Marcus Porcius Cato Criticism - Essay

Marcus Tullius Cicero (essay date 46 B.C.)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Marcus Tullius Cicero, "The Brutus: The Importance of Oratory," in On Government, translated by Michael Grant, Penguin Books, 1993, pp. 221-334.

[Cicero referred to Cato in many of his works, often making the earlier orator a character in ethical dialogues. In the excerpt below, Cicero praises Cato's skills as an orator.]

Cato's speeches are almost as numerous as those of the Athenian (to whom, however, I believe that some are wrongly attributed). I call Lysias Athenian because he was certainly born and died at Athens, although Timaeus,1 by a sort of Licinian and Mucian law,2 ascribes him to Syracuse instead. Between Lysias and Cato there...

(The entire section is 793 words.)

Livy (essay date c. 17)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Livy, "Book XXXVIII," in Livy, Vol. XI, translated by Evan T. Sage, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965, pp. 217-400.

[In the following excerpt Livy briefly summarizes Cato's reputation, commending him to the reader's highest admiration. Because the exact date of composition is not known, Livy's death date is used to date this essay].

[Among] all the patricians and plebeians of the most illustrious houses, Marcus Porcius Cato stood out most conspicuously. In this man there was such force of mind and character that in whatever station he had been born it seemed that he would have made his fortune for himself. No art of conducting either private or...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Plutarch (essay date c. 120)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Plutarch, "Marcus Cato," in Plutarch's Lives, pp. 516-42.

[Plutarch's life of Cato has supplied the definitive biography, relied upon by centuries of scholars. Although certain details have been disputed, the comprehensiveness of the account furnishes a very full portrait of Cato's character. Plutarch's death is used to date this essay, since the exact composition date is not known.]

Marcus Cato, we are told, was born at Tusculum, though (till he betook himself to civil and military affairs) he lived and was bred up in the country of the Sabines, where his father's estate lay. His ancestors seeming almost entirely unknown, he himself praises his father Marcus,...

(The entire section is 12054 words.)

Lorenzo Valla (essay date 1433)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Lorenzo Valla, "Book II" and "Book III," in On Pleasure (De voluptate), translated by A. Kent Hieatt and Maristella Lorch, Abaris Books, Inc., 1977, pp. 132-227, 228-327.

[Valla, an Italian intellectual, served as the Librarian of the Vatican. His De vero bono, or On Pleasure, takes the form of a letter in which the writer, who identifies himself as an Epicurean, refutes the arguments of a friend who advocates stoicism. Cato appears pears in this work as an example of the stoic personality; in the excerpts below, Valla criticizes Cato in order to promote Epicureanism.]

Here … [you] may meet my argument with authoritative instances (not...

(The entire section is 1322 words.)

John Dunlop (essay date 1824)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: John Dunlop, "Marcus Porcius Cato," in History of Roman Literature, From Its Earliest Period to the Augustan Age, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1824, pp. 13-31.

[In the following excerpt from his history of Rome, Dunlop emphasizes Cato's devotion and skill as a farmer. He also summarizes Cato's works, giving an extensive synopsis of the De agricultura, here called De Re Rustica.]

Marcus Porcius Cato, better known by the name of Cato the Censor, wrote the earliest book on husbandry which we possess in the Latin language. This distinguished citizen was born in the 519th year of Rome. Like other Romans of his day, he was brought up to the...

(The entire section is 4797 words.)

Charles Thomas Cruttwell (essay date 1878)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Charles Thomas Cruttwell, "Chapter IX," in A History of Roman Literature: From the Caliest Period to the Death of Marcus Aurelius, fourth edition, Charles Griffin and Company, 1878, pp. 87-103.

[Dubbing Cato "the perfect type of an old Roman, " Cruttwell proceeds, in the excerpt below, to attribute the character of genuinely Roman letters to Cato's style and values. Cruttwell also espouses the traditional view of Cato's motivation for writing: his hostility to Greek culture.]

The creator of Latin prose writing was CATO (234-149 B.C.). In almost every department he set the example, and his works, voluminous and varied, retained their reputation until the close...

(The entire section is 3361 words.)

J. W. Mackail (essay date 1895)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: J. W. Mackail, "Cato," in Latin Literature, Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1895, pp. 31-2.

[In the following excerpt, Mackail praises Cato as "the founder" of Roman prose, while also describing his influence as "somewhat narrow and harsh. " He briefly summarizes each of the major works.]

In the history of the half-century following the war with Hannibal, Cato is certainly the most striking single figure. It is only as a man of letters that he has to be noticed here; and the character of a man of letters was, perhaps, the last in which he would have wished to be remembered or praised. Yet the cynical and indomitable old man, with his rough humour, his...

