A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

9. M.PorciusCato, son of No. 6 by Livia, great-grandson of Cato the Censor, and surnamed Uticensis from Utica, the place of his death, was born B. C. 95. In early childhood he lost both his parents, and was brought up in the house of his mother's brother, M. Livius Drusus, along with his sister Porcia and the children of his mother by her second husband, Q. Servilius Caepio. While yet of tender age, he gave token of a certain sturdy independence. The Italian socii were now seeking the right of Roman citizenship, and Q. Pompaedius Silo was endeavouring to enlist Drusus on their side. Silo playfully asked Cato and his halfbrother Q. Caepio if they would not take his part with their uncle. Caepio at once smiled and said he would, but Cato frowned and persisted in saying that he would not, though Silo pretended that he was going to throw him out of the window for his refusal. This story has been doubted on the ground that, as Drusus lost his life B. C. 91, Cato could not have been more than four years old, and consequently was not of an age to form an opinion on public affairs at the time when it is stated to have occurred. This criticism will be appreciated at its due value by those who understand the spirit of the anecdote. and know the manner in which little boys are commonly addressed.

After the death of Drusus, Cato was placed under the charge of Sarpedon, who found him difficult to manage, and more easily led by argument than authority. He had not that quick apprehension and instinctive tact which make learning to some happily-organized children a constant but unobtrusive growth. He did not trust, and observe, and feel, but he acquired his knowledge by asking questions and receiving explanations. That which he thus acquired slowly he retained tenaciously. His temper was like his intellect : it was not easily roused; but, being roused, it was not easily calmed. The child was father to the man. Throughout his life, the same want of flexibility and gradation was one of his obvious defects. He had none of that almost unconscious intuition by which great men modify the erroneous results of abstract reasoning, and take hints from passing events. There was in him no accommodation to circumstances, no insight into the windings of character, no power of gaining influence by apt and easy insinuation. The influence he gained was due to his name for high and stubborn virtue.

As a boy he took little interest in the childish pursuits of his fellows. He rarely smiled, and he exhibited a firmness of purpose which was not to be cajoled by flattery nor daunted by violence. Yet was there something in his unsocial individuality which attracted notice and inspired respect. Once, at the game of Trials, he rescued by force from a bigger boy a youth sentenced to prison who appealed to him for protection, and, burning with passion, led him home accompanied by his comrades. When Sulla gave to the noble youths of Rome the military game called Troja, and proposed as their leaders the son of his wife Metella and Sex. Pompeius, the boys with one accord cried out for Cato in place of Sextus. Sarpedon took him occasionally, when he was in his fourteenth year, to pay his respects to Sulla, his late father's friend. The tortures and executions which sometimes were conducted in Sulla's house made it resemble (in the words of Plutarch) " the place of the damned" On one of his visits, seeing the heads of several illustrious citizens carried forth, and hearing with indignation the suppressed groans of those who were present, he turned to his preceptor with the question " Why does no one kill

that tyrant ?" "Because," answered Sarpedon, "men fear him more strongly than they hate him." "Why then," subjoined Cato," would you not let me have a sword, that I might put him to death, and restore my country to freedom ?" This outbreak induced his tutor to watch him, lest he should attempt something desperate.

He received 120 talents as his share of his father's fortune, and, being now his own master, still further contracted his expenditure, hitherto extremely moderate. He addicted himself to political studies, and practised in solitude oratorical declamation. As he hated luxury and was accustomed to self-denial, the precepts of the Porch found favour in his sight; and, under the guidance of Antipater of Tyre, he pursued with all the ardour of a devotee the ethical philosophy of the Stoics. The virtue he chiefly worshipped was a rigid justice, not only unmoved by favour, but rejecting the corrective of equity and mercy.

