Cato in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities

M. Porcius Cato, surnamed Censorius, in allusion to the severity with which he discharged the office of a censor, and hence commonly styled, at the present day, " Cato the Censor." Other surnames were, Priscus, "the old," and Maior, "the elder," both alluding to his having preceded, in order of time, the younger Cato , who committed suicide at Utica. Cato the Censor was born in B.C. 234 at Tusculum, of plebeian parents. His family were in very moderate circumstances, and little, if anything, was known of it, until he himself made the name a conspicuons one. His father left him a small farm in the Sabine territory, and here the first years of his youth were spent. The state of public affairs, however, soon compelled him to take up arms for the defence of his country. The Second Punic War had broken out, and Hannibal had invaded Italy. Cato, therefore, served his first campaign, at the age of seventeen, under Fabius Maximus, when he besieged the city of Capua. Five years after this he fought under the same commander at the siege of Tarentum, and, after the capture of this place, became acquainted with the Pythagorean Nearchus, who initiated him into the principles of that system of philosophy, with which, in practice, he had already become familiar. The war being ended, Cato returned to his farm. Near this there stood a cottage belonging to Manius Curius Dentatus, who had repeatedly triumphed over the Sabines and Samnites, and had at length driven Pyrrhus from Italy. Cato was accustomed frequently to walk over to the humble abode of this renowned commander, where he was struck with admiration at the frugality of its owner, and the skilful management of the farm which was attached to it. Hence it became his great object to emulate his illustrious neighbour, and adopt him as his model. Having made an estimate of his house, lands, slaves, and expenses, he applied himself to husbandry with new ardour, and retrenched all superfluity. In the morning he went to the small towns in the vicinity to plead and defend the causes of those who applied to him for assistance. Thence he returned to his fields, where, with a plain cloak over his shoulders in winter, and almost naked in summer, he laboured with his servants till they had concluded their tasks, after which he sat down along with them at table, eating the same bread and drinking the same wine. Valerius Flaccus, a noble and powerful Roman, who occupied an estate in the neighbourhood of Cato 's residence, persuaded the young Cato to remove to Rome, and promised to assist him by his influence and patronage. Cato came, accordingly, to the capital, with an obscure name, and with no other resources than his own talents and the aid of the generous Flaccus; but by the purity of his morals, the austere energy of his character, his knowledge of the laws, his fluency of elocution, and the great ability that marked his early forensic career, he soon won for himself a distinguished name. It was in the camp, however, rather than at the bar, that he strove to raise himself to eminence. At the age of thirty he went as military tribune to Sicily. The next year he was chosen quaestor, and was attached to the army which Scipio Africanus was to carry into Africa, at which period there commenced between him and that commander a rivalry and hatred which lasted until death. Cato , who had returned to Rome, accused Scipio of extravagance; and though he failed in supporting his charge, yet his zeal for the public good gained him great influence over the minds of the people. Five years subsequent to this, after having been already aedile, he was chosen praetor, and the province of Sardinia fell to him by lot. His integrity and justice, while discharging this office, brought him into direct and most favourable contrast with those who had preceded him. Here, too, it was that he became acquainted with the poet Ennius, who was then serving among the Calabrian levies attached to the army. From Ennius he acquired the Greek language, and, on his departure from the island, he took the bard along with him to Rome. He was finally elected consul, B.C. 193, and his colleague in office was Valerius Flaccus, his early friend. While consul he strenuously but fruitlessly opposed the abolition of the famous Oppian Law (see Oppia Lex), and soon after this set out for Spain, which had attempted to shake off the Roman yoke. With newly raised troops, which he soon converted into an excellent army, he quickly reduced that province to submission, and obtained the honours of a triumph at Rome. Hardly had Cato descended from the triumphal chariot, when, laying aside the consular robe and assuming the garb of the lieutenant, he accompanied, as such, the Roman commander Sempronius into Thrace. He afterwards placed himself under the orders of Manius Acilius, the