Study Notes prepared for the AmblesideOnline Curriculum by Anne White, 2015 Read Intro to these study guides here.
"In order to do all this we give the life stories of great men, the first great writer of which, Plutarch, has left us a wonderful store-house of great ideas and examples, showing how the life of the individual is the life of the state, and that where private standards are high or low, public morality is upheld or falls; thus it would be possible to trace much of the gradual break-down of the Roman military colonies to the example of "Mark Antony," and two such lives as those of Cato the Censor and Alcibiades will do much to teach future generations what good or evil one man can do for his times." (The Parents' Review) 1
Who was Marcus Cato?
Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BC-149 BC) was a Roman statesman, also called Cato Censorius (the Censor), Cato Sapiens (the Wise), Cato Priscus (the Ancient), Cato Major, or Cato the Elder.
He is the great-grandfather of Cato the Younger, who is mentioned both in the story of Julius Caesar, and at the end of this Life.
What is a Censor?
The office of censor was one of the highest-ranking positions in Rome, allowed only to those who had previously been consul. Two censors were usually elected, because there were two consuls. The censors had the responsibility of making tax assessments.
Marcus Cato was a Roman "upstart." He came from an ancient but not a noble family, and throughout his life he prided himself on the fact that he had "risen by virtue."
fell: evil, destructive
utterance: the ability to speak well
overtriumphed thrice: been honoured three times for battle victories
hard by Cato: near Cato's house
Marcus Cato and his ancestors were (as they say) of the city of Thusculum: but before he went unto the wars, and dealt in matters of the commonwealth, he dwelt and lived in the country of the Sabines, upon certain land his father left him. And though many of his ancestors were known to have been obscure: yet he himself did highly commend his father Marcus, by bearing his name, and saying he was a soldier, and had served valiantly in the field. And he telleth also of another Cato that was his great grandfather, who for his valiant service had been oft rewarded of the generals, with such honourable gifts, as the Romans did use to give unto them, that had done some famous act in any battle: and how that he having lost five horses of service in the wars, the value of the same were restored to him again in money of the common treasure, because he had shewed himself trusty and valiant for the commonwealth. And where they had a common speech at Rome to call them upstart, that were no gentlemen born, but did rise by virtue: it fortuned Cato to be called one of them. And for his part, he did confess it, that he was of the first of the house that ever had honour, and office of state: but by reason of the noble acts and good service of his ancestors, he maintained he was very ancient. He was called at the beginning after his third name, Priscus: but afterwards by reason of his great wisdom and experience, he was surnamed Cato, because the Romans call a wise man, and him that hath seen much, Cato. He was somewhat given to be red-faced, and had a pair of staring eyes in his head, as this man telleth us, that for ill will wrote these verses of him after his death:
Pluto (the god) which rules the furies infernally
will not receive the damned ghost, of Porcius in his hall:
his saucy coppered nose, and fiery staring eyes,
his common slanderous tales, which he did in this world devise,
made Pluto stand in dread that he would brawl in hell,
although his bones were dry and dead, on earth he was so fell.
[Note: Dryden translates "staring eyes" as "gray eyes," so you can take whichever you prefer.]
Furthermore, touching the disposition of his body, he was marvellous strong and lusty, and all because he did use to labour and toil even from his youth, and to live sparingly, as one that was ever brought up in the wars from his youth: so that he was of a very good constitution, both for strength of body, as for health also. As for utterance, he esteemed it as a second body, and most necessary gift, not only to make men honest, but also as a thing very requisite for a man that should bear sway and authority in the commonwealth. He practised to speak well in little villages near home, whither he went many times to plead men's causes in courts judicial, that would retain him of counsel: so as in short time he became a perfect pleader, and had tongue at will, and in process of time became an excellent orator.
After he was thus well known, they that were familiar with him, began to perceive a grave manner and behaviour in his life, and a certain noble mind in him, worthy to be employed in matters of state and great importance, and to be called into the commonwealth. For he did not only refuse to take fees for his pleading, and following the causes he maintained: but furthermore made no reckoning of the estimation he won by that manner and practise, as though that was not the only mark he shot at.
But his desire reached further, rather to win himself fame by service in the wars, and by valiant fighting with his enemy: than with such a quiet and pleasing manner of life. Insomuch as when he was but a young stripling in manner, he had many cuts upon his breast, which he had received in diverse battles and encounters against the enemies. For he himself writeth, that he was but seventeen years old, when he went first unto the wars, which was about the time of Hannibal's chief prosperity, when he [Hannibal and the Carthaginian army] spoiled and destroyed all Italy. So when he came to fight, he would strike lustily, and never stir foot nor give back, and would look cruelly upon his enemy, and threaten him with a fearful and terrible voice, which he used himself, and wisely taught other also to use the like. For such countenances, said he, many times do fear the enemies more, than the sword ye offer them. When he went any journey, he ever marched afoot, and carried his armour upon his back, and had a man waiting on him that carried his victuals with him, with whom he was never angry (as they say) for anything he had prepared for his dinner or supper, but did help to dress it himself for the most part, if he had any leisure, when he had done the duty of a private soldier in fortifying the camp, or such other needful business. All the while he was abroad in service in the wars, he never drank other than clean water, unless it were when he found he was not well, and then he would take a little vinegar: but if he saw he were weak, he would then drink a little wine.
Now it fortuned, that Manius Curius the Roman, who had overtriumphed thrice, had a pretty house and land hard by Cato, where he kept in times past, which Cato for a walk would visit oft. And he [Cato] considering how little land he [Curius] had to his house, and what a little house he had withal, and how poorly it was built, wondered with himself what manner of man Curius had been, that having been the greatest man of Rome in his time, and having subdued the mightiest nations and people of all Italy, and driven King Pyrrhus also out of the same: yet himself with his own hands did manure that little patch of ground, and dwell in so poor and small a farm. Whether notwithstanding, after his three triumphs, the Samnites sent their ambassadors to visit him, who found him by the fireside [boiling turnips], and presented him a marvellous deal of gold from their state and communality. But Curius returned them again with their gold, and told them, that such as were contented with that supper, had no need of gold nor silver: and that for his part, he thought it greater honour to command them that had gold, than to have it himself. Cato remembering these things to himself, went home again, and began to think upon his house, of his living, of his family and servants, and also of his expenses: and to cut all superfluous charges, and fell himself to labour with his own hands, more than ever he had done before.
Furthermore, when Fabius Maximus took the city of Tarentum again, Cato served under him being very young, where he fell into familiar acquaintance with Nearchus the Pythagorian philosopher, in whom he took marvellous delight to hear him talk of Philosophy. Which Nearchus held the same opinion of pleasure, that Plato did, by calling it the sweet poison and chiefest bait to allure men to ill: and saying that the body was the first plague unto the soul, and that her only health, remedy, and purgation stood upon rules of reason, good examples and contemplations, that drive sinful thoughts and carnal pleasures of the body, far off from her. Cato moreover gave himself much to sobriety and temperance, and framed himself to be contented with little.
They say he fell in his very old age to the study of the Greek tongue, and to read Greek books, and that he profited somewhat by Thucydides, but much more by Demosthenes, to frame his matter, and also to be eloquent. Which plainly appeareth, in all his books and writings, full of authorities, examples, and stories taken out of Greek authors: and many of his sentences and morals, his adages and quick answers, are translated out of the same word for word.
Narration and Discussion
Where did Cato get some of his early ideas about life?
Is it Scriptural to think that our bodies are plagues unto our souls, and that therefore pleasure is evil? Where do we draw the line between positive and negative, just enough and too much?
Discuss this sentence: "But Curius returned them again with their gold, and told them, that such as were contented with that supper, had no need of gold nor silver: and that for his part, he thought it greater honour to command them that had gold, than to have it himself." The Greeks had a similar story: "A friend of Diogenes visited him and found him eating a dinner of lentils. The friend was a courtier in the court of the king. He said to Diogenes, 'If you would learn to flatter, you would not have to eat lentils.' Diogenes replied, 'And if you would learn to eat lentils you would not have to flatter."