Differing widely in disposition and natural gifts from his great ancestor the Censor, he yet looked up to him as a model, adopted his principles, and imitated his conduct. His constitution was naturally vigorous, and he endeavoured to harden it still more by excessive toil. He travelled bareheaded in the heat of summer, and amid the winter snow. When his friends were making long journeys on horseback, he accompanied them on foot. In illness and fever, he passed his hours alone, not bearing any witness of his physical infirmities. He was singular in his dress, preferring, by way of sober contrast, a dark purple to the rich crimson then in vogue, and he often appeared in public after dinner without shoes or tunic. Up to his twentieth year, his inseparable companion was his half-brother, Q. Servilius Caepio, to whom he was affectionately attached. When Caepio was praised for his moderation and frugality, he acknowledged that he was but a Sippius (a notorious prodigal) when compared with Cato. Thus Cato became a mark for the eyes of the throng. Vicious luxury was one of the crying evils of the times, and he was pointed to as the natural successor of his ancestor in reforming manners, and in representing the old, simple, undegenerate Roman. It is much to become a type of a national character.

The first occasion of his appearance in public life was connected with the name of his ancestor. The elder Cato in his censorship had erected and dedicated a building called the Porcia Basilica. In this the tribunes of the people were accustomed to transact business. There was a column in the way of the benches where they sat, and they determined either to remove it altogether or to change its place. This proposition called forth the younger Cato, who successfully resisted the measure in a speech which was graceful while it was cutting, and was elevated in tone without any of the tumour of juvenile declamation.

Cato was capable of warm and tender attachment, and much that was stiff and angular in his character was enhanced by early disappointment and blighted affection. Lepida had been betrothed to Metellus Scipio, who broke off the match. Free once more, she was wooed by Cato; but the attentions of a new admirer recalled the ardour of her former lover, who sued again, and was again accepted. Stung to the quick, Cato was with difficulty prevented, by the entreaties of friends, from exposing himself by going to law, and expended the bitterness of his wrath against Scipio in atirical iambics. He soon afterwards married Atilia, the daughter of Serranus, but was obliged to divorce her for adultery after she had borne him two children.

He served his first campaign as a volunteer, B. C. 72, under the consul Gellius Poblicola, in the servile war of Spartacus. He joined the army rather from a desire to be near Caepio, who was tribunus militum, than out of any love for a military life. In this new career he had no opportunity of distinguishing himself; but his observation of discipline was perfect, and in courage he was never found wanting. The general offered him military rewards, which he refused on the ground that he had done nothing to deserve them. For this he was reckoned perverse and cross-grained, but his own estimate of his services was not perhaps much below the mark. He had many of the qualities which make a good soldier, but of that peculiar genius which constitutes a great general he had not a spark.

About the year B. C. 67, he became a candidate for the post of tribunus militum, and obeyed the law by canvassing without nomenclatores. He was elected, and joined the army of the propraetor M. Rubrius in Macedonia. Here he was appointed to command a legion, and he won the esteem and attachment of the soldiery by the force of reason, by sharing all their labours, and by a strict attention to his duty. He treated them as rational beings, not as mere machines, and he preserved order without harsh punishments or lavish bribes. But the life of the camp was ill suited to his temperament. Hearing that the famous Stoic philosopher Athenodorus, surnamed Cordylion, was at Pergamus, he obtained a free legation, which gave him leave of absence for two months, travelled to Asia in search of the philosopher, and succeeded in persuading Athenodorus to return with him to Macedonia. This was deemed by Cato a greater triumph than the capture of a rich city, for the Stoic had refused repeated offers of friendship and society from kings and emperors.

Cato was now doomed to suffer a severe misfortune, and to put to the test all the lessons of his philosophy. Servilius Caepio, on his way to Asia, was taken ill at Aenus, a town of Thrace. Cato was informed of this by letter, and, embarking without delay in a small vessel, set sail in stormy weather from Thessalonica; but he did not arrive in time to close the eyes of his beloved brother. The tumult of his grief was excessive. He embraced the corpse with tears and cries, and spared no expense in the splendour of the funeral. He sent back to the provincials their preferred gifts of money, and paid them for the odours and precious vestments which they contributed to the sad solemnity. At the cost of eight talents, he erected to the memory of Caepio a polished monument of Thasian marble in the market-place at Aenus.

