Marcus Cato (Porcius) - 'Cato the Elder' (234-149 BC)

also known as Cato the Censor (to distinguish him from his great-grandson)

"Censeo Carthaginem esse delendam" or "I declare that Carthage must be destroyed."

Marcus Porcius Cato was born in 234 bc in Tusculum, a self-governing town of Latium (Lazio) fifteen miles south of Rome. Its citizens, including Cato’s father, were Roman citizens. 

But his father’s living was as a farmer in the mountainous Sabine country, well to the southeast. ‘I spent all my boyhood in frugality, privation and hard work, reclaiming the Sabine rocks, digging and planting those flinty fields’ (Cato, Speeches 128). 

Porcius was his nomen, his wider family name. The cognomen Cato went back in the family at least to his great-grandfather Cato, who was ‘more than once rewarded for bravery, and was reimbursed from public funds, five times successively, when war-horses of his were killed in battle’ (Plutarch, Cato 1.1). 

‘I first enlisted at seventeen, when Hannibal was having his run of luck, setting Italy on fire’ (Cato, Speeches 187-8). The friendship and patronage of L. Valerius Flaccus, roughly Cato’s age and the son of a consul, helped him to the rank of military tribune under Q. Fabius Maximus in 214. 

After some years of fighting, Cato was elected quaestor in 204, again under Flaccus’ patronage. The work before him was still military, but this was now the first rung on the ladder of Roman electoral politics. ‘The Romans had a special term, New Men, for people who rose in politics without any family precedent. This was what they called Cato. He liked to say that in terms of office and power he was New, but in terms of his family’s bravery and prowess he was extremely Old’ (Plutarch, Cato 1.2). As quaestor he served under P. Cornelius Scipio ‘Africanus’, then gathering forces in Sicily for the invasion of Africa that would end the war. Scipio enjoyed the Greek culture and fine living of Syracuse. Cato did not, and thought them bad for Roman soldiers. 

As a politician, Cato could now wield patronage himself. His powers as a speaker were employed on behalf of people in nearby villages and towns who wished to use him as an advocate, and he will have begun to prosper. His next elected office was as one of the two aediles, with responsibilities in Rome itself, in 199: he and his colleague found excuses to organise more Games than usual, not an unpopular move. 

In 195 he and his friend Flaccus were elected consuls, the climax of many Roman political careers. Cato’s task as consul was to command the Roman army in the northeastern half of the vast new territory of Spain, captured from the Carthaginians a few years before but almost continually in revolt. Within the limit of the single campaigning season, from a ‘very difficult and unfavourable starting point’ (Speeches 19) he ran an effective campaign, training, disciplining and stretching his troops, ending rebellions, even rescuing his junior colleague, the praetor P. Manlius, from threatened disaster in the southwest beyond his own province. He seemed so successful that he was voted the honour of celebrating a Triumph on his return to Rome; the booty he had won made up a bonus of a pound of silver to every legionary; and the Senate decided to disband his army. Whereupon revolts broke out once more — but these were a problem for his successor in Spain, Scipio Africanus. 

In the course of his career Cato served the expanding Roman state in Sicily and north Africa in 214, in Sardinia in 198, in Spain in 195, in Greece in 191 and 189. But his real fame came — and still comes — from what he did and said in Rome. From the outset of his political career, he was the conviction politician of the day. He knew Roman behaviour, Roman morality, the Roman way. From this standpoint he attacked, and generally discredited, for embezzlement and other illegal acts while abroad, a succession of victims: M’. Acilius Glabrio, his commander in 191, another New Man; the great Scipio Africanus, Cato’s commander in Sicily and Africa, and his brother L. Cornelius Scipio; Q. Minucius Thermus, one of those who followed Cato in Spain. By 184 he had a well-deserved reputation for stubborn righteousness and fiery oratory. 