In this lesson we meet Lucius Valerius Flaccus, a mentor and lifelong friend to Cato. We also hear about Quintus Fabius Maximus (Plutarch's Life of Fabius), and about Scipio.
board: dinner table
griffe: young plant, sprout
to practise: to practise law
passed not for the malice and evil will of Scipio the Great: Dryden translates this, "he did not hesitate to oppose Scipio."
diverse: many people
was waxen now: had increased in greatness
seigniory: authority, domain
cater: obscure word meaning, in this case, a purchaser of goods
as (plural, asses): a Roman coin
apter: more likely
Now there was a noble man of Rome at that time, one of great authority, and a deep wise man besides, who could easily discern buds of virtue sprouting out of any towardly youth, who was of a good and honourable disposition to help forward, and to advance such. His name was Valerius Flaccus, a near neighbour unto Cato, who was informed by his servants of Cato's strange life, how he would be doing in his ground with his own hands: and how he would be gone every day betimes in the morning to little villages thereabout, to plead men's causes that prayed his counsel, and that when he had done, he would come home again: and if it were in winter, that he would but cast a little coat on his shoulders, and being summer he would go out bare, naked to the waist, to work in his ground among his servants and other workmen: and would besides, sit and eat with them together at one board, and drink as they did. Moreover, they told him also a world of such manners and fashions which he used, that shewed [him] to be a marvellous plain man, without pride and of a good nature. Then they told him what notable wise sayings and grave sentences they heard him speak. Valerius Flaccus hearing this report of him, willed his men one day to pray him to come to supper to him. Who falling in acquaintance with Cato, and perceiving he was of a very good nature, and well given, and that he was a good griffe to be set in a better ground: he persuaded him to come to Rome, and to practise there in the assembly of the people, in the common causes and affairs of the commonweal. Cato followed his counsel, who having been no long practiser among them, did grow straight into great estimation, and won him many friends, by reason of the causes he took in hand to defend: and was the better preferred and taken also, by means of the special favour and countenance Valerius Flaccus gave him.
For first of all, by voice of the people he was chosen tribune of the soldiers (to say, chosen colonel of a thousand footmen), and afterwards was made treasurer [quaestor]: and so went forwards, and grew to so great credit and authority, as he became Valerius Flaccus' companion in the chiefest offices of state, being chosen consul with him, and then censor.
But to begin withal, Cato made choice of Quintus Fabius Maximus; above all the Senators of Rome, Cato followed and gave himself to follow him altogether: and not so much for the credit and estimation Fabius Maximus was of, (who therein exceeded all the Romans of that time) as for the modesty and discreet government he saw in him, whom he determined to follow, as a worthy mirror and example.
At which time Cato passed not for the malice and evil will of Scipio the Great, who did strive at that present being but a young man, with the authority and greatness of Fabius Maximus, as one that seemed to envy his rising and greatness. For Cato being sent treasurer with Scipio, when he undertook the journey into Africa, and perceiving Scipio's bountiful nature and disposition to large gifts without mean to the soldiers: he told him plainly he did not so much hurt the commonwealth in wasting their treasure, as he did great harm in changing the ancient manner of their ancestors: who used to be contented with little, but he taught them to spend their superfluous money (all necessaries provided for) in vain toys and trifles, to serve their pleasure. Scipio made him answer, he would have no treasurer should control him in that sort, nor that should look so narrowly to his expenses: for his intent was to go to the wars, with full sails as it were, and that he would (and did also determine to) make the state privy to all his doings, but not to the money he spent. Cato hearing this answer, returned with speed out of Sicily unto Rome, crying out with Fabius Maximus in open Senate, that Scipio spent infinitely, and that he tended of riot, plays, comedies, and wrestlings, as if he had not been sent to make wars, invasions, and attempts upon their enemies. Upon this complaint the Senate appointed certain tribunes of the people, to go and see if their informations were true: and finding them so, that they should bring him back again to Rome. But Scipio shewed far otherwise to the commissioners that came thither, and made them see apparent victory, through the necessary preparation and provision he had made for the wars: and he confessed also, that when he had dispatched his great business, and was at any leisure, he would be privately merry with his friends: and though he was liberal to his soldiers, yet that made him not negligent of his duty and charge in any matter of importance. So Scipio took shipping, and sailed towards Africa, whither he was sent to make war.
Now to return to Cato. He daily increased still in authority and consequence, his credit by means of his eloquence, so that diverse called him the Demosthenes of Rome: howbeit the manner of his life pains more estimation, than his eloquence. For all the youth of Rome did seek to attain to his eloquence and commendation of words, and one envied another which of them should come nearest: but few of them would [defile] their hands with any labour as their forefathers did, and make a light supper and dinner, without fire or provision, or would be content with a mean gown, and a poor lodging, and finally would think it more honourable to defy fancies and pleasures, than to have and enjoy them. because the state was waxen now of such power and wealth, as it could no more retain the ancient discipline, and former austerity and straitness of life it used: but by reason of the largeness of their dominion and seigniory, and the numbers of people and nations that were become their subjects, it was even forced to receive a medley of sundry country fashions, examples, and manners. This was a cause, why in reason men did so greatly wonder at Cato's virtue, when they saw other[s] straight wearied with pains and labour, tenderly brought up like pulers: and Cato on the other side never overcome, either with the one or with the other, no not in his youth, when he most coveted honour, nor in his age also when he was gray-headed and bald, after his consulship and triumph, but like a conqueror that had gotten the mastery, he would never give over labour even unto his dying day. For he writeth himself, that there never came gown on his back that cost him above a hundred pence, and that his hinds and workmen always drank no worse wine, when he was consul and general of the army, than he did himself: and that his cater never bestowed in meat for his supper, above thirty asses [see note above] of Roman money, and yet he said it was, because he might be the stronger, and apter to do service in the wars for his country and the commonwealth.
Narration and Discussion
What most impressed Valerius Flaccus about Cato?
Did Cato choose a good role model in the Senate?
Explain the argument that Cato had with Scipio, about "unnecessary" military expenses. Which side would you take? How did Scipio eventually win his case?
This lesson shows examples of Cato's extreme thrift, including something with which Plutarch disagrees: his attitude towards "worn-out" slaves.
cast: no longer useful
spoiled in our service: worn out with work
He said furthermore, that being heir to one of his friends that died, he had a piece of tapestry by him with a deep border, which they called then the Babylonian border, and he caused it straight to be sold: and that of all his houses he had abroad in the country, he had not one wall plastered, nor rough cast.
Moreover he would say, he never bought bondman or slave dearer than a thousand five hundred pence, as one that sought not for fine made men, and goodly personages, but strong fellows that could away with pains, as carters, horsekeepers, neatherds, and such like: and again he would sell them when they were old, because he would not keep them when they could do no service. To conclude, he was of opinion, that a man bought any thing dear, that was for little purpose: yea, though he gave but a farthing for it, he thought it too much to bestow so little, for that which [was] needed not. He would have men purchase houses, that had more store of arable land and pasture, than of fine ortyards or gardens. Some say, he did thus, for very misery and covetousness: other think, and took it that he lived so sparingly, to move others by his example to cut of all superfluity and waste. Nevertheless, to sell slaves in that sort, or to turn them out of doors when you have had the service of all their youth, and that they are grown old, as you use brute beasts that have served whilst they may for age: methinks that must needs proceed of too severe and greedy nature, that hath no longer regard or consideration of humanity, than whilst one is able to do another good.
For we see, gentleness goeth further than justice. For nature teacheth us to use justice only unto men, but gentleness sometimes is shewed unto brute beasts: and that cometh from the very fountain and spring of all courtesy and humanity, which should never dry up in any man living. For to say truly, to keep cast horses spoiled in our service, and dogs also not only when they are whelps, but when they be old: be even tokens of love and kindness. As the Athenians made a law, when they builded their temple called Hecatompedon: that they should suffer the [mules] that did service in their carriages about the building of the same, to graze everywhere, without let or trouble of any man. And they say, there was one of those moils [mules] thus turned at liberty, that came of herself to the place to labour, going before all the other draught beasts, that drew up carts laden towards the castle, and kept them company, as though she seemed to encourage the rest to draw: which the people liked so well in the poor beast, that they appointed she should be kept whilst she lived, at the charge of the town.
And yet at this present are the graves of Cimon's mares to be seen, that won him thrice together the game of the horse race at the games Olympian, and they are hard by the grave of Cimon himself.
We hear of diverse also that had buried their dogs they brought up in their house, or that waited on them: as among other old Xanthippus buried his dog on the top of a cliff, which is called the Dog's Pit till this day. For when the people of Athens did forsake their city at the coming down of Xerxes, this dog followed his master, swimming in the sea by his galley's side, from the firm land, unto the Isle of Salamina [Salamis].
And there is no reason, to use living and sensible things, as we would use an old shoe or a rag: to cast it out upon the dunghill when we have worn it, and can serve us no longer. For if it were for no respect else, but to use us always to humanity: we must ever show ourselves kind and gentle, even in such small points of pity. And as for me, I could never find in my heart to sell my draught ox that had plowed my land a long time, because he could plow no longer for age: and much less my slave to sell him for a little money, out of the country where he had dwelt a long time, to pluck him from his old trade of life wherewith he was best acquainted, and then specially, when he shall be as unprofitable for the buyer, as also for the seller.
But Cato on the other side gloried, that he left his horse in Spain he had served on in the wars during his consulship, because he would not put the commonwealth to the charge of bringing of him home by sea into Italy. Now a question might be made of this, and probable reason of either side, whether this was nobleness, or a niggardliness in him: but otherwise to say truly, he was a man of a wonderful abstinence. For when he was general of the army, he never took allowance but after three bushels [of] wheat a month of the commonwealth, for himself and his whole family: and but a bushel and half of barley a day, to keep his horse and other beasts for his carriage.
On a time when he was praetor, the government of Sardinia fell to his lot. And where the other praetors before him had put the country to exceeding great charge, to furnish them with tents, bedding, clothes, and such like stuff, and burdened them also with a marvellous train of servants and their friends that waited on them, putting them to great expense-of feasting and banqueting of them: Cato in contrary manner brought down all that excess and superfluity, unto a marvellous near and incredible saving. For when he went to visit the cities, he came afoot to them, and did not put them to a penny charge for himself: and had only one officer, or bailiff of the state, that waited on him, and carried his gown and a cup with him, to offer up wine to the goddess in his sacrifices.
But though he came thus simply to the [Sardinian] subjects, and eased them of their former charges, yet he shewed himself severe and bitter to them in matters concerning justice: and spared no man, in any commandment or service for the state and commonwealth. For he was therein so precise, that he would not bear with any little fault. So by this means, he brought the Sardinians under his government, both to love and fear the Empire of Rome, more than ever they did before.
Narration and Discussion
What are Plutarch's arguments against Cato's particular brand of "thrift?" Are there any applications of this for us today?
This lesson gives us "certain of Cato's notable sayings and sentences."
could make men water their plants: could move them to tears
orators: those who make public speeches
with some better discretion: Dryden translates this "sparingly"
to Epaminondas, to Pericles, etc: these were not kings but statesmen, but they are being praised as more trustworthy than kings
For his grace both in speaking and writing did rightly shew himself: because it was pleasant, and yet grave: sweet and fearful: merry and severe: sententious, and yet familiar: such as is meet to be spoken. And he was to be compared, as Plato said, unto Socrates: who at the first sight seemed a plain simple man to them that knew him not outwardly, or else a pleasant taunter or mocker: but when they did look into him, and found him thoroughly, they saw he was full of grave sentences, goodly examples, and wise persuasions, that he could make men water their plants that heard him, and lead them as he would by the ear. Therefore I can not see any reason that moves men to say, Cato had Lysias's grace and utterance. Notwithstanding, let us refer it to their judgements that make profession to discern orators' graces and styles: for my part I shall content myself to write at this present, only certain of his notable sayings and sentences, persuading myself that men's manners are better discerned by their words, than by their looks, and so do many think.
On a time he seeking to dissuade the people of Rome, which would needs make a thankful distribution of corn unto every citizen, to no purpose: began to make an oration with this preface: It is a hard thing (my Lords of Rome) to bring the belly by persuasion to reason, that hath no ears.
And another time, reproving the ill government of the city of Rome, he said: it was a hard thing to keep up that state, where a little fish was sold dearer than an ox.
He said also that the Romans were like a flock of sheep. For sayeth he, as every wether when he is alone, doth not obey the shepherd, but when they are all together they one follow another for love of the foremost: even so are you, for when you are together, you are all contented to be led by the noses by such, whose counsel not a man alone of you would use in any private cause of your own.
And talking another time of the authority the women of Rome had over their husbands. He said: Other men command their wives, and we command men, and our wives command us.
But this last of all, he borrowed of Themistocles' pleasant sayings. For his son making him do many things by means of his mother, he told his wife one day: saying. The Athenians command all Greece, I command the Athenians, you command me, and your son ruleth you. I pray you therefore bid him use the liberty he hath with some better discretion, fool . . . as he is, since he can do more by that power and authority, than all the Grecians besides.
He said also that the people of Rome did not only delight in diverse sorts of purple, but likewise in diverse sorts of exercises. For said he, as diverse commonly dye that color they see best esteemed, and is most pleasant to the eye: even so the lusty youths of Rome do frame themselves to such exercise, as they see yourselves most like, and best esteem. He continually advised the Romans, that if their power and greatness came by their virtue and temperance, they should take heed they became no changelings, nor wax worse: and if they came to that greatness by vice and violence, that then they should change to better, for by that means he knew very well they had attained to great honour and dignity.
[To a man] that had unthriftily sold his lands which his father had left him, lying upon the sea side: he pointed unto them with his finger, and made as though he wondered how he came to be so great a man, that he was stronger than the sea. For that which the sea hardly consumeth, and eateth into, by little and little a long time: he had consumed it all at a clap.
Another time when King Eumenes was come to Rome, the Senate entertained him marvellous honourably, and the noblest citizens did strive, envying one another, who should welcome him best. But Cato in contrary manner shewed plainly, that he did suspect all this feasting and entertainment, and would not come at it. When one of his familiar friends told him, I marvel why you fly from King Eumenes' company, that is so good a Prince, and loves the Romans so well. Yea, said he, let it be so, but for all that, a king is no better than a ravening beast that lives of the prey: neither was there ever any king so happy, that deserved to be compared to Epaminondas, to Pericles, to Themistocles, nor to Manius Curius, or to Hamylcar, surnamed Barca.
They say his enemies did malice him, because he used commonly to rise before day, and did forget his own business to follow matters of state. And he affirmed, that he had rather lose the reward of his well doing, than not to be punished for doing of evil: and that he would bear with all other [people who were] offending ignorantly, but not with himself.
He said also, that wise men did learn and profit more by fools, than fools did by wise men. For wise men said he, do see the faults fools commit, and can wisely avoid them: but fools never study to follow the example of wise men's doings.
These be his wise sayings we find written of him, whereby we may the easilier conjecture his manners and nature.
Narration and Discussion
How was Cato's plain, simple manner of public speaking deceiving?
"On a time he seeking to dissuade the people of Rome, which would needs make a thankful distribution of corn unto every citizen, to no purpose: began to make an oration with this preface: It is a hard thing (my Lords of Rome) to bring the belly by persuasion to reason, that hath no ears." It sounds at first as if Cato is in sympathy with the poor people, saying that you can't feed bellies with speeches. But since Plutarch says that Cato was in fact not in favour of this handout, what did he mean by that?
Why did Cato say that wise men learn and profit more by fools, than the other way around? How does that relate to what was said (at the beginning of the lesson) about Socrates?