He now returned to Rome in a ship which conveyed the ashes of his brother. At Rome his time was divided between the lessons of philosophy from the lips of Athenodorus, the advocacy of his friends' causes in the forum, and the studies that were necessary to qualify him for political offices. He was now of an age to offer himself for the quaestorship, but he determined not to put himself forward as a candidate until he was master of the details of his duties. He was able to purchase for

five taleats a book which contained the pecuniary accounts of the quaestorship from the time of Sulla, and this he attentively perused. Further, he made himself acquainted with all the laws relating to the public treasure. Armed with this knowledge, he was elected to the quaestorship. The scribes and subordinate clerks of the treasury, accustomed to the routine of official business and official documents, relied upon their own experience and the ignorance of ordinary quaestors, and thus were able to teach their teachers and to rule their rulers. Cato broke in upon this official monopoly, which had been made a cover for much fraud and abuse, and, in spite of the resistance which might have been expected from such an interested swarm, he routed and exposed their misdeeds. The debts that were due from the state to individuals he promptly paid, and he rigidly demanded prompt payment of the debts that were due to the state. He took effectual measures to prevent the falsification of the decrees of the senate and other public documents which were entrusted to the custody of the quaestors. He obliged the informers who had received blood-money from Sulla out of the public treasure to refund their ill-gotten gains. His colleagues, who were at first offended at his strictness, finding that he continned to act with impartiality and upon consistent principle, sought to avoid his reproach and began to admire his conduct. By his honest and determined administration he replenished the treasury, and quitted office at the end of the year amid the general applause of his fellow-citizens.

It is probable that after the termination of his quaestorship he went a second time to Asia, upon the invitation of king Deiotarus, his father's friend, for, as Drumann has observed (Geschichte Roms, v. p. 157), the narrative of Plutarch, who makes the events of his Asiatic journey anterior to his quaestorship, is beset with numerous difficulties and anachronisms. In his travels in the east, he neglected that external splendour to which the Orientals were accustomed, and sometimes was treated with slight on account of the meanness of his equipage and apparel. By Pompey, Cato was received with the utmost civility and respect, and this external show of honour from the great man upon whom all eyes were turned, considerably exalted Cato's dignity and importance elsewhere. But there was no cordiality in Pompey's welcome. The visitor, who seemed to be a damper upon his free command, was not invited to stay, and was dismissed without regret.

Deiotarus, upon the arrival of Cato, offered him all kinds of presents, and pressed their acceptance with an earnestness which offended his guest, who departed early on the following day. Upon reaching Pessinus, Cato found that still richer presents had been sent on with a letter from the king, beseeching him, if he would not take them himself, to let his attendants take them; but, much to the dissatisfaction of some of his attendants, he rejected this specious bribery too.

Upon Cato's return to Rome, B. C. 63, he found Lucullus, who had married one of his half-sisters, Servilia, before the gates soliciting a triumph for his success against Mithridates. In obtaining this object, he succeeded by the assistance of Cato and the nobility, notwithstanding the opposition of Memmius and other creatures of Pompey.

Cato was now looked upon by many as a suitable candidate for the tribuneship, but he declined to stand for that office, and determined to pass some time at his country seat in Lucania in the company of his books and his philosophers. On his way he met a long train of baggage, and was informed that it belonged to Metellus Nepos, who was hastening from Pompey's army to seek the tribuneship. His resolution was at once taken. He determined to oppose this emissary of Pompey, and, after spending a day or two in the country, reappeared in Rome. He compared the sudden arrival of Metellus to a thunderbolt falling upon the state, but his own arrival equally surprised his friends. The nobles, who were jealous of Pompey's power and designs, flocked in crowds to vote for him, aud he succeeded in gaining his own election, but not in ousting Metellus. One of his first acts after his election was the prosecution of L. Licinius Muraena for bribery at the consular comitia; but Muraena, who was defended by Cicero, Hortensius, and Crassus, was acquitted by the judges. This (B. C. 63) was the famous year of Cicero's consulship, and of the suppression of Catiline's conspiracy. Cato supported the consul in proposing that the conspirators should suffer death, and was the first who gave to Cicero the name of pater patriae. It was Cato's speech of the 5th of December which determined the senate, previously wavering from the force of Caesar's oratory. The severer sentence was carried, and Cato's part in this transaction occasioned a rupture between him and Caesar, whom he charged with being a secret accomplice of Catiline. Plutarch (Cato Minor, 23) speaks of Cato's speech as extant, and says that it was taken down by short-hand writers placed in the senate-house for that purpose by Cicero. Sallust gives two well-known orations as the speeches of Caesar and Cato, but there is reason to believe that not only is the language Sallust's own, but that the fabricated speeches differ considerably in several particulars from those which were actually delivered.