Every five years Rome elected two censors. These held office for a year and their task was to review the lists of the Senate, the Equites ‘knights’ and the citizen body, expelling those unworthy of the rank or too poor to meet their obligations. The censorship was sometimes looked on as an honourable sinecure, but in 184 a climate had been created, with Cato’s help, in which Romans wanted better behaviour from their aristocrats. In 184 there was fierce competition for the censorship: all other candidates, except Flaccus, directed their campaigns against Cato personally. Cato and Flaccus were elected. Their famous censorship of 184/3 aroused rivalries that ‘occupied Cato for the rest of his life’ (Livy 39.44.9). They demoted several senators and knights, for reasons including personal morals. Victims included M. Fulvius Nobilior, whom Cato served in 189; L. Quinctius Flamininus, brother of one of Rome’s greatest generals. Cato concerned himself freely with issues of morality and private expenditure, speaking out On Clothes and Vehicles and On Statues and Pictures. The censors imposed penalties for encroachment on public land and misuse of the public water supply. They extended Rome’s sewer network to serve the Aventine hill, at great cost. 

Cato, it is reliably said, disapproved of humour when censorial business was in hand. L. Nasica was asked formally at registration, ‘Answer to your mind. Have you a wife?’ replied, ‘Yes, but not to my mind!’ and was immediately demoted. 

Cato held no more elected offices, but his involvement in Roman politics was uninterrupted. As senator, advocate, prosecutor, he continued to target misbehaviour by generals on campaign and by governors in overseas provinces. His oratorical skills were used in long-running disputes with old adversaries and their relatives as well as in defending, or rewriting, his own past acts. 

As Rome’s involvement in the eastern Mediterranean grew, Cato found himself the patron or advocate of Greek delegations who had come to press a case in Rome. As a self-proclaimed traditional Roman, a self-proclaimed distruster of Greeks, he might have found this position uncomfortable, but it did not leave him at a loss for words. Asked in 150 to help get a thousand state hostages released and sent home to Greece, Cato rose in the Senate and said, ‘As if we had nothing to do, we sit all day deciding whether some old Greeks should be buried by our undertakers or by Achaean ones.’ The intervention was well-judged: the vote was for release. Among these ‘old Greeks’, who had had a seventeen years’ enforced holiday in Rome, was the future historian Polybius. 

Cato’s last major contribution to Roman public affairs was to urge war against Carthage, the ‘Third Punic War’ as it is now known — a war that was eventually declared in his lifetime and ended, after his death, with the complete destruction of Rome’s great rival. As Cato had so insistently repeated, Carthago delenda est, ‘Carthage must be razed.’ Its destroyer would be P. Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, brother of Cato’s daughter-in-law Tertia. ‘He alone has a mind,’ said the aged Cato about Aemilianus; ‘the rest are darting shadows’ (Polybius 36 fragment 8.7). 

Cato had married Licinia, ‘noble but not rich’, about the time of his consulship. He was said to have joked ‘that his wife never put her arms round him except when there was a thunderstorm: he was a happy man when Jove thundered’ (Plutarch, Cato 17.7). He was also said to be a good husband and a thoughtful and painstaking father. 

His first son, Marcus Cato later called ‘Licinianus’, was born around 192. Cato took personal charge of his son’s education, and himself wrote out a history of Rome ‘in big letters’ to teach Marcus to read. Marcus fought honourably in Greece in 168 under the eminent L. Aemilius Paullus. He married Tertia, his commander’s daughter, in the 160s and died just after being elected praetor in the late 150s. 

Licinia, too, died relatively young. At the age of about 80, still vigorous, Cato married a much younger woman, Salonia, the daughter of one of his secretaries — so probably not of Roman descent. He had a son by Salonia, also called Marcus and known to later historians as ‘Cato Salonius’ or ‘Salonianus’. Cato died in 149. 

 Cato the ElderCato the Elder was born probably in 234 BC at Tusculum where he was brought up in the country of the Sabines on his father's farm. His father the descendant of a family for many generations resident in Latium, died when he was very young, and left him a small estate at a considerable distance from his birthplace, in the territory of the Sabines. Here he spent his early youth in work upon his land, leading a simple life, and studying such subjects as he thought would best advance the career of patriotic service which he had already marked out for himself. When 17 yrs of age, in 217, he entered the Roman Army, and served in the campaign of that year against Hannibal. In 214 he served at Capua and in 209 he was with Fabius Maximum at Tarentum. During the short periods between his various terms of service he devoted his time to labor at his farm.

