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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Marcus Porcius Cato

  • [A model of antique Roman virtue, called Cato for his wisdom, also “the Censor,” and “the Elder,” born at Tusculum, B.C. 234; served against the Carthaginians; gained repute as an orator, and settled in Rome, where he rose to be consul and censor, reforming many abuses; strongly advised the third Punic war; died B.C. 149.]
  • It is a hard matter to save that city from ruin where a fish is sold for more than an ox.

  • Complaining of the luxury of the Romans.
  • Speaking of the power of women, he said, “All men naturally govern the women, we govern all men, and our wives govern us.” Plutarch says that this might have been taken from the Apothegms of Themistocles; for, as his son directed in most things through his mother, he said, “The Athenians govern the Greeks; I govern the Athenians; you, wife, govern me; and your son governs you: let him use, then, that power with moderation, which, child as he is, sets him above all the Greeks.”
  • Cato found fault with the people for often choosing the same persons consuls: “You either think the consulate of little worth, or that there are but few worthy of the consulate.”
  • It was a saying of his, that “Wise men learn more from fools, than fools from the wise; for the wise avoid the error of fools, while fools do not profit by the examples of the wise.”
  • Another of his sayings was, that he “liked a young man that blushed, more than one that turned pale.” Diogenes, seeing a youth blush, said, “Right, my boy: that blush is the favorite color of virtue.”
  • “The man that blushes is not quite a brute.”
  • YOUNG: Night Thoughts, VII. 496.
  • I cannot live with a man whose palate has quicker sensations than his heart.

  • When an epicure desired to be admitted into his friendship.
  • He used to say, “The soul of a lover lives in the body of another.”
  • In all his life he never repented but of three things: “The first was, that he had trusted a woman with a secret; the second, that he had gone by sea, when he might have gone by land; third, that he had passed one day without having a will by him.”
  • He reproved an old debauchee by saying, “Old age has deformities enough of its own: do not add to it the deformity of vice.”—PLUTARCH: Life.
  • “Every one,” he said, “ought especially to reverence himself, for every one is always in his own presence.”—PLUTARCH: Apothegms.
  • When he saw many had their statues set up, “I had rather,” he remarked, “men should ask why Cato had no statue, than why he had one.”—Ibid.
  • It was one of his sayings, “They that separate honor from virtue separate virtue from youth.”—Ibid.
  • An angry man, in his opinion, differs from a madman only in the shorter time his passion endures.
  • “Ira furor brevis est.”
  • HORACE: Epistles, I. 2, 62.
  • Man must depart from life as from an inn, not as from a dwelling.

  • Life bears to eternity the relation of an inn to a fixed dwelling. Yet to some the comparison would have but little force, as Dr. Johnson declared that nothing which had been contrived by man had produced so much happiness as a good tavern or inn.—BOSWELL: Life, 1776. At another time he called a tavern-chair “the throne of human felicity.” Falstaff asks, “Shall I not take mine ease in mine inn?” (1 Henry IV., III. 3.)
  • But Shenstone wrote on the window of an inn:—
  • “Whoe’er has travelled life’s dull round,
  • Where’er his stages may have been,
  • May sigh to think he still has found
  • The warmest welcome at an inn.”
  • The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new.

  • He declared the Romans to be like sheep: “a man had better drive a flock of them than one of them; for in a flock, if you can get but a few of them to go right, the rest will follow.”—PLUTARCH: Life.
  • “Those magistrates,” he said, “who could prevent crime, and do not, in effect encourage it.”
  • He was told that Greek was such a language as the gods speak in: “I would learn it, that I may speak with the gods in their own dialect.” Cicero said of Plato’s “Dialogues,” that if Jupiter were to speak, he would speak as Plato did. The Emperor Charles V. declared, “Spanish is the language to speak with God.”
  • A soothsayer must laugh when he meets another.

  • Preserved by Cicero (“De Divinatione,” “De Natura Deorum,” and in “Brutus”). Soothsaying—that is, foretelling future events by an inspection of the entrails of animals, or declaring by such means whether an action could properly be undertaken at a particular time—had fallen into disrepute, and superstition generally was derided. Thus Cato met one morning a friend, who seemed to be in trouble, and who said he was afraid some evil was about to befall him, as, on waking that morning, he saw a mouse gnawing his shoe. “Calm yourself,” replied Cato: “the prodigy would have been indeed frightful if the shoe had gnawed the mouse.” Claudius Pulcher, when told, on the eve of a naval battle with the Carthaginians, that the sacred hens would not eat, threw them into the sea, exclaiming, “Let them drink, then.” Claudius was, however, defeated. When Hannibal learned that the sacrifice seemed unfavorable to the immediate action which he proposed, he said scornfully, “Will you believe in a calf’s liver rather than in a tried general?” Cæsar declared in his African campaign, “I will have better omens when I choose;” and Pyrrhus parodied a line of Hector’s speech, “The best of omens is the cause of Pyrrhus.”
  • Delenda est Carthago.

  • The entire sentence, “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam,” is not found in any Latin author, but is translated from Plutarch’s “Life of Cato.” Latin authors, from Cicero, “De Senectute,” to Aurelius Victor and Pliny, give the indirect quotation, “Carthaginem delendam censuit.” Cato, having visited Carthage after the battle of Zama, B.C. 172, and remarked its large army, immense store of provisions, and riches of all kinds, returned to the senate, and denounced the prosperity of their rival, letting fall a Libyan fig he had concealed under his toga. When all had admired its beauty and freshness, “The land which produced it,” said Cato, “is but three days’ journey from Rome.” Thereafter he closed every speech in the senate with the words, “And my opinion is, that Carthage should be destroyed;” for he thought it dangerous, says Plutarch, to suffer a city which had always been great, and which was now grown sober and wise through its misfortunes, to lie watching every advantage against them.—Life.
  • Cato was prosecuted in his old age, no less than fifty charges being made against him; the last when he was eighty-six years old, on which account he said, “It is hard that I, who have lived with men of one generation, should be obliged to make my defence to those of another.”—Ibid. Goethe says he was right; “for how can a jury judge from premises of which they know nothing? or consider motives, which lie far behind them?” Goethe has elsewhere declared that “a man should be tried by a jury of his peers.”—Die Aufgeregten, III. 1.