears to have extremely loved and honoured. He paid some attention to the study of oratory and pleading in his youth, and acquired some reputation and influence in Rome by his eloquence; but the splendour of his actions in arms, and his successful achievements in the wars, drew off his ambition in that direction.
At his first beginning, he served under Caepio, when the Cimbri and Teutones invaded Gaul; where the Romans fighting unsuccessfully, and being put to flight, he was wounded in many parts of his body, and lost his horse, yet, nevertheless, swam across the river Rhone in his armour, with his breastplate and shield, bearing himself up against the violence of the current; so strong and so well inured to hardship was his body.
The second time that the Cimbri and Teutones came down with some hundreds of thousands, threatening death and destruction to all, when it was no small piece of service for a Roman soldier to keep his ranks and obey his commander, Sertorius undertook, while Marius led the army, to spy out the enemy's camp. Procuring a Celtic dress, and acquainting himself with the ordinary expressions of their language requisite for common intercourse, he threw himself in amongst the barbarians; where having carefully seen with his own eyes, or having been fully informed by persons upon the place of all their most important concerns, he returned to Marius, from whose hands he received the rewards of valour; and afterwards giving frequent proof both of conduct and courage in all the following war, he was advanced to places of honour and trust under his general. After the wars with the Cimbri and Teutones, he was sent into Spain, having the command of a thousand men under Didius, the Roman general, and wintered in the country of the Celtiberians, in the city of Castulo, where the soldiers enjoying great plenty, and growing insolent and continually drinking, the inhabitants despised them and sent for aid by night to the Gyrisoenians, their near neighbours, who fell upon the Romans in their lodgings and slew a great number of them. Sertorius, with a few of his soldiers, made his way out, and rallying together the rest who escaped, he marched round about the walls, and finding the gate open, by which the Gyrisoenians had made their secret entrance, he gave not them the same opportunity, but placing a guard at the gate, and seizing upon all quarters of the city, he slew all who were of age to bear arms, and then ordering his soldiers to lay aside their weapons and put off their own clothes, and put on the accoutrements of the barbarians, he commanded them to follow him to the city from whence the men came who had made this night attack upon the Romans. And thus deceiving the Gyrisoeniana with the sight of their own armour,
he found the gates of their city open and took a great number prisoners, who came out thinking to meet their friends and fellow-citizens come home from a successful expedition. Most of them were thus slain by the Romans at their own gates, and the rest within yielded up themselves and were sold for slaves.
Excerpted from Plutarch's Lives, Volume 2 by Plutarch. Copyright © 2001 by Plutarch. Excerpted by permission of Modern Library, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.