He was consul in 195 BC and led his army to great victory in Spain.

Cato, from the very beginning of his life, established his thoughts and feelings about the "simple life." With little formal education during his youth, Cato became a soldier, then tribune, then quaestor (treasurer) during the Second Punic War to fight against Hannibal and the Carthanians. He retired from the army in 191 BC. As a senator he participated fervently in debates.

Near this favorite resort a Roman patrician, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, had a large estate. Cato was constantly brought into contact with him, and impressed the Nobleman so favorably that the latter begged him to go to Rome with him, and under his patronage as the custom was, to study law and oratory. Cato consented and made his entry into the political world and marked sucess rapidly acquiring celebrity as a pleader and oratorin the forum and becoming a candidate for the quaestorship, an office which he attained in 205.

In this capacity he accompanied Scipio Africanus to Sicily in 204 but went back to Rome before the return of his general whom he accused to the senate of prodigality and mis-management. This is the story given by some authorities, though Livy says the inhabitants of Locri were the complainants against Scripio and does not mention Cato by name as having pleaded the cause. A commission of investigation was the result of the complaint and Scipio was acquitted.

Because of his bravery and success on the battle field his surname, originally Priscus, was changed to Cato (Catus for the Romans meant "skilled man"). The progress from quaestor to consul via offices of aedile and praetor was a natural one and came more quickly to men who had proved themselves able soldiers in times of war. However, no one man could hold the same office twice in ten years. Therefore, unless there was a provincial governor needed somewhere, some men could at the very height of their power suddenly find themselves unemployed.



Feud with Scipio

Cato's greatest enemy was the outstanding general Scipio Africanus (who defeated Hannibal !), whom Cato hassled wherever and whenever he could. People tended to like Scipio and in 189 BC when Scipio returned from Asia following his defeat of Antiochus, his triumph surely should have sealed his fame. And yet Cato did all to to disgrace him. A staunch defender of tradition Cato charged Scipio with spending too much time in the gymnasium, at the theatre and the baths, and accused him of indulging in 'Greek customs'. Althugh Cato's accusations failed to stick, the authorities were alas goaded into a trial which Scipio won. But at what cost Cato had in essence managed to ruin his reputation, forcing him out of politics. Scipio's fall is a prime example of Cato's determination to succeed and political skill as well as his bigotry.

Repeal of the lex Oppia

In Rome tribunes proposed repealing the lex Oppia, passed twenty years before, that limited the jewelry, colored clothing, and carriage-riding of Roman women. When many women lobbied officials, consul Marcus Cato spoke against repeal, arguing that the husband's authority over his wife prevents trouble with women. Known for renouncing luxuries, Cato warned against this mass movement and compared it to the secession of the plebeians in 494 BC. He asked if the men could endure equality with women and suggested that once equality was granted, women would be superior. Cato cautioned that excessive spending led to the vices of extravagance and avarice, which destroy empires. He pitied the husbands, who would be entreated by their wives for money whether they yield or refuse. Tribune Lucius Valerius argued that women benefited Rome in the past and should not have to suffer this war-time measure in peace-time, believing women's finery should be controlled by husbands and fathers, not by the law; greater power requires greater moderation. A crowd of women besieged the doors of those who intended to veto the tribunes' proposal until they relented; then the tribes voted for the repeal.

Governor of Sardinia

As governor of Sardinia, Marcus Cato had greatly reduced government expenditures by his simple living.

Suspicious of Eumenes II, Cato described a king as an animal that lives on human flesh. He said that he would rather do what was right and go unrewarded than do wrong and be unpunished, and he was prepared to forgive everyone's mistakes except his own. He noted that the wise learn from the mistakes of fools; but fools do not imitate the wise. Cato undertook numerous prosecutions and caused Lucius Scipio to pay a heavy fine, but 44 impeachments were brought against Cato himself.