The crushing of Catiline's conspiracy was an important step, but, in order to accomplish the political theories of Cato, much remained to be done. Induced by the example of Sulla, several ambitious men were now aspiring to supreme power, and those who, like Catiline, endeavoured to grasp it in the disorder occasioned by popular tumult and anarchy, were not the most formidable. The wealth of Crassus and the character and position of Pompey were directed to the same end. Caesar, who had watched the conspiracy of Catiline, and, if it had succeeded, would most likely have been the person to profit by its success, saw their object, and had the address to baffle their schemes. Pompey, his more formidable rival, wished to obtain supreme power by constitutional means, and waited in hope of a voluntary surrender ; but he had not the unscrupulous courage which would have been required to seize it, or to keep it when gained. Caesar, of a more.daring, vigorous, and comprehensive intellect, was not restrained by similar scruples. He contrived by entering into a combination with Pompey and Crassus to detach both from the senatorial party, from which they were already estranged by their own unambiguous ambition. Cato wished to defeat this combination, but the measures he resorted to were clumsy and injudicious. His opposition to Pompey was conducted in a manner which promoted

the views of Caesar, who turned every combination of events to the purposes of his own aggrandizement, and availed himself at once of the influence of Pompey and the wealth of Crassus. The state of political parties at Rome was now such, that neither energy nor foresight could long have retarded the downfall of the republic. The party of the senate professed to adhere to the ancient doctrines of the constitution, clinging in practice to oligarchical principles, but it possessed in its ranks no man of great popularity or commanding political genius. Lucullus had often led his troops to victory, and had considerable influence over the army, but he preferred the quiet enjoyment of the vast wealth he had acquired in Asia to the leadership of the party of the nobles. Had he not lacked ambition, he might have given the senate effectual support. Cato attached himself to the senate, and may be numbered among its leaders; but neither he nor his chief coadjutors in the same cause, Catulus and Cicero, could boast of that practical ability and ready command of resources which were wanting at the present crisis. He was far better suited for contemplation than for action, and would have been more at home, more happy, and not less useful, in the calm pursuits of literature and philosophy, than amidst the turmoil of public life. A man more pure and disinterested could not be found. His opinion as a judex and his testimony as a witness were regarded as almost decisive. Such was the reverence for his character, that when he went into the theatre during the games of Flora, given by Messius, the dancing-women were not required to exhibit their performances in their accustomed nudity; but when Cato learned from Savonius that his presence damped the enjoyment of the people, he retired amidst applause. The conduct of his political friends was analogous. They rather praised than imitated his virtues, and those who praised him liked him best when he was at such a distance as not to impose restraint upon their actions. Irregularity and corruption were so general, that an honest man, in order to do good, must have been master of remarkable discretion, whereas the straightforward and uncompromising strictness of Cato generally appeared ill-timed, and was deemed better suited to the imaginary republic of Plato than to the actual condition of the Roman people.

In the year of his tribunat he opposed the proposition of Metellus Nepos to recall Pompey from Asia, and to give him the command of the legions against Catiline. Cato exerted himself in the midst of a riot to prevent the voting of the proposition, and exposed himself to considerable personal danger without much prudence or much dignity. In B. C. 60), he opposed the rogation of the tribune L. Flavius to reward Pompey's veterans with allotments of land. Caesar, when he was returning from Spain, sought the honour of a triumph, and desired in the meantime to be allowed, though absent, to be a candidate for the consulship. In order to prevent a resolution to this effect from being carried on the day when it was proposed, Cato spoke against time until sunset; but Caesar renounced his triumph and gained the consulship. By a course of conduct which to the eyes of the statesmen of that day appeared to be a series of half-measures and vacillating policy, Cato desired to prove that, while some were for Caesar and some for Pompey, he, Cato, was for the commonwealth.

