Cato the Elder

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Marcus Porcius Cato.

Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BC149 BC), Roman statesman, often called "The Censor," Sapiens, Priscus, or Major (the Elder), to distinguish him from Cato the Younger (his great-grandson).


  • All mankind rules its women, and we rule all mankind, but our women rule us.
    • In bitter criticism of the prevalent domination of women (The Classical weekly, Vol. 25–26, 1932, p. 273).
    • Quoted in Plutarch Apophthegmata regum et imperatorum, in Greek.
  • Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.
    • Sometimes quoted as Carthago delenda est.
    • Moreover, I consider that Carthage should be destroyed.
    • Cato was convinced that the security of Rome depended on the annihilation of Carthage and he urged his countrymen to the Third Punic War. Towards the end of his life he ended all of his speeches in the Roman senate with these words.
  • Emas non quod opus est, sed quod necesse est. Quod non opus est, asse carum est.
    • Buy not what you want, but what you have need of; what you do not want is dear at a farthing.
    • As quoted by Seneca (Epistles, 94)
  • Rem tene, verba sequentur.
    • Grasp the subject, the words will follow.
    • Cato's advice to orators (as quoted in Julius Victor, Art of Rhetoric. p. 197, Orell.; see also Wilhelm Sigismund Teuffel, Teuffel's History of Roman literature, Vol. 1 (1873), p. 158)
    • Cf. Dionysius Halicarnassensis, De Isocrate, ch. 12: "βούλεται δὲ ἡ φύσις τοῖς νοήμασιν ἕπεσθαι τὴν λέξιν, οὐ τῇ λέξει τὰ νοήματα." [Νature has it that style is in the service of thought, not the other way around.]
    • Variant translations:
      Stick to your subject, and words will follow.
      Get hold of the matter, the words will come of themselves.
      Lay hold of the subject, and the words will follow.
      Keep to the subject and the words will come.
      Grasp the point, the words will follow.
      Seize the subject; the words will follow.
      Stick to the point; the words will follow.
      Master the facts; the words will follow.
      Lay hold of the substance, the words will follow.
      Hold fast to the matter, the words will come.
      Hang onto your meaning, and the words will come.
      Have a grip of your theme and the words will come.
      Hold the idea and the words will follow.
      Stick to the meaning, and the words will take care of themselves.
  • The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new.
    • Apothegms (no. 247)
  • Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise.
    • Plutarch's Life of Cato
      Variant: Wise men profit more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise.
  • I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue, than why I have one.
    • Attributed to Cato in Plutarch, Parallel Lives 19:4.
    • Original Greek: ‘μᾶλλον γὰρ,’ ἔφη, ‘βούλομαι ζητεῖσθαι, διὰ τί μου ἀνδριὰς οὐ κεῖται ἢ διὰ τί κεῖται’
  • Those who commit private theft pass their lives in confinement and fetters; plunderers of the public, in gold and purple.
    • English translation by John C. Rolfe,(1859-1943)
    • Latin: Fures priuatorum furtorum in neruo atque in compedibus aetatem agunt, fures publici in auro atque in purpura.
    • Attributed to Cato by Aulus Gellius in Noctes Atticae 11:18.
    • Gellius was referring to a speech by Cato "On Dividing Spoils among the Soldiers". Gold and purple possibly alludes to the toga picta worn by the victorious general at a Roman triumph.

De Agri Cultura, about 160 BC[edit]

Translation by: A Virginia Farmer. Roman farm management : the treatises of Cato and Varro done into English, with notes of modern instances by a Virginia farmer. 1918. pp. 19-50; with intro by Fairfax Harrison

  • 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.
    • Introduction: of the dignity of the farmer
  • 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."
    • Of buying a farm; Cited in John Claudius Loudon (1825) An Encyclopædia of Agriculture. Part 1. p. 14
    • Loudon commented: In the time of Cato the Censor, the author of The Husbandry of the Ancients observed, though the operations of agriculture were generally performed by servants, yet the great men among the Roman continued to give particular attention to it, studied its improvement, and were very careful and exact in the management of nil their country affairs. This appears from the directions given them by this most attentive farmer. Those great men had both houses in town, and villas in the country; and, as they resided frequently in town, the management of their country affairs was committed to a bailiff or overseer. Now their attention to the culture of their land and to every other branch of husbandry, appears, from the directions given them how to behave upon their arrival from the city at their villas.
  • 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.
    • Of the duties of the owner
  • 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.
    • Of the duties of the owner
  • 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.
    • On the duties of the overseer
  • 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.
    • Of the duties of the housekeeper


  • Woman is a violent and uncontrolled animal, and it is useless to let go the reins and then expect her not to kick over the traces. You must keep her on a tight rein [...] Women want total freedom or rather - to call things by their names - total licence. If you allow them to achieve complete equality with men, do you think they will be easier to live with? Not at all. Once they have achieved equality, they will be your masters ...
  • Fronte capillata, post est occasio calva.
    • Hairy in front, opportunity is bald behind.
    • Disticha, Bk. ii, No. 26. The Distichs of Cato were long attributed to Cato the Elder but probably are the work of a much later author called Dionysius Cato from the 3rd or 4th century A.D.

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