consul, to fight against Antiochus, and carry the war into Thessaly. By a bold march he seized upon Callidromus, one of the rockiest summits of Thermopylae, and thus decided the issue of the conflict. For this signal service, the consul, in the excess of his enthusiasm, embraced him in the presence of the whole army, and exclaimed that it was neither in his power, nor in that of the Roman people, to award him a recompense commensurate with his deserts (B.C. 191). Seven years later he obtained the office of censor, notwithstanding the powerful opposition of a large part of the nobility, who dreaded to have so severe an inspector of public morals at a time when luxury, the result of their Asiatic conquests, had driven out many of the earlier virtues of the Roman people. He fulfilled this trust with inflexible rigour. Some of his acts, it is true, would seem to have proceeded from that pugnacious bitterness which must be contracted by a man engaged in constant strife and inflictions: thus, for example, he took away his horse from Lucius Scipio, and expelled Manilius from the Senate for kissing his wife in the presence of his children. Still, however, most of his proceedings when censor indicate a man who aimed, by every method, at keeping up the true spirit of earlier days. Hence, though his measures, while holding this office, caused him some obloquy and opposition, they met in the end with the highest applause; and when he resigned the censorship the people erected a statue to him in the Temple of Health, with an honourable inscription testifying his faithful discharge of the duties of his office. Cato 's attachment to the old Roman morals was still more plainly seen in his opposition to Carneades (q.v.) and his colleagues, when he persuaded the Senate to send back these philosophers, without delay, to their own schools, through fear lest the Roman youth should lose their martial character in the pursuit of Grecian learning. The whole political career of Cato was one continued warfare. He was constantly accusing others, or made the subject of accusation himself. Livy , although full of admiration for his character, still does not seek to deny that Cato was suspected of having excited the accusation brought against Scipio Africanus, which compelled that illustrious man to leave the capital. He was also the means of the condemnation of Scipio Asiaticus, who would have been dragged to prison had not Tiberius Gracchus generously interfered. As for Cato himself, he was fifty times accused and as often acquitted. He was eighty-five years of age when he saw himself compelled to answer the last accusation brought against him, and the exordium of his speech on that occasion was marked by a peculiar and touching simplicity: "It is a hard thing, Romans, to give an account of one's conduct before the men of an age different from that in which one has himself lived." The last act of Cato 's public life was his embassy to Carthage, to settle the dispute between the Carthaginians and King Masinissa. This voyage of his is rendered famous in history, since to it has been attributed the destruction of Carthage. In fact, struck by the rapid recovery of this city from the loss it had sustained, Cato ever after ended every speech of his with the well-known words, Praeterea censeo Carthaginem esse delendam ("I am also of opinion that Carthage ought to be destroyed"). See Carthago. Cato died a year after his return from this embassy, in the eighty-fifth year of his age. Although frugal of the public revenues, he does not appear to have been indifferent to riches, nor to have neglected the ordinary means of acquiring them; and, if Plutarch speaks truly, some of the modes to which he had recourse for increasing his resources were anything but reputable. Towards the end of his life he was fond of indulging in a glass of wine, and of inviting daily some of his neighbours to sup with him at his villa; and the conversation on these occasions turned, not as one might have supposed, chiefly on rural affairs, but on the praises of great and excellent men among the Romans. He was twice married, and had a son by each of his wives. His conduct as husband and father was equally exemplary. In fact, Cato may be taken as a specimen of the SabinoSamnite character, narrow, bigoted, and obstinate, yet inspired with a strong sense of duty and unimpeachable integrity. Among the literary labours of Cato , the first that deserves mention is the treatise De Re Rustica, more properly styled De Agri Cultura, which appears to have come down to us in a mutilated state, since Pliny and other writers allude to subjects as treated of by Cato , and to opinions as delivered by him in this book, which are nowhere to be found in any part of the work now extant. In its present state, it is merely the loose, disconnected journal of a plain farmer, expressed with rude, sometimes