Though Cato seemed generally to waste his strength in ineffectual efforts, he still was found to be a trouble and a hindrance to the designs of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. They accordingly got Clodius, during his tribunate, to propose that Ptolemy, king of Cyprus, should, without even a plausible pretext, be deprived of his dominions, and that Cato should be charged with the task of reuniting the island to the Roman empire, and restoring the exiles who had been sent to Byzantium. Constitutionally averse to active military measures, as well as benevolently anxious to prevent the unnecessary shedding of blood, Cato sent a messenger to Ptolemy to signify the determination of the Roman people. The unfortunate king put an end to his life by poison, and Cato took peaceable possession of Cyprus, and sold the royal treasures at the highest price, offending some of his friends, who hoped to enrich themselves by cheap bargains. After restoring the Byzantine exiles, and successfully accomplishing a commission which, however abstractedly unjust, he considered himself bound to undertake by his duty to the state, he returned to Rome in B. C. 56, displaying to the eyes of the people the public wealth thus acquired. This very treasure afterwards came to the hands of Caesar, and contributed to the destruction of republican liberty. The pecuniary accounts of the sale by some accident were lost, and Clodius Pulcher took occasion to accuse Cato of embezzlement. His answer was, " What greater disgrace could befall this age, than that Pulcher should be an accuser or Cato be accused?" (Senec. Controvers. 5.30.) Cicero, on his return from banishment, insisted that Clodius was not legitimately appointed tribune, and that therefore all his official acts ought to be annulled. The propositions was opposed by Cato, as it would have rendered void his legation to Cyprus. This affair produced a marked coldness between Cicero and Cato.

After his divorce from Atilia, Cato had married Marcia, the daughter of Philippus, and had three children by his second wife. About the year B. C. 56 happened that strange transaction by which he ceded Marcia to his friend Q. Hortensius, with the consent of her father. At the death of Hortensius in the year 50, he took her back again. Heineccius (Antiq. Rom. lib. i. append. 100.47) infers, from the words of Plutarch (Cato Min. 25), that Cato did not, according to the common belief, lend his wife, but that she was divorced from him by the ceremony of sale, and married to Hortensius. Heineccius quotes the case as an instance of a marriage contracted by coemtio and dissolved by remancipatiu, in accordance with their maxim " unumquodque eo modo dissolvitur quo colligatum est." But it does not appear that Cato married her again after the death of Hortensius, and yet it seems that she returned to her former relation of wife.

Cato continued to oppose the triumvirs. In B. C. 55 he actively assisted L. Domitius Ahenobarbus in canvassing for the consulship against Pompey and Crassus, who were elected. In the election riots he was wounded, and narrowly escaped with life. With no better success was he himself a candidate for the praetorship in the same year in opposition to Vatinius. He would not submit to employ the bribery which was necessary to obtain a majority. Again, in an unsuccessful opposition to the Trebonian law conferring extraordinary powers upon the triumvirs, we find him

engaged in popular tumults and personal conflict. At length, B. C. 54, he was made praetor, and this was the highest office to which he attained. His exertions during his praetorship to put down the notorious bribery of the consular comitia disgusted both the buyers and the sellers of votes. Again he was attacked by a hooting and pelting mob, who put his attendants to flight; but he persisted in mounting the tribunal, and succeeded in appeasing the violence of the populace.

After the death of Crassus, when the senate had to make choice between Pompey and Caesar, it naturally wished to place itself under the protection of the former. In B. C. 52, Pompey was anxious to obtain the dictatorship; but as the nobles had not given him their full confidence, and yet at the same time were anxious to gratify him, Bibulus proposed that he should be created sole consul, and in this proposition was supported by Cato. In the following year, Cato himself, mistrusting Pompey, was a candidate for the consulship; but he would not bribe, and his competitors, S. Sulpicius and M. Claudius Marcellus, who had the support of Caesar and Pompey, were elected. On the day of his defeat, Cato amused himself with playing at ball, and renounced for ever all aspiration after an office which the people had not thought proper to confer upon him.

