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Quotes of Cato the Elder

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Cato the Elder

Cato the Elder (Marcus Porcius Cato) lived from 234-149 BCE. He was a speaker, politician, and Roman writer. A talented commander, administrator and statesman. He was called Censor (Censorius), Wise (Sapiens), Ancient (Priscus) or the Elder to distinguish him from his great-grandson. His great-grandson was Cato the Younger.

  • “[…] it is a good plan to dip into their literature,1 it is not worth while to make a thorough acquaintance with it. They are a most iniquitous and intractable race […] shall bestow its literature upon Rome it will mar everything”
    • latin: [bonum sit illorum litteras inspicere, non perdiscere; vincam nequissimum et indocile esse genus illorum (…) quandoque ista gens suas litteras dabit, omnia conrumpet]
    • description: fragement of letter from Cato the Elder to his son, in which he is unfavorable about the Greeks, but at the same time appreciates them.
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Natural history, XXIX.7
  • “Furthermore, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed”
    • latin: [Ceterum censeo Karthaginem esse delendam]
    • description: Cato the Elder, an implacable enemy of Carthage, ended all speeches in the Roman Senate with such words.
    • source: Plutarch, Marcus Cato 27, 1
  • “Well done, for when shameful lust has swollen the veins, it is suitable that young men should come down here rather than fool around with other men’s wives”
    • description: spotting a young man coming out of a brothel.
    • source: Horace, Satirae
  • “To each his own”
    • latin: [Suum cuique]
    • description: words referring to the old Greek rule of law, which in Plato’s work “Republic”, are described as “justice is when everyone minds his own business”.
    • source: Cato the Elder, De Natura Deorum, III, 38
  • “When those folk [Greeks] give us their writings they will corrupt everything. All the more if they send their doctors here”
    • latin: [vincam nequissimum et indocile genus illorum, et hoc puta vatem dixisse: quandoque ista gens suas litteras dabit, omnia conrumpet, tum etiam magis, si medicos suos hoc mittet]
    • source: Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 29.14
  • “Between the mouth and the morsel”
    • latin: [Inter os atque offam (multa intervenire possunt)]
    • description: firstly quoted by Aristotle. In the Latin version, quoted by Gellius as a fragment of the speech of Cato the Elder.
    • source: Gellius, Noctes Atticae, XIII, 17, 1
  • “Beautiful woman is like a gilded pill – pleasing to the eyes, bitter to the lips”
  • “Moreover, I consider that Carthage should be destroyed”
    • latin: [Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam]
    • description: words of Cato the Elder, with which he ended all of his speeches in the Roman senate. Often quotes also as “Carthago delenda est”.
    • source: Florus, Epitome of Roman History I, 31
  • “Grasp the subject, the words will follow.”
    • latin: [Rem tene, verba sequentur]
    • source: Gaius Julius Victor, Ars Rhetorica
  • “All mankind rules its women, and we rule all mankind, but our women rule us”
    • description: about prevalent domination of women; source is in greek.
    • source: Plutarch, Apophthegmata regum et imperatorum
  • “Thieves who have robbed private individuals spend their lives in prison and chains, and public thieves in gold and purple”
    • latin: [Fures privatorum furtorum in nervo atque in compedibus aetatem agunt, fures publici in auro atque in purpura]
    • source: Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae XI, 18, 18
  • “Buy not what you want, but what you have need of; what you do not want is dear at a farthing”
    • latin: [Emas non quod opus est, sed quod necesse est. Quod non opus est, asse carum est]
    • description: a farthing was a quarter of an old British penny, so Cato meant that if you buy something you don’t want, a farthing would be too much to pay for it.
    • source: Seneka the Younger, Epistles, 94
  • “Grasp the subject, the words will follow”
    • latin: [Rem tene, verba sequentur]
    • description: suggestions for orators.
    • source: Julius Victor, Art of Rhetoric
  • “Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise”
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue, than why I have one”
    • greek: [‘μᾶλλον γὰρ,’ ἔφη, ‘βούλομαι ζητεῖσθαι, διὰ τί μου ἀνδριὰς οὐ κεῖται ἢ διὰ τί κεῖται’]
    • source: Plutarch, Cato, 19:4
  • “I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue, than why I have one”
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 19:4
  • “The pursuits of commerce would be as admirable as they are profitable if they were not subject to so great risks: and so, likewise, of banking, if it was always honestly conducted. For our ancestors considered, and so ordained in their laws, that, while the thief should be cast in double damages, the usurer should make four-fold restitution”
    • source: Cato the Elder, De Agri Cultura
  • “When you have decided to purchase a farm, be careful not to buy rashly; do not spare your visits and be not content with a single tour of inspection. The more you go, the more will the place please you, if it be worth your attention. Give heed to the appearance of the neighbourhood, – a flourishing country should show its prosperity. “When you go in, look about, so that, when needs be, you can find your way out”.”