In Spain he defeated rebellions by giving his army little opportunity to flee from battle. In less than a year he captured 400 cities in Spain, and his soldiers received a pound of silver each, which he said was better than having the pockets of a few filled with gold. Succeeded early in Spain by his adversary Scipio Africanus, Cato on his march to Rome subdued the Lacetani and executed 600 deserters they handed over to him. Cato was the first to publish his speeches and wrote other works such as histories; his only extant book, On Agriculture, is the oldest Latin book we have. Full of practical advice he described the duties of the overseer as the following:

He must show good management. The feast days must be observed. He must withhold his hands from another's goods and diligently preserve his own. He must settle disputes among the slaves; and if anyone commits an offense he must punish him properly in proportion to the fault. He must see that the servants are well provided for, and that they do not suffer from cold or hunger. Let him keep them busy with their work - he will more easily keep them from wrongdoing and meddling. If the overseer set his face against wrongdoing, they will not do it; if he allows it, the master must not let him go unpunished. He must express his appreciation of good work, so that others may take pleasure in well-doing.6

He was hated for his rural ways, his harshness and his outspokenness. Though he was respected as a skilled politician and a effective public speaker.
And it was in his last political act, as an eighty-four year old senator, that he should initiate a war which should result in the complete destruction of an entire civilization - Carthage.
Cato never really retired from active life. He compiled the earliest Roman encyclopedia, wrote a medical work, a history of Rome, and even a treatise on agriculture; the latter being the oldest surviving complete prose work in Latin.

Men in love were thought laughable by Romans, especially old dodderers who married young girls. Yet this is precisely what Cato eventually did. Being a sensible old man, on losing his wife he had married off his son. Cato himself then frequented a certain slave girl, who came to see him every evening in his room, but his son felt that this carrying-on was rather shocking in a house where there was a young bride, his wife. Cato went straight to the forum where his friends gathered around him, forming an escort. Among them was a scribe, Salonius, who had worked at Cato's house when the the great man had been a magistrate and who had since remained his client. Cato called him over and asked wether he had found a husband yet for his daughter. Salonius replied that he had not, and that he was reluctant to do so without asking Cato's opinion. 'Well then', said Cato, 'I have found a suitable son-in-law for you, unless you find his age an obstacle. He is a worthy man in all respects, but he is very old.' Salonius could hardly object. Cato then declared that he himself was the fiancé. Astounded but honoured, Salonius rushed to put his signature on the contract. Cato's young wife gave him a son who assumed as surname the name of his maternal grandfather, Salonius.

Concerning the next few years of Cato's life we have slight details but know that he was aedile in 199 and that in 198 he was made praetor and received the province of Sardinia. Here he showed in his administration and mode of life the enconomy simplicity and impartial justice which distinguished his whole career. By the frugality of his habits by his example in public and his prompt punishment of venality and corrupt practices, he endeavored to combat the introduction of habits of luxury and extravagance from Greece and to restore the old severity and strength of the Roman character. In 195 he was chosen consul, Lucius Valerius Flaccus his former patron being his colleague.

Cato in Spain

It was then customary for one of the conssuls to take the governorship of a distant portion of the Roman possessions and Cato was assigned to that of Hither Spain, a province then in a state of revolt and great disorder. Here he showed remarkable ability as a military leader, suppressed the rebellion, compelled the Spanish cities to destroy the greater part of their fortifications and restored affairs to their old condition. on his return to Rome in 194 he received the honor of his triumph.

Cato in Greece

In the consulship of Manius Acillius Glabrio which immediately followed his own Cato accompanied that leader as legate in his campaign against Greece. Here, by a sudden and remarkably difficult march he decided the principal battle of the war in favor of the Romans and compelled the retreat of the enemy.

Returning to Rome, he from this time abandoned military life and resumed his place as a popular orator in the forum and the courts.

Election as Censor

(A Censor is a political office that had election every five years to classify citizens for military service or to judge moral fitness of public functions.) In 184 BC he was made Censor, again having his old friend Flaccus as his colleague. Although most candidates for censor, whose duty was to watch, regulate, and punish any licentious behavior, campaigned promising leniency, in 184 BC Cato and Lucius Valerius were elected censors by promising drastic purification like the strenuous treatment of a physician. Their inexorable administration of justice made Roman authority greatly feared and respected. In attacking extravagance Cato asked how could a city be saved where people pay more for pickled fish than for an ox. Taxes on luxuries valued over 1500 drachmas were increased tenfold. Cato said, "A man who beats his wife or child is laying sacrilegious hands on the most sacred thing in the world." Cato owned many slaves he bought as prisoners of war; they could earn their freedom, and a man could pay a price to sleep with one of the women and no other; but those found guilty of a capital crime in his formal trial, he executed.