On the commencement of the civil war, B. C. 49, Cato supported those illegal proceedings [CAESAR, p. 550] which gave some colour of right to the hostile preparations of Caesar. On the approach of Caesar to the city, Cato took flight with the consuls to Campania, and yielded himself up to unavailing grief. From that day forth he allowed his hair to grow; he never after wore a garland, but seeing, that Roman blood must be shed, whichever party might prevail, he determined to mourn until his death the unhappy lot of his country. It was a time for decisive and strong measures. Caesar was not now to be fought by laws or resolutions, and the time for negotiation was past. Cato recommended a temporizing policy. Thoughts of patriotic philanthropy were uppermost in his mind. He made Pompey promise to pillage no Roman town, and, except in battle, to put to death no Romman citizen.

The senate entrusted Cato, as proprietor, with the defence of Sicily; but, on the landing of Curio with three of Caesar's legions, Cato, thinking resistance useless, instead of defending the island, took flight, and proceeded to join Pompey at Dyrrachium. Little confidence was placed in his military skill, or in the course that he would pursue if his party succeeded; for, though it was now his object to crush the rebellion of Caesar, it was felt that his efforts might soon be directed to limit the power of Pompey. After Pompey's victory at Dyrrachium, Cato was left in charge of the camp, and was thus salved from being present at the disastrous battle of Pharsalia. (B. C. 48.) After this battle, he set sail for Corcyra with the troops and the fleet left in his charge; but he offered to resign his command to Cicero, who was now anxious for a reconciliation with Caesar. Cicero, a man equally incompetent to command, declined the offer. Cato now proceeded to Africa, where he hoped to find Pompey; but on his route he received intelligence from Cornelia of Pompey's assassination. After a circuitous voyage he effected a landing, and was admitted by the inhabitants of Cyrene, who had refused to open their gates to Labienus.

In the spring of the year B. C. 47 Cato marched his troops across the desert, for six days supporting hunger and thirst, and every privation, with remarkable fortitude, in order to form a junction with Scipio Metellus, Attius Varus, and the Numidian Juba. Here arose a question of military precedence. The army wished to be led by Cato ; but, as a strict disciplinarian, he thought it necessary to yield to the consular Scipio. Most probably he was glad to rid himself of a position in which immediate action appeared inevitable, and felt himself oppressed by the weight of a responsibility to which his shoulders were unequal. Here the mildness of his disposition was again manifest. He resisted the counsel of Scipio to put Utica to the sword, and, though now nothing could be hoped but a putting-off of the evil day, wisely advised him not to risk a decisive engagement; but Scipio disregarded his advice, and was utterly routed at Thapsus. (April 6th, B. C. 46.) All Africa now, with the exception of Utica, submitted to the victorious Caesar. Cato wanted to inspire the Romans in Utica with courage to stand a siege; but they quailed at the approach of Caesar, and were inclined to submit. Plutarch relates in detail the events which now occurred at Utica, and his narrative exhibits a lamentable picture of a good man standing at bay with fortune. Careless for his own safety, or rather determined not to live under the slavery of Caesar's despotism, Cato yet was anxious to provide for the safety of his friends, advised them to flee, accompanied them to the port, besought them to make terms with the conqueror, composed the speech in which L. Caesar interceded for them, but would not allow his own name to appear. Bewildered and oppressed, driven into a corner where his irresolution could not lurk, and from which he had not strength to break forth, he deeply felt that the only way to preserve his high personal character and unbending moral dignity, and to leave to posterity a lofty Roman name, was --to die. For the particulars of his death, which our limits prevent us from giving, we must refer our readers to the graphic account of Plutarch. After spending the greater part of the night in perusing Plato's Phaedo several times, he stabbed himself below the breast, and in falling overturned an abacus. His friends, hearing the noise, ran up, found him bathed in blood, and, while he was fainting, dressed his wound. When however he recovered feeling, he tore open the bandages, let out his entrails, and expired, B. C. 46, at the age of forty-nine.

There was deep grief in Utica on account of his death. The inhabitants buried him on the coast, and celebrated his funeral with much pomp. A statue, with sword in hand, was erected to his memory on the spot, and was still standing when Plutarch wrote.

Caesar had hastened his march in order to catch Cato; but arriving too late, he exclaimed, "Cato, I grudge thee thy death, since thou hast grudged me the glory of sparing thy life."