    • source: Cato the Elder, De Agri Cultura
  • “When you have arrived at your country house and have saluted your household, you should make the rounds of the farm the same day, if possible; if not, then certainly the next day. When you have observed how the field work has progressed, what things have been done, and what remains undone, you should summon your overseer the next day, and should call for a report of what work has been done in good season and why it has not been possible to complete the rest, and what wine and corn and other crops have been gathered”

    • source: Cato the Elder, De Agri Cultura
  • “The accounts of money, supplies and provisions should then be considered. The overseer should report what wine and oil has been sold, what price he got, what is on hand, and what remains for sale. Security should be taken for such accounts as ought to be secured. All other unsettled matters should be agreed upon. If any thing is needed for the coming year, it should be bought; every thing which is not needed should be sold. Whatever there is for lease should be leased”

    • source: Cato the Elder, De Agri Cultura
  • “These are the duties of the overseer: He should maintain discipline. He should observe the feast days. He should respect the rights of others and steadfastly uphold his own. He should settle all quarrels among the hands; If any one is at fault he should administer the punishment. He should take care that no one on the place is in want, or lacks food or drink; in this respect he can afford to be generous, for he will thus more easily prevent picking and stealing”

    • source: Cato the Elder, De Agri Cultura
  • “The overseer should be responsible for the duties of the housekeeper. If the master has given her to you for a wife, you should be satisfied with her, and she should respect you. Require that she be not given to wasteful habits; that she does not gossip with the neighbours and other women. She should not receive visitors either in the kitchen or in her own quarters. She should not go out to parties, nor should she gad about”

    • source: Cato the Elder, De Agri Cultura
  • “Those who are eager to hold high office frequently, are like men who did not know the road, they sought to be ever attended on their way by lictors, lest they go astray”
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 8
  • “You will be thought, not to deem your offices worth much, or else not to deem many men worthy of your offices”
    • description: Cato criticized the election of the same people to high offices over and over again.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 8
  • “This man’s mother holds the wish that he may survive her to be no pious prayer, but a malignant curse”
    • description: Cato about one of his enemies who was known for his shameful life.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 8
  • “This man has drunk down with ease what the sea found it hard to wash away”
    • description: Cato on the news that a certain Roman had sold his patrimony near the sea.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 8
  • “Surely, he is an excellent man, and a friend of Rome. Granted, but the animal known as king is by nature carnivorous”
    • description: when king of Pergammon Eumenes II was in Rome and the senate remarkably him accepted, Cato looked at him with suspicion and caution
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 8
  • “My enemies hated me, because I rose every day before it was light and, neglecting my own private matters, devoted my time to the public interests”
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 8
  • “Romans were sending out an embassy which had neither feet, nor head, nor heart”
    • description: when Romans chose three ambassadors to Bithynia, of whom one was gouty, another had had his head trepanned, and the third was deemed a fool.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “Here we sit all day, as if we had naught else to do, debating whether some poor old Greeks shall be buried here or in Achaia”
    • description: regarding the thousand Achaean hostages resettled to Rome as favoring Macedonia (among them was the Greek historian – Polybius). There were discussions in the Senate about whether to let them return or whether they should stay in Italy.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “Polybius, as if he were another Odysseus, wanted to go back into the cave of the Cyclops for a cap and belt which he had left there”
    • description: Cato’s ironic words about the return of property to Achaean hostages in Achaia.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “Wise men profited more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise”
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “Where can such a body be of service to the state, when everything between its gullet and its groins is devoted to belly?”
    • description: mockingly to an obese Roman.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “I could not live with a man whose palate was more sensitive than his heart”
    • description: mockingly to the gourmet.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “The lover his soul dwelt in the body of another”
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “Man, old age has disgraces enough of its own; do not add to them the shame of vice”
    • description: to the bad old man.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “Young man, I know not which is worse, to drink your mixtures, or to enact your bills”
    • description: to tribune of plebs, who was under the charge of poisoning and wanting to pass his law.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “I fight an unequal battle with you: you listen to abuse calmly, and utter it glibly; while for me it is unpleasant to utter it, and unusual to hear it”
    • description: to a man with a bad past who slandered him.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 9
  • “It is better to have many Romans go home with silver in their pockets​ than a few with gold”
    • description: Cato’s soldiers in the wars in Spain took considerable loot. Despite this, Cato gave each legionary an additional 330 grams of silver, saying that it would be better for many Romans to return home with silver than a small group with gold.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 10
  • “Only then would Rome be at her greatest, when her men of high birth refused to yield the palm of virtue to men of lower rank, and when plebeians contended in virtue with their superiors in birth and reputation”
    • description: Cato’s words in relation to Scipio Africanus, who succeeded him in the office of governor of the province of Spain, complained about his recent victorious warfare.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 11
  • “They might have shown him indulgence had he undertaken his task in consequence of a compulsory vote of the Amphictyonic Assembly”
    • description: reaction to the work of the Roman historian Postumius Albinus, consul from 151 BCE, which he wrote in Greek. Cato laughed that Albinus had used Greek while being forced by members of the union of Greek cities.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 12
  • “These are the sacrifices we must bring to the spirits of our parents; not lambs and kids, but the condemnations and tears of their enemies”
    • description: Cato’s words to a young Roman whom he met at the Forum after he condemned the enemy of his deceased father.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 15
  • “It is hard for one who has lived among men of one generation, to make his defence before those of another”
    • description: regarding the fact that he was repeatedly sued by other Romans.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 15
  • “I adjure you, if you are wise, not to choose the most agreeable physician, but the one who was most in earnest”
    • description: Cato’s words to the Romans, when he applied for the post of censor – an official who supervised the customs and way of life of citizens.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 16
  • “Good citizen should not even allow himself to be praised, unless such praise was beneficial to the commonwealth”
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 19
  • “Although they knew it not, their pride was based simply on the work of statuaries and painters, whereas my own images, of the most exquisite workmanship, were borne about in the hearts of my fellow citizens”
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 19
  • “The man who struck his wife or child, laid violent hands on the holiest of holy things”
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 20
  • “Heaven forbid! my son, all your conduct towards me has been admirable, and I have no fault to find with you; but I desire to bless myself and my country with more such sons”
    • description: words to his son, who asked his father if he had made any trouble for him to bring his stepmother home. At the end of his life, Cato, after the death of his wife Licinia, had an affair with the slave girl Salonia, whom he later married.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 24
  • “Only he has wits, but the rest are fluttering shadows”
    • description: words about Scipio Africanus the Younger, who in the third Punic War was at the beginning a military tribune and was distinguished by courage and intelligence. Over time, Scipio was to receive the main command. It should be added that initially the Romans were very ineffective, and Rome was very impatient with the lack of success in the war.
    • source: Plutarch, Life of Cato, 27

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