Though he said that he would rather have people ask why there is not a statue of him than why there is one, a statue was erected in his honor in the temple of Hygieia with the following inscription:

When the Roman state was sinking into decay,
he became censor and through his wise leadership,
sober discipline and sound principles restored its strength.5

It was while holding this position that Cato did most of the work he is famous for. He prosecuted multiple officials for extortion and corruptions. He pushed his idea of simplicity and frugality on both the government and the people during a time when there was an increase in personal wealth and a desire for more. He did this by revising the roles of the Senate and Calvary as well as inventing a way to tax luxurious items.
Cato took his duties as the guardian of public morals rather seriously. He expelled Manilius, a prospective candidate for the consulship, from the senate on the grounds that he had embraced his wife in broad daylight in front of their daughter !
Commenting on the event, Cato said that for his own part he never embraced his wife unless it was thundering loudly, and he would sometimes joke that he was a happy man indeed when it thundered.
He strenuously pursued those who would misuse public property. He cut off pipes by which people habitually siphoned off part off the municipal water supply into their houses and gardens and knocked down private buildings which encroached on public land. He imposed heavy taxes on the rich and severe taxes on the very rich. He introduced police regulation to restrict luxurious living and entertaining.

But the most popular thing that he did was promoting the final destruction of Rome's old enemy, Carthage, after discovering all of the agricultural prosperity that was existing there. His influence was great, and even though many, including Publius Scipio Nasica, disagreed with him about Carthage, the war was fought and Carthage was destroyed. Cato contributed much more through his ideas to the Roman people; however, Cato will always be known as the one who began the pillage of Carthage and the instigator of the Third Punic War.

Besides promoting his ideas through verbal speech, Cato also used written words to entice people to action. As the first person to utilize Latin for historical writing, Cato wrote history, not as an epic poem as it had been done prior, but as an instruction that addressed politics and the moral standards of Rome's ancestors.

Cato was a man of strong convictions. Bold and just, he was slow to anger, as well. As stated before, his way was the simple life, and Plutarch stated that he: "cultivated the old habits of bodily labor; preferred a light supper, a cold breakfast, loved old clothes and a homely lodging."

Thus, he despised Hellenistic philosophy and even resolved to have all of the philosophers put out of the city. This came from his conscious rejection of Greek influence and his convictions about the danger of Romans in Greece.


In the exercise of the censorship Cato gained the most enduring fame of his life. He raised the taxes on luxuries of many kinds, degraded officers for the most trifling acts of levity as well as for actual crimes, and bitterly persecuted those who opposed his acts. He improved the public works of the city, while introducing economy in the contract and stopped many abuses of the priviledges of the citizens. Now as during his whole life he was warmly on the side of the plebeians, and opposed the nobles by every means given him either by his official or personal influence; so that his censorship was a constant struggle with the patricians, both in petty and important matters. In revenge they began against him several prosecutions but he defended himself sucessfully in every case from their charges of maladadministration. At the close of his censorship the people caused his statue to be erected and a commemorative inscription to be placed upon its pedestal.

Cato now ceased to hold public office, except as a senator, but continued a remarkable activity in political affairs, never relaxing in his opposition to all forms of luxury, and attacking bitterly the vices of the nobles. He was employed in several important cases; in the prosecution of M. Marienus and Publius Furius Philus for maladadministration in Spain (171) BC in the defence of the Rhodians from the charge of treachery toward Rome; and in other of equal moment. He took a leading part in the debates of the Senate on all great questions, always favoring a policy intensely hostile to foreigners; his hostility toward all outside nationalities is shown in many familiar anecdotes.

The patricians continued to manifest their hatred of him as late as 153 BC when he was 81 yrs old Caius Cassius brought against him a serious accusation, the nature of which is not recorded, which compelled him to defend himself with ultimate success.