This part of the story takes place during Cato's consulship. Cato became the governor of Spain, which means that he had to go there and put down a rebellion. In spite of his tightwad tendencies, he decided it was worthwhile to hire some assistance for this job.
razed: pulled down
He was no sooner entered into his charge: He was no sooner appointed to this position
Now, and when he was chosen consul with his friend Valerius Flaccus, the government of Spain fell to his lot. Here, having subdued many people by force of arms, and won others also by friendly means: suddenly there came a marvellous great army of the barbarous people against him, and had environed him so, as he was in marvellous danger, either shamefully to be taken prisoner, or to be slain in the field. Wherefore, he sent presently unto the Celtiberians, to pray aid of them, who were next neighbours unto the marches where he was. These Celtiberians did ask him two hundred talents to come and help him: but the Romans that were about him, could not abide to hire the barbarous people to defend them. Then Cato told them straight, there was no hurt in it, nor any dishonour unto them. For said he, if the field be ours, then we shall pay their wages we promised, with the spoil and money of our enemies: and if we lose it, then ourselves and they lie by it, being left neither man to pay, nor yet any to ask it.
In the end he won the battle, after a sore conflict, and after that time he had marvellous good fortune. For Polybius writeth, that all the walls of the cities that were on this side the river of Baetis, were by his commandment razed all in one day, which were many, and full of good soldiers. himself writeth, that he took more cities in Spain, than he remained there days: and it is no vain boast, if it be true that is written, that there were four hundred cities of them.
Now, though the soldiers under him had gotten well in this journey, and were rich, yet he caused a pound weight of silver to be given to every soldier besides: saying, he liked it better that many should return home with silver in their purses, than a few of them with gold only. But for himself, he affirmed: that of all the spoil gotten of the enemies, he never had, from anything, saving that which he took in meat and drink. And yet, sayeth he, I speak it not to reprove them that grow rich by such spoils: but because I would contend in virtue rather with the best, than in money with the richest, or in covetousness with the most virtuous.
Now while Cato was in Spain, Scipio that was his enemy, and sought to hinder the course of his prosperity, and [who was] to have the honour of conquering all the rest of Spain: he made all the friends he could to the people, [so that he would] be chosen [governor] in Cato's place. He was no sooner entered into his charge, but he made all the possible speed he could to be gone, that he might make Cato's authority cease the sooner. Cato hearing of his hasty coming, took only five ensigns of footmen, and five hundred horsemen to attend upon him home: with the which, in his journey homeward, he overcame a people in Spain called the Lacetanians, and took six hundred traitors also that were fled from the Romans' camp to their enemies, and did put to death every mother's child of them. Scipio storming at that, said Cato did him wrong. But Cato to mock him finely, said: it was the right way to bring Rome to flourish, when nobleborn citizens would not suffer meanborn men, and upstarts as himself was, to go before them in honour: and on the other side when meanborn men would contend in virtue, with those that were of noblest race, and far above them in calling. For all that, when Cato came to Rome, the Senate commanded that nothing should be changed nor altered otherwise, than Cato had appointed it, whilst he was in his office.
So that the government for which Scipio made such earnest suit in Spain, was a greater disgrace unto him, than it was unto Cato: because he passed all his time and office in peace, having no occasion offered him to do any notable service worthy of memory.
Narration and Discussion
What accidental adventure did Cato have on his way home from the battle in Spain? How did this cause more conflict with Scipio?
"So that the government for which Scipio made such earnest suit in Spain, was a greater disgrace unto him, than it was unto Cato: because he passed all his time and office in peace . . ." Why was it a disgrace (in Roman terms) for the governor of a province to spend his time in peace?
This is the first of two lessons describing a very exciting adventure, with Cato leading a multi-national campaign against King Antiochus at Thermopylae.
the honour to triumph: been publicly honoured for his military success
the compass [and circuit] the Persians had fetched about etc.: at the first Battle of Thermopylae, long before this, the Persians used a roundabout (secret) route to get into Greece
to tarry him there: to wait for him there
Furthermore, Cato after he had been consul, and had granted to him the honour to triumph: did not as many others do, that seek not after virtue, but only for worldly honour and dignity. Who, when they have been called to the highest offices of state, as to be consuls, and have also granted them the honour to triumph: do then leave to deal any more in matters of state, and dispose themselves to live [quietly] at home, and not to trouble themselves anymore. Now Cato, far otherwise behaved himself. For he would never leave to exercise virtue, but began afresh, as if he had been but a young novice in the world, and as one greedy of honour and reputation, and to take as much pains and more than he did before.
For, to pleasure his friends or any other citizen, he would come to the marketplace, and plead their causes for them that required his counsel, and go with his friends also into the wars. As he went with Tiberius Sempronius the consul, and was one of his lieutenants at the conquest of the country of Thrace, and unto the provinces adjoining to the river of Danube upon those marches.
After that, he was in Greece also, colonel of a thousand footmen, under Manius Aquilius, against King Antiochus surnamed the Great, who made the Romans as much afraid of him, as ever they were of Hannibal. For, when he [Antiochus] had conquered all the regions and provinces of Asia . . . and had subdued many barbarous and warlike nations: he was so proud hearted, as he would needs have wars with the Romans, whom he knew to be the only worthy men, and best able to fight with him. So he made some honest show and pretence of wars, saying: it was to set the Grecians at liberty, who had no cause thereof, considering they lived after their own laws, and were but lately delivered from the bondage of King Philip, and of the Macedonians, through the goodness of the Romans.
Notwithstanding, he came out of Asia into Greece with a marvellous great army, and all Greece was straight in arms and in wonderful danger, because of the great promises and large hopes the governors of diverse cities (whom the king had won and corrupted with money) did make unto them. Whereupon Manius dispatched ambassadors unto the cities, and sent Titus Quintius Flamininus among others, who kept the greatest part of the people from rebelling (that were easily drawn to give ear to this innovation) as we have expressed more amply in his Life: and Cato being sent [as an] ambassador also, persuaded the Corinthians, those of Patras, and the Aegians, and made them stick still to the Romans, and continued a long time at Athens. Some say they find an oration of his written in the Greek tongue, which he made before the Athenians, in commendation of their ancestors: wherein he said, he took great pleasure to see Athens, for the beauty and stateliness of the city. But this is false.
Now King Antiochus kept all the straits and narrow passages of the mountains called Thermopyles [Thermopylae], (being the ordinary way and entry into Greece) and had fortified them as well with his army that camped at the foot of the mountain, as also with walls and trenches he had made by hand, besides the natural strength and fortification of the mount itself in sundry places: and so he determined to remain there, trusting to his own strength and fortifications aforesaid, and to turn the force of the wars some other way. The Romans also, they despaired utterly they should be able any way to charge him before. But Cato remembering with himself the compass [and circuit] the Persians had fetched about before time likewise to enter into Greece: he departed one night from the camp with part of the army: to prove if he could find the very compass about, the barbarous people had made before.
But as they climbed up the mountain, their guide that was one of the prisoners taken in the country, lost his way, and made them wander up and down in marvellous steep rocks and crooked ways, that the poor soldiers were in marvellous ill taking. Cato seeing the danger they were brought into by this lewd guide, commanded all his soldiers not to stir a foot from thence, and to tarry him there: and in the meantime he went himself alone, and Lucius Manlius with him (a lusty man, and nimble to climb upon the rocks) and so went forward at adventure, taking extreme and incredible pain, and in as much danger of his life, grubbing all night in the dark without moonlight, through wild olive trees, and high rocks [there being nothing but precipices and darkness before their eyes], until they stumbled at the length upon a little pathway, which went as they thought directly to the foot of the mountain, where the camp of the enemies lay. So they set up certain marks and tokens, upon the highest tops of the rocks they could choose, by view of eye to be discerned furthest upon the mountain called Callidromus. And when they had done that, they returned back again to fetch the soldiers, whom they led towards their marks they had set up: until at the length they found their pathway again, where they put their soldiers in order to march.