(The entire section is 699 words.)

William Davis Hooper (essay date 1935)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: William Davis Hooper, in an introduction to Marcus Porcius Cato on Agriculture, Marcus Terentius Varro on Agriculture, translated by William Davis Hooper, Harvard University Press, 1935, pp. ix-xxii.

[In the introduction, excerpted below, to his translation of Cato's De agricultura, Hooper provides a synopsis of the work and a brief sketch of Cato's biography.]

Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 B.C., known also as the Orator, the Censor, Cato Major, or the Elder, to distinguish him from his great-grandson Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, was born of an old plebeian family at Tusculum, an ancient town of Latium, within ten miles of Rome. His youth was spent on...

(The entire section is 1202 words.)

Moses Hadas (essay date 1952)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Moses Hadas, "Pre-Ciceronian Prose," in A History of Latin Literature, Columbia University Press, 1952, pp. 58-68.

[In the following excerpt, Hadas stresses the importance of Cato's contribution to Roman historiography. In his discussion of Cato's career, however, Hadas attributes "more than a touch of demagoguery " to the orator's political and literary style.]

In history as well as oratory Cato is a pioneer. Various priestly and other chronicles must have been kept from the earliest organization of the state, but it was only when Rome entered the main stream of Mediterranean history in the Second Punic War that awareness of self and of other peoples provided...

(The entire section is 1950 words.)

Tore Janson (essay date 1964)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Tore Janson, "Agricultural Handbooks," in Latin Prose Prefaces: Studies in Literary Conventions, Almqvist & Wiksell, 1964, pp. 83-94.

[In the excerpt that follows, Janson examines the rhetorical structure of Cato 's preface to the De agricultura. Its sentence structure, Janson argues, reveals a social and economic purpose at odds with the professed moral purpose of the work.]

The entire preface to Cato's book on agriculture is devoted to a comparison between different ways of earning a living, with on the one hand agriculture and on the other trade and banking.1 The disposition of this brief preface requires some clarification.2...

(The entire section is 1854 words.)

H. H. Scullard (essay date 1973)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: H. H. Scullard, "Cato's Censorship," in Roman Politics: 220-150 B.C., Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1973, pp. 153-64.

[In the excerpt that follows, Scullard explains Cato's position in Roman politics, describing both his historical influence and the bureaucratic context in which a censor functioned.]

Cato's censorship is remarkable less for any positive reforms than for the spirit in which it was conducted and the impression which it made upon Roman tradition. Censors had more arbitrary and personal influence than other regular magistrates, because they did not have to account for their acts; since they were not appointed strictly to administer1 the...

(The entire section is 6126 words.)

Alan E. Astin (essay date 1978)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Alan E. Astin, "The De agricultura and Other Writings," in Cato the Censor, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1978, pp. 182-210.

[Astin's Cato the Censor is the first extensive biography of Cato since Plutarch 's Lives and the only indepth study to date in English. The chapter excerpted below summarizes all of the writings, provides an extensive discussion of De agricultura, and examines Cato's development and purpose as an author. Astin ultimately deems Cato's influence on Roman prose "a considerable imaginative achievement."]

1. Cato's writings

'His eloquence lives and flourishes, enshrined in writings of every...

(The entire section is 13854 words.)

Gian Biagio Conte (essay date 1987)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Gian Biagio Conte, "Cato," in Latin Literature: A History, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994, pp. 85-91.

[Conte 's authoritative text on Latin literature, first published in Italian in 1987, provides a brief summary of Cato's life and work. He emphasizes the significance of the Origines, the De agricultura, and Cato's attitude to Greek culture, which Conte contends to have been less hostile than usually described.]


Marcus Porcius Cato was born in 234 at Tusculum, near what is today Frascati, to a plebeian family of prosperous farmers. He fought in the war against Hannibal, and in 214 he was military...

(The entire section is 2868 words.)

Elaine Fantham (essay date 1996)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: Elaine Fantham, "Ennius and Cato, Two Early Writers," in Roman Literary Culture, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996, p. 11.

[In the following excerpt, Fantham sketches Cato 's literary influence, presenting it in relation to the poet Ennius.]

Rome's earliest literary culture can be exemplified in the intersecting careers of two famous men, born within five years of each other, Q. Ennius (239-169) and M. Porcius Cato (234(?)-149). Between them they wrote in every known genre of Latin prose and verse, and their long lives—Ennius reached seventy and Cato either eighty-five or ninety—witnessed the full expansion of Roman imperial conquest and both public...

(The entire section is 656 words.)