In 150 BC he began in the senate to urge an immediate declaration of war against Carthage (the third Punic war) With nine other deputies he was sent that year to investigate the condition of the rival city, and was so impressed by its appearance of power and prosperity that he declared upon his return that Rome could no longer permit so powerful an enemy to exist. His hatred of Carthage now became the absorbing passion of his life; he urged upon the people the importance of war, and never rose to speak or give his vote in the senate without adding to whatever else he said no matter how foreign the subject, (I vote moreover that Carthage must (vote) be destroyed, sentiment more familiar in the form Delenda est Carthage, which Cato himself probably never used in formal debates. A part of the last year of his life was spent in aiding the prosecution of S Sulpicius Galba for treachery; but this though undoubtly just; was unsuccessful. Soon after its conclusion Cato died at 85 years old. The character of Cato was bitter and severe; in private life and especially in the treatment of inferiors and slaves, he exhibited great harshness.

His personal morality, tried by a modern standard, was in some respects not so pure as it has been often represented by parial historians. After the death of his first wife Licinia he for a long time cohabited secretly with a female slave, and only married again when nearly 80 yrs old on his son's discovery of his concealed course. But his honesty and patriotism were incorruptible at a time when those around him possessed little of either virtue. Cato left two sons; one M Porcius Cato Licinianus, afterward became a jurist of eminence; the other M Porcius Cato Salonianus, by his second wife Salonia, was born in his father's 80th year and lived to become Paretor.

Cato the censor has been called the last of the old Romans. That class of patriot farmers had been extinguished by Hannibal’s invasion. In order to live during the long war they had been obliged to borrow money on their lands. When the war was over the prices of everything rose to an unnatural height; the farmers could not recover themselves, and the Roman law of debt was severe. They were ejected by thousands—it was the favourite method to turn the women and children out of doors while the poor man was working in the fields. Italy was converted into a plantation; slaves in chains tilled the land. No change was made in the letter of the constitution, but the commonwealth ceased to exist. Society was now composed of the nobles, the money-merchants or city men, and a mob like that of Carthage which lived on saleable votes, sometimes raging for agrarian laws, and which was afterwards fed at government expense like a wild beast every day.

At this time a few refined and intellectual men began to cultivate a taste for Greek literature and the fine arts. They collected libraries, and adorned them with busts of celebrated men and with antiques of Corinthian bronze. Crowds of imitators soon arose, and the conquests in the East awakened new ideas. In the days of old the Romans had been content to decorate their door-posts with trophies obtained in single combat, and their halls with the waxen portraits of their ancestors. The only spoils which they could then display were flocks and herds, wagons of rude structure, and heaps of spears and helmets. But now the arts of Greece and the riches of Asia adorned the triumphs of their generals, and the reign of taste and luxury commenced. A race of dandies appeared who wore semi-transparent robes, and who were always passing their hands in an affected manner through their hair—who lounged with the languor of the Sybarite, and spoke with the lisp of Alcibiades. The wives of senators and bankers became genteel, kept a herd of ladies’ maids, passed hours before their full-length silver mirrors, bathed in asses’ milk, rouged their cheeks and dyed their hair, never went out except in palanquins, gabbled Greek phrases, and called their slaves by Greek names even when they happened to be of Latin birth. The houses of the great were paved with mosaic floors, and the painted walls were works of art: sideboards were covered with gold and silver plate, with vessels of amber and of the tinted Alexandrine glass. The bathrooms were of marble, with the water issuing from silver tubes.

New amusements were invented, and new customs began to reign. An academy was established, in which five hundred boys and girls were taught castanet dances of anything but a decorous kind. The dinner hour was made later, and instead of sitting at table they adopted the style of lying down to eat on sofas inlaid with tortoiseshell and gold. It was chiefly in the luxuries of the cuisine that the Romans exhibited their wealth. Prodigious prices were paid for a good Greek cook. Every patrician villa was a castle of gastronomical delight: it was provided with its salt-water tank for fish and oysters, and an aviary which was filled with field-fares, ortolans, nightingales, and thrushes; a white dove-cot, like a tower, stood beside the house, and beneath it was a dark dungeon for fattening the birds; there was also a poultry ground, with pea-fowl, guinea-fowl, and pink feathered flamingoes imported from the East, while an orchard of fig-trees, honey-apples, and other fruits, and a garden in which the trees of cypress and yew were clipped into fantastic shapes, conferred an aspect of rural beauty on the scene. The hills round the Bay of Naples were covered with these villas; and to that charming region it became the fashion to resort at a certain season of the year. In such places gambling, drinking, and lovemaking shook off all restraints. Black-eyed soubrettes tripped perpetually about with billets-doux in Greek; the rattle of the ivory dice-box could be heard in the streets, like the click of billiard balls in the Parisian boulevards; and many a boat with purple sails and with garlands of roses twined round its mast floated softly along the water, laughter and sweet music sounding from the prow.