Narration and Discussion
How does Plutarch say that Cato was different from most people who held high office? Did Cato show humility or greed (ambition) by his willingness to take on post-consul challenges?
Tell the events of this adventure so far. What do you think will happen next?
The adventure continues!
at a trice: instantly
after what sort: in what way
straits: narrow places
press: crowd or mass of people
holden in: hemmed in
ostentation: showing off
Now they went not far in this path they found, but the way failed them straight, and brought them to a bog: but then they were in worse case than before, and in greater fear, not knowing they were so near their enemies, as indeed they were. The day began to break a little, and one of them that marched foremost, thought he heard a noise, and that he saw the Greeks' camp at the foot of the rocks, and certain soldiers that kept watch there. Whereupon Cato made them stay, and willed only the Firmanians to come unto him, and none but them, because he had found them faithful before, and very ready to obey his commandment. They were with him at a trice to know his pleasure: so Cato said unto them: My fellows, I must have some of our enemies taken prisoners, that I may know of them who they be that keep that passage, what number they be, what order they keep, how they are camped and armed, and after what sort they determine to fight with us. The way to work this feat, standeth upon swiftness, and hardiness to run upon them suddenly, as lions do, which which being naked fear not to run into the midst of any herd of fearful beasts.
He had no sooner spoken these words, but the Firmanian soldiers began to run down the mountain, as they were, upon those that kept the watch: and so setting upon them, they being out of order, made them fly, and took an armed man prisoner. When they had him, they straight brought him unto Cato, who by the prisoner was advertised, how that the strength of their enemies' army was lodged about the person of the king, within the straight and valley of the said mountain: and that the soldiers they saw, were six hundred Aetolians, all brave soldiers, whom they had chosen and appointed to keep the top of the rocks over King Antiochus's camp.
When Cato had heard him, making small account of the matter, as well for their small number, as also for the ill order they kept: he made the trumpets sound straight, and his soldiers to march in battle with great cries, himself being the foremost man of all his troop, with a sword drawn in his hand. But when the Aetolians saw them coming down the rocks towards them, they began to fly for life unto their great camp, which they filled full of fear, trouble, and all disorder.
Now Manlius at the same present also, gave an assault unto the walls and fortifications the king had made, overthwart the valleys and straits of the mountains: at which assault, King Antiochus [him]self had a blow on the face with a stone, that strake some of his teeth out of his mouth, so that for very pain and anguish he felt, he turned his horse back, and got him behind the press.
And then there were none of his army that made any more resistance, or that could abide the fierceness of the Romans. But notwithstanding that the places were very ill for flying, because it was unpossible for them to scatter and straggle, being holden in with high rocks on the one side of them, and with bogs and deep marshes on the other side, which they must needs fall into if their feet slipped, or were thrust forward by any: yet they fell one upon another in the straits, and ran so in heaps together, that they cast themselves away, for fear of the Romans' swords that lighted upon them in every corner.
And there Marcus Cato, that never made ceremony or niceness to praise himself openly [meaning he did praise himself], nor reckoned it any shame to do it: did take a present occasion for it, as falleth out upon all victory and famous exploits. And so did set it out with all the ostentation and brave words he could give. For he wrote with his own hands, that such as saw him chase and lay upon his flying enemies that day, were driven to say, that Cato was not bound to the Romans, but the Romans bound unto Cato. And then Manius the Consul [him]self, being in a great heat with the fury of the battle, embraced Cato a great while, that was also hot with chasing of the enemy: and spake aloud with great joy before them all, that neither he, nor the people of Rome could recompense Cato for his valiant service that day.
After this battle, the Consul Manius sent Cato to Rome, to be the messenger himself to report the news of the victory. So he embarked incontinently, and had such a fair wind, that he passed over the sea to Brindes [Brundusium] without any danger, and victory; went from thence unto Tarentum in one day, and from Tarentum in four days more to Rome. And so he came to Rome in five days after his landing in Italy, and made such speed, that himself was indeed the first messenger that brought news of the victory. Whereupon he filled all Rome with joy and sacrifices, and made the Romans so proud, that ever after they thought themselves able men to conquer the world both by sea and land. And these be all the martial deeds and noble acts Cato did.
Narration and Discussion
Do you think Cato's own account of his bravery was accurate? Why or why not?
Cato stayed busy in public life, eventually deciding to run for censor.
sued to be censor: ran for that office
patrician: of a noble family
keep books of them: keep account of them
shewing no countenance: giving no indication
meale mouthed: mealy-mouthed; insincere
as if he had been present officer, and no suitor for the office: as if he had already held the office of censor and not just been running for it
prince of the Senate: head man in the Senate
to take it clean away, and to be openly seen in it: to outlaw the feasting and luxuries altogether, and to take personal responsibility for that action
prodigality: spending money on luxuries
Cato was envied: Dryden translates this as "those who were disgusted at Cato."
superfluous: extra, unnecessary
marry: an exclamation of surprise or emphasis
Marcus Cato, ten years after his Consulship, sued to be censor, which was in Rome the greatest office of dignity that any citizen of Rome could attain unto: and as a man may say, the room of all glory and honour in their commonwealth. For among other authorities the censor had power to examine men's lives and manners, and to punish every offender. For the Romans were of that mind, that they would not have men marry, get children, live privately by themselves, and make feasts and banquets at their pleasure, but that they should stand in fear to be reproved and inquired of by the magistrate: and that it was not good to give everybody liberty, to do what they would, following his own lust and fancy. And they judging that men's natural dispositions do appear more in such things, than in all other things that are openly done at noondays, and in the sight of the world: used to choose two censors, that were two surveyors of manners, to see that every man behaved himself virtuously, and gave not themselves to pleasure, nor to break the laws and customs of the commonwealth.
These officers were called in their tongue, Censors, and always of custom one of them was a patrician, and the other a commoner. These two had power and authority to disgrade a knight by taking away his horse, and to put [out] any of the Senate, whom they saw live dissolutely and disorderly. It was their office also, to [assess] and rate every citizen according to the estimation of their goods, to note the age, genealogy and degrees of every man, and to keep books of them, besides many other prerogatives they had belonging to their office. Therefore when Cato came to sue for this office among other, the chiefest Senators were all bent against him, some of them for very envy. The Senators thinking it shame and dishonour to the nobility, to suffer men that were meanly born, and upstarts (the first of their house and name, that ever came to bear office in the state) to be called and preferred unto the highest offices of state in all their commonwealth. Other also that were ill livers, and knowing that they had offended the laws of their country: they feared his cruelty too much, imagining he would spare no man, nor pardon any offence, having the law in his own hands. So when they had consulted together about it, they did set up seven competitors against him, who flattered the people with many fair words and promises, as though they had need of magistrates to use them gently, and to do things for to please them.
But Cato contrariwise, shewing no countenance that he would use them gently in the office, but openly in the pulpit for orations, threatening those that had lived naughtily and wickedly, he cried out: that they must reform their city, and persuaded the people not to choose the gentlest, but the sharpest physicians: and that himself was such a one as they needed, and among the Patricians Valerius Flaccus another, in whose company he hoped (they two being chosen censors) to do great good unto the commonwealth, by burning and cutting of (like Hydra's heads) all vanity and voluptuous pleasures, that were crept in amongst them: and that he saw well enough, how all the other suitors sought the office by dishonest means, fearing such officers as they knew would deal justly and uprightly.
Then did the people of Rome shew themselves nobly minded, and worthy of noble governors. For they refused not the sourness or severity of Cato, but rejected these meale mouthed men, that seemed ready to please the people in all things: and thereupon chose Marcus Cato Censor, and Valerius Flaccus to be his fellow, and they did obey him, as if he had been present officer, and no suitor for the office, being in themselves to give it to whom they thought good.
The first thing he did after he was [in]stalled in his censorship, was: that he named Lucius Valerius Flaccus, his friend and fellow censor with him, prince of the Senate.
