At the age of nineteen he made his first speech at the bar, and shortly afterwards successfully defended Nicomedes IV of Bithynia, one of Rome's dependants in the East, who had been deprived of his throne by his brother. From that time his reputation as an advocate was established. As the son-in-law of Quintus Lutatius Catulus (through marriage to Lutatia, daughter of Catulus and Servilia) he was attached to the aristocratic party, the "optimates". During Lucius Cornelius Sulla's dictatorship the courts of law were under the control of the Senate, the judges being themselves senators.
To this circumstance perhaps, as well as to his own merits, Hortensius may have been indebted for much of his success. Many of his clients were the governors of provinces which they were accused of having plundered. Such men were sure to find themselves brought before a friendly, not to say a corrupt, tribunal, and Hortensius, according to Marcus Tullius Cicero was not ashamed to avail himself of this advantage. Having served during two campaigns (90-89) in the Social War, he became quaestor in 81, aedile in 75, praetor in 72, and consul in 69. In the year before his consulship he came into collision with Cicero in the case of Gaius Verres, and from that time his supremacy at the bar was lost.
After 63 Cicero gravitated towards the faction to which Hortensius belonged. Consequently, in political cases, the two men were often engaged on the same side (e.g. in defence of Gaius Rabirius, Lucius Licinius Murena, Publius Cornelius Sulla, and Titus Annius Milo). After Pompey's return from the East in 61, Hortensius withdrew from public life and devoted himself to his profession. In 50, the year of his death, he successfully defended Appius Claudius Pulcher when accused of treason and corrupt practices by Publius Cornelius Dolabella, afterwards Cicero's son-in-law.
None of Hortensius' speeches are extant. His oratory, according to Cicero, was of the Asiatic style, a florid rhetoric, better to hear than to read. He had a tenacious memory, and could retain every point in his opponent's argument. His action was highly artificial, and his manner of folding his toga was noted by tragic actors of the day. He also possessed a fine musical voice, which he could skillfully command. The vast wealth he had accumulated he spent on splendid villas, parks, fish-ponds and costly entertainments. He was the first to introduce peacocks as a table delicacy at Rome. He was a great buyer of wine, pictures and works of art. He wrote a treatise on general questions of oratory, erotic poems, and an Annales, which gained him considerable reputation as a historian.
His son Quintus Hortensius, a friend of the poet Catullus, was granted the governorship of Macedonia in 44 by Julius Caesar, before switching allegiance to Brutus and perishing after the debacle of the battle of Philippi in 42 BC.
- Div. in Caecil. 7.
- Cicero, Brutus, 88, 95.
- Macrobius, Saturnalia iii. 13. 4.
- Ovid, Tristia, ii. 441.
- Vell. Pat. ii. 16. 3.
- In addition to Cicero (passim), see Dio Cassius xxxviii. 16, xxxix. 37; Pliny, Nat. Hist. ix. 8i, x. 23, xiv. 17, xxxv. 40; Varro, De re rustica iii. 13. 17.
- Quint. Instit. i. 1. 6; Valerius Maximus viii. 3. 3.
- Sophia Kremydi-Sicilianou, Quintus Hortensius Hortalus in Macedonia (44-42 BC) in Tekmeria, vol 4, 1998, pp.61-79; "Q. Hortensius, unworthy son of the great orator, who seems to have been quaestor in 51. He later embraced the cause of Caesar, obtaining the praetorship as a reward." in Erich S. Gruen, The last generation of the Roman Republic, 1995, p.194; see also genealogical considerations in Joseph Geiger, M. Hortensius M. f. Q. n. Hortalus, The Classical Review, New Series, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Jun., 1970), pp. 132-134
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus
|Consul of the Roman Republic
with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus
Lucius Caecilius Metellus and Quintus Marcius Rex