Happily for Cato’s peace of mind, he died before the casino with its cachucha—or cancan, or whatever it might have been—was introduced, and before the fashions of Asia had been added to those of Greece. But he lived long enough to see the Graeco-maniacs triumphant. In earlier and happier days he had been able to expel two philosophers from Rome, but now he saw them swarming in the streets with their ragged cloaks and greasy beards, and everywhere obtaining seats as domestic chaplains at the tables of the rich. He could now do no more than protest in his bitter and extravagant style against the corruption of the age. He prophesied that as soon as Rome had thoroughly imbibed the Greek philosophy she would lose the empire of the world; he declared that Socrates was a prating, seditious fellow who well deserved his fate; and he warned his son to beware of the Greek physicians, for the Greeks had laid a plot to kill all the Romans, and the doctors had been deputed to put it into execution with their medicines.

Cato was a man of an iron body which was covered with honourable scars, a loud, harsh voice, greenish-grey eyes, foxy hair, and enormous teeth resembling tusks. His face was so hideous and forbidding that, according to one of the hundred epigrams that were composed against him, he would wander for ever on the banks of the Styx, for hell itself would be afraid to let him in. He was distinguished as a general, as an orator, and as an author, but he pretended that it was his chief ambition to be considered a good farmer. He lived in a little cottage on his Sabine estate, and went in the morning to practise as an advocate in the neighbouring town. When he came home he stripped to the skin and worked in the fields with his slaves, drinking as they did the vinegar-water or the thin, sour wine. In the evening he used to boil the turnips for his supper while his wife made the bread. Although he cared so little about external things, if he gave an entertainment and the slaves had not cooked it or waited to his liking, he used to chastise them with leather thongs. It was one of his maxims to sell his slaves when they grew old—the worst cruelty that a slave-owner can commit. "For my part," says Plutarch, "I should never have the heart to sell an ox that had grown old in my service, still less my aged slave."

Cato’s old-fashioned virtue paid very well. He gratified his personal antipathies and obtained the character of the people’s friend. He was always impeaching the great men of his country, and was himself impeached nearly fifty times. The man who sets up as being much better than his age is always to be suspected, and Cato is perhaps the best specimen of the rugged hypocrite and austere charlatan that history can produce. This censor of morals bred slaves for sale. He made laws against usury and then turned usurer himself. He was always preaching about the vanity of riches, and wrote an excellent work on the best way of getting rich. He degraded a Roman knight for kissing his wife in the day-time in the presence of his daughter, and he himself, while he was living under his daughter-in-law’s roof, bestowed his favours on one of the servant girls of the establishment, and allowed her to be impudent to her young mistress. "Old age," he once said to a grey-headed debauchee, "has deformities enough of its own. Do not add to it the deformity of vice." At the time of the amorous affair above mentioned Cato was nearly eighty years of age.

On the other hand, he was a most faithful servant to his country; he was a truly religious man, and his god was the Commonwealth of Rome. Nor was he destitute of the domestic virtues, though sadly deficient in that respect. He used to say that those who beat their wives and children laid their sacrilegious hands on the holiest things in the world. He educated his son himself, taught him to box, to ride, and to swim, and wrote out for him a history of Rome in large pothook characters, that he might become acquainted at an early age with the great actions of the ancient Romans. He was as careful in what he said before the child as if he had been in the presence of the vestal virgins.

Plutarch's history of Cato | Cato's 'six Punic perfidies' - what were they? | And here | Biography |
On Cato the farmer: