Image of Cato.
Thursday, February 14, 2008

Plutarch Cato

The statue shown above is an image of Cato prior to his suicide. He is reading the Phaedo.

This Cato is Cato the Younger (Marcus Porcius Catō Uticensis (95-46 BC)) not Cato the Elder (Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 BC)) who is famous for “Carthago delenda est” (Carthage must be destroyed).

Unlike Caesar we are treated to several incidents from Cato’s early life. We are told that “even from his infancy” Cato had “an inflexible temper, unmoved by any passion, and firm in everything.” He may have had a learning disability, “When he began to learn, he proved dull, and slow to apprehend, but of what he once received, his memory was remarkably tenacious.” So he wasn’t one of the gifted ones who gets attention lavished on them by doting teachers. He was probably an alcoholic. “At first, he was wont to drink only once after supper, and then go away; but in process of time he grew to drink more, insomuch that oftentimes he would continue till morning.”

Cato refuses an alliance through marriage with Pompey, one which Caesar accepts. This ultimately enables Caesar to grow stronger, and leads to the civil war. (Lucan, in his Civil War, calls it less than civil because Caesar and Pompey were brothers-in-law.)

Cato as quaestor, a treasury official, was remarkably honest, and held others to a high standard of honesty. At one point in his political life he is estimated to have enriched Rome’s treasuries by 7,000 talents of silver, or nearly $90,000,000. (See calculation in Caesar for basis of calculation.)

During the Civil War, Cato made his last stand at Utica, in modern day Tunisia. He ultimately committed suicide, rather than submit to clemency from Caesar.

Cato may have been admirable, but I don’t think he was lovable,

Next up is Epictetus. The reading list says excerpts, but if the translation is tolerable I may do all of Epictetus.