with almost oracular, brevity; and it wants all those elegant topics of embellishment and illustration which the subject might have so naturally suggested. It consists solely of the dryest rules of agriculture, and some recipes for making various kinds of cakes and wine. Servius says it is addressed to the author's son, but there is no dedication now extant. It is divided into chapters, but the author, apparently, had never taken the trouble of reducing his precepts to any sort of method, or of following any general plan. The hundred and sixty-two chapters, of which this work consists, seem so many rules committed to writing, as the daily labours of the field suggested. He gives directions about the vineyard, then goes to his corn-fields, and returns again to the vineyard. His treatise, therefore, was evidently not intended as a regular and well-composed book, but merely as a journal of incidental observations. That this was its utmost pretension is further evinced by the brevity of the precepts, and the deficiency of all illustrations or embellishment. Of the style, he of course would be little careful, as his memoranda were intended for the use only of his family and his slaves. It is therefore always simple, and sometimes rude, but it is not ill-adapted to the subject, and suits our notions of the severe manners of its author and the character of the ancient Romans. Besides this book on agriculture, Cato left behind him various works, which have almost entirely perished. He left a hundred and fifty orations (Brutus, 17), which were extant in the time of Cicero, though almost entirely neglected, and a book on military discipline (Veget. i. 8). Both Cicero and Livy have expressed themselves very fully on the subject of Cato 's orations. The former admits that his "language is antiquated, and some of his phrases harsh and inelegant. But only change that," he continues, "which it was not in his power to change-add number and cadence- give an easier turn to his sentences, and regulate the structure and connection of his words, and you will find no one who can claim preference over Cato." Livy principally speaks of the facility, asperity, and freedom of his style. Of the book on military discipline, a good deal has been incorporated into the work of Vegetius; and Cicero's orations may console us for the want of those of Cato. But the loss of the seven books De Originibus, which he commenced in his vigorous old age, and finished just before his death, must ever be deeply deplored by the historian and the antiquary. Cato is said to have begun an inquiry into the history, antiquities, and language of the Roman people, with a view to counteract the influence of the Greek taste introduced by the Scipios. The first book of the valuable work De Originibus, as we are informed by Cornelius Nepos, in his short life of Cato , contained the exploits of the kings of Rome. Cato was the first author who attempted to fix the era of the foundation of Rome, which he calculated in his Origines, and determined to have been in the first year of the 7th Olympiad, which is also the estimate followed by Dionysius of Halicarnassus. The second and third books treated of the origin of the different states of Italy, whence the whole work has received the name of Origines. The fourth and fifth books comprehended the history of the First and Second Punic Wars; and in the two remaining books the author discussed the other wars of the Romans till the time of Servius Galba, who overthrew the Lusitanians. The whole work exhibited great industry and learning, and, had it descended to us, would unquestionably have thrown much light upon the early periods of Roman history and the antiquities of the different states of Italy. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, himself a sedulous inquirer into antiquities, bears ample testimony to the research and accuracy of that part which treats of the origin of the ancient Italian cities. Cato was the first of his countrymen who wrote on the subject of medicine. This was done in a work entitled Commentarius quo Medetur Filio, Servis, Familiaribus. In this book of domestic medicine, duck, pigeons, and hare were the food he chiefly recommended to the sick. His remedies were principally extracted from herbs; and colewort or cabbage was his favourite cure (Plin. H. N. xx. 9). The recipes, indeed, contained in his work on agriculture show that his medical knowledge did not exceed that which usually exists among a semi-barbarous race, and only extended to the most ordinary simples which nature affords. Aulus Gellius (vi. 10) mentions Cato 's Libri Quaestionum Epistolicarum, and Cicero his Apophthegmata (De Officiis, i. 29)-the first example, probably, of that class of works which, under the appellation of Ana, were once so fashionable and prevalent in France.

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