Cato put out of the Senate one Manilius, who was in great towardness to have been made consul the next year following, only because he kissed his wife too lovingly in the daytime, and before his daughter: and reproving him for it, he [Cato] told him, his wife never kissed him, but when it thundered. So when he was disposed to be merry, he would say it was happy with him when Jupiter thundered.
He took away Lucius Scipio's horse from him, that had triumphed for the victories he had won against the great King Antiochus: which won him much ill will, because it appeared to the world he did it of purpose, for the malice he did bear Scipio the African, that was dead. But the [worst] thing that grieved the people of all other extremities he used, was his putting down of all feasts and vain expenses. For a man to take it clean away, and to be openly seen in it, it was unpossible, because it was so common a thing, and every man was given so to it. Therefore Cato to fetch it about indirectly, did praise every citizen's goods, and rated [assessed] their apparel, their coaches, their litters, their wives' chains and jewels, and all other moveables and household stuff, that had cost above a thousand five hundred drachmas apiece, at ten times as much as they were worth: to the end that such as had bestowed their money in those curious trifles, should pay so much more subsidy to the maintenance of the commonwealth, as their goods were over-valued at. Moreover he ordained for every thousand asses [coins: see previous note] that those trifling things were praised at, the owners of them should pay three thousand asses to the common treasury: to the end that they who were grieved with this tax, and saw other pay less subsidy (that were as much worth as themselves, by living without such toys) might [be tired out of their prodigality].
Notwithstanding, Cato was envied every way. First, of them that were contented to pay the tax imposed, rather than they would leave their vanity: and next, of them also, that would rather reform themselves, than pay the tax. And some think that this law was devised rather to take away their goods, than to let them to make shew of them: and they have a fond opinion besides, that their riches [are] better seen in superfluous things, than in necessary. Whereat they say Aristotle the Philosopher did wonder more, than at any other thing: how men could think them more rich and happy, that had many curious and superfluous things, than those that had necessary and profitable things. And Scopas the Thessalian, when one of his familiar friends asked him, I know not what trifling thing, and to make him grant it the sooner, told him it was a thing he might well spare, and did him no good: marry sayeth he, all the goods I have, are in such toys as do me no good. So this covetous desire we have to be rich, cometh of no necessary desire in nature, but is bred in us by a false opinion from the common sort.
Narration and Discussion
How did Cato try to make the people of Rome a little less fond of their material goods? Was it successful? Can you think of any similar examples of a "luxury tax" now? Does it work?
Popular or unpopular? Right or wrong? Is what was good for the city good for Cato's reputation? Did it matter?
and moreover raised the common farms and customs of the city, as high as he could: Dryden translates it this way: "He beat down also the price in contracts for public works to the lowest, and raised it in contracts for farming the taxes to the highest sum." Even that phrasing is a bit confusing! Let's just put it that Cato arranged for some public building work to be done at a low rate; and he made himself unpopular with those who were profiting at public expense.
tribunes of the people: those who represented the common people in the Senate
diverse mean men and unknown persons: insignificant people
about the time his wife did unswaddle the young boy to wash and shift him: he liked to be home for the baby's bath time
Now, Cato caring least of all for the exclamations they made against him, grew to be more straight and severe. For he cut off the pipes and quills private men had made to convey water into their houses and gardens, robbing the city of the water that came from their common conduit heads, and did pluck down also men's porches that were made before their doors into the street, and brought down the praises of common workers in the city, and moreover raised the common farms and customs of the city, as high as he could: all which things together made him greatly hated and envied of most men. Wherefore, Titus Flamininus, and certain other[s] being bent against him in open Senate, caused all Cato's covenants and bargains made with the master workmen, for repairing and mending of the common buildings and holy places, to be made void, as things greatly prejudicial to the commonwealth. And they did also stir up the boldest and rashest of the tribunes of the people against him, because they should accuse him unto the people, and make request he might be condemned in the sum of two talents. They did marvellously hinder also the building of the palace he built at the charge of the commonwealth, looking into the marketplace [the Forum] under the Senate house: which palace was finished notwithstanding, and called after his name. Basilica Porcia: as who would say, the palace Porcius built.
Howbeit it seemed the people of Rome did greatly like and commend his government in the censorship. For they set up a statue of him in the temple of the goddess of health, whereunder they wrote not his victories nor triumph, but only engraved this inscription word for word, to this effect by translation:
For the honour of Marcus Cato the Censor: because he reformed the discipline of the commonwealth of Rome (that was far out of order, and given to licentious life) by his wise precepts, good manners, and holy institutions.
Indeed, before this image was set up for him, he was wont to mock at them that delighted, and were desirous of such things: saying, they did not consider how Honour they bragged in [was that of brass-]founders, painters, and image makers, but changeth nothing of their virtues: and that for himself, the people [themselves] did always carry lively images of him in their hearts, meaning the memory of his life and doings. When some wondered why diverse mean men and unknown persons had images set up of them, and there were none of him: he gave them this answer: I had rather men should ask why Cato had no image set up for him, than why he had any.
In the end, he would have no honest man abide to be praised, unless his praise turned to the benefit of the commonwealth: and yet was he one of them that would most praise himself. So that if any had done a fault, or stepped awry, and that men had gone about to reprove them: he would say they were not to be blamed, for they were no Catos that did offend. And such as counterfeited to follow any of his doings, and came short of his manner, he called them left- hand Catos. He would say, that in most dangerous times the Senate used to cast their eyes upon him, as passengers on the sea do look upon the master of the ship in a storm: and that many times when he was absent, the Senate would put over matters of importance, until he might come among them. And this is confirmed to be true, as well by other, as by himself. His authority was great in matters of state, for his wisdom, his eloquence, and great experience.
Besides this commendation, they praised him for a good father to his children, a good husband to his wife, and a good saver for his profit: for he was never careless of them, as things to be lightly passed on. And therefore methinks I must needs tell you by the way, some part of his well doing, to follow our declaration of him. First of all, he married a gentlewoman more noble than rich, knowing that either of both should make her proud and stout enough: but yet he ever thought the nobler born, would be the more ashamed of dishonesty, than the meaner born: and therefore that they would be more obedient to their husbands, in all honest manner and reasonable things. Furthermore, he said: that he that beat his wife or his child, did commit as great a sacrilege, as if he polluted or spoiled the holiest things of the world: and he thought it a greater praise for a man to be a good husband, than a good Senator. And therefore he thought nothing more commendable in the life of old Socrates, than his patience, in using his wife well, that was such a shrew, and his children that were so harebrained.
After Cato's wife had brought him a son, he could not have so earnest business in hand, if it had not touched the commonwealth, but he would let all alone, to go home to his house, about the time his wife did unswaddle the young boy to wash and shift him. When his son was come to age of discretion, and that he was able to learn any thing, Cato himself did teach him, notwithstanding he had a slave in his house called Chilo (a very honest man, and a good grammarian) who did also teach many other: but as he said himself, he did not like, a slave should rebuke his grammarian, nor pull him by the ears, when peradventure he was not apt to take very suddenly that was taught him: neither would he have his son bound to a slave for so great a matter as that, as to have his learning of him. Wherefore he himself taught him his grammar, the law, and to exercise his body, not only to throw a dart, to play at the sword, to ride a horse, and to handle all sorts of weapons, but also to fight with fists, to abide cold and heat, and to swim over a swift running river. He said moreover, that he wrote goodly histories in great letters with his own hand, because his son might learn in his father's house virtues of good men in times past, that he taking example their doings, should frame his life to excel them. He also, that he took as great heed of speaking any uncomely words before his son, as he would have done if he had been before the Vestal Nuns.
[When he grew up], this Cato [the son] married Tertia, one of Paulus Aemilius's daughters, and sister unto Scipio the second, and so was matched in this noble house, not only for his own virtue's sake, but for respect of his father's dignity and authority: whereby the great care, pains, and study that Cato the father took in bringing up his son in virtue and learning, was honourably rewarded in the happy bestowing of his son.
Narration and Discussion
Explain the following: "In the end, he would have no honest man abide to be praised, unless his praise turned to the benefit of the commonwealth: and yet was he one of them that would most praise himself."
"Howbeit it seemed the people of Rome did greatly like and commend his government in the Censorship." Why do you think this was so?
Who did Cato call "left-hand Catos?"
Why did Cato take on the education of his son himself? Would you like to have had him for a teacher?
As mentioned previously, Cato had some rather strange attitudes about his slaves; he also had some questionable ways of making money. But something new arrived on the Roman scene, leaving Cato smacking his head.
tractable: easy to rule
usury: the practice of making unethical or immoral monetary loans intended to unfairly enrich the lender
And thus he did not venture all the money he lent, but a little piece only for his part, and got marvellous riches by his usury: Dryden translates this, "so that there was no danger of losing his whole stock, but only a little part, and that with a prospect of great profit."
Stoic: a follower of Stoicism, a school of Greek philosophy
had no dispatch: had no real business to conduct
a busy man, and a stirrer up of sedition: a busybody and a troublemaker
[Cato] ever had a great number of young little slaves which he bought, when any would sell their prisoners in the wars. He did choose them thus young, because they were apt yet to learn any thing he would train them unto, and that a man might break them, like young colts, or little whelps. But none of them all, how many soever he had, did ever go to any man's house, but when himself or his wife did send them. If any man asked them what Cato did: they answered, they could not tell. And when they were within, either they must needs be occupied about somewhat, or else they must sleep: for he loved them well that were sleepy, holding opinion that slaves that loved sleep were more tractable, and willing to do any thing a man would set them to, than those that were waking.
At the first when he gave himself to follow the wars, and was not greatly rich, he never was angry for any fault his servants did about his person: saying it was a foul thing for a gentleman or noble man, to fall out with his servants for his belly. Afterwards, as he rose to better state, and grew to be wealthy, if he had made a dinner or supper for any of his friends and familiars, and they were no sooner gone, but he would scourge them with whips and leather thongs, that had not waited as they should have done at the board, or had forgotten any thing he would have had done. He would ever craftily make one of them fall out with another: for he could not abide they should be friends, being ever jealous of that. If any of them had done a fault that deserved death, he would declare his offence before them all: and then if they condemned him to die, he would put him to death before them all.
Howbeit in his latter time he grew greedy, and gave up his tillage, saying it was rather pleasant, then profitable. Therefore because he would lay out his money surely, and bring a certain revenue to his purse, he bestowed it upon ponds, natural hot baths, places fit for fullers' craft, upon meadows and pastures, upon coppices and young wood: and of all these; he made a great and a more quiet revenue yearly, which he would say, Jupiter himself could not diminish. Furthermore, he was a great usurer, both by land and by sea: and the usury he took by sea was most extreme of all other, for he used it in this sort. He would have them to whom he lent his money unto, that trafficked by sea, to have many partners, and to the number of fifty: and that they should have so many ships. Then he would venture among them for a part only [i.e. he bought one share], whereof Quintius his slave whom he had manumised [freed], was made his factor, and [Quintius] used to sail, and trafficked with the merchants, to whom he had lent his money out to usury. And thus he did not venture all the money he lent, but a little piece only for his part, and got marvellous riches by his usury.
Furthermore, when Cato was grown very old, Carneades the Academic, and Diogenes the Stoic, were sent from Athens as ambassadors to Rome, to sue for a release of a fine of five hundred talents which they had imposed on the Athenians upon a condemnation passed against them, for a contempt of appearance, by the sentence of the Sicyonians, at the suit of the Oropians. [The Athenians had not shown up for a court appearance and were being fined for it.]
Immediately when these two philosophers were arrived in the city of Rome, the young gentlemen that were given to their books, did visit and welcome them, and gave great reverence to them after they had heard them speak, and specially to Carneades: whose grace in speaking, and force of persuading was no less, than the fame ran upon him, and specially when he was to speak in so great an audience, and before such a state, as would not suppress his praise. Rome straight was full, as if a wind had blown this rumor into every man's ear: that there was a Grecian arrived, a famous learned man, who with his eloquence would lead a man as he lust. There was no other talk awhile through the whole city, he had so inflamed the young gentlemen's minds with love and desire to be learned: that all other pleasures and delights were set aside, and they disposed themselves to no other exercise, but to the study of Philosophy, as if some secret and divine inspiration from above had procured them to it. Whereof the Lords and Senators of Rome were glad, and rejoiced much to see their youth so well given to knowledge, and to the study of the Greek tongue, and to delight in the company of these two great and excellent learned men. But Marcus Cato, even from the beginning that young men began to study the Greek tongue, and that it grew in estimation in Rome, did dislike of it: fearing least the youth of Rome that were desirous of learning and eloquence, would utterly give over the honour and glory of arms.
Furthermore, when he saw the estimation and fame of these two personages did increase more and more, and in such sort that Caius Aquilius, one of the chiefest of the Senate, made suit to be their interpreter: he determined then to convey them out of the city by some [pretence]. So he openly found fault one day in the Senate, that the ambassadors were long there, and had no dispatch: considering also they were cunning men, and could easily persuade what they would. And if there were no other respect, this only might persuade them to determine some answer for them, and so to send them home again to their schools, to teach their children of Greece, and to let alone the children of Rome, that they might learn to obey the laws and the Senate, as they had done before.
Now he spake this to the Senate, not of any private ill will or malice he bare to Carneades, as some men thought: but because he generally hated philosophy, and of an ambition despised the muses, and knowledge of the Greek tongue. Which was the more suspected, because he had said, the ancient Socrates was but a busy man, and a stirrer up of sedition, and sought by all means possible to usurp tyranny, and rule in his country: by perverting and changing the manners and customs of the same, and alluring the subjects thereof to a disliking of their laws and ancient customs. And he laughed at Isocrates' school, that taught the art of eloquence: saying, his scholars waxed old, and were still so long a-learning, that they meant to use their eloquence and plead causes in another world, before Minos, when they were dead. Therefore, to pluck his son from the study of the Greek tongue, he said to him with a strained voice, and in a bigger sound than he was wont to do: (as if he had spoken to him by way of prophecy or inspiration) that so long as the Romans disposed themselves to study the Greek tongue, so long would they mar and bring all to nought.
And yet time hath proved his vain words false and untrue, for the city of Rome did never flourish so much, nor the Roman Empire was ever so great, as at that time, when learning and the Greek tongue most flourished.
Narration and Discussion
"Slaves that loved sleep were more tractable, and willing to do any thing a man would set them to, than those that were waking." Is there a warning there for us about too much sleep? (Proverbs 6:10-11)
What was Cato's financial strategy, using his former slave as an agent? Was it honest?
Why was Cato so concerned to see the young people caught up in the new fad of Greek philosophy? Does this seem to contradict what Plutarch wrote about him earlier? "They say he fell in his very old age to the study of the Greek tongue, and to read Greek books, and that he profited somewhat by Thucydides, but much more by Demosthenes, to frame his matter, and also to be eloquent. Which plainly appeareth, in all his books and writings, full of authorities, examples, and stories taken out of Greek authors: and many of his sentences and morals, his adages and quick answers, are translated out of the same word for word."
At the end of his life, Cato had two pet peeves: philosophers, and physicians. But that didn't stop him from writing his own health book . . . and a farming book . . . and sharing his recipe for tarts.
saving that: except that
Howbeit Cato did not only hate the philosophers of Greece, but did dislike them also, that professed physic in Rome. For he had either heard or read the answer Hippocrates made, when the king of Persia sent for him, and offered him a great sum of gold and silver, if he would come and serve him: who sware he would never serve the barbarous people, that were natural enemies to the Grecians. So Cato affirmed, it was an oath that all other physicians sware ever after: wherefore he commanded his son to fly from them all alike, and said he had written a little book of physic, the which he did heal those of his house when they were sick, and did keep them in health when they were whole. He never forbade them to eat, but did always bring them up with herbs, and certain light meats, as mallard, ringdoves, and hares: for such meats, said he, are good for the sick, and light of digestion, saving that they make them [dream a little too much]. He boasted also how with this manner of physic, he did always keep himself in health, and his family from sickness.
