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Cato, Vale'rius

a distinguished grammarian and poet, who flourished at Rome during the last years of the republic. Some persons asserted, that he was of Gaulish extraction, the freedman of a certain Bursenus; but he himself, in a little work entitled Indignatio, maintained, that he was pure from all servile stain, that he had lost his father while still under age, and had been stripped of his patrimony during the troubles which attended the usurpation of Sulla. Having studied under Philocomus with Lucilius for a text-book, he afterwards acted as preceptor to many persons of high station, and was considered particularly successful in training such as had a turn for poetry. In this manner he seems to have accumulated considerable wealth; for we find that at one period he was the possessor of a magnificent abode at Tusculum; but, having fallen into difficulties, he was obliged to yield up this villa to his creditors, and retired to a poor hovel, where the remainder of his life, which was prolonged to extreme old age, was passed in the greatest penury.


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In addition to various works upon grammatical subjects, he was the author of poems also, of which the Lydia and the Diana were the most celebrated. The fame thus acquired by him as an author and a teacher is commemorated in the following complimentary distich, probably from the pen of some admiring contemporary :

"Cato Grammaticus, Latina Siren,
Qui solus legit, ac facit poetas."

Suetonius (de Illustr. Gram. 2-9), to whom exclusively we are indebted for all these particulars. has preserved, in addition to the above lines, short testimonies from Ticida and Cinna to the merits of the Lydia and the Diana, together with two epigrams by Furius Bibaculus [BIBACULUS], which contrast, in no very feeling terms, the splendour of Cato in the full flush of his fame and prosperity--" unicum magistrum, sumnmm grammaticum, optimum poetam"--with his subsequent distress and poverty. From the circumstance already noticed that Cato devoted much attention in his earlier years to the productions of Lucilius, he is probably the Cato named in the prooemium to the tenth satire of Horace (lib. i.), and may be the same with the Cato addressed by Catullus (lvi.), and with the Cato classed by Ovid (Ov. Tr. 2.435) along with Ticida, Memmius, Cinna, Anser, and Cornificius.

In all the collections of the minor Latin poets will be found 183 hexameter verses, which, ever since the time of Joseph Scaliger, have been known under the title "Valerii Catonis Dirae." We gather from the context, that the lands of the author had been confiscated during civil strife, and assigned to veteran soldiers as a reward for their services. Filled with wrath and indignation on account of this cruel injustice and oppression, the rightful owner solemnly devotes to destruction the fields he had loved so well. Then in gentler mood he dwells upon the beauty of the scenes he was about to quit for ever; scarcely tearing himself away from an eminence whence he was gazing on his flocks, he bids a last farewell to them and his adored Lydia, to whom he vows eternal constancy. Such is the argument as far as the end of the 103d line. In the portion which follows, the bard dwells with envy on the felicity of the rural retreats haunted by his beautiful mistress, and complains of his relentless destiny, which had separated him from the object of his passion. It must also be observed, that in the first line we find an invocation of some person, place, or thing, designated by the appellation of Battarus--“Battare cycneas repetamus carmine voces”--and that this word occurs again and again, as far as line 97, forming a sort of burden to the song. These matters being premised, it remains for us to investigate, 1. The connexion and arrangement of the different parts of the "Dirae." 2. The real author. 3. What we are to understand by Battarus.

1. To all who read the lines in question with care it will at once become evident, that they in reality constitute two pieces, and not one. He first, containing the imprecations, and addressed to Battarus, concludes with 1. 103, and is completely distinct in subject, tone, spirit, and phraseology, from the second, which ought always to be printed as a separate strain. This opinion was first advanced by F. Jacobs (Bibliothek der alten Literatur und Kunst, p. ix. p. 56, Götting. 1792), and has been fully adopted by Putsch, the most recent editor. The confusion probably arose from the practice common among the ancient scribes of copying two or more compositions of the same author continuously, without interposing any space or mark to point out that they had passed from one to another. The error, once introduced, was in this case perpetuated, from the circumstance, that both poems speak of the charms of certain rural scenes, and of the beauty of Lydia, although in the one these objects are regarded with feelings very different from those expressed in the other.

2. In all MSS. these lines are found among the minor poems attributed to Virgil, and in several are specifically ascribed to him. Moreover, in the catalogues of Virgil's works drawn up by Donatus and by Servius, "Dirae" are included. Joseph Scaliger, however, considering that in language and versification the Dirae bore no resemblance whatever to the acknowledged compositions of Virgil, and that the sentiments expressed were completely at variance with the gentle and submissive spirit which Virgil displayed under like circumstances, was convinced that he could not be the author ; but, recollecting, on the other hand, that the incidents described and the name of Lydia corresponded in some degree with the details transmitted to us with regard to Valerius Cato, determined, that they must be from the pen of that grammarian ; and almost all subsequent editors have acquiesced in the decision. It is manifest, however, that the conclusion has been very rashly adopted. Granting that we are entitled to neglect the authority of the MSS., which in this case is perhaps not very important, and to remove these pieces from the works of Virgil, still the arguments on which they have been so confidently transferred to Cato are singularly weak. We can build nothing upon the fictitious name of Lydia; and even if we grant that the estate of Cato was actually distributed among the veterans of Sulla, although of this we have not the slightest evidence, we know well that hundreds of others suffered under a like calamity. Nor is there anything in the context by which we can fix the epoch of the forfeiture in question. All the circumstances are just as applicable to the times of Octavianus as to those of Sulla.

3. The discordant opinions which have been entertained with regard to Battarus are spoken of under BATTARUS.


The Dirae were first printed at the end of the editio princeps of Virgil, at Rome, by Sweynheim and Pannartz in 1469, and are always included among the early impressions of the Catalecta. They appeared in an independent form at Leyden (12mo. 1652), under the inspection of Christopher Arnold, who adopted the corrected text of Scaliger. Since that period, they have been edited by Eichstädt (Jena, 4to. 1826), and with very complete prolegomena by Putsch (Jena, 8vo. 1828), whose work was reprinted at Oxford by Dr. Giles in 1838. They are to be found also in the "Anthologia" of Burmann (vol. ii. p. 647), and in the "Poetae Latini Minores" of Wernsdorff (vol. iii. p. xlv. &c.), who prefixed a very learned dissertation on various topics connected with the work.

Further Information

An essay by Näke, who had prepared a new edition of Valerius Cato for the press, appeared in the "Rheinisches Museum" for 1828.


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