Yet for all that, I take it, he did not all that he bragged of: for he buried both his wife, and his son also. But he himself was of a strong nature, and a lusty body, full of strength, and health, and lived long without sickness: so that when he was a very old man and past marriage, he loved women well, and married a young maiden for that cause only.
Cato had a son by his second wife, whom he named after her name, Cato Salonian: and his eldest son died in his office being praetor, of whom he often speaketh in divers of his books, commending him for a very honest man. And they say, he took the death of him very patiently, and like a grave wise man, not leaving therefore to do any service or business for the state, otherwise than he did before.
And therein he did not, as Lucius Lucullus, and Metellus surnamed Pius, did afterwards: who gave up meddling any more with matters of government and state, after they were waxen old. For he thought it a charge and duty, whereunto every honest man whilst he lived, was bound in all piety. Nor as Scipio African had done before him, who perceiving that the glory and fame of his doings did purchase him the ill will of the citizens, he changed the rest of his life into quietness, and forsook the city and all dealings in commonwealth, and went and dwelt in the country.
But as there was one that told Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, as it is written, that he could not die more honourably, than to be buried in the tyranny: even so did Cato think, that he could not wax more honestly old, than in serving of the commonwealth, unto his dying day. So at vacant times, when Cato was desirous a little to recreate and refresh himself, he passed his time away in making of books, and looking upon his husbandry in the country. This is the cause why he wrote so many kinds of books and stories. But his tillage and husbandry in the country, he did tend and follow all in his youth, for his profit. For he said he had but two sorts of revenue, tillage, and sparing: but in age, whatsoever he did in the country, it was all for pleasure, and to learn something ever of nature. For he hath written a book of the country life, and of tillage, in the which he sheweth how to make tarts and cakes, and how to keep fruits. He would needs shew such singularity and skill in all things: when he was in his house in the country, he fared a little better than he did in other places, and would oftentimes bid his neighbours, and such as had land lying about him, to come and sup with him, and he would be merry with them: so that his company was not only pleasant, and liking to old folks as himself, but also to the younger sort. For he had seen much, and had experience in many things, and used much pleasant talk, profitable for the hearers. He thought the board one of the chiefest means to breed love amongst men, and at his own table would always praise good men and virtuous citizens, but would suffer no talk of evil men, neither in their praise nor dispraise.
Narration and Discussion
What do you think of Cato's health plan? Did it seem to work well? (Look back at Lesson Nine and see where his statue was erected. Was this appropriate?)
Near the end of his life, Cato had a warning and some advice for the Roman government: the city of Carthage was stronger than ever, and it was likely that they would start a war with Rome, or at least prove to be a dangerous enemy. He turned out to be right.
razed it utterly: brought it to the ground
Carthage carried a high sail, and stopped not for a little: Carthage was doing well, "riding high"
to leave to understand: stop worrying about
insolency: lack of respect for authority, or (in this case) overconfidence in themselves, lack of humility
Now it is thought the last notable act and service he did in the commonwealth, was the overthrow of Carthage: for indeed he that won it, and razed it utterly, was Scipio the second, but it was chiefly through Cato's counsel and advice, that the last war was taken in hand against the Carthaginians, and it of the last chanced upon this occasion.
Cato was sent into Africa to understand the cause and controversy that was between the Carthaginians and Massinissa, king of Numidia, which were at great wars together. And he was sent thither, because king Massinissa had ever been a friend unto the Romans, and for that the Carthaginians were become their confederates since the last wars, in the which they were overthrown by Scipio the first, who took for a fine of them, a great part of their Empire, and imposed upon them besides, a great yearly tribute.
Now when he was come into that country, he found not the city of Carthage in misery, beggary, and out of heart, as the Romans supposed: but full of lusty youths very rich and wealthy, and great store of armour and munition in it for the wars, so that by reason of the wealth thereof, Carthage carried a high sail, and stopped not for a little. Wherefore he thought that it was more than time for the Romans to leave to understand the controversies betwixt the Carthaginians and Massinissa, and rather to provide betimes to destroy Carthage, that had been ever an ancient enemy to the Romans, and ever sought to be revenged of that they had suffered at their hands before, and that they were now grown to that greatness and courage in so short time, as in manner it was incredible: so as it was likely they would fall into as great enmity with the Romans, as they ever did before.
Therefore so soon as he returned to Rome, he plainly told the Senate, that the losses and harms the Carthaginians had received by the last wars they had with them, had not so much diminished their power and strength, as the same had shewed their own folly and lack of wisdom: for it was to be feared much, least their late troubles had made them more skilful, than weakened them for the wars.
And that they made wars now with the Numidians, to exercise them only, meaning afterwards to war with themselves [Rome]: and that the peace they had made with them, was but an intermission and stay of wars, only expecting time and opportunity to break with them again. They say moreover, that besides the persuasions he used, he brought with him of purpose, African figs in his long sleeves, which he shook out amongst them in the Senate. When the Senators marvelled to see so goodly fair green figs, he said: The country that beareth them, is not above three days' sailing from Rome.
But yet this is more strange which they report of him besides: that he never declared his opinion in any matter in the Senate after that, but this was ever the one end of his tale: Methinketh still Carthage would be utterly destroyed.
Publius Scipio Nasica, used ever in like manner the contrary speech: that he thought it meet Carthage should stand. Scipio saw, in my opinion, that the Romans through their pride and insolency were full of absurdities, and carried themselves very high, by reason of their happy success and victories, and were so lofty minded, that the Senate could hardly rule them: and that by reason of their great authority, they imagined they might bring their city to what height they would. Therefore he spake it, that the fear of Carthage might always continue as a bridle, to reign in the insolency of the people of Rome, who knew well enough, that the Carthaginians were of no sufficient power to make wars with the Romans, nor yet to overcome them: and even so were they not wholly to be despised, and not to be feared at all.
Cato still replied to the contrary, that therein consisted the greatest danger of all: that a city which was ever of great force and power, and had been punished by former wars and misery, would always have an eye of revenge to their enemies, and be much like a horse that had broken his halter, that being unbridled, would run upon his rider. And therefore he thought it not good, nor sound advice, so to suffer the Carthaginians to recover their strength, but rather they ought altogether to take away all outward danger, and the fear they stood in to lose their conquest: and specially, when they left means within the city [it]self to fall still again to their former rebellion. And this is the cause why they suppose Cato was the occasion of the third and last war the Romans had against the Carthaginians.
But now when the war was begun, Cato died, and before his death he prophesied, as a man would say, who it should be that should end those wars. And it was Scipio the second, who being a young man at that time, had charge only as a colonel over a thousand footmen: but in all battles, and wheresoever there was wars, he shewed himself ever valiant and wise. Insomuch as news being brought thereof continually unto Rome, and Cato hearing them, spake as they say, these two verses of Homer:
This only man right wise, reputed is to be,
all other seem but shadows set, by such wise men as he.
Which prophecy, Scipio soon after confirmed true by his doings.
Moreover, the issue Cato left behind him, was a son he had by his second wife: who was called (as we said before) Cato Salonian, by reason of his mother, and a little boy of his eldest son that died before him. This Cato Salonian died being praetor, but he left a son behind him that came to be consul, and was grandfather unto Cato the Philosopher, one of the most virtuous men of his time.
Narration and Discussion
How did Cato become so involved, in his old age, with the question of Carthage? What were the fresh figs intended to demonstrate?
Cato quotes some lines from Homer, referring to Scipio. Do they apply as well to himself?
1. Miss R.A. Pennethorne, "P.N.E.U. Principles As Illustrated by Teaching," The Parents' Review, 10 (1899): 549, Ambleside.
Copyright © 2002-2017 AmblesideOnline. All rights reserved. Use of this curriculum subject to the